We read a lot about the Garden Route in South Africa before our trip. With every single sentence and every single picture, our anticipation slowly but surely grew immeasurably!
One thing right up front: we were not disappointed! Even if we had imagined the Garden Route in South Africa to be a little less western, but more African. Nevertheless, we were enchanted every day anew by the unbelievably beautiful nature.
In this travelogue we will now tell you our complete route, including a large overview map as well as all Garden Route highlights, activities and attractions. At the end you will also find a small FAQ with some important travel tips for the Garden Route.
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What is the Garden Route in South Africa?
The Garden Route in South Africa is the southernmost region of the country and the perfect place for a self-drive road trip. In contrast to the rather brown north of South Africa, nature here is much greener, lusher, more colorful and much more varied. Look forward to high mountains, rugged coasts, miles of beaches and wild animals as far as the eye can see. Together with the turquoise sea the purest dream!
Due to the varied nature, the Garden Route is not only suitable for beach lovers, but also for active vacationers. No matter if you like hiking, surfing, kayaking or even paragliding, along the Garden Route everything is possible! You will also find several national parks and safari opportunities.
Officially the Garden Route stretches from Port Elizabeth to Mossel Bay on 370 kilometers. To get from one place to another you best use the highway N2. From Mossel Bay we then continue to Cape Town. Even though the 430-kilometer route is no longer officially part of the Garden Route, it should still be part of your road trip. Also here numerous highlights like the De Hoop Nature Reserve, whale watching in Hermanus or the "mother city" Cape Town are waiting for you.
In the end, the total distance from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town is approx. 800 kilometers. However, due to the numerous stops and highlights, the individual stages are relatively short and often less than 100 kilometers long.
You should take at least two weeks for the whole route. So you have enough time for the most important highlights and can add a few days in Cape Town at the end.
Note: Many travelers believe that a large part of the Garden Route runs along the ocean. This is wrong. Most of the time you will be driving down the highway in the backcountry.
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Map with all stops on the Garden Route
Before we start with the individual highlights of the Garden Route, we would like to show you a short overview map. To better understand the structure and the route, we have entered all the stops there for you.
Garden Route Highlights: Our recommendations
Since we had taken too little time for the Garden Route the first time and had only seen a fraction of the places, we ended up driving the route twice. Once in the direction of Cape Town and once the same way back in the direction of Port Elizabeth. Only in each case with other stops.
In the end, we spent a total of 2 1/2 weeks traveling along the Garden Route and discovered lots of highlights, which we now present to you.
The start of our route was in Port Elizabeth. A place we have seen absolutely nothing of – except the airport. After landing, we went directly to the car rental, got the keys and immediately took off.
Nevertheless, we have heard from many other travelers that in Port Elizabeth, only the Addo Elephant Park is really worthwhile – but it is really! Unfortunately, we cannot confirm this ourselves, as we already had an unforgettable safari in the Kruger National Park and therefore decided not to visit the Addo Elephant Park.
Tsitsikamma National Park
Tsitsikamma National Park was then the first real stop along the Garden Route and directly a big highlight. If you like hiking, breathtaking nature and a bit of action, this is the right place for you!
There are numerous hiking trails with different lengths and degrees of difficulty, but also exciting activities like kayaking or canopy tours. Our personal highlight was the large suspension bridge that spans the Storms River.
You can also look forward to an extremely varied animal kingdom. Besides the cute Rock Dassies, with luck you can observe some dolphins and whales in the sea. We ourselves liked the Tsitsikamma in any case really well. Definite must-see!
Note: Within the park, Storms River Mouth Rest Camp has a variety of overnight accommodations that are located right next to the ocean. However, these are often booked up months in advance. Much more accommodation at lower prices can be found in the Storms Rivier Village. It is only a few kilometers from the Tsitsikamma National Park.
We have also summarized all important information about the National Park for you here: Tsitsikamma National Park – All hikes, activities, highlights and tips
- Entrance fee: 218 Rand p.P. (ca. 6,25 €)
- Opening hours: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m
- Accommodation recommendation:Tsitsikamma Backpackers*
- Duration of stay: 2 nights
- Restaurant Tips: Tsitrus Cafe, Papa Africa Wood Fired Pizza
- Distance from Port Elizabeth: 189 km
The next stop in our Garden Route travel report is a real insider tip: Nature's Valley! This is a small vacation resort, which directly adjoins the Tsitsikamma National Park in the west and was a huge surprise for us.
You may now be thinking to yourselves: "Holiday resort and insider tip? How does that fit together??" Quite simply. The resort is so small that there is nothing here except a few bungalows.
Much bigger on the other hand is the huge and deserted beach, which makes Nature's Valley so special. When we saw it for the first time, we were immediately taken aback.
- Duration of stay: 2 hours (except the gigantic beach there is nothing to see)
- Distance from Tsitsikamma National Park: 40 km
We liked Plettenberg Bay so much, we went there twice! Once on our way to Cape Town and once on the way back. Due to the relaxed atmosphere the town has become a real feel-good place for us.
There are miles of beaches to see, great viewpoints and with a little luck even whales off the coast. Besides, the inhabitants were extremely friendly.
You can also look forward to the fantastic Robberg Nature Reserve. Definitely the biggest highlight in Plettenberg Bay! The nature reserve is a peninsula, juts out into the middle of the More and offers some of the most beautiful hiking routes in all of South Africa. Thousands of seals included.
All further info about Plettenberg Bay and the Robberg Nature Reserve can be found in this article: Plettenberg Bay in South Africa – Beaches, Hiking and Sightseeing
- Accommodation recommendation:Nothando Backpackers Hotel* or Albergo Backpackers (unfortunately currently not available)
- Length of stay: 2 nights
- Restaurant tips: Lookout Deck, Market on Main
- Distance from Nature's Valley: 33 km
Only ca. 32 kilometers behind Plettenberg is the small town of Knysna, known mainly for its location on a huge lagoon. The town is connected to the sea by the Knysna Heads, two large sandstone cliffs that form a very narrow channel.
Knysna itself is not a place for great adventurers, but for nature lovers who like to take things a little slower. You can find beautiful beaches such as Noetzie Beach and Brenton Beach, or the vast Knysna Forest.
However, South Africa's largest forest area fell victim to a gigantic forest fire in June 2017 and has lost much of its beauty. It will probably take years for everything to be restored and regrown.
- Accommodation recommendation:Amber Guest Lodge*
- Length of stay: 2 nights
- Restaurant tip: Chatters (Italian)
- Distance from Plettenberg Bay: 32 km
Wilderness is another coastal town and probably the most relaxed place along the whole Garden Route. The many campsites and backpacker accommodations simply convey a much more pleasant feeling than large hotel bunkers. We were all the sadder when we didn't spend the night in Wilderness itself, but in George, 15 kilometers away. This is what happens when you book accommodation at short notice at the beginning of the high season.
But what is there to see and experience in Wilderness?? To be honest: not much, except once again beautiful beaches. Stop! A peculiarity there is nevertheless. A special feature that really gets the job done. In Wilderness you can namely go canoeing. In the middle of the jungle – with a subsequent hike to a waterfall! The canoe trip takes approx. one hour each way and the walk another 45 minutes.
You can rent the two-person kayak from Eden Adventures for 5 hours and 310 Rand (approx. 19,40 €) rent. We did the kayak tour ourselves and were extremely enthusiastic. Should not be missed in any case!
- Accommodation recommendation:57 on Plover* (in George, only 15 km from Wilderness)
- Length of stay: 2 nights
- Restaurant Tip: Salinas Beach Restaurant (Wilderness)
- Distance from Knysna: 48 km
De Hoop Nature Reserve
Let's move on to another great insider tip and thus our biggest surprise along the Garden Route: the De Hoop Nature Reserve.
What makes the nature reserve so special? The huge, snow-white and kilometers long sand dunes! Never before have we seen such gigantic dunes! But that's not all, and there's much more to discover at De Hoop. For example, the turquoise river De Hoopvlei, the small De Hoop Village and lots of wild animals.
Note 1: We did not stay at De Hoop Nature Reserve, but outside in the small town of Bredasdorp. The accommodations within the park were a bit too expensive for us.
Note 2: The approach to the nature reserve is a bit bumpy, as the last 45 kilometers consist of gravel road. With a small car, you get pretty shaken up.
As always, we'll tell you more in a larger blog post: De Hoop Nature Reserve in South Africa – The Jewel of the Western Cape
- Entrance fee: 40 Rand p. P. (ca. 2,50 €)
- Opening hours:
- Saturday – Thursday from 7:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m
- Friday from 7:00 to 19:00
- 296 km to Bredasdorp for accommodation
- 57 km from Bredasdorp to De Hoop
Cape Agulhas is the southernmost point of the entire continent, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet directly. In addition to a cool old shipwreck, you'll find many rugged rocks and the second oldest lighthouse in South Africa.
The lighthouse named L'Agulhas was unfortunately closed during our visit, so we could not visit the museum inside. Normally there is a small photo exhibition about all 56 lighthouses of South Africa waiting for you there. You can also climb the stairs of the lighthouse and look forward to a great view.
Although Cape Agulhas is mentioned and praised in every travel guide, it didn't completely blow us away ourselves. In contrast, the De Hoop Nature Reserve was simply much more impressive the day before. Nevertheless, the Cape is definitely worth a detour!
Note 1: To get to Cape Agulhas we also stayed overnight in Bredasdorp. The small town was for us the starting point for the De Hoop Nature Reserve and the Cape Agulhas.
- Accommodation recommendation:Taste of Heaven in Bredasdorp*
- Length of stay: 2 nights
- Restaurant tip: Suidpunt Potpourri
- Distance from Bredasdorp: 37 km
No question, Hermanus is the tourist place no. 1 along the Garden Route. In our eyes, however, quite rightly. In fact, this small town is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching right off the coast.
Yes, read that right. Whales just off the coast! During the months of July to November the largest mammals in the world flock to Hermanus to breed in the calm waters.
We saw these fascinating animals floating in the water only a few meters in front of us and immediately got goose bumps. Wale. Real whales. How cool is that? With a little luck you can also discover a lot of dolphins.
Tip: If you want to get up close to the marine life, hike the 11 kilometer long and beautiful Cliff Path. During the hike we did not only see a lot of whales, but also found again and again fantastic coastal panoramas.
- Accommodation recommendation:Oak on Main*
- Length of stay: 1 night
- Restaurant tip: Pear Tree Bistro
- Distance from Bredasdorp: 91 km
There is no question that the Garden Route is much more touristy than many other parts of South Africa. However, there are a few unknown exceptions. For example Betty's Bay!
The beautiful bay is a must see in our eyes, as you can see hundreds of wild penguins up close at Stony Point Nature Reserve. First whales and dolphins, now penguins – yep, this is South Africa!
But why is Betty's Bay so untouristic? No idea. We suspect that many travelers prefer to see the penguins at the famous Boulder's Beach in Cape Town. However, in Betty's Bay you will see much more of the cute animals and be much closer to them.
Incidentally, the entrance fee to the Stony Point Nature Reserve is a slim 20 Rand (approx. 1,25 €) and is hardly worth mentioning.
Note: Betty's Bay is perfect as a short stopover between Hermanus and Stellenbosch or directly in Cape Town. An overnight stay is not necessary here because there are no highlights other than the penguins.
- Entrance fees: 20 Rand p. P. (ca. 1,25 €)
- Opening hours: 8:00 – 16:30 hrs
- Residence time: 2-3 hours
- Distance from Hermanus: 50 km
Stellenbosch is one of the largest and most famous wine growing regions in South Africa. Wine from here is delivered all over the world and can therefore also be found on numerous German wine shelves.
One thing right up front: if you're not a wine lover, you can skip Stellenbosch. If, on the other hand, you like a drink or two, you'll be in absolute paradise here.
There are countless wineries that offer bottles and wine tastings at incredibly low prices. Often you can have it cracked for as little as 4€ per person. While you are enjoying the wine, the next bottles are already being filled in the production halls next door. So you are sitting in Stellenbosch directly at the source.
By the way, you can rent a room at many wineries. This way you won't have far to go to bed in the evening after a drink or two! We did it this way ourselves and it was definitely the right decision.
- Accommodation recommendation:Rest at Chabivin*
- Length of stay: 1 night
- Restaurant tip: Basic Bistro
- Distance from Betty's Bay: 64 km
The biggest highlight of the Garden Route comes at the end: Cape Town! Within a very short time, the metropolis has taken off our shoes more blatantly than almost any other city before it.
The location alone below Table Mountain by the sea is out of this world. It could hardly be more beautiful! In addition, Cape Town is extremely varied and diverse. You can hike, surf, paraglide, relax on the beach, kayak and stroll through town.
An absolute must is of course a hike on Table Mountain, as well as on Lions Head. From both peaks, you get a fantastic view that's hard to top. Arriving at the top of Table Mountain, a few tears of joy even welled up in our eyes. The view is definitely one of the most beautiful in the world!
In the city center itself there are also a lot of sights waiting for you. For example, the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood, the laid-back botanical gardens, the poignant District Six Museum, the alternative neighborhood of Woodstock, and more. We also found the numerous Farmers Markets, which take place weekly, to be really cozy.
Let's not even talk about the breathtaking Cape Peninsula. The Cape of Good Hope, the unique coastal road Chapmans Peak Drive and the numerous small suburbs such as Hout Bay or Camps Bay should not be missed here in any case.
Listing all the highlights in and around Cape Town, however, is beyond the scope of this article. For this reason, we have written three major blog posts for the "Mother City" with all the important info and tips:
- Accommodation recommendation:Anchor Bay Guest House*
- length of stay: 4 nights
- Restaurant Tips: Eastern Food Bazaar, African Cafe& IYO Burger
- Distance from Stellenbosch: 46 km
Garden Route Arrival
If you start your South Africa trip in Johannesburg like we did, you can easily fly on to Port Elizabeth with one of the numerous domestic flights. Once there, you will find the numerous pick-up stations for your rental car in the airport building. We searched and found our domestic flight via the comparison portal Skyscanner*. Highly recommended!
Alternatively, you can take a long distance bus from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth. It lasts about 19 hours and is with ca. 30 € per person quite reasonable. You can book bus tickets at Busbud*, for example.
If you fly from Germany directly to Cape Town and not to Johannesburg, you can also start the Garden Route there, just in the opposite direction. It makes no difference. There are also numerous car rental stations in Cape Town – either at the airport or in the city center.
FAQ – Frequently asked questions about the Garden Route
The weather along the Garden Route is a thing of its own. Due to the mountainous landscape, it can change completely within a few kilometers.
In general we can say that you will have the best weather between the months of December and April. It hardly rains, the sun shines a lot and temperatures around 30 degrees are possible.
From May the low season starts and it gets colder and rainier during the weeks. Temperatures below 10 degrees are quite possible. Only from the end of September / beginning of October, the climate slowly becomes a little warmer and more stable again. Be prepared for a few colder days though.
If you want to see all highlights and places from our travel report, you should plan at least two weeks. In Cape Town alone there is so much to see and experience that it is worth spending at least 4 nights there.
However, if you can do without a few of the stops shown, then 10 days is also enough for the Garden Route. It is important that you do not take on too much and do not rush on every day.
The Garden Route is relatively safe. Probably the safest part of South Africa. This is because the Garden Route is often referred to as "white South Africa" and the poverty is much lower due to the strong tourist infrastructure.
However, the same applies here: Use your common sense. Not carrying valuables obviously (z.B. expensive watches), always lock your car, don't leave anything inside, and also lock doors while you're driving.
Tip: Ask in the respective hotels whether it is safe at night. In many well known places like Plettenberg Bay or Knysna we were told that we can be outside even after dark. However, the situation can change year by year.
You can organize a rental car for the Garden Route either locally or in advance via the internet.
Our tip: During the high season between November and April, you should book the car online before your trip. Rental cars along the Garden Route are in extreme demand at this time of year and often no longer available.
We have our rental cars with fully comprehensive insurance through the comparison portal billiger-mietwagen.en* posted. Ran both times completely smoothly and uncomplicatedly.
Prices for a rental car: Depending on the desired vehicle class, you can get a small car for less than 15 € per day. In the low season the prices are even cheaper.
In principle, a small car or a compact class without four-wheel drive is enough. We ourselves opted for a small car and got by with it, since the main route is very well paved. The only dirt road on our route was the section from Bredasdorp to De Hoop Nature Reserve. On the way there we were well shaken, but our little car made it anyway.
In our opinion, an SUV with all-wheel drive is only worth it if you want to go off-road often and take numerous trails off the beaten path.
Along the Garden Route in South Africa there are endless accommodations of different price ranges. From cheap beds in dormitories to luxury suites with sea views.
Again, between November and March, be sure to book in advance! Already during our trip in September some good accommodations were sold out.
You can read about all the hotels we used along the Garden Route itself at the respective stop under "Accommodation recommendation". We were really lucky and didn't have a single grip in the toilet.
On numerous travel blogs you can read the most important highlights, information and tips for the Garden Route in South Africa, however, printed travel guides can never hurt on the spot. They are more detailed and very useful if you want to quickly look something up on the spot.
He is one of the few specimens who sufficiently cover both Cape Town and the Garden Route. With 540 pages it is also very detailed including removable maps.
So, that was our big Garden Route trip report. We hope you could find some useful info! If you have any further questions or tips, please feel free to write a comment.
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