We have 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 increased immeasurably!
One thing right away: 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 travel report we will tell you our complete route, including a large overview map and all Garden Route highlights, activities and sights. 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, the 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 blue sea the purest dream!
Due to the varied nature, the Garden Route is not only suitable for beach lovers, but also for active vacationers. Whether you're into hiking, surfing, kayaking or even paragliding, the Garden Route has it all! You'll 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 the best way is to use the N2 highway. From Mossel Bay we continue our journey to Cape Town. Even if the 430 kilometer long stretch is not officially part of the Garden Route anymore, it should still be part of your road trip. Here, too, 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 entire route from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town is approx. 800 kilometers. Due to the numerous stops and highlights, the individual stages are relatively short and often less than 100 kilometers long.
You should allow at least two weeks for the entire route. This way you have enough time for the most important highlights and you 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 sea. This is wrong. Most of the time you will drive along the highway in the hinterland.
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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. In order to better understand the structure and the route, we have listed all the stops for you there.
Garden Route Highlights: Our recommendations
Since we didn't take enough time for the Garden Route the first time and only saw a fraction of the places, we ended up driving the route twice. Once towards Cape Town and once the same way back towards Port Elizabeth. Only with different stops each time.
In the end we were on the road for 2 1/2 weeks along the Garden Route and discovered a lot of highlights, which we present to you now.
Start of our route was in Port Elizabeth. A place we've seen absolutely nothing of – except the airport. After landing we went directly to the car rental, got the keys and left immediately.
Nevertheless, we have heard from many other travelers that only the Addo Elephant Park in Port Elizabeth is really worthwhile – but it is really worth it! Unfortunately, we can't confirm this ourselves, because we already had an unforgettable safari in the Kruger National Park and therefore did without the Addo Elephant Park.
Tsitsikamma National Park
The Tsitsikamma National Park was 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 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 big suspension bridge, which is stretched over the Storms River.
You can also look forward to an extremely varied animal world. Beside the cute Rock Dassies, with luck you can watch some dolphins and whales in the sea. We ourselves really liked the Tsitsikamma in any case. Definite Must-See!
Note: Within the park, there are several places to stay at the Storms River Mouth Rest Camp, which is located right by the ocean. However, these are often booked up months in advance. You will find much more accommodation at lower prices in Storms Rivier Village. It is only a few kilometers away from 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 – 19:00 o'clock
- Accommodation recommendation:Tsitsikamma Backpackers*
- Length 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 travelogue is a real insider tip: Nature's Valley! It is a small vacation resort, which directly adjoins the Tsitsikamma National Park in the west and was a big surprise for us.
You might think to yourself: "Holiday resort and insider tip? How does that fit together?" Quite simple. The resort is so small that there is nothing here except a few bungalows.
Much bigger 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 that we went there twice! Once on our way towards Cape Town and once on the way back. Because of the relaxed atmosphere, the town has become a real feel-good place for us.
To see there are miles of beaches, great viewpoints and with a little luck even whales off the coast. In addition, 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 sea and offers some of the most beautiful hiking routes in South Africa. Thousands of seals included.
All further information 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)
- Duration of stay: 2 nights
- Restaurant tips: Lookout Deck, Market on Main
- Distance from Nature's Valley: 33 km
Only about. 32 km behind Plettenberg lies the small town of Knysna, which is known 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 it a little slower. You can find beautiful beaches like Noetzie Beach and Brenton Beach or the huge 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 until everything is restored and regrown.
- Accommodation recommendation:Amber Guest Lodge*
- Duration of stay: 2 nights
- Restaurant tip: Chatters (Italian)
- Distance from Plettenberg Bay: 32 km
Wilderness is another coastal town and probably the most relaxing place along the whole Garden Route. The many campsites and backpacker accommodations simply give a much more pleasant feeling than big hotel bunkers. We were even more sad when we didn't stay 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! But there is one special feature. A special feature that really packs a punch. In Wilderness you can also go canoeing. Right in the middle of the jungle – followed by a hike to a waterfall! The canoe trip takes about. one hour each way and the hike another 45 minutes.
You can rent the kayak for two at 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!
- Accommodation recommendation:57 on Plover* (in George, only 15 km from Wilderness)
- Duration 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 therefore our biggest surprise along the Garden Route: the De Hoop Nature Reserve.
What makes the nature reserve so special? The huge, snow-white and kilometer-long sand dunes! Never before we have seen such gigantic dunes! But that's not all and there is much more to discover in 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 inside 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 shaken up quite a bit.
We will tell you more about it 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 – 18:00 hrs
- Friday from 7:00 – 19:00
- 296 km to Bredasdorp to the accommodation
- 57 km from Bredasdorp to De Hoop
Cape Agulhas is the southernmost point of the continent, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet directly. In addition to a cool old shipwreck, you'll find plenty of rugged cliffs and the second oldest lighthouse in South Africa.
The lighthouse named L'Agulhas was closed during our visit, so we couldn't visit the museum inside. Usually a small photo exhibition about all 56 lighthouses of South Africa awaits you there. You can also climb the stairs of the lighthouse for a great view.
Although Cape Agulhas is mentioned and praised in every travel guide, it didn't completely blow us away. In contrast, the De Hoop Nature Reserve was much more impressive the day before. Nevertheless, the Cape is definitely worth a visit!
Note 1: To get to Cape Agulhas, we also stayed in Bredasdorp. So the small town was for us the starting point for the De Hoop Nature Reserve and Cape Agulhas.
- Accommodation recommendation:Taste of Heaven in Bredasdorp*
- Duration of stay: 2 nights
- Restaurant tip: Suidpunt Potpourri
- Distance from Bredasdorp: 37 km
No question, Hermanus is the touristic place no. 1 along the Garden Route. But in our eyes completely justified. This small town is one of the best places in the world to see whales right off the coast.
Yes, you 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 just a few meters in front of us and immediately got goose bumps. Whales. Real whales. How cool is that please? With a bit of luck you can also spot lots of dolphins.
Tip: If you want to get 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*
- Duration of stay: 1 night
- Restaurant tip: Pear Tree Bistro
- Distance from Bredasdorp: 91 km
No question, the Garden Route is much more touristy compared to many other corners of South Africa. But 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, that's South Africa!
But why is Betty's Bay so untouristy?? 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.
By the way, the entrance fee for the Stony Point Nature Reserve is a small 20 Rand (ca. 1,25 €) and is hardly worth mentioning.
Note: Betty's Bay is perfect as a short stopover between Hermanus and Stellenbosch or directly Cape Town. An overnight stay is not necessary, because there are no other highlights except the penguins.
- Entrance fee: 20 Rand p. P. (ca. 1,25 €)
- Opening hours: 8:00 – 16:30 hrs
- Duration of stay: 2-3 hours
- Distance from Hermanus: 50 km
Stellenbosch is one of the largest and most famous wine growing regions in South Africa. The wine from here is delivered all over the world and can therefore also be found in numerous German wine shelves.
One thing up front: If you are not a wine lover, you can skip Stellenbosch. But if you like to drink a glass or two, you will find yourself in paradise here.
There are countless wineries offering bottles and wine tastings at unbelievably low prices. Often you can have a blast for as little as 4€ per person. While you enjoy the wine, the next bottles are already being filled in the production halls next door. You are sitting in Stellenbosch directly at the source of the water.
By the way, you can rent a room on many wineries. So you don't have far to go to bed in the evening after a glass or two! We did it that way ourselves and it was definitely the right decision. 😉
- Accommodation recommendation:Rest at Chabivin*
- Duration 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! The metropolis has taken off our shoes within a very short time, as hardly any other city before.
Just the location below Table Mountain by the sea is out of this world. It could hardly be more beautiful! Cape Town is also extremely diverse and varied. You can hike, surf, paraglide, relax on the beach, kayak, and stroll through the city.
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, which is difficult to beat. Arrived on Table Mountain, we even had a few tears of joy 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 district, the relaxed botanical garden, the poignant District Six Museum, the alternative neighborhood Woodstock and much more. We also found the numerous Farmers Markets, which take place weekly, really cozy.
We don't even want to talk about the breathtaking Cape Peninsula. The Cape of Good Hope, the unique coastal road Chapmans Peak Drive and the numerous small suburbs like Hout Bay or Camps Bay should not be missed.
To list all the highlights in and around Cape Town would go beyond the scope of this article. For this reason, we wrote three big blog posts for the "Mother City" with all the important info and tips:
- Accommodation recommendation:Anchor Bay Guest House*
- Duration of stay: 4 nights
- Restaurant tips: Eastern Food Bazar, 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 the long-distance bus from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth. It takes about 19 hours and is with ca. 30 € per person quite cheap. You can book the bus tickets for example at Busbud*.
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. This makes no difference. There are also numerous rental car 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. Because of the mountainous landscape it can change completely within a few kilometers.
In general we can say that you will get 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 as the weeks go by. Temperatures below 10 degrees are quite possible. Only from the end of September/beginning of October the climate slowly gets warmer and more stable again. Be prepared for some colder days though.
If you want to see all the highlights and places from our travel report, you should plan at least two weeks. There is so much to do and see in Cape Town alone, that it is worth spending at least 4 nights there.
However, if you can do without some of the stops shown, then 10 days is enough for the Garden Route. It is important that you do not take on too much and do not have to rush on every day.
The Garden Route is relatively safe. Probably even the safest section in all 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. Do not carry valuables obviously (e.g. expensive watches), always lock the car, don't leave anything inside and also lock the doors while driving.
Tip: Ask in the respective hotels if it is safe at night. In many well known places like Plettenberg Bay or Knysna we were told that we could be out after dark. But the situation can change year by year.
You can organize a rental car for the Garden Route either on the spot or in advance via the internet.
Our tip: During the high season between November and April, you should book your car online before your trip. Rental cars along the Garden Route are in high demand at this time of the year and often no longer available.
We have our rental cars with comprehensive insurance through the comparison portal billiger-mietwagen.de* booked. Ran both times completely smooth and uncomplicated.
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 all-wheel drive is sufficient. We ourselves have chosen a small car and have come with it well over the rounds, because the main route is very well asphalted. The only unpaved 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 still made it.
In our opinion, an SUV with four-wheel drive is only worthwhile if you want to go off-road often and take numerous roads off the beaten track.
Along the Garden Route in South Africa, there are endless accommodations in different price ranges. From cheap beds in a dormitory to a luxury suite with sea view.
Again, between November and March, make sure to book in advance! Already during our trip in September some good accommodations were sold out.
All hotels that we used along the Garden Route can be found at the respective stop under "Recommended accommodation. We were really lucky and didn't have a single dip in the toilet.
While you can read the most important highlights, info and tips for the Garden Route in South Africa on numerous travel blogs, printed guidebooks on the spot can never hurt. They are more detailed and very useful if you want to look up something quickly on the spot.
It is one of the few that sufficiently covers 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 travel report. We hope you could find some useful information! If you have any questions or further tips, please write a comment below.
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