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  • Writer's pictureDanae Bianco

The best of South Africa - all you need to know when planning a trip to South Africa

Updated: May 9

Looking for a spectacular destination that has activities for all tastes, delicious food, friendly people, is easy to get around, and won't cost you an arm and a leg?


Don't look further. South Africa is the place!


We visited the country a few years ago, and to say that we liked South Africa a lot would be a lie. We simply loved South Africa!


Here, I share our itinerary and what you need to know before visiting South Africa, check it out!





 

In this post you'll find all you need to know when planning a trip to South Africa:


 

What to do in South Africa


South Africa is one of the largest countries in Africa, so you will have to carefully design your travel itinerary to make the most of your visit to the country.


But even with a short amount of time, if you plan well, you can do many incredible things and fulfill those long-standing dreams.


South Africa has incredible landscapes, safaris and game drives, amazing beaches, top wineries, first class museums, and many adventures to please all tastes - and the best part - with one of the best cost/benefit ratios at the moment.


I would say that a visit to South Africa will be complete if it includes:

  • wildlife, in safaris in national parks, such as Kruger and Addo;

  • culture and gastronomy, in the main cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town

  • incredible landscapes, in the Blyde River Canyon and the Garden Route (Panoramic Route & Garden Route)

  • visiting one of the best wine regions in the world, Franschhoek, and Stellenbosch.


Map of the suggested attractions and itinerary



How to Use This Map:

  • Click the tab in the top left corner of the map. This will reveal the layers, including places to visit and the driving route.

  • You can click the checkmarks next to each layer to hide or show them. This allows you to customize what information you see on the map.

  • Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest.

Saving the Map for Later Use:

  • Click the star next to the title of the map. This adds the map to your Google Maps account.

  • To view it on your phone or computer: Open Google Maps; click the menu button; go to "Your Places"; click "Maps" You will see this map on your list. This allows you to easily access it again whenever you need it.


Sunset at Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town

South Africa Itinerary


We spent a total of 20 days in South Africa, here's our summarized itinerary - click on the links to learn more about each specific destination:


- 4 days in Pretoria (with a day trip to Johannesburg) - check out the full 20-day South Africa blog post to find out why we stayed in Pretoria for so long and if I recommend you do the same.


- 2 days in Graskop, visiting the Blyde River Canyon, Lowveld View, Three Rondavels, Bourke's Luck Potholes, and Pilgrim's Rest.


- 2 days in Kruger National Park, undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip!


- 5 days in Cape Town, one of the most cosmopolitan and beautiful cities in Africa, with plenty of activities to do.


- 2 days in Franschhoek, the wine region of South Africa, which leaves nothing to be desired compared to any other equivalent in the world: delicious wines, charming wineries, incredible views, pleasant climate, and many activities for all age groups.


- 2 days in Knysna, on the Garden Route, with several stops at viewpoints, beaches, and parks.


- 1 day in Storms River, in the Tsitsikama National Park, one of the main national parks on the Garden Route and a must-visit on any trip to the region.


- 2 days in Addo Elephant National Park, where we did the last game drives of the trip.


Sunset at Kruger National Park, South Africa

Suggestions for adaptations to the itinerary


If we had less time


  • Pretoria: We stayed 4 days with friends.  If we didn't have them there, we would have excluded Pretoria from the itinerary and stayed only 1 or 2 days in Johannesburg.

  • Graskop: This is a really nice area to explore and makes a good stop on the way between Johannesburg and Kruger. But, if you have little time, you can skip this stop and just go straight from Johanesburg to Kruger (it's a long drive but easily doable in a few hours).

  • Garden Route (Knysna & Storms River) & Addo Elephant Park: If you have a really tight schedule,  you can skip these destinations. While they offer amazing experiences, Kruger National Park should be the top priority due to its diverse wildlife and iconic status in South Africa.





If we had more time


  • Tsitsikama National Park: I would include one extra day to explore other areas, taking advantage of other activities in the region, such as trekking, stand-up paddling, kayaking, biking, etc. If you don't enjoy that, an extra day in the wineries would be a great idea.


  • Kruger National Park: a few extra days would be amazing to explore the others areas in Kruger Park: the park is huge, there are several camps inside the park. Check out the post on how to visit Kruger and you'll see that these camps are really cool and well-structured, so I would take the opportunity to explore other areas of the park and stay in other camps.

  • With an extra week: I would do everything I've already mentioned, and also explore in more detail the region between Franschhoek and Knysna (Cape Agulhas, Mossel Bay, etc). Or, I would take advantage of this extra time to go to Lesotho, a mountainous country nestled in South African territory, which promises incredible landscapes.




Where to stay in South Africa


We traveled around South Africa with a rented car, which I highly recommend. This gave us the flexibility to choose accommodations that offered the best possible experience within our budget.


Since our children were young (7 and 8 years old), we focused on Airbnbs, apartments, and hotels with family rooms.


Pretoria: We stayed with friends, who recommended the All Seasons Boutique Hotel. This hotel is located in a nice neighborhood close to Moroleta Park and boasts amazing facilities at a great price.


Graskop: we stayed at the Graskop Hotel, right in the town center. It offered an excellent location with a great quadruple room and a pool that the kids loved.


Kruger National Park: As I explained in this post, staying inside Kruger is easy and affordable and that certainly added extra thrill and uniqueness to our experience - the night at Lower Sabie rest camp was my favorite! However, there are numerous hotels outside the park catering to all tastes and budgets. The town of Hazyview is a popular base for exploring the park.


Cape Town: We stayed in an excellent apartment located in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront area. We walked during the day, but used Uber/taxi as a precaution at night.


Franshhoek: We stayed at Le Franshhoek Hotel & Spa, which had a fantastic family room and a delightful pool, which we made sure to enjoy in the late afternoon. The family room had a queen bed on the ground flor and two single beds on an open grid second floor, I don't need to say that the kids simply loved it.


Knysna: Knysna offers various accommodation options. While friends recommended staying on Thesen Island, we found a more spacious house with a stunning lagoon view. Unfortunately, it's no longer available on rental platforms.


Storms River: We chose the Tsisikama Village Inn, a friendly establishment located in the center of the village with an excellent balcony for enjoying wine after the children were asleep. Family room was perfect for the 4 of us.


Addo Elephant Park: we stayed at the campsite inside the park, we got a 4 people cabin, a perfect bush experience. However, due to its smaller size compared to Kruger, staying in hotels outside the park allows for easy day visits to Addo . It is possible to visit the park by staying in Porth Elizabeth, roughly 40 km separate the city center from the park's southern entrance.


Check out availability and rates here:





What you need to know when planning a trip to South Africa


How to get around South Africa?


We rented a car on our last day in Pretoria and returned it at Nelspruit Airport (closest to the Crocodile Bridge entrance of Kruger National Park).


From Nelspruit, we took a direct flight by South African Airways to Cape Town (on an Embraer 190 aircraft, manufactured in my hometown, São José dos Campos, Brazil). At Cape Town Airport, we rented another car, which we returned at the end of the trip at Port Elizabeth Airport.


We rented two cars on the trip: one for the first part of the itinerary, in the northeast of the country (Johannesburg-Kruger stretch) and another in the south of the country (Cape Town - Port Elizabeth stretch).


From Port Elizabeth, we took a flight to Johannesburg, by British Airways, and from there we continued on our flight back home (São Paulo, Brazil), with two flights on TAAG (Angola airline). While the aircraft were older and poorly maintained, we arrived home safely.



Wildlife elephants at Addo Elephant Park, South Africa


Is it worth renting a car in South Africa?


Yes, it is very much worth renting a car in South Africa.


Except for the days we spend in Cape Town and Johannesburg (cities where we got by with public transportation, Uber, or taxi), I don't see the possibility of visiting South Africa without a rented car.


If you don't have time constraints, then you can go at a slower pace, using public transportation and transfers. But if you, like us, have a limited number of vacation days and want to make the most of them, it is really worth renting a car - especially if there are more than 2 people in your party. Do the math and evaluate.


Another option is to use the big cities as a base and travel using tour companies and day-trips, then getting from one city to another by bus or plane. There are several day-trip options from Johannesburg or Cape Town, such as these:






Traffic in South Africa drives on the left-hand side of the road, the opposite of USA and continental Europe. This can be a challenge for drivers, especially at first. However, it is easy to get used to, so don't worry. Drive slowly and with extra caution for the first few days, and you will soon be used to it.



Is it expensive to travel to South Africa?


The South African currency is the Rand. In February 2024, the exchange rate was US$1.00 = R18.90.


Overall, we found that the cost of traveling in South Africa is significantly lower than traveling in the USA and Eastern Europe. Cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town can be more expensive for accommodation and restaurants, but even there it is possible to find reasonably priced options. We ate for much less than we would in Western Europe and USA


We brought US dollars in cash, which we exchanged for Rands at a bank. However, we made most of our purchases with a debit or credit card, which are widely accepted. We only used cash for small expenses, street food, and the occasional attraction that did not accept cards.



Penguins on a white sand beach, blue horizon and bbboulders. Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
Boulders Beach - Cape Town


Is it safe to travel to South Africa?


Absolutely. Our experience in the country was incredibly positive in terms of safety. We encountered no issues whatsoever.


It's always wise to exercise the same caution you would in any tourist destination worldwide, and avoid venturing into isolated areas after dark. Often thought of as a risky city, even Johannesburg is safe to visit when you adhere to basic safety measures.



Can you visit South Africa with children?


Yes, of course! You can go with children without any problems.


South Africa is a perfect destination for families!


Our daughters were 7 and 8 years old when we went, and they enjoyed every moment of the trip! There are activities in the country for children of all ages.

Imagine the happiness of your son or daughter when they see the wild animals roaming free, just a few meters away! I don't know who was happier, my daughters or me, when I saw their excitement.


In the national parks administered by SanParks (the official South African government agency), the minimum age to go on the park's official game drives is 6 years old.


However, it is possible to visit the parks with your own car, and there is no age limit in that case. In other words, you can enter parks like Kruger and Addo with children of any age in your car and drive around all the internal roads of the park, and you will see MANY animals. I mean, uncountable animals. There is no age limit for accommodation inside the parks, and we saw many families with babies and small children in the camps where we stayed.


With careful planning and preparation, your South African adventure with children will be an unforgettable experience!





For more information to help you plan the perfect South Africa trip


If you are planning to travel to South Africa, be sure to check out the detailed account of our 20-day trip. There is a lot of additional information to help you plan and make the most of your visit.


And also check out the guide to visiting Kruger National Park and staying inside the park, which I highly recommend. It is not only a spectacular experience, but it is also great for your wallet!


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