Quite literally the other side of the planet, South Africa was not a country we anticipated travelling to any time soon. With the shutdown of the world, South Africa quickly rose in rank and we found ourselves pivoting to the open air of Safari, Cape Winelands, and beautiful Garden Route for a late summer and early fall vacation. We left the 95-degree weather in Texas for a beautiful mild winter in South Africa. It truly is one of the most spectacular places to visit for the Safari experience and wine tasting.

Coming away from our trip we decided the animals were the best part of the trip, but the amazing wine region as a close second. Nearly three weeks in length, check out our itinerary below to get an idea of how to create your own South African experience.

Day 1

  • Location: Dallas to Johannesburg
  • Accommodations: Hilton Sandton
  • Activities: Flights
  • Breakfast:  Dallas Airport’s finest, Chick Fil A
  • Lunch: Newark Airport’s finest
  • Dinner: Nando’s Chicken via uber eats

At the time, we took United Airline’s longest nonstop flight between Newark and Johannesburg at 14 hours in length. Let me tell ya, a layover in the US is way better than in another country where your phone doesn’t work and the currency is different. We took an easy mid-morning flight from Dallas to Newark and slept most of the way to Johannesburg.

We arrived at 6pm the next day, and (idiots that we were) picked our rental car up from the airport and drove ourselves to the hotel in the dark on the opposite side of the road that we were used to. Not our best decision. In retrospect we should’ve taxied and picked up a rental car the next day. We made it to the hotel surprisingly without much drama or terror, and the receptionist suggested a local chicken chain called Nando’s for dinner. It was FANTASTIC. Maybe I’m easy to please after 17 total hours of flying? But either way, we devoured it in our hotel room at 8pm and promptly fell asleep.

Day 2

We spent our first true day bumping around the limited sites of Johannesburg. We were warned to basically not leave the hotel room in Johannesburg but shooed the negativity away. Pretoria you could do in a single day, and that is exactly what we did. We saw the government buildings, museum and monument that provided history of the colonization in the region. It was a fun touristy day, but really served as an active rest day before driving out to safari.

That evening we drove ourselves to The Local Grill, a fantastic little neighborhood steakhouse. We then were nearly arrested on the drive home and went to bed shaken up and ready to GTFO Johannesburg.

Day 3

We started the day with an early and daunting 4.5 hour drive out to Safari. Thankfully up until the last hour, you are along major highways. My new favorite place is the Kranskop, a convenience store and gas station along the route with beautifully clean restrooms. We reached 57 Waterburg around 12:30pm for their once a day pick up at 1pm at the gates. After meeting our guide, we left our rental at the bottom of the dirt road and were jeeped up to the lodge with welcome beverages awaiting us. WHAT a fantastic lodge and wonderful hospitality. William, our fantastic driver / guide / safari guru, poured us welcome drinks in the jeep on the short 15-minute drive up, and made sure all the staff were ready to serve us lunch upon arrival.

Don’t stay anywhere else – it is worth splurging on 57 Waterburg and the private game reserve it sits on. I’ve heard great things about Kreuger National Park, but you’re left with a feeling of “drive thru safari” rather than an upgrade with significantly less drivers and a less commercialized experience seeing the animals. 57 Waterberg itself is a luxury lodge with high end accommodations and food. If we could’ve stayed an extra 2 nights (for a total of 5) I absolutely would have done it. Sadly, all we could afford was 3!

By the time we had lunch and got settled, we took off on our first game drive at 4pm. Each day you have 2 included game drives, about 3 hours in length with a mid-point happy hour and snack. It was quite literally the highlight of my trip and an experience I’ll likely never have again in my life.

Day 4

The next several days look similar at the lodge, but along the way we saw all the Big 4 animals and even a pack of lions take down a wildebeest in front of us. Spectacular national geographic level scenes up close and personal.

Day 5

Each day our jeep would have another couple or friend group, and what we weren’t expecting was a fair amount of South African locals. We saw a couple out enjoying a staycation, and another day we had a girl’s group from Pretoria enjoying a getaway. We were one of the few non-locals enjoying safari.

Day 6

BRIGHT and early (3:50am) we departed 57 Waterberg to drive back to Johannesburg to fly down to Port Elizabeth to start our next stint along the Garden Route. Brutally early. My takeaway on driving in and around Johannesburg is to not do it – get a private helicopter or plane (and a lot of money) and take it straight from J-burg airport to 57 Waterberg airstrip, where the lions usually hang out. The amount of driving to and from safari was tough. A private driver would have been way better and less stressful.

After a short flight, we landed in “PE” mid-day, picked up our second rental car, and made our way towards the hotel. Most of the day was spent low key walking along the beach and enjoying the quaint little town. What we should have done (if we had more time and caffeine) was try our hand at the Casino in town! We were surprised to find it there and would’ve pulled a few slots had we thought about it.

Day 7

The drive from PE to Knysna (Stop #2 on the Garden Route) was around 3 hours, and after a leisurely breakfast, we packed it up and wished the cute beach town of PE adieu and made our way along the coast.

Driving along the garden route is SO much different than driving in Johannesburg. Drivers are nicer, there isn’t corrupt police, you learn the customs in a way less stressful environment. We planned a mid-drive stop at the Monkey and Bird sanctuary and really enjoyed it to stretch our legs and see the animals. The monkeys were many former pets or belonged to defunct zoos, now in a sanctuary together. We enjoyed the birds even more, as the oasis they had was beautiful and there were much more colorful and usual bird than we see in the US.

Eventually we made it to Knysna and were blown away by the stunning view. We did a short hike around the East Head and headed out to our property manager’s favorite spot – Freshline Fisheries for some fantastic seafood.

Day 8

While we were already growing in love for Knysna, our hike along the Robberg Nature preserve was breathtaking. It is hands down the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve climbed to Everest Base Camp. If I could, I would’ve done more nights in Knysna just to enjoy the hiking and slow-paced lifestyle.

We heard amazing things about the Elephant Park nearby, but it was largely an ~instagram~ activity. That’s fine if you’re into it, but it felt like just a photoshoot and not actually learning about the animals.

Our Oyster Sunset Cruise was entirely unplanned up until 2 hours before and it was one of the best ways to view Knysna. We did a little bay scoot around, enjoying some fresh oysters from the bay and our guide spoke a lot about the history of Knysna in particular. The champagne was heavily poured… so we had a grand time!

Day 9

Not eager to leave Knysna, we had a leisurely breakfast before realizing we also had a flat tire. Thankfully a garage was right in town, and about $5 USD later we were on our way to Hermanus. At this point we were getting road weary and the drive was a whopping 4.5 hours. If we had extended time on the garden route, we would’ve been able to break it up more and it be less painful.

The BEST part of this day was Mogg’s Country Cookhouse. In the middle of nowhere, it serves up elegant country dishes using local ingredients and is AMAZING. Why is the food so good? I still can’t even understand it. The atmosphere is homey, they have a fireplace inside and you can tell so much love was put in the food.

By the time we got to Hermanus we were wiped out and did a little bookstore stop over before relaxing along the shore.

Day 10

In retrospect, we would’ve loved to stay an extra day in Hermanus to not feel like we were constantly on the road. I was in the thick of marathon training, so I ran back and forth 10 times along the seashore to get in my 15-mile run, and after a quaint and tasty breakfast we headed out to Franschhoek for the wine region.

Hermanus is last stop on the Garden Route, and as we made our way through mountain passes, we were greeted with a beautiful European vibe of vineyards and quaint towns. Typically, wine-os go to either Franschhoek or Stellenbosch, and you can’t go wrong with either. The area itself is also known for its amazing restaurants. Boschendal was our home base for the next several days and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful and lavish vineyard stay.

Day 11

The wine tram is a MUST! Seriously, so adorable and although you are certainly a tourist, it comes with an education on the region and background on each of the vineyards you stop by. While you can visit up to 6 or 7 vineyards on your line, I doubt many people make it past 3. Our surprise favorite was easily Vrede en Lust, although we went to Solms Delta and Babylonstoren too which were wonderful.

For a small town feel, there were a surprising number of ubers readily available. This part of South Africa is about 1.5hrs from Cape Town so many ubers are hauling tipsy passengers between vineyards all day.

Day 12

It was a tearful goodbye with Boschendal, we truly loved our stay there. Again, if only we had a whole week to be out there.

Our first day in Cape Town was perfect, as we went straight to the V&A waterfront which serves as a harbor, museum hub and has a beautiful view of Table Mountain. After poking around shops and checking out the Aquarium we stumbled upon a fabulous sushi restaurant in the V&A Mall. Weird, I know, but we went twice we enjoyed it so much.

Day 13

On a tip from our Knysna property manager, we opted to hike Table Mountain from the backside to have more tree coverage and scenic views. This meant going to the botanical gardens and following a very washed out trail. What we thought would be fun turned quite un-fun when the trail disappeared on us and it had been 4 hours of hiking with no true progress. It is a great trail for someone enjoying the sites without a destination in mind. Don’t be too cool for the main table mountain hike, instead go with all the others right by the tram.

The botanical garden itself was a site to see, we just had poor attitudes after hiking to nowhere for a day, ha!

Day 14

The drive out to the (fake) Cape Point is a beautiful one, largely along the shore of the country. The true Cape of Good Hope was a much longer drive and can be done between Knysna/Hermanus and Cape Town. We were windblown to pieces and saw lots of wild ostrich roaming around the national park. It was worth the ride and cool (horrifying) to envision early day sailors trying to navigate the African continent.

Day 15

At this point, we felt like we had seen Cape Town. We heard over and over ahead of the trip how obsessed with Cape Town people are. Honestly, we were good with it after 3 days. I would’ve opted to do more days in Safari, Garden Route and Wine Country instead of the 6 that we had in Cape Town.

Day 16

We attempted to see Robben Island on our final full day, however the rainy conditions led to cancellation of the outbound ferry ride. We unexpectedly turned it into a wine tasting day in the suburb of Cape Town, Constantia. Constantia deserves its own recognition because we had fabulous food and wine in Cape Town’s backyard. If I lived in Cape Town, I’d most certainly be a suburban lady right next to the vineyards. Groot was easily the highlight of Cape Town.

Day 17

The last day of any trip is a bummer. We walked over to the V&A waterfront one last time to bump around the vendors and harbor before we called it a day and headed to the airport. South Africa has so much to offer from the Safari, Wine and Garden Route that anyone can find something they love about it.

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Posted by:Allie

2 replies on “The Ultimate 3 Weeks in South Africa Itinerary

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