One of the most loved and well-traveled coastal routes in South Africa, the Garden Route is an epic trailer of the country’s highlights. You’re guaranteed great safari options, surfing, hiking, beaches, restaurants, and hotels, plus roadside farm stalls selling local produce.
You could easily do the Garden Route in two days but that would mean omitting weird and wonderful activities like ostrich riding, whale-watching, and elephant spotting. Technically starting in Storms River and ending in Mossel Bay (190 miles), the route is so scenic that many drivers extend it a couple of hundred miles by flying into Port Elizabeth and driving all the way to Cape Town (400 miles).
You could also flip the route and begin in Cape Town and end in Port Elizabeth, but they always say you should save the best for last, and Cape Town is incontestably one of South Africa’s best. Here, how to see South Africa’s favorite route.
Day one: Elephant herds and an Elephant House
Before you even start the route, make a detour northeast of Port Elizabeth. About an hour from the city (in the opposite direction) is Addo Elephant National Park, the third largest national park in the country. Take a drive through the park, which has wide grasslands blanketed in thickets of spekboom—an indigenous plant favored by elephants. Watch giant herds of elephant slosh in pools of mud, then stay overnight at Elephant House, an Old-World, eight-bedroom country-style lodge filled with antiques, Persian rugs, and oversized sofas. The following morning, take a further detour east to Nanaga Farm Stall, which bakes the best lamb and mint pies in the country. Next, turn around and head west.
Day two: National park hiking and a sleepy seaside town
Surfers, rejoice! Jeffreys Bay has one of the best right-hand breaks in the world, which has drawn legends like Kelly Slater. If you’re not a surfer, then give this stop a skip. The beaches are nice but better swimming opportunities await. Make your way back onto the N2 before pulling into the Storms River Total Petroport, a gas station that sells local crafts and snacks. Fill up with gas and load up on “padkos” (food for the road). You’ll want biltong (local jerky, but better) and “slap” chips, fries drowned in vinegar and coated with barbecue sauce and “special” seasoning from Steers, a local fast-food chain. Make sure you ask for extra sauce and seasoning.
Two of the coastline’s loveliest beach towns are 30 minutes from each other (and 30 minutes from Storms River). Nature’s Valley is a sleepy seaside spot with undisturbed beaches and loads of hiking trails that wind along forested mountains and glorious beaches. Go for a hike and a swim (trail information is available in town). An easy 30-minute drive away, lunch awaits at Enrico’s in Keeurboomstrand.
The Italian beach joint serves up fantastically fresh grilled fish and local beers alongside the sound and view of waves. The town is more of a collection of houses than an actual town, but it has some of the best beaches on the coastline, so be sure to take a post-lunch dip in the ocean on the beach below.
Day three: Monkeys, more elephants, and fresh-baked breads
The next morning, visit Monkeyland, a primate sanctuary, as well as wine farms like Bramon Wines and Newstead Wines, where you can feast on local cheese and charcuterie for lunch. On your way out of Plett, stop for a creamy gelato in the garden at Ice Dream Land.
Head toward the crafty town of Knysna, 30 minutes from Plett. Stop at the interactive Knysna Elephant Park along the way, where you can wander through the Knysna forest and feed rescued or rehabilitated elephants. Then, in the town of Knysna, enjoy a snack at ile de pain, a café and bakery, which creates croissants, bread, and lemony tarts, on the Knysna waterfront. Wander around the scenic waterfront area, which also has a few shops that sell jewelry, local crafts, and handmade leather bags, before heading west on the N2.
From your hotel, head down to Voelklip Beach and walk along a sandy path that skirts the ocean. After checking out, make your way to the nearby Hemel-en-Aarde wine valley, for a zingy glass of sauvignon blanc. Fancy a wine-fueled afternoon? Take the wine route and pop into farms like Creation and Hermanuspietersfontein, where you can collect bottles to ship home.
Stay for lunch at The Restaurant at Newton Johnson, a glass-fronted, vineyard-facing restaurant with sweeping views of the valley. Here, you can feast on local seasonal plates of beef carpaccio with roasted eggplant and fish with curried lentils, while sampling the Newton Johnson wines. If your lunch gets too festive, stay over another night; otherwise, make your way onto the N2. On your way out, pull into Peregrine, a local produce-packed farm stall, where cold-pressed apple juice, coffee, freshly baked samosas, and pies await. From there make your way straight to Cape Town.
What to bring
Download some classic South African beats by Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. These legendary South African artists will keep you grooving with their hyper-local beats throughout the route, but no road trip would be complete without a couple of classic tracks by Johnny Clegg.
As for packing, don’t leave your swimsuit, sunscreen, and hiking boots behind. The days along the east coast are usually mild and the evenings are crisp. Even during winter, the climate is fairly mild, making the Garden Route ideal almost year round. Bear in mind that summer (December through January) is high season, so expect more traffic than usual.
If you’re up for a detour, turn inland at George and take the Outeniqua Pass, which travels through the majestic green and rocky Outeniqua Mountains into the Karoo, a semi-desert area with endless stark plains and towering mountains. The road goes directly to Oudtshoorn, a small, arid town known as the ostrich capital of the world. Here, you can visit an ostrich farm and even ride an ostrich. Continue on to Cape Town along the R62 route, which journeys through the appealing inland towns of Barrydale, Montague, and Robertson, where you can overnight at the super-chic Robertson Small Hotel.
>>Next: 12 Must-Do Experiences in Cape Town