South Africa’s Return Visitors Can’t Get Enough of the ‘Garden Route’

Plan a Trip to South Africa's Garden Route
View of the harbor of St. James, South Africa.

Your first trip to South Africa included a safari, a trip to the Apartheid Museum, in addition to shopping and sightseeing in Cape Town and a dozen other sights, restaurants, and activities that your well-meaning friends said you must see. Return visitors prefer a flexible itinerary. It’s for this reason that our first recommendation for your second trip is South Africa’s Garden Route.

There is so much to do in South Africa that it can be tempting to do it all in one go. The atmosphere of the Garden Route lends itself nicely to a slower pace. The route itself is a 186 mile (300 km) stretch of the country’s south-western coastline: overflowing with beautiful beaches, an abundance of outdoor activities, and little gems hidden inland.

Rent a car and head east, sampling some of the world’s most picturesque lagoons, fine South African wines, and the freshest seafood. Here we share a handful of our recommendations and hideaways for the perfect leisurely vacation.

Plan a Vacation to South Africa's Garden Route

Top 5 Destinations on South Africa’s Garden Route

1. Mossel Bay: Sand, Surf, and Sailing

Roughly four hours east of Cape Town is Mossel Bay, considered the beginning of the Garden Route. The beaches are protected inside calm bays that are ideal for swimming, sailing, and kayaking. From Mossel Bay, visitors can take a trip to Seal Island, ride horses along the beach, or take a 25-minute drive to nearby Botlierskop Game Reserve. The adventurous traveler can book various diving tours that depart from the bay, including South Africa’s infamous great white shark cage dives.

2. City of George: A Golfer’s Paradise

We need to emphasize: a golfer’s paradise. George is your average run-of-the-mill South African city, tucked away further from the shore than the other destinations listed here. George is home to a museum that exhibits its local timber industry, a transport museum featuring steam trains and classic cars, and the absolute best golf courses in the country. The best being the Fancourt Golf Estate, an 18-hole champion course set against the stunning backdrop of the Outeniqua Mountains. Hiking trails on the Outeniqua Mountains are also accessible from George.

3. Knysna: The Heart of the Garden Route

For many travelers exploring the Garden Route, Knysna is chosen as a home base. There are many resorts and vacation villas available for rent along the hillside above the city’s crystal clear lagoon and white beaches. The town’s waterfront is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike: shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are perpetually buzzing with activity. From Knysna you can enjoy the beaches, go for a hike in the Knysna Forest, or take a ferry to the Featherbed Nature Reserve, which boasts some of the most breathtaking beachside vistas in the country.

4. Plettenberg Bay: Family-Friendly Beaches

Plettenberg is the quintessential seaside holiday for locals, who refer to the bay simply as ‘Plett.’ The beaches are expansive and the bay softens the sometimes rough blows of the ocean down to a child-friendly size. Plettenberg offers excellent golf courses, hiking, and numerous nearby nature reserves. We think it’s important to note that during South Africa’s mid-summer months (December and January), Plettenberg becomes a lively summer party hub. If you’re searching for a peaceful escape, book your trip for February or March. You will still experience plenty of warm sunshine, but with much less crowded beaches.

5. Tsitsikamma National Park: Immerse Yourself in Nature

An hour further east from Plettenberg Bay will bring you to Tsitsikamma National Park, the most immaculate untouched stretch of wild coastline in South Africa. The park contains a number of scenic hiking trails for all abilities and even an underwater nature trail that visitors can snorkel. Tsitsikamma contains one of South Africa’s most highly-rated long-distance hikes, the 26 mile (42 km) Otter Trail, which stretches along the coastline. The trail has hikers fording rivers and stopping at various swimming and snorkeling spots. Yes, the trail is named for the adorable clawless otter, which calls this stretch of land home.

Tsitsikamma National Park and other incredible sights are included on our Best of South Africa Tour. For more tips, ideas, and advice for seeing all there is to see in South Africa, visit us at vacationtosouthafrica.com.