If you’re planning a trip to South Africa it can be overwhelming when it comes to deciding where to go and what to do, especially if you are travelling for a short period. Based on our three-week road trip – which took us mainly through the Western Cape, Klein Karoo and slightly into the Eastern Cape – here are some of my (personal) top things to do in South Africa:
Climb Table Mountain
Turn almost any corner in Cape Town and you’ll catch a glimpse of the imposing Table Mountain looming over the city. Whilst the view from lower ground is truly mesmerising, a trip to the lofty heights of the top is on the bucket list of any visitor to The Mother City. We opted to tackle the almighty mountain via Platteklip Gorge – the steepest and most direct route to the top. Many opt to hike up, then enjoy the leisurely cable car ride down, but we found walking both parts very much doable (if a little strenuous on the calf muscles). Keep in mind that you’ll need to have a good level of fitness – the path is steep, relentless and unshaded for large sections. Be prepared for changing weather and a lack of visibility – there are days when you’ll find the mountain shrouded in clouds. Walking boots, plenty of water and clothes for changing conditions are an absolute must… as is a camera! You’ll need a comfy and durable backpack to bring everything you need, check out this handy guide to discover the best hiking backpacks available.
Visit a wine estate
…or even better: stay at one. The region surrounding the charming Dutch-style town of Stellenbosch is famed for its wine production, and the rolling green hills are peppered with estates where you can drop in to quaff some of the good stuff. We were travelling on a budget (aka sleeping in a tent) but when we found a great deal for Marianne Wine Estate we couldn’t resist treating ourselves… even if it was only for one night. Our stay included a wine tasting session during which we sampled a selection of their wares, one of which was their renowned Floreal wine which was served at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday party at Buckingham Palace in 2008. I have to say that sipping on a rich glass of red as the sun went down over the vineyards was pretty magical.
Drive Route 62
Whilst the Garden Route is one of the most popular driving routes in the Western Cape, the lesser-known Route 62 is equally worthy of attention. Unlike the luscious green landscapes of the Garden Route, this journey winds its way through rugged mountains and the semi-desert Klein Karoo. Along the way we made our first stop in Montagu, a popular spot for climbing and hiking complete with a small town where you’ll find a handful of restaurants and amenities (don’t miss the melt-in-your-mouth lamb shank at Ye Olde Tavern). Next it was on to Oudtshoorn which leads me on perfectly to my next tip…
Did you know that ostrich is one of the healthiest meats there is? Just one of the many fun facts I learnt on my South African adventure. Whilst stopping off in Oudtshoorn – aka the ostrich capital – we received a recommendation to dine at the restaurant of Buffelsdrift Game Lodge. The eatery boasts large glass windows, giving panoramic vistas of a watering hole (where you might even spot a hippo if you’re lucky). We dined on rare flame-grilled ostrich fillet accompanied by vegetables and caramelized onion mash, washed down with a bottle of Long Neck Blond beer which is brewed just up the road. DIVINE!
Self-drive safari in Addo
Many would argue that no trip to South Africa is complete without going on safari, but as a budget traveller the private game reserves can really make a dent in your funds. The solution? Fortunately, South Africa has some extremely well-run national parks where you can experience a self-drive safari. Kruger is the most famous (and largest) of these parks, however as we were travelling in the Western and Eastern Cape we opted to visit Addo Elephant Park. This 1640 km² park is home to over 600 elephants, but expect to spot everything from zebra to dung beetles as you make your way around the extensive road network. Entrance for foreign visitors is R248 per adult, per day (approximately €16 at the time of writing) and of course you’ll need to have a hire car. Alternatively, you can stay at one of the nearby backpacker lodges and join one of their organised tours. We camped at Orange Elephant Backpackers which was a short drive from the park and also offer tour/ accommodation packages if you are without a car.
Hike in Hogsback
Hogsback wasn’t actually on our (very rough) itinerary, but when we received a tip during our adventure we decided to give it a go. Tucked away in the Amathole Mountains, this hippy-esque town is one of those places where people go for one night and end up staying for a year… or their entire life. There’s definitely an air of magic to the place, and it’s easy to see why the area is alleged to have inspired author J. R. R. Tolkien. We stayed at the aptly named Away with the Fairies, which boasts spectacular vistas over the mountain complete with a viewpoint and outdoor bath (seeing is believing). Our days were spent hiking through the dense forests, discovering enchanting waterfalls and spotting rare Samango monkeys. As the sun went down and the temperature dipped, we gathered around the campfire for a glass of wine and a spot of stargazing. It was truly one of the most invigorating things to do in South Africa.
Visit a township in Hermanus
I’ve saved this one for last as it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip. It’s impossible to travel in South Africa without noticing the huge inequality that exists. In one place you will see people living in luxury hillside villas, 5 minutes down the road families are living in self-built shacks with no running water. Whilst staying at Zoete Inval Traveller’s Lodge we booked a tour with Wille, a local who lives in the Zwelihle Township. We spent a morning walking around the township, meeting locals, seeing how they live their day to day lives and learning about the challenges they face. Many live in self-built shacks with no running water or electricity, and there are many who can’t send their children to school simply because they can’t afford a uniform. To me it just seemed so unfair. In the end I thought Willie put it beautifully when he said: “it takes time for things to change.” He has seen huge changes in the 20 years since apartheid ended, but there is still a long way to go.
If you would like anymore advice about things to do in South Africa or logisitcs, you can contact me via my contact page or drop me a comment below. Happy travels!