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South Africa is one of those countries that has to be on your bucket list. A destination that boasts so much, you’ll find everything from sprawling safari reserves to romantic wine regions and beautiful beaches. There’s also culture, cool cities and so much to see and do.
I fell in love with South Africa when I visited. It’s a country that I’d wanted to visit for so long and I couldn’t wait to see for myself what it was like.
Because of its size, and the sheer amount of things to do and experience, you’ll need several weeks to see the best of South Africa. This will give you the time to visit more than one region and be able to enjoy it all without feeling too rushed.
However, with all this choice, it can feel overwhelming trying to plan your perfect South Africa vacation!
If you don’t know which parts are best to explore, I’m here to help you out! This 3 week South Africa itinerary takes in the best bits and covers Cape Town, Cape Winelands, the Garden Route and the Eastern Cape.
Why visit South Africa
South Africa is arguably one of the world’s most beautiful countries. As well as scenic safari plains, there are photogenic cities and a pristine glittering coastline.
It’s also a destination that ticks the right boxes no matter your interests or travel style. Whether you want to head on a safari, learn more about history and culture, enjoy a city break or go on a road trip, there’s so much you can pack into one trip!
Plus, with incredible, luxury accommodation it’s amazing for a honeymoon or a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list adventure.
Best areas to visit in South Africa
You could spend months in South Africa and still find more to explore. However, there are a few key places you’ll want to add to your list.
In my opinion, Cape Town is a must-visit, as is the gorgeous Cape Winelands – it’s a magical, fairytale setting close to the city. You’ll also want to road trip the Garden Route. It’s one of the world’s most famous drives and takes in breathtaking scenery along the southern coast.
You obviously can’t miss a South African safari either. Kruger National Park is the most famous, and biggest, park in South Africa. However, my recommendation is to head to the Eastern Cape instead because it’s the best place to combine with Cape Town and the Garden Route.
Kruger National Park also has a different climate to other parts of South Africa so it’s not always best to combine with Cape Town. Plus, if you head to the Eastern Cape for a safari, you won’t have to worry about malaria.
How to get around South Africa
While you can fly between destinations in South Africa, driving is the best way to explore. Just keep in mind that some areas in South Africa aren’t as safe as others, so have a plan for where you’re going, keep your car locked and avoid driving at night.
🚗 Check out Discover Cars to find the best rental car options
Best time to visit South Africa
As such a big country, there are several climates across South Africa. For Cape Town and the Garden Route, it’s best to visit during summer (November to March), which is when you’ll have the best weather.
The Eastern Cape is considered a year-round safari spot so it’s also good at this time of the year. However, if you want to visit Kruger National Park, the best time to go is May to October when it’s the dry season.
Getting to South Africa
How you get to South Africa will depend on where you’re travelling from. If you’re a Brit like me, there are direct flights from London to both Johannesburg and Cape Town that take around 11 hours.
If you’re travelling from elsewhere, there are several direct flights from the Eastern US, as well as a few countries in Europe. From Australia, you can fly directly to Johannesburg from Sydney.
For this 3 week South Africa itinerary, you’ll want to fly into Cape Town (CPT). The itinerary ends closest to Port Elizabeth Airport (PLZ) where you can connect back to Cape Town or on via Johannesburg.
3-week South Africa itinerary from Cape Town
This South Africa 21-day itinerary starts in Cape Town and ends with a safari in the Eastern Cape. This is the best itinerary for South Africa if you want to experience a little bit of everything!
It can also obviously be adjusted (or you could do the itinerary in reverse) but I think it’s nice to end with a safari and a few relaxing days towards the end of your trip.
Day 1-5 Cape Town (5 nights)
Cape Town is the perfect starting point for a South Africa itinerary. Often you’ll have direct flights into Cape Town and, from the UK, there’s hardly a shift in time zone so you won’t have jet lag either.
Depending on the time your flight arrives, you could check in to your hotel and explore on your first afternoon. If not, you’ll still have 4 full days to see the best of this beautiful city.
Top things to see and do in Cape Town
There’s loads to see and do in Cape Town. Top of your bucket list has to be Table Mountain. You can hike to the top if you have the energy, or take the cable car, to get iconic views across the city and ocean.
Within the city, you’ll want to explore Bo-Kaap as well as the vibrant V&A Waterfront which is a cool entertainment area with restaurants, shops and attractions. You could also take a free walking tour to get recommendations and to hear tales and lesser-known facts about the city. This is also a good option if you want to get your bearings and you’re worried about safety.
For a history fix, you can head on a tour over to Robben Island which is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
If you’re craving time in nature, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is a tranquil spot in the suburbs. You could also hike to the Lion’s Head summit – it’s a popular 5km route that boasts beautiful views.
If you want the beach, Camps Bay is a must with its sweeping coastline. It’s a trendy neighbourhood in Cape Town where you’ll find beautiful white sands bordered by restaurants, bars and hotels. It can get busy in peak season but it’s a lively spot to enjoy the sun.
There are also brilliant day trips from Cape Town. If you’ve exhausted everything within the city, consider hiring your car on your last full day in Cape Town and driving to Boulders Beach and on to Cape Point.
At Boulders Beach you’ll see the famous colony of African penguins, which is a lovely day out. If you travel here via Chapman’s Peak Drive you’ll also get the most dramatic, wild ocean and mountain scenery.
Where to stay in Cape Town
There are loads of brilliant places to stay in Cape Town but Labotessa Luxury Boutique Hotel is a lovely choice. This five-star hotel has just seven suites so it’s a great choice for an intimate escape. It’s also well located in the heart of the city.
Cape Town at a glance
📸 Cape Town attractions: Table Mountain, V&A Waterfront, free walking tours, Bo-Kaap, Robben Island, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Lion’s Head, Camps Bay, Boulders Beach, Chapman’s Peak Drive, Cape Point
🏡 Best hotel: Labotessa Luxury Boutique Hotel
✈️ Getting there: There are direct flights from several major destinations to Cape Town International Airport (CPT).
Day 6-7 Cape Winelands (2 nights)
The glorious Cape Winelands is next on your South Africa 3-week itinerary. This gorgeous spot is an absolute must if you’re visiting the Western Cape. While you can do day trips to the Winelands from Cape Town, it’s worth staying here a few days to make the most of what’s on offer.
Even if you’re not into your wines, the Winelands are still essential just to take in the beauty!
This is a part of the world that’s extremely picturesque – you’ll find vast wine estates with sunkissed vineyards set against mountain peaks… It’s a fairytale setting and is especially perfect if you’re travelling to South Africa for your honeymoon.
Top things to see and do in Cape Winelands
There are three main destinations in the Winelands – Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl.
Stellenbosch is known as the capital of the Cape Winelands and it’s probably the most famous, but each town offers something a little different so it’s a good idea to visit them all. They’re close to each other, too, so you can base yourself in one and easily visit the others.
As a culinary destination that produces some of the world’s finest wines, a lot of your time will be spent wine tasting. South African wine is some of the best – I fell in love with Pinotage! Most wineries across the region offer open wine tastings, but you’ll also find tours and excursions to join. You could also hire bikes and cycle between wineries.
Another fun thing to do in the Cape Winelands is to jump aboard the Franschhoek Wine Tram. You’ll be able to hop on and off at different wineries across the region. It’s one of the top things to do in this part of South Africa!
Away from the wine, there are interesting sites to explore in the Cape Winelands, too. Franschhoek is a charming and super pretty location where you can find a lovely choice of art galleries and boutique shops.
Over in Stellenbosch, you’ll be able to go on a guided walking tour, visit galleries, take in the architecture, as well as visit the Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden.
Where to stay in Cape Winelands
This part of South Africa has some of the plushiest luxury accommodation, so if you want to splurge or treat yourself to a bucket list stay – you’re in the right place! One place I’ve fallen in love with is the beautiful Delaire Graff Estate. It’s a gorgeous property with lodges that offer sweeping vineyard views.
Cape Winelands at a glance
📸 Cape Winelands attractions: Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Paarl, wine tasting, bike tours, Wine Tram, Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden
🏡 Best hotel: Delaire Graff Estate
🚗 Getting there: It takes about an hour to drive from Cape Town to Stellenbosch.
Day 8-9 Betty’s Bay + Hermanus (2 nights)
From the Winelands, it’s on to Hermanus (via Betty’s Bay) for the next part of your South Africa self-drive itinerary. These coastal towns are close together so they can be done on the same journey. You’ll want to head to Betty’s Bay first, spend a few hours there, and then drive on to Hermanus.
Top things to see and do in Betty’s Bay + Hermanus
Betty’s Bay is a seaside spot that’s known for its colony of wild penguins. If you didn’t get the chance to visit Boulders Beach from Cape Town, this stop is a must on your itinerary.
And if you’ve already seen penguins… You can’t go wrong with seeing some more! This is also a less known spot so it can be quieter than Boulders Beach.
From here, it’s on to Hermanus, which takes about an hour by car. Hermanus is known as being one of the best whale watching destinations in Africa. However, this depends on when you go – if you want to see the whales, you’ll want to visit between June and December.
Aside from whale watching, this is a great spot for soaking in the coastal scenery. You’ll be able to visit the beautiful Grotto Beach, which stretches for 11 miles. The Hermanus Cliff Path is also a must. It’s a 7.5-mile coastal trail that offers gorgeous views of the bay.
If you want more hiking, you’ll also be able to explore Fernkloof Nature Reserve and Walker Bay Nature Reserve.
Where to stay in Hermanus
There are several luxury and boutique options in Hermanus, but a favourite is Birkenhead House. This hotel is thoroughly romantic and is set on a cliff edge above Walker Bay. You’ll find 11 individually decorated luxury suites, as well as an infinity pool overlooking the ocean.
Betty’s Bay + Hermanus at a glance
📸 Betty’s Bay + Hermanus attractions: Wild penguins, whale watching (Jun-Dec), Grotto Beach, Hermanus Cliff Path, Fernkloof Nature Reserve, Walker Bay Nature Reserve
🏡 Best hotel: Birkenhead House
🚗 Getting there: It takes around 1.5 hours to drive to Betty’s Bay from Stellenbosch. From Betty’s Bay to Hermanus, it’s about an hour.
Day 10-12 Knysna (3 nights)
After visiting Hermanus, you’ll get started on the famous Garden Route! The route officially begins in the town of Mossel Bay, and your first overnight stop will be further on in Knysna.
The Garden Route itself takes in 300km across the southern coast and is exceptionally breathtaking so it’s an amazing place for a road trip. You’ll probably find places along the way where you’ll want to stop for photos or time to explore. Wilderness is a good spot to stop en route to Knysna.
Once you reach Knysna itself, you’ll find yourself in a small and pretty town where there’s lots to see and experience.
Top things to see and do in Knysna
Knysna is a popular holiday spot for good reason. It’s a seaside setting on a shimmering lagoon and offers lots of opportunities for hiking and cycling, as well as lounging on the beach.
While you’re there, you’ll want to see the iconic Knysna Heads. These rocky cliffs are the headlands of two peninsulas at the entrance of the lagoon. The eastern head is the easiest to access and has great views.
A good way to explore Knysna and the surrounding area is by boat. You’ll find lots of boat trips – from wildlife tours to sunset cruises.
You’ll also want to explore the town’s Thesen Island. On this marina development in the lagoon, you’ll find boutique shops, galleries and restaurants. You can also kayak through its waterways or try stand-up paddle boarding.
Elsewhere around Knysna, you’ll find lots of opportunities for hiking and taking in the scenery. Consider visiting Featherbed Nature Reserve or try the Harkerville Perdekop Trail.
If you want the beach, the Buffalo Bay Trail is also a good option. Buffalo Bay (also known as Buffels Bay) is the perfect beach for sunbathing and relaxing. It’s slightly outside of Knysna and can get busy, so get there early if you’re visiting during peak season.
Where to stay in Knysna
Head Over Hills is a stylish boutique retreat in Knysna. Set on the cliffs of the Knysna Heads, this is an award-winning luxury hotel with an amazing backdrop. The property has just 8 rooms, so it’s an intimate spot for a peaceful stay in the area.
Knysna at a glance
📸 Knysna attractions: Knysna Heads, boat trips & wildlife tours, Thesen Island, kayaking, Featherbed Nature Reserve, Harkerville Perdekop Trail, Buffalo Bay Trail, Buffels Bay
🏡 Best hotel: Head Over Hills
🚗 Getting there: It’s about a 5-hour drive from Hermanus to Knysna, but plan for longer if you want to stop anywhere en route.
Day 13 Plettenberg Bay (1 night)
It’s not a long journey to the next stop on your itinerary. Plettenberg Bay is one of the best places along the Garden Route and is just 30 minutes from Knysna.
Top things to see and do in Plettenberg Bay
Plettenberg Bay is a pretty and laid-back coastal town with glittering golden beaches. It’s a great spot to enjoy some time relaxing at the beach or taking a refreshing sea dip.
They’re are several good beaches in the area including Lookout Beach, Central Beach and Robberg Beach.
While you’re in Plett, you’ll definitely want to visit Robberg Nature Reserve, which is a haven for wildlife and hiking trails.
Plettenberg Bay is also known for its marine life. You’ll be able to go whale watching from June to November, as well as spot dolphins and seals off the local beaches. There are plenty of boat tours and trips to experience the marine wildlife in the area.
Plus, you could go sea kayaking and canyoning in Plettenberg Bay, too.
Where to stay in Plettenberg Bay
Built in 1777, The Old Rectory has been converted into a chic and authentic boutique hotel. Close to the beach, you’ll be in a prime position to explore the best of Plettenberg Bay. Within the hotel, you’ll find a gorgeous decked garden and a spa so it’s also perfect for downtime.
Plettenberg Bay at a glance
📸 Plettenberg Bay attractions: Lookout Beach, Central Beach & Robberg Beach, Robberg Nature Reserve, whale & dolphin watching, boat tours, sea kayaking, canyoning
🏡 Best hotel: The Old Rectory
🚗 Getting there: It’s a 30-minute drive from Knysna to Plettenberg Bay.
Day 14 Tsitsikamma (1 night)
Up next on your 3 week South Africa itinerary is Tsitsikamma National Park. Known for its marine reserve and lush scenic trails, Tsitsikamma is a must-visit and is a great last stop on the Garden Route.
The park is a protected area and it boasts gorgeous dramatic scenery as well as loads to see and experience! It’s a really pretty spot and is also a great chance for some last beach opportunities before heading inland for a few days of safaris.
Top things to see and do in Tsitsikamma
Whether you want marine life, wild hiking, beaches or adventure, there’s something you’ll love in Tsitsikamma.
Tsitsikamma National Park is a paradise for nature lovers where you’ll find everything from lush forests, waterfalls, and rivers to sparkling coastal scenery. The park also extends out into the sea to protect the reefs and marine life – you’ll often see dolphins playing in the waves.
There are endless hiking trails and walks in the area. The Otter Trail is the most famous but it’s a multi-day hike. If you want a shorter day hike or a more leisurely trail there are lots of options, including the Suspension Bridge Walk.
For adrenaline seekers, there’s loads to enjoy in Tsitsikamma, too – from bungee jumping, zip lining and abseiling to blackwater tubing. You could also kayak along Storms River, go snorkelling and try mountain biking.
Where to stay in Tsitsikamma
There are a few accommodation options in the surrounding area. The Fernery Lodge & Chalets is a picturesque choice at the base of the Tsitsikamma Mountains. It’s an isolated hotel but it’s a peaceful spot surrounded by pretty scenery.
Tsitsikamma at a glance
📸 Tsitsikamma National Park attractions: The Otter Trail, Suspension Bridge Walk, snorkelling, kayaking, dolphin watching, adrenaline activities
🏡 Best hotel: The Fernery Lodge & Chalets
🚗 Getting there: It’s about an hour’s drive from Plettenberg Bay to Tsitsikamma.
Day 15-20 Eastern Cape (6 nights)
It’s time to say goodbye to the Garden Route as you head on safari! The main city in the Eastern Cape is Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), so you have the option to break up the journey here en route. You could also drop off your rental car and catch a taxi or transfer to your safari lodge from P.E.
I’ve included several days on safari as part of this 3-week itinerary. You could do less, but I loved going on daily safari drives – it also means you’ll have more chance of spotting all the animals you want to see!
Plus, it’s a good opportunity to rest, relax and unwind after the adventure of the last 2 weeks.
Top things to see and do in the Eastern Cape
My recommendation is to settle into one luxury safari lodge for the duration of your time in the Eastern Cape.
These are usually all-inclusive so you’ll have daily game drives and meals as part of your package. You’ll also be able to use your lodge as a base for anything else you want to do in the area.
Aside from daily safari drives at your chosen game reserve, you’ll definitely want to spend a day at Addo Elephant National Park. This is the third biggest park in South Africa and is home to over 600 elephants. I absolutely loved visiting Addo Elephant Park – we saw so many elephants and other animals during our trip!
You can do a self-drive tour if you still have your car, or choose to have a guide. I personally think having a guide is best because they’ll be able to help you spot more, and they’ll give you insights and information as you travel around the park.
Where to stay in the Eastern Cape
When I visited South Africa, I volunteered at Amakhala Game Reserve, so I’d recommend staying there – it’s a beautiful, ethical safari reserve.
You have a choice of accommodation within the reserve itself. I stayed at Amakhala Safari Lodge on my weekend off, which has cosy suites with private plunge pools. Hlosi Game Lodge is another great option in Amakhala. This hotel has a really great pool and outdoor area overlooking a waterhole which is home to several hippos!
Eastern Cape at a glance
📸 Eastern Cape attractions: Private Game Reserves with daily safari drives, Addo Elephant National Park
🏡 Best hotel: Amakhala Safari Lodge
🚗 Getting there: It takes around 2 hours to get from Tsitsikamma National Park to Port Elizabeth. You have the option to drop your car off here and transfer onto your chosen game reserve. It’s about an hour to Amakhala from Port Elizabeth.
Day 21 Onward travel
After 3 amazing weeks in South Africa, it’s time to head home! The nearest airport for the Eastern Cape is Port Elizabeth (PLZ) where you can connect home via Cape Town or Johannesburg.
South Africa FAQs
Is South Africa worth visiting?
I think it’s safe to say that South Africa is absolutely worth visiting! After 3 weeks travelling across the southern coast, you’ll be able to tick off so many bucket list experiences. Whatever your interests, there’s definitely something to love about South Africa. You’ll get the perfect mix of cities, beaches, nature and safaris – it’s the ultimate dream getaway!
How many days do you need for South Africa?
I think 3 weeks is the perfect amount of time for a vacation in South Africa. You won’t be rushed to take everything in and you’ll get to soak up all the best bits. It also gives you time for some relaxation in a luxury safari lodge at the end of your trip.
If you only have time for a 2 week South Africa itinerary, you also have the option of flying between destinations rather than road tripping across the Garden Route. You could still visit Cape Town and the Winelands, before flying to Port Elizabeth, where you could take day or overnight trips to areas within the Garden Route.
How much money do you need for 3 weeks in South Africa?
The amount of money that you’ll need for 3 weeks in South Africa will really vary depending on your travel style.
It’s possible to travel around South Africa on a budget… in general, South Africa is a relatively affordable country, so things like eating and drinking can be inexpensive. We had meals for as little as £6, with glasses of wine at £2.
However, flights, safaris and accommodation will increase your costs – especially if you want a luxury, bucket-list experience. You can often expect to pay £500+ per night for a safari lodge and flights to South Africa can be around £900 from the UK.
You’ll also want to factor in car hire, petrol and activities. Renting a car can cost between £20-£60 per day.
Where is the most beautiful place in South Africa?
There are so many beautiful places in South Africa. The sprawling game reserves are breathtaking while the Garden Route is one of the world’s most photogenic drives. If you’re looking for picture-perfect scenery, you also can’t go wrong in the Cape Winelands.
Is it better to visit Kruger National Park or the Eastern Cape reserves?
I didn’t visit Kruger National Park so I can’t say which is better. However, I’d say that the Eastern Cape is best to combine with the Garden Route and Cape Town because of the climate.
If you want to visit Cape Town and the Garden Route in the summer (when it’s best), Kruger Park will be in its humid, wet season which isn’t as recommended because game viewing can be harder. Kruger can still be a year-round destination and there are perks of visiting at this time, but you’ll also have to bear in mind the higher risk of malaria in summer.
My main reason for choosing the Eastern Cape was that there was no malaria risk. And, being the summer, it also meant it wasn’t as cold in the mornings or evenings. Plus, we got amazing game viewings so I never felt I missed out having not visited Kruger.
Is South Africa safe?
Safety is always a big question when booking a trip to South Africa. Of course, this is a country that’s known for its crime, but that shouldn’t put you off. Loads of tourists visit South Africa each year and have a trouble-free getaway!
You’re unlikely to be at high risk during your trip to South Africa, just be mindful of the dangers and keep your wits about you (as you would anywhere!). A lot of the crime happens in townships and away from the tourist spots, but be aware of pickpockets so keep your valuables safe, don’t go wandering around at night, and keep your car locked while driving. It’s also a good idea to join group / guided hikes rather than going on your own – especially around Cape Town.
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South Africa really is a one-of-a-kind destination. There’s a ridiculous amount to do, and so many dream experiences that it will be an unforgettable vacation. From city to coast and safari plains, South Africa is the perfect destination in every way. I hope this 3 week South Africa itinerary helps you plan your best trip ever!