South Africa is a country blessed with vast natural landscapes, amazing wildlife and wide-open spaces. It’s a land which blends fascinating culture, history, and people with a backdrop of adventure, exhilaration, and wilderness escape, making it the perfect place for the road trip of a lifetime. We’ve listed 6 of the best road trips in South Africa to help kick start your adventure. From long distance drives across vast expanses of territory, to shorter, but no less rewarding trips designed to showcase the best of what this fascinating country has to offer.
This route, along South Africa’s south-western coast, showcases some of the best coastal landscapes the country has to offer. As the name suggests, following this trail is like travelling through South Africa’s garden, with spectacular flora and fauna and a diverse range of eco-systems where you will find abundant wildlife viewing opportunities as well as spectacular views at every turn.
- Start/end location: Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, or vice versa.
- Distance: Around 300km
- Duration: Take your time along this route and enjoy the many varied sights and activities on offer, a week should give you plenty of time for enjoying the highlights of this spectacular drive. There are also plenty of Garden Route guided tours if you'd like to refrain from driving on your own.
- Best time to go: With its year-round, mild climate this route can be enjoyed at any time, summer or winter. From July to December you might catch a glimpse of the endangered southern right whale which calve in several of the bays along the route.
This route is all about spectacular scenery and the natural landscape! Centred around the world’s third largest canyon, the Blyde River Canyon, you’ll pass through some stunning scenery like the Three Rondavels and see impressive waterfalls such as the Mac-Mac falls near the town of Graskop and the Bridal Veil Falls near the town of Sabie. With high mountain passes and the chance to traverse some of South Africa’s most beautiful landscapes, the Panorama route is a must for adventurous nature lovers.
- Start/end location: Lyndenberg to the Echo Caves, near the border of Mpumalanga
- Distance: Around 200km
- Duration: Depending on your time limits, this route can easily be traversed in a day. However, stopping off to enjoy the views and the scenery is a must, and a few days gives ample time to enjoy the area to the fullest.
- Best time to go: June – November. With several mountain-passes to navigate, this route is best attempted at a time when good weather is guaranteed.
This is the big one! If you want to drive South Africa then this amazing 850km route is the way to do it. Route 62 takes in wineries, cultural sites, epic wildlife opportunities and some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. Along the way you’ll find history and culture as well as have the chance to get off the beaten track. Take time out in the town of Montagu to enjoy the thermal baths, or explore South Africa’s best wine producing region around the town of Calitzdorp.
- Start/end location: Cape Town to Port Elizabeth
- Distance: Around 850km
- Duration: If you’re planning on tackling the whole route you’ll need to travel over a few weeks, taking regular rest days and allowing plenty of stops to explore everything this incredible road trip has to offer.
- Best time to go: A long drive and a variety of climates en-route mean that this route is best tackled in the spring (September – October) or late summer (February – March) when temperatures are cooler and you can still enjoy longer days and temperate nights.
The Kruger National Park is probably the best known and most visited National Park in South Africa. You’ll need an official guide to make the most of your trip here with many parts off-limits to the casual tourist. There are numerous tours and trips on offer, allowing you to see the Big 5, the best of the big game and some of the more unusual wildlife which this area of outstanding natural beauty has to offer.
- Start/end location: There are nine main gates into the park. You’ll start and end at one of them.
- Distance: Depends upon your duration of stay.
- Duration: Organized tours into the national park usually take 3 – 5 days in order to catch a glimpse of all the wildlife you’d hope to see.
- Best time to go: April – September is the drier season and is the best time to see the wildlife. In winter, parts of the park may be closed and fewer organised trips run.
The Sani Pass lies between South Africa and its small landlocked neighbour Lesotho. This drive is not for the faint-hearted, and should not be attempted except by experienced drivers. From the South African side, you will be stopped if your vehicle is not deemed suitable (4x4 capability being a minimum requirement). Nevertheless, if you are properly equipped, and have the right vehicle, the reward is an incredible drive through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in South Africa.
- Start/end location: Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal to Mokhotlong, Lesotho.
- Distance: Around 9km
- Duration: Allow a day to traverse the pass and deal with the necessary stops and starts.
- Best time to go: Summer (November – February) is the best time to take on this road trip. The pass will be closed during adverse weather conditions and is best avoided in the winter months. Plan accordingly and go well-equipped in a suitable vehicle for a spectacular day!
This road trip is less about beginning at one point and ending in another but more about exploring the length and breadth of the area known as the Waterberg region. Located around two hours drive north of Johannesburg, the Waterberg region has been heavily promoted as a tourist destination in recent years. A number of guides are available allowing you to tailor your itinerary around the different cultural and natural sights which this region has to offer. Visit the natural springs at Bela-Bela or pay a visit to the Bushman camp near the town of Marken.
- Start/end location: The area is covered by several tourist routes or you can plan your own itinerary and explore it at your own pace. With easy access from Johannesburg, starting and ending your trip in South Africa’s capital would allow you the best of both worlds — city and countryside.
- Distance: Depends on how long you want to stay on the road.
- Duration: The region deserves more than just a day of exploration. Plan for at least two days. But if you want to soak up the ‘real’ South Africa, take a week out of your schedule for this fascinating region.
- Best time to go: If you’re planning on bush camping or booking accommodation en-route (and there are plenty of options) then summer (November – February) is the best time to visit the region, but South Africa is a temperate region at any time of the year and a holiday here, even in winter, will not disappoint.
Transport: If you’re planning any sort of long distance driving in South Africa then a well equipped 4x4 is a must. Be sure to check the reputation of your car rental company and ensure the vehicle is fully equipped for the conditions you intend to traverse, remembering in particular that South African distances can be vast and the availability of gas stations infrequent — always carry spare fuel!
If you want to rent a car when in South Africa, Thrifty Car Rental is a good choice. The company has its branches set up in most of South African airports and other major locations, making renting a van or a car that much more convenient.
Food and accommodation: Any of the routes listed here can be accomplished in luxury or on a budget. From bush camping to 5-star luxury, you’ll find both food and accommodation to suit your budget. However, do stock up on snacks and drinks every time you are in a town. No road-trip is complete without munching on packet foods.
Stay connected: In the remoter regions, don’t rely on mobile phone coverage or the availability of an internet connection. Always let friends know where you are going and how long you are likely to be out of contact.
What to pack: Life on the road can be tough. Pack everything you’ll need into your vehicle including food, water and medicines. Also pack appropriate clothing, sunglasses, hiking shoes and slippers for various activities that you plan to do.
Other safety considerations: Prior planning prevents poor performance and this is certainly true of any long-distance road trip. Go equipped for every eventuality — spare tires, first aid kits and a thorough knowledge of vehicle mechanics and basic first aid.
With so much to see and explore in South Africa, a road trip should be at the top of any person’s travel plan. The above are just some of the road trips in South Africa out of the many diverse and fascinating routes that are on offer. Those selected here give a balance between the natural beauty of this vast country alongside its cultural and historical significance, not to forget the incredible safari opportunities. You may even design your own road trip as per your liking; the possibilities are endless. Better start planning yours today!