The Garden Route is probably one of the most popular destinations in South Africa for both locals and foreigners and it absolutely deserves to be. It’s definitely a must-include in your South African itinerary. This is one of the areas with a lot to offer for any traveler. It’s a perfect place for a honeymoon trip, a long weekend getaway, and an amazing place for a family holiday.
We’ve done The Garden Route road trip more than once, every time staying in different places, and doing different things. The suggested itinerary is a quintessence of our experience. In this guide you’ll find; highlights, top things to do, a perfect travel itinerary, and some great places for camping on the Garden Route. The trip can be combined with the Cape Town itinerary.
Table of Contents
Garden Route road trip planning resources
- Rent a car for your Garden Route trip
- Book your accommodation on the route
- Find the best tours and activities on the Garden Route
- Discover the National Parks and reserves on the route
Garden Route itinerary PDF
We’ve created a free downloadable Garden Route itinerary PDF that contains the summary of the suggested itinerary including things to do, places to stay, and the highlights of the trip.
Traveling the Garden Route with a tour
Joining a mini-group tour on the Garden Route is a great option for solo travelers and those who don’t want to rent a car and do a self-drive trip. It’s an easy and fun way to discover the area and visit the main highlights of the Garden Route itinerary.
- From Cape Town: 7-Day Garden Route, Addo & Winelands Combo
- 5-Day Garden Route & Addo Adventure from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth
- From Cape Town: 3-Day Garden Route Highlights Safari
Where does the Garden Route start and finish?
The Garden Route officially starts in Mossel Bay (Western Cape), a coastal town 380 km east of Cape Town. It finishes 300 km later in the small town of Stormsrivier (Eastern Cape).
How long is the Garden Route?
The total distance of the standard Garden Route drive is 300 km/186 mi. If you add to it a 160-kilometer loop through Oudtshoorn the total distance will be 460 km/285 mi.
In which direction to drive?
The Garden Route can be driven either way starting in Cape Town and finishing in Stormsrivier or the other way around depending on your trip itinerary. If you start in Cape Town you can combine the road trip with one of the scenic drives along the coast.
You can combine the drive with a visit to beautiful wine farms in Stellenbosch. You’ll need 1 or 2 more days to visit the Cape Winelands. Winetasting is not the only activity in the region; there are plenty of other things to do in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
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What is the best way to travel the Garden Route?
The best way to explore the Garden Route is to rent a car, you can do it at Cape Town airport (if you start your trip in Cape Town) or at Port Elizabeth airport (Gqeberha), there are different options and price ranges depending on what car you choose. You can pick a car up at one airport and drop it off at another one.
Another option is to join a 6-day all-inclusive tour with pick up from your hotel in Cape Town or at the airport, several stops on the Garden Route, and a safari in Addo National Park.
It’s possible to travel along the Garden Route with Hop-on Hop-off Bus, the bus drives from Cape Town to Gqeberha (ex Port Elizabeth) with many stops along the Garden Route. It can drop you off and pick you up at your hostel/hotel, you can stop at as many places on the route as you wish and stay for as long as you want, it works on the hop-on-hop-off principle.
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Garden Route road trip tips
If you want to stay connected I would suggest buying an eSIM card for South Africa so you can make local phone calls and use data without worrying about the cost.
The most budget accommodation option on the route is camping, there are some amazing campsites on the Garden Route. A good thing about camping in South Africa is that you pay per site, which usually fits 6 people, so if you’re a family or a group of friends camping will cost you as little as ZAR60/US$3 pp. average.
Hostels and hotels can be found at all main stops on the Garden Route.
Restaurants and shops in small towns are usually closed on Sundays.
South Africans drive on the left side of the road like the British and Australians if you’re from North America or Europe you’ll have to adjust to it.
Driving follow speed limit signs, especially in towns, there are speed cameras in many places on the Garden Route.
All roads are tar you don’t need a 4×4 for the trip.
If you’re a temporary resident in South Africa take a document proving it you pay local entrance fees, which are half or even less than international.
When is the best time to travel?
Rain. South African spring and summer (October – April) is the best time to travel the Garden Route. The area is considered to be one of the richest rainfall regions. The western part of the Route has more rainfall in winter like Cape Town. The eastern part e.g. the Tsitsikamma area has more rainfall in summer, like Port Elizabeth. Basically, on the Garden Route, it can rain at any time but not for too long.
Temperature. Summer months (October to March) are nice and warm it rarely gets as hot as in Cape Town or Swellendam, avg. daily temperature +24°C-30°C. Spring and fall (September, April, and May) are cooler +17°C-23°C. Winter months (June – August) between +16°C-20°C.
Garden Route highlights
Cape Town is a great place to start or finish the road trip. There are many great places to visit and things to do in Cape Town. Make sure to spare a couple of days of your South Africa itinerary for Mother City.
Hermanus – a coastal town on the way from Cape Town to the Garden Route. Whale watching in Hermanus is between July and September. It’s a nice stop with beautiful sea views, great seafood restaurants, good wine, and a relaxing holiday vibe.
Mossel Bay – a nice town with some cool things to do, a couple of nice restaurants, good surfing, and nice beaches.
Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn – a system of caves and tunnels.
Ostrich farm, Oudtshoorn.
7 Passes Drive (George), an old road that connected George and Knysna, with a couple of bridges and narrow passes through the canyon.
Wilderness – a small cute town with many guest houses, restaurants, and a couple of paragliding schools.
Ebb & Flow, Wilderness National park – a great place for camping at the river bank, with several hiking trails and kayak rentals. Day visitors are allowed.
Sedgefield – cozy beach town with long white sand and a usually empty beach, many accommodation options, and a couple of restaurants and bars. Great place for chilling, running on the beach, swimming, or SUPing around.
Knysna – a beautiful town at the lagoon, with some great lookout points, restaurants, and water activities (kayaking, boat tours).
Diepwalle, Garden Route National park, Knysna section – hidden forest paradise, 20min. drive from Knysna with great wooden camping decks in the forest, three hiking trails, and a community coffee shop.
Plettenberg Bay – a beach town and an adventure capital of the Garden Route; canyoning, diving, hiking, snorkeling, bodyboarding, canopy tours everything to keep you busy for a couple of days.
The Bloukrans Bridge – the highest bungee bridge in the world.
Tsitsikamma National park – our favorite national park on the Garden Route. It has beautiful scenery, rocky cliffs, suspension bridges, lush green mountains, and many hiking trails.
Stormsrivier village – a very small and cozy village with many guest houses, hotels, hostels, restaurants, coffee shops, and a Tsitsikamma canopy tour.
One-week Garden Route itinerary
Our Garden Route itinerary (driving route): Cape Town – Swellendam – Heidelberg – Mossel Bay – Oudtshoorn (optional) – George – Wilderness – Sedgefield – Knysna – Diepwalle Camping Decks – Plettenberg Bay – Nature’s Valley – Bloukrans bridge – Storms River Mouth park – Stormsrivier.
Day 1. Cape Town – Swellendam – Mossel Bay, 386 km/240 mi
If you start driving from Cape Town early morning you’ll be in Mossel Bay before lunchtime which gives you some time to explore the town. As we already mentioned instead of driving from Cape Town in one go you can take your time and stop for a day or two in Hermanus there are many incredible things to do there.
Swellendam is about halfway between Cape Town and Mossel Bay many people stop here for the night. It’s a nice town but it gets very hot in summer; January – February between +35°C and +40°C.
As an option, you can drive inland on Route 62, stop on the way in Stellenbosch or Franschhoek and taste the best South African wines.
Where to stay in Mossel Bay?
You can find some really budget places for half of the price compare to the majority of hostels/hotels in the town but keep in mind the location, often it’s not the best neighborhood, far from the beach and the city attractions.
- Budget | Baylight Accommodation Room | Aloe @ the Sea | Santos Express |
- Middle price | Villa Palmera | 3ColoursBlue Guest House |
- Luxury | Aquamarine Guest House | Betty’s Boutique Hotel |
Day 2. Mossel Bay
As we already mentioned above we stayed here for two nights and really liked it but if you’re not planning to do any activities here one night may be enough.
Things to do in Mossel Bay
Hike St.Blaze trail, a 14km trail along the coast, starts at Bushman Cave and finishes at Dana Bay. There is no entrance fee but you have to sign in at the Golf Estate checkpoint as the trail goes through its land. To get back to Mossel Bay you’ll need a taxi. It’s better to ask for a taxi number at your hotel/hostel. The hike can be down both ways.
Visit Point of Human Origins Cave – a famous archaeological site with early evidence of modern human behavior. It’s a guided activity, the cave is located on the St.Blaze trail you can combine both. Phone for booking +27(0)79 640 0004.
Safari drive in the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve located in the mountains, a 30-minute drive from Mossel Bay, on the way to George. During the 3-hour safari in the reserve, you can see rhinos, lions, giraffes, buffaloes, and other African animals.
Skydiving. One of the most adrenaline-pumping activities, Mossel Bay is a great spot; the highest tandem skydive in Africa, beautiful scenery, good weather conditions, professional team.
Visit Dias Museum to find out more about the town’s history and take photos of the famous Post Office Tree.
Surfing. There is a nice point break at the Point, though you need to be experienced to surf here. You can take a lesson or rent a board at a surf school at Diaz Beach.
Drinking good coffee, eating delicious desserts, and enjoying nice vibes in Blue Shed Coffee Roastery.
Chilling on the beach. The main beaches in the town are Santos Beach, Diaz Beach, and Great Brak River Beach.
Day 3. Mossel Bay – (Oudtshoorn) – George – Wilderness – Sedgefield, 80 km/50 mi (180 km/111 mi)
Cango Caves and Ostrich Farm, Oudtshoorn
It’s up to you to keep driving along the coast past George to Wilderness or take a detour and go to Oudtshoorn, about 160 km return. The main attraction there is the Cango Caves, an impressive system of caves and tunnels. Some caves are huge with many stalactites and stalagmites and other strange rock formations, some are small.
The most exciting one is the last cave to access it you go through a very narrow tunnel more like a den. If you’re a big person or scared of closed spaces rather skip the last part. Exploring the cave is lots of fun. If you have time why not come here for a day, especially if you travel with children?
A visit to the famous ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn can be interesting for children as well, here you can do a safari ostrich farm tractor tour, visit a workshop and a factory, watch an ostrich race and have lunch in a restaurant. In the peak summer holiday season, it’s better to buy entrance tickets in advance. If your time is limited or crawling through tunnels and watching ostriches don’t excite you too much rather skip Oudtshoorn and stick to the coastal route.
More tours and activities in Oudtshoorn
- Oudtshoorn: 2-Hour Open Game Drive with Refreshments
- Oudtshoorn: Celestial Stargazing with Telescope and Guide
George and 7 Passes
George is the biggest town on the Garden Route but we’ve never stayed here. It’s a good place for shopping because your options in Wilderness and Sedgefield are rather limited. From George, you can continue driving on N2 along the coast or go a bit inland and drive through Seven Passes, an old road that connects George with Knysna.
The drive is beautiful but we’d suggest not driving all seven passes but rather going over the first two and at the end of the tar road turning right towards Wilderness and going back to the coastal route. The gravel road on the Seven Passes is nice but the coastal drive is definitely more impressive.
If you really like the tranquility of the area and would like to spend a night in this green paradise you can stay at Fernhill Tented Treehouses. The tents on wooden platforms are located in the beautiful forest. Guests can enjoy the incredible scenery and go cycling or hiking.
Things to do in Wilderness
We love this small town and its surroundings. It’s a peaceful and beautiful place with lush green mountains and long sandy beaches. There are a lot of things to do and to see.
Hiking the Outeniqua trail – a 6-day hutted hike in the Garden Route National park.
Walking one of the day hiking trails; there are five trails in the Wilderness Ebb & Flow National park, from 3km to 10km. The Giant Kingfisher trail to a waterfall is our favorite. To get a great view over the area go to the viewpoint, the climb is quite steep and long.
Canoeing on the Touw River and some small lakes nearby, kayak rental is available in the park.
Drinking coffee. We’re big coffee junkies and every time we find a cool coffee shop we can’t stop talking about it. There is one in Wilderness the Green Shed Roastery. A small wooden shack with a funky design, coffee beans from all around the world, and delicious desserts, their chocolate cheesecake is the winner!
Paragliding. The area is quite famous for it, there are a couple of schools and gear rental places around Wilderness. You can do a tandem flight, do a course, or rent gear here.
Water-skiing, fishing, and windsurfing at Island Lake Holiday resort.
Where to stay in Wilderness?
We camped at Ebb & Flow in Wilderness National park, an amazing and beautiful place. There are several hiking trails, kayaks, and paddleboard rentals in the park. There are plenty of cozy and not crazy expensive accommodation options in Wilderness.
- Low-end | Fairy Knowe Backpackers | Wilderness Beach House Backpackers Lodge |
- Middle price | Amber Light Wilderness Beach Cottage | Tranquil Shores |
- High-end | Haus am Strand – on the Beach | Pearl Moon Boutique Suites |
As an option, you can stay in Sedgefield, which is only 23km away. The beach in Sedgefield is very nice. It’s a long white sand beach great for running and SUPing in the lagoon when it’s not too windy. If you happen to be here on Saturday morning check out Wild Oats farmers’ market.
Where to stay in Sedgefield?
- Low-end | Sedgefield Huts | Haven on Hoopoe |
- Middle price | Eastbrook River Lodge | The Gull |
- High-end | Dover on Sea B&B | Simbavati Fynbos on Sea |
Day 4. Sedgefield – Knysna, 25 km/15,5 mi
Enjoyable drive along the coast with some beautiful views. We were worried a bit about Knysna after the big fire of 2017, on the way driving we did see patches of burned forest. We found Knysna looking exactly the same as the previous time we were here. For many travelers, Knysna is one of their main Garden Route highlights.
Things to do in Knysna
- Drive up to Knysna Heads for a stunning view of the area.
- Visit the Noetzie beach and the Castle; a fantastic area with a beautiful sandy beach, and a couple of castle-like houses.
- Discover the beauty of the Knysna Lagoon on a boat cruise.
- Enjoy the stunning sunset on a boat cruise with captain’s BBQ
- Explore the Knysna forest on a scooter bike, the whole family will enjoy this adventure.
- Paddle around the Lagoon, enjoy the scenery, and spot marine life on a stand-up paddleboard that you can rent in Knysna.
- Go for a short hike in Diepwalle, Knysna section of the Garden Route National park, there are three hiking trails 7km, 8km, and 9km, as well as a small museum and a coffee shop.
- Discover the diverse wildlife on a boat tour around Knysna Heads and the estuary.
- Rent a Stand-Up Paddle Board and explore the lagoon
- Spot marine animals on a whale-watching cruise, recommended only in the season (June – October) if you want to see Southern Right whales.
- Do an adventurous zipline tour and enjoy the best views of the area.
- Enjoy delicious food and good wine in one of the restaurants in Knysna, there are many for different budgets and tastes.
Where to stay in Knysna?
We camped at Diepwalle camping decks, it’s a different level of camping; spacious wooden decks hidden in the forest with a roofed bar, fireplace, and good ablution complex. The main disadvantage of this place is the location, it’s about 30min. driving inland from Knysna in the middle of the woods with no restaurants or bars.
More places to stay in Knysna
- Budget | Island Vibe Knysna | Protea Guest House |
- Middle price | Abalone Lodges | Lagoon Lodge |
- Luxury | Candlewood Lodge | THEBLOEM Guest Suites |
Day 5. Knysna – Plettenberg Bay, 32 km/20 mi
On the way stop at Harkerville forest to walk in the famous Garden of Eden, a very easy and short walk, 1km, on a wooden path in a beautiful Knysna forest can be a nice picnic stop on the way.
There are a couple of interesting stops on the way, especially for travelers with children. Knysna Elephant park where you can do elephant safaris and walks. Garden Route Wolf sanctuary where you can do a self-guided walk through the park, observe wolves and get to know more about these beautiful animals.
Plettenberg Bay or Plett is a nice beach town with many B&Bs, hotels, and guest houses, a popular place for South Africans to come for the Christmas holiday. The main beach is nice for swimming and tanning, there are quite a few things to do in and around the town.
Where to stay in Plettenberg Bay?
- Budget | Nothando Backpackers Lodge | 22 Robberg Road |
- Middle price | Dolphin Circle Bed and Breakfast | Castleton Plettenberg Bay |
- Luxury | Ocean Watch Guest House | La Vista Lodge |
Day 6. Plettenberg Bay
If you’re willing to do any of the activities you’ll need at least two days in Plett, we spent here three nights, were quite busy every day and still haven’t done everything we’d like to do.
Things to do in Plettenberg Bay
It’s the real adventure capital of the Garden Route there are many exciting things to do in Plettenberg Bay.
Do a boat tour to spot hundreds of Cape fur seals at Robberg Marine Protected area near Plett. There are over 6000 seals in the colony you’ll definitely see them.
Explore Plettenberg Bay on a guided sea kayak tour. During the tour, you get a chance to see seals, dolphins, and even whales (if you’re very lucky).
If you don’t mind getting wet you can do a 30-minute swim session with seals, wetsuits, masks, and fins included. We loved snorkeling with these guys they’re very playful and curious and come pretty close to people to check them out.
Do a canyoning trip, and enjoy a great day of abseiling, jumping, zip-lining, hiking, and swimming in a beautiful canyon surrounded by the indigenous forest. It’s not a very extreme but a fun adventure. Gear is included.
Hike in Robberg Nature Reserve. There are several hiking trails from 30-minute walks to a 4-hour hike around the peninsula. Stunning scenery, many seals, beautiful beaches, and chances to spot dolphins and whales.
Visit Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve and do a 2-hour game drive to spot magnificent African animals like elephants, buffalo, rhinos, leopards, giraffes, zebras, and crocodiles.
Join a whale-watching boat tour. Don’t miss a chance to encounter these beautiful giants. The best time to see Southern Right Whales in the area is from mid-July to mid-September. Dolphins and seals can be seen all year round.
Do a Monkeyland guided tour to learn about native South African primates. In Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary you can see over 500 species of monkeys, apes, and lemurs.
Go to Keurbooms beach, the best and less crowded beach in Plett, swim, walk around and have a drink in one of the local bars.
Enjoy the tranquility and the beauty of the Keurbooms River on a stand-up paddle board tour.
For travelers with children, Adventure Land is a great outdoor place with swimming pools, slides, and super tubes in a 24-hectare area.
Day 7. Plettenberg Bay – The Crags – Nature’s Valley – Bloukrans bridge – Tsitsikamma National park – Stormsrivier, 95 km/59 mi
This is one of our favorite drive days on the Garden Route road trip. You drive through a couple of stunning bridges over the narrow deep canyons, including the famous Bloukrans bridge with the highest bridge bungee jump in the world.
A couple of nice beach towns on the way: Keurboomstrand and Nature’s Valley. If you turn from N2 to R102 which leads to Nature’s Valley you drive through the beautiful Grootrivier Pass.
Just outside Plettenberg Bay, there are three interesting animal sanctuaries Monkeyland, Birds of Eden, and Jukani Wildlife. You can buy a single entrance ticket and visit all three of them, they are located next to each other. In just a couple of hours, you’ll get to see 11 different species of free-roaming monkeys, and 200 species of birds, and see big cats like lions, leopards, cheetahs, Siberian tigers, pumas, and more. All the animals at Jukani are rescued it’s not a zoo, they don’t sell or buy animals.
Bloukrans bridge bungee jump
It’s 100% worth of money, it’s one of the most adrenaline-pumping activities you can do on the Garden Route with incredible scenery. The free fall is quite fast, 3 sec. max but it’s enough to make you super excited and agitated. I’m sure you can do it over and over and every time your heart will beat like crazy. Book now your Tsitsikamma Bungee Jump with Zipline and Sky Walk tour.
Things to do in the Tsitsikamma National Park
Tsitsikamma National Park is a popular tourist attraction on the Garden Route. Many people come here every day the main parking area gets very busy if you go a bit further you’ll find almost no people. Tsitsikamma Park is one of our favorite places on the Garden Route.
Hiking the Otter trail. It’s a 5-day hike along the coast, considered to be one of the most scenic hikes in the world. Though you need to book it quite beforehand to check availability on arrival you might be lucky to get an open spot in a day or two, as we were.
Blackwater tubing in Tsitsikamma is a fun way to explore the hidden corners of the park inaccessible from the land.
Tsitsikamma trail is a 6-day hike, unlike the Otter trail this trail goes inland through a mountainous area with a couple of natural pools and waterfalls on the way. We haven’t done this one yet but are aiming to do it in the nearest future.
Explore the beautiful indigenous forest on a zipline and canopy adventure in Tsitsikamma.
Storms River kayak and lilo tour is rather a relaxing activity with no rapids or strong currents that allows you to enjoy the stunning and peaceful Storms River canyon. It’s the only way you can see it there is no road or hiking path along the canyon.
Walk across the suspension bridges. It’s a walk to two beautiful bridges across the river mouth with great views of the canyon.
Climb up to the viewpoint. After the last suspension bridge, there is a trail that goes all the way to the top of the mountain. The views from there are stunning. The trail is quite challenging, it takes about 1.5 hours to go up and down.
Enjoy the Waterfall hike. The trail starts at the caravan park and goes along the coast to the waterfall and the rocky pool. It takes about 2-3h return. The route involves some rock hopping and a little bit of climbing, not suitable for hiking with small children.
Do a snorkeling trail. It starts at the office and continues along the coast towards suspension bridges. The water is quite cold. Snorkeling here we saw a lot of fish, starfish, one shy shark, and one sand shark. It’s advisable to do only when the sea is calm.
Spot whales and dolphins. During the season between September and December, you can see Southern Right whales from the shore. Dolphins and otters can be spotted all year round.
Explore Tsitsikamma forest on the electric scooter tour.
There is a big restaurant inside the park, a shop and braai places for day visitors you can have lunch by the sea or BBQ your own meat.
Things to do in Stormsrivier
A guided hike in the Tsitsikamma forest is another option for nature lovers who want to explore the forest, spend a couple of hours outdoors, and learn more about the area and its inhabitants.
Explore the village and the beautiful forest on a guided segway tour. It’s an exciting and fun activity for the whole family.
Go on a paddle boarding and river tubing adventure along the Storms River and enjoy the beautiful indigenous forest and the tranquility of the area.
If walking and ziplining through the forest doesn’t sound too exciting for you, joining a quad bike tour through the forest – might be a great alternative.
Where to stay in Stormsrivier?
We camped at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp and at Nature’s Valley campsite. Both places are great though the first one is right at the sea, the second is at the river bank. If you prefer to stay in a hotel or hostel there are plenty of options in Stormsrivier.
- Budget | Tsitsikamma Backpackers | Tube ‘n Axe Boutique Backpackers and Hot Tubs |
- Middle price | Fijnbosch Cottage and Camping | Forest Nest | Storms River Guest Lodge |
- Luxury | Tsitsikamma Manor | Swallows Nest Country Cottages |
Our Garden Route itinerary finishes here. You can continue the trip along the coast towards Port Elizabeth and further on or drive back to Cape Town.
Garden Route trip planning resources
- Add a stunning drive along the coast to your itinerary | The best road trip from Cape Town |
- Don’t miss Southern right whales! | Whale watching in Hermanus |
- Choose the best activities for you in Plettenberg Bay | Awesome things to do in Plett |
- Make sure to visit stunning National Parks on the Garden Route | South African National Park official website |
- Where to rent a car? | Find the best car rental deals |
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The pretty half of Stingy Nomads, responsible for all our land adventures (hiking, climbing, walking the Camino) and following them write-ups. Alya loves walking since she was a child, she prefers to walk 1000 km with a backpack rather than to do a 10 000 km road trip (actually any road trip). Alya is a big fan of Latin America, the Spanish language, and dancing. Every time we go away she desperately misses our dog Chile.