The Best Road Trips In South Africa

There are some incredible road trips in South Africa. This is a country that truly calls for driving, and since that is safe and actually quite cheap, you should not miss on the opportunity to do that. My sister and I did that, and truly loved it.

You see, cities in South Africa are great. Making your base in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, or one of the other cities in the country will give you easy access to restaurants, museums, shopping areas, cultural attractions and other services.

However, if you stay in the city for your entire trip, you’ll miss out on all the amazing wonders in the countryside, along the coast, in the mountains, and off-the-beaten-path. And there’s no adventure like the one you take while behind the wheel in a foreign land where you have no idea what’s around the next bend.

If venturing off into the unknown without a planned route isn’t your thing, there are plenty of scenic, well-travelled driving routes around the country. Get ready to see stunning natural landscapes, world-class attractions, native wildlife, breathtaking views and historical landmarks on one of these incredible South African road trips.

Below are some of the best road trips in South Africa.

Make sure to read my post The Best Places To Visit In South Africa.

Road trips in South Africa

8 Incredible Road Trips In South Africa

The Panorama Route

The Panorama Route is a one of the most popular road trips in South Africa for visitors interested in natural landscapes. Along the way, you’ll drive through high mountain passes and have many opportunities to stop and get a better look at the scenic vistas.

By far, the top attraction along this route is the Blyde River Canyon which is the third largest canyon on earth. Other top attractions include Bourkes Luck Potholes, The Three Rondavels, Mac Mac Falls, Gods Window, Graskop Falls, and the stunning Bridal Veil Falls.

The route is approximately 200 kilometers (124 miles) and travels from Lydenberg to Mpumalanga. You can drive this road in a day, but it’s recommended to put aside at least two days if you want to enjoy the sites or explore some of the little towns along the way.

Hermanus best road trips in South Africa

Clarence Drive (R44)

Easily one of the most scenic drives in South Africa, the one from Gordon’s Bay to Hermanus will offer incredible views along the way. You will be driving along the coast through tall cliffs to admire indigenous fynbos and the ocean. If you are lucky enough you can even spot whales as you drive – though it’s best to stop in designated areas for that.

One of the best stops along the way is Stony Point Penguin Colony is a must-see, one of the three breeding colonies of jackass penguins in mainland South Africa. If you want to bring a souvenir home, stop in Kleinmond – there are many nice shop and you are bound to find something good.

A couple of hours are enough to drive the 84 km (52 miles) from Gordon Bay to Hermanus.

One thing to keep in mind is that baboons are a common presence along this drive, so drive slowly and keep your windows closed as they love getting in cars!

The Garden Route

Easily one of the best road trips in South Africa, the Garden Route is an incredibly scenic drive which traverses the country’s south-western coast, delivers a healthy dose of everything you’d expect in an epic road journey. Stunning scenery, lush greenery, an abundance of wildlife and diverse landscapes such as wetlands, lakes, woodlands, beaches, and mountains.

One of the best stops is definitely Hermanus. While many stop there on day trips from Cape Town, this lovely small town is actually an incredible place for whale watching, with sightings happening even from the shore, and whale watching expeditions departing regularly.

Some of the attractions you’ll find along the way include Tsitsikamma National Park, Knysna Heads, Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail, Robberg Nature Reserve, and the Storms River Suspension Bridge that spans 77 meters (252.6 feet). Looking for the ultimate heart-pounding adventure? Why not try Bungee jumping from the Bloukrans Bridge!

The Garden Route starts in Mossel Bay in the Western Cape and travels 300 kilometers (186.5 miles) to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. It can be done in two days, but it’s recommended to put aside five to seven days to get the most out of this amazing trip.

Make sure to read my post The Best Things To Do In Knysna And On The Garden Route and Where To Stay In Knysna.

Calitzdorp

Route 62

If you’re seeking a more in-depth route that covers more ground and offers a bit of everything, Route 62 is a great one to consider. Known as the longest wine route in the world, while this route is mostly known for the wineries near the town of Calitzdorp, you’ll also see cultural attractions, wildlife, and scenery. Some of the attractions include Cango Caves and Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. In the town of Montagu, you’ll find luxurious thermal baths.

Route 62 travels from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and because it’s quite long at 850 kilometers (528 miles), it’s recommended to spend at least two weeks exploring the region.

Curious to discover more about South African wines? Read my post The Best Estates To Do Wine Tasting In Stellenbosch.

scenic drives in South Africa

Waterberg

Waterberg isn’t a driving route, but rather a region. Exploring this region offers a mix of cultural experiences and opportunities to explore pristine natural areas. The area is known for its ecotourism attractions, so expect to see lots of rugged landscapes consisting of mountains and shrub.

Some of the attractions in this area include Bela-Bela Natural Springs, Atherstone Nature Reserve, Marakele National Park, Mokopane Biodiversity Centre, and Ben Alberts Nature Reserve. If you enjoy golfing there are also plenty of golf courses in this area.

The Waterberg region is about two hours from Johannesburg and two to three days is usually enough time to explore all the best attractions.

Baviaanskloof

One of the most breathtaking road trips in South Africa is the drive that connects Willowmore to Zandvlakte through the Baviaanskloof Valley, a beautiful 200 km (124 miles) long valley nestled between two mountain ranges and so unique that it is now a World Heritage Site.

The road is actually quite long, but not all of it is easily accessible on a sedan. You will need a four-wheel-drive to from from Zandvlakte to Poortjie – it’s 103 km (64 miles).

The area is famous for the many hiking trails. Many would also enjoy the Willowmore donkey cart (known as the Willow Limo) but I frankly don’t see the fun of wandering around on a cart pulled by a working animal.

You need at least 8 hours to drive through the kloof, but if you actually want to take in the amazing views and enjoy the hikes, three days are necessary.

road trips in south africa

KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander

Located in KwaZulu-Natal, the Midlands Meander are a beautiful region packed with forests, nice quaint villages, historic landmarks and – much like anywhere in South Africa – excellent restaurants.

Sights along the way include the Nelson Mandela Capture Site and the Howick Falls, a whopping 95 meters (311 feet) waterfall). Another place you will want to visit is Nottingham Road, a small town south of Mooi River home to a 1890s haunted hotel. It’s a good place to use as a base to explore the area (the town, that is!).

You can cover the whole distance of this road trip in a day – it’s about 80 km (50 miles).

Midlands Meander

Sani Pass

Sani Pass, between KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho, is one of the most scenic drives in South Africa. The pass starts at 1,544 meters (5,065 feet) above sea level. The peak is at 2,876 meters (9,435 feet). This part of the country is actually known for its unpredictable weather – so you will need to be prepared for rain and even snow.

One popular stop along the way is Clarens. It’s a nice small town with good restaurants and accommodation options. You can even pop into Afriki – the only ski resort in South Africa – for a chance of hitting the slopes.

If you don’t want to drive this route yourself, consider joining a guided tour where you also get taken on hikes. Make sure to also bring your passport in case you want to cross into Lesotho.

You can cover the whole distance of the Sani Pass (45 km, or 28 miles) in a day. Keep in mind this is a gravel mountain road best tackled on a 4WD.

road trips in south africa

Useful Information For Road Tripping In South Africa

The Best Time For A Road Trip In South Africa

Some will suggest that the best time to do a road trip in South Africa is between May and October, with September being the nicest month. My sister and I went on a road trip in November and had wonderful, sunny weather throughout. Generally speaking, summers can be extremely hot and uncomfortable, so you may want to avoid that.

Renting a car

Renting a car is actually quite convenient in South Africa, and a great way to explore independently. The best way to go about it is to book it well in advance and to pick it up from the airport, so you can set out for your road trip the minute you hit the ground. Use an aggregator site such as Discover Cars to compare the prices of the various car rental companies and make sure to read the terms and conditions as some companies may place mileage limitations.

Want to have an idea of prices? Check out the prices of car rental in South Africa here.

Make sure to read my post A Guide To Renting A Car In South Africa.

Driving in South Africa

While you may be concerned about safety, I can assure you that if you follow some simple common sense rules driving in South Africa is an incredible experience.

The main thing you must remember is that driving is on the left – so if you are not too confident of a driver, rent a car with automatic transmission as it makes driving on the other side of the road significantly easier. Other than that, always wear your seat belt (passengers must wear it too); stick to the speed limits; don’t use your phone while driving (unless hands-off, obviously); don’t drink and drive (but that’s really anywhere in the world) and avoid driving at night. Also beware of animals on the road (baboons are common in the Cape Point Peninsula, but each region has its own animals).

Make sure to read my post What You Need To Know About Driving In South Africa.

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Read about the best road trips in South Africa - via @clautavani

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