Arguably the most visually stunning city on the planet, Cape Town is often the first destination which comes to mind when planning a South Africa itinerary. Featuring an incredible number of natural attractions, this busy metropolis at the foot of Table Mountain is every bit worthy of the reputation it holds. However, this entire vibrant nation is vast and infused with spectacular coastlines, enchanting safari regions, and very unique experiences.
In fact, whether you travel to this part of the world for a few days or a few weeks, there is rarely enough time to encounter everything it has to offer. Three weeks in South Africa is usually a decent chunk of time to experience the main highlights and best places to see between Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Where to Start
With the above in mind, Cape Town should be an integral part of every South Africa itinerary. On the other hand, with the variety of flights from TAMBO International Airport, Johannesburg is usually the best option for arrival or departure. As you might have guessed, the drive between these two major cities is perfect for a road trip. It offers some of the most exciting places to see in South Africa whilst still staying on the same course to a particular destination.
Whether you start in Cape Town or Jo’burg is not hugely important. Given the majesty of Cape Town, this is often a great place to finish an adventure which makes Johannesburg an ideal starting point. There is an incredible number of experiences between these two destinations to fill a South Africa itinerary for three weeks. So, here is one way you can plan this amazing adventure!
South Africa Itinerary for Three Weeks
The following South Africa itinerary has been compiled based on the best things to experience. At the same time, you will not have to spend too much time on travel between attractions.
Day 1 – Flying into Johannesburg
Sadly, Johannesburg is often considered “one of the most dangerous cities in the world” but this most certainly does not mean you need to worry upon arrival. The truth is, most of this unsavory reputation is due to high crime rates in impoverished areas or very particular sections of the city. The mode of transport and accommodations for tourists, however, are organized to avoid any such places.
That being said, the several museums and landmarks fail to make this city worthy of an extended stay. The best option for arriving in Jo’Burg is usually to catch up on rest for the first evening before venturing away from civilization and into the African wilderness.
Day 2 & 3 Kruger National Park
Located to the north of Johannesburg, Kruger National Park is one of the most famous on the continent. It also happens to be home to the Big Five. In case you wonder, the Big Five animals in Africa are the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and the Cape buffalo. Some people actually consider Kruger National Park to be the most convenient place to witness lions in the wild.
This combined with the opportunity to self-drive in such an awe inspiring place ensures an unforgettable experience regardless of what you see. The park offers a range of accommodation options, from luxury lodges to budget conscious campsites. Therefore, planning a multi day safari is always recommended to feel fully immersed in your surroundings.
Once in Kruger, you will have access to a map with driving routes around the park. Making regular stops to speak with other drivers is usually the easiest means of locating wildlife within the park.
In short, you could easily spend more than a few days taking game drives in Kruger and enjoying the sounds of the wild at night. A two-day safari, however, is usually enough to have a real taste of Africa at the very beginning of your trip.
In many ways, renting a car is the ideal way to explore Kruger National Park. There are also a wide number of tour operators who offer one or two day trips to the park from Johannesburg.
Day 4 & 5 Drakensberg Mountains
As popular with locals as with visiting tourists, the Drakensberg Mountains are some of the most spectacular in all of Africa. While Lesotho is a landlocked country within South Africa that is also worth visiting, the effort of doing so will usually require four or more days. This can be a little inconvenient when planning a South Africa itinerary, and time is limited. For this reason, make an extended stop in the Drakensberg Mountains. They offer a similar experience without having to cross borders and venture too far from the main road.
Stretching for 1000 km, the mountains are stunning in every way. They also offer a wonderful lineup of isolated hotels which are perfect to unwind in the midst of the surrounding wilderness. This beautiful region is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site so you can expect a very unique experience in an area full of historic importance.
It takes quite a while to travel deep into the mountains so the prospect of staying just one night will feel rushed and rather quick. It is best to slow things down and spend two nights adventuring through the hilltops and capturing some truly stunning photos of the scenery.
Day 6 – Aliwal North
Located on the beautiful Orange River, Aliwal North is not the most famous place in South Africa. Nevertheless, this quiet little pocket offers the ideal stopover between the mountains and the Wild Coast. At the same time, Aliwal is not completely unknown. The hot springs here make it popular with passing tourists looking to kick back and relax from a long drive in either direction.
Indeed, the hot mineral springs here are truly enjoyable. Aliwal North, however, is mostly a great place to stay for the fact that you can break up the road trip and plan on an early arrival to the coast the following day.
Day 7 & 8 Chintsa
Situated in the Chintsa River and the estuary leading into the ocean, this small town is popular for good reason. Whether you choose to spend time strolling the white powdered sands or sampling local coffee in a quaint café, the town itself is idyllic. The neighboring area also offers a good number of adventures.
Chintsa is surrounded by luscious forest, flowing rivers and rolling landscapes. This makes it the first place on this South Africa itinerary that really offers you the chance to get active. Hiking trails are easy to find and these wind their way through thick flora where the bird life is especially impressive. The Chintsa river, on the other hand, is perfect for canoeing or kayaking.
You can also participate in horse riding while in Chintsa. Overall, this is a gorgeous scenic town where nature is easily accessed and the spoils of the Wild Coast are there for you to enjoy.
Day 9 Addo Elephant National Park
As you might expect, Addo Elephant National Park is best known for the enormous herds of elephants who roam around the park freely. This should not be missed while traveling between Jo’Burg and Cape Town. The grounds may be a little overgrown in places, making the animals harder to spot, but the park feels truly wild. There is also the opportunity to scan the nearby ocean in search of whales and even sharks.
Located inland from the actual coastal drive, Addo is also home to lions, buffalos, rhinos, and many more exotic species.
Day 10 – 13 The Garden Route – Storms River, Tsitsikamma and Knysna
Storms River is the first stop along the famous Garden Route. It offers a great spectacle as the incoming waves crash through the outgoing mouth of the river. Consisting of a wide number of activities, the area is popular with backpackers who enjoy getting active in the outdoors. The beach, however, is the main attraction, where a rugged coastline is dominated by a beautiful stretch of sand.
After spending one night at Storms River, visit the Tsitsikamma National Park. This beautiful place offers an insight into a whole new side of South Africa.
Here, towering trees and a darkened undergrowth are brought to life by the fresh sea breeze and flora in between. Tsitsikamma National Park is indeed a special place, even if it is less visited.
Last but not least, the town of Knysna is a central point for many hikers and backpackers. It is very scenic with a stunning lagoon and immensely beautiful cliffs on either side. Furthermore, the lineup of restaurants and bars in town live up to every expectation.
Day 14 – Hermanus
Regardless as to whether you have previously witnessed them in their natural habitat, whale watching in Hermanus is a spectacular experience. Although many restaurants and hotels make up the town itself, visitors arrive from Cape Town every day to see these magical creatures. The opportunity to see them so close is truly irresistible.
The whales are known to come right inside the bay in Hermanus and up close to the shore. You would not need binoculars or any other device to catch a proper glimpse of these magnificent animals.
Day 15 & 16 Stellenbosch and Franschhoek
Situated inland from Cape Town, Stellenbosch is a convenient stop en route to the city. This location is more famous for the sweeping landscapes and wine region which dominate the area. Well known throughout the world, the vineyards here produce some of the most sought after wines. The opportunity to explore the actual wineries means this is also an attraction which is interactive.
Manicured yet wild, this region has a very enchanting appeal. Tourists come in search of the wine but also for the beautiful scenery which surrounds it. In fact, the views of Table Mountain are some of the best on the Cape Peninsula. Furthermore, the towering peaks next to Franschhoek are just as spell binding.
This is where a trip to this particular area becomes hugely rewarding, since the above mentioned Franschhoek is also a haven for foodies. Many tourists arrive here to sample the work of Michelin star chefs in Michelin star restaurants. In fact, Franschhoek is the location for the largest number of Michelin star restaurants in a confined area, in the world.
Day 17 – 21 – Cape Town
If you think that four days is too long to stay in a major city, think again. Cape Town is not only a spectacular city overflowing with things to do but also the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding attractions. Many visitors arrive in the Mother City for a week or longer with every intention of visiting places such as Hermanus. Here, you also have Gaansbai for diving with Great White Sharks and the Cape of Good Hope which feels every bit like the end of the world.
Here are just a few samples of the amazing things to do in Cape Town:
You can take a cable car to the top of Table Mountain. If you must get your exercises in, you can also hike up there. Either follow the road or take the hiking trails which run from the city all the way to the summit.
Great White Shark Dive
As mentioned above, the Great White Shark diving is one of the most popular things to do in South Africa. These tours are usually best taken from the city of Cape Town.
Cape of Good Hope
The winding roads to the Cape of Good Hope are possibly just as impressive as the cape itself. Either way, this is one part of the world clouded in mystery which should not be missed.
Once the unfortunate home of Nelson Mandela, Robben Island was where the famous leader was imprisoned. You can take a ferry/guided tour to the island from the port in Cape Town.
Vibrant and enthusiastic, Long Street is a colorful place where the local atmosphere is sensed throughout.
V &A Waterfront
Some people compare this beautiful port area to Darling Harbour in Sydney. Undoubtedly, V&A Waterfront is as beautiful a port as you will find anywhere in the world.
This is a stunning beach in the Cape Peninsula, near Simon’s Town, where tourists come to relax. One of the main attractions here is the colony of African penguins. You are sure to have fun watching them splash around the water, and play out in the sun.
As with Johannesburg, Cape Town is a major hub for international flights and nicely positioned to ensure you a convenient onward trip home. You may decide to stay here even one or two days longer at the end of the trip. Realistically, four days should be just enough to squeeze in as much as possible.
Vibrant and unique in every way, you can see that a three week trip across South Africa would be filled with lifetime memories. You are pretty much guaranteed to encounter the main highlights as well as unique experiences for which the continent is famous.
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