The Perfect South African Road Trip
When I arrived in South Africa I knew that I wanted to do a road trip across the country. As my first foray into the African continent, I was sure it would be different than Asia where I’d spent the previous three years of my life, easily hopping from place to place on a motorbike or one of the many buses.
South Africa wasn’t going to be as simple without plentiful public transport and easy local options, so a road trip seemed like the perfect way to take it all in.
I arrived without any idea of how to go about this, or how to find a partner in crime, but things have a way of working themselves out. A few days in I met Callum from Canada. He turned out to be the perfect road trip buddy and, lucky for us, the country far exceeded both of our expectations. Daily, we’d turn to each other in awe of what we saw. The constantly changing microclimates and incredible amount of diversity really blew us away. Since then I’ve returned twice, adding more destinations in each time. As far as road trips go, this must be one of the best places in the world to do one. If you’re considering it, grab the opportunity with both hands and enjoy the ride. Here’s the perfect South African road trip itinerary:
How to get Around
Self driving in South Africa is cheap and easy, and the most convenient option, IMHO. You can pay for services like Baz Bus, but once they drop you off, it gets hard to explore the area without wheels. If you share a rental with one or more other people, it works out cheaper and gives you so much more flexibility!
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For the most part, you can go cheap with the car. I’ve rented a VW Golf and a Ford Fiesta and both were fine. Apart from potholes, most of the roads in South Africa are easy to traverse with a cheap, small car, including Kruger National Park. You don’t need a 4×4, unless you’re heading truly off the beaten path.
Additionally, I highly recommend getting a Vodacom SIM card when you arrive at the airport. It will help tremendously with navigating. Plus, WiFi in South Africa can be hard to come by.
Finally, don’t forget travel insurance when you’re in South Africa! I love the World Nomads explorer plan which covers hiking and other adventurous activities.
Without further ado, here’s the itinerary:
Johannesburg is a great starting point for a road trip and with its rich history and the Apartheid Museum, a helpful introduction to South African culture. What I really loved about it was the openness and friendly nature of the locals, who are quite likely to invite you to hang out again and again.
I love the vibe of this city. It’s easy to talk to people there and it’s a welcoming place. I might be the only person in the world who prefers Joburg to Cape Town, but Johannesburg has a soul that I really enjoy.
Plus, if you’re there over a weekend, you can find wonderful markets full of friendly and outgoing people. If you have the time, I also recommend exploring Soweto, the biggest South African township.
*Remember to be careful in the big cities in South Africa, though. Don’t walk around, especially at night, and don’t leave anything at all, even if it’s a cheap pair of sunglasses, visible in the car.
Lay your head: I’d suggest an AirBnB rental.
Blyde River Canyon
A few years ago, a local South African let me in on a beautiful secret: Horseshoe Bend had a love child with the Drakensberg and it’s called Blyde River Canyon.
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Exploring the hiking trails, God’s Window, the Three Rondavels, and Mac Mac Falls all along the Panoramic Route can easily take up a full week in and of themselves, but if you are just looking for a stop on the way to Kruger National Park, stay near the Three Rondavels viewpoint to get this fantastic view.
Lay your head: Blyde Canyon: A Forever Resort
Kruger National Park
It took me four visits back to South Africa to realize this, but if you don’t go to Kruger National Park you’re missing out! It’s so much fun to be able to go through a safari destination with paved roads and to be able to self drive. The best part was this could all be done with a tiny sedan!
After being on safari in Etosha National Park, all throughout Botswana, Zambia, and the Serengeti, Kruger might actually be my favorite! There are a few other places where you can see the big five (Lions, leopards, buffalo, rhino, and elephants), all in the same day. There are also hippos, giraffes, zebras, lots of impala, honey badgers, genets, loads of birds, and tons of other animals I’m forgetting. To supplement your self drive, I highly recommend signing up for the night drives which you can book at your accommodation.