The Garden Route starts in Addo and takes you along the coast, passing through beautiful places, beaches, and national parks towards Cape Town. Highlights include snorkeling with seals, expansive beaches, hiking in national parks, and a safari in Addo Elephant Park where you can spot large groups of elephants. When we were planning our Garden Route trip, we quickly realized that there is so much to do and see. We spent hours looking at every spot on the Garden Route and deliberating on the best base, how many days we needed, and which places were the most beautiful to visit. We drove the Garden Route in one week and have gathered the best tips for you.
What is the Garden Route?
The Garden Route is officially a 300 km (187 miles) long coastal route in the south of South Africa, stretching from Storms River to Mossel Bay. Because there are many more beautiful spots in this region, many people refer to the entire route between Addo and Cape Town as the Garden Route. This route is about 700 km (435 miles) long and takes you along the most beautiful places in the south of South Africa.
How many days do you need for the Garden Route?
You will need 6 days for the Garden Route. For example, you can fly to Port Elizabeth and start the road trip to Cape Town with your rental car from there, or vice versa. Below you will find a sample itinerary, and further in this article, you will find everything about the activities and destinations on this itinerary.
Day 1: Safari in Addo Elephant Park
Day 2: Jeffrey’s Bay, Storms River Bridge & Bloukrans Bridge (bungee jump)
Day 3: Visit Tsitsikamma National Park and go kayaking
Day 4: Nature’s Valley, Keurboomstrand & Plettenberg Bay
Day 5: Snorkeling with seals & Knysna Heads
Day 6: Swellendam & Hermanus (then continue to Cape Town)
Distribution of accommodations:
- 2 nights in the village of Addo
- 3 nights in the Plettenberg Bay area
- 1 night in Swellendam
The most beautiful stops on the Garden Route
The places we mention below are in order as you follow the Garden Route from east to west.
Addo Elephant Park
Addo Elephant Park is the third largest national park in South Africa, and as the name suggests, it is home to a large number of elephants. In addition to the 600 elephants, many other animals live in this park. There is even a chance of spotting the entire Big Five! You can explore this park on your own with a rental car as the roads are very good. Curious about a logical route and things to consider before going there? Check out our tips for Addo Elephant Park.
Located approximately two hours’ drive from Addo National Park is the coastal town of Jeffrey’s Bay. This is the ultimate surfing paradise in South Africa and has often been named one of the best surf spots in the world. Even if you’re not a surfer, Jeffrey’s Bay is a great place to stop. Dolphins are often seen swimming off the coast of Jeffrey’s Bay, and the golden beach is perfect for a stroll. There are many good restaurants in Jeffrey’s Bay for lunch. We had a delicious meal at FOOD Deli restaurant. If you’re a surfer, we recommend spending some extra time in Jeffrey’s Bay to catch some waves. If you don’t surf, a few hours should be enough to enjoy the town.
Bloukrans Bridge & Storms River Bridge
As you drive from Jeffrey’s Bay to the next destination, you will pass Storms River Bridge, which offers a beautiful view of a deep gorge. After crossing the bridge, you will see a gas station on the right. You can park your car here and walk onto the bridge to enjoy the view.
After Storms River Bridge, continue to Bloukrans Bridge. This enormous bridge stands at 216 meters (708 feet) high and is famous for being the world’s highest bridge bungee jump. The view of the mountains, sea, and river is breathtaking as you plunge more than 200 meters (656 feet) downward. If bungee jumping is still on your bucket list, this is the place to do it! The cost for the bungee jump is $77, and it’s recommended to book in advance here. If you prefer not to jump, it’s still entertaining to watch others take the leap from the bridge.
Note: The (pedestrian) suspension bridge in Tsitsikamma National Park is also called Storms River Bridge, so make sure you know which one you’re heading to.
Tsitsikamma National Park
With its 80-kilometer-long (50-miles-long) coastline, suspension bridges, and amazing hiking trails, Tsitsikamma National Park is a must-visit on the Garden Route. One of the activities you can enjoy here is kayaking. Leave the tourist paths behind and kayak with a guide along the Storms River, passing under the suspension bridge and venturing deeper into the pristine nature. In no time, you’ll be surrounded by towering cliffs in complete silence. The guide will share interesting information about the nature and wildlife in the area. Kayaking is not difficult and lasts for 2.5 hours. It’s an incredible tour! You can book the kayak tour here starting from $45 per person.
In addition to kayaking, there are many beautiful hiking trails in Tsitsikamma National Park. One trail you shouldn’t miss is the “Mouth Trail,” which takes you to the famous suspension bridges and takes about one hour to complete. If you’re eager to explore more of Tsitsikamma National Park, the “Waterfall Trail” is an amazing hike with beautiful viewpoints. Start early in the morning and wear good shoes. The first part of the hike is easy, but later on, you’ll need to climb over some rocks. This hike is approximately 6 km (4 miles) long and takes about 3 hours.
Nature’s Valley & Keurboomstrand
Nature’s Valley and Keurboomstrand are two small coastal villages known for their incredibly beautiful beaches. Nature’s Valley is a tiny village hidden in nature, and to reach it, you have to drive along a winding road through the mountains for about twenty minutes. This road takes you through a sort of jungle, and if you’re lucky, you might spot baboons along the way. After Nature’s Valley, continue your journey to Keurboomstrand. This sleepy village has only one restaurant, Ristorante Enrico. We had a delicious meal there. Both places are incredibly beautiful at sunset!
Plettenberg Bay is an ideal base for exploring the area, as there are so many things to do here. One of the must-do activities in Plettenberg Bay is snorkeling with seals. Just off the coast, there is a large colony of approximately 6,000 seals. These seals are very curious and will enthusiastically come over to check you out when you enter the water. It’s an amazing and unique experience you won’t forget. You can book this special tour here.
As you continue along the Garden Route from Plettenberg Bay, you will soon reach the town of Knysna. The most famous spot in Knysna is “Knysna Heads,” where the lagoon meets the sea. From various viewpoints, you can enjoy beautiful views of the sea, lagoon, and rocky cliffs. If you’re lucky, you might even spot whales from here. The best viewpoint is “Heads Lookout,” and 140 meters (460 feet) further is “Knysna Beach Lookout.” You can easily park your car here, so it’s definitely worth a short stop. The viewpoints are marked on maps.me.
After enjoying the view at Knysna Heads, continue your journey to Swellendam. Swellendam is a great place to break up the long drive to Cape Town. You’ll find many good restaurants here, and the surrounding area of Swellendam is perfect for a beautiful hike. There are a few excellent hotels with fantastic mountain views. Your hotel will surely provide more information about the various short and long hikes in the area.
As you drive from Swellendam to Hermanus, you’ll experience the real countryside life along the Garden Route. Vast farmlands with towering mountains in the background. The first 70 km (44 miles) is on the N2 until you reach the exit for “R326 Rietpoel Stanford.” Follow this road until you arrive in Hermanus. Once in Hermanus, Just Pure is a nice place for lunch. You can sit on a terrace, overlooking the ocean, and enjoy healthy and delicious food. Hermanus is the perfect place for whale watching from the shore, so don’t forget your binoculars. As you continue your journey from Hermanus to Cape Town, you’ll pass a lovely coastal route with several stops for photo opportunities.
The whale-watching season is between June and December.
Unique Accommodations on the Garden Route
When driving the Garden Route, you’ll likely stay at three different locations: two nights in Addo, three nights in Plettenberg Bay, and one night in Swellendam. We have searched for unique places to stay. Here, you can expect a delightful stay, often with fantastic views and the exceptional hospitality of locals. You can find these unique accommodations on the Garden Route.