HOW TO SEE THE BEST OF SOUTH AFRICA IN 12 DAYS
Sip wine in Stellenbosch
South Africa is known for its wine, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to spend a day sipping some of the best.
There’s a wine region close to Cape Town – Constantia – that would make a great morning or afternoon trip. But if you have the whole day, I recommend heading to Stellenbosch. Located roughly an hour from Cape Town, this one of the country’s best (and prettiest) wine regions.
Waterford Estate winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa
I visited Waterford Estate in Stellenbosch, which offers a unique “wine safari” that includes a ride out into the vineyards in a safari vehicle, followed by wine tastings on a raised wooden platform out in the middle of the vines. I’m not really much of a wine drinker, but this was still a highlight for me. Waterford Estate is STUNNING, and it was a pleasure to sip wines there in the middle of the vines.
Stellenbosch has lots of wineries to choose from, and you can easily spend the entire day sipping away. Some other popular wineries in this region include Rust en Vrede, Delaire Graff Estate, and Tokara.
(Just don’t drink too much and drive, folks! Hire a driver for the day, or book a day trip from Cape Town if you really want to indulge.)
Travel to Johannesburg
After a week in the Western Cape, it’s time to head to another part of South Africa. Many people skip Johannesburg entirely, but I do think South Africa’s largest city is worth a visit. It’s true that it’s grittier than other parts of the country, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to do here.
A must-visit in Johannesburg is the Apartheid Museum (in Soweto), which chronicles the struggle South Africans faced during the country’s decades of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination. It’s not a happy museum, but it’s an important one to visit if you want to understand South Africa today.
If you have time in the evening, consider a street art walking tour through the city, which will give you a glimpse into both the artsy and rebellious sides of Johannesburg.
Where to stay: The 54 on Bath is a great choice in Johannesburg. (Read reviews here.)
Where to eat: Head to the bohemian Melville neighborhood for lots of great foodie finds. I ate at Lucky Bean, which serves up tasty South African dishes like springbok and ostrich.
Visit the Cradle of Humankind
For your second day in Johannesburg, you actually might want to book a tour out to Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves, or “the Cradle of Humankind.” This UNESCO World Heritage Site is where some of the world’s most significant hominid discoveries have been made. Start out at the Maropeng visitor center, and then head to the caves for a guided tour. A visit to the caves is a bit adventurous (there’s some crawling involved), but how often do you get the chance to visit the place where some of the earliest humans on earth lived?
Kruger National Park
The absolute highlight of my time in South Africa was going on safari in Kruger National Park. So naturally I’m saving the best for last in this itinerary.
You can fly from Johannesburg to Skukuza on South African Airways, which will get you to Kruger with plenty of time to enjoy lunch and an afternoon game drive on your very first day.
There are tons of accommodation options to choose from in and around Kruger, and this is definitely a place where it’s worth splurging on a really nice all-inclusive lodge.
I stayed at the Jock Safari Lodge, which is a private concession within Kruger that I did not ever want to leave. The villas all come with soaker tubs, outdoor day beds overlooking a dry riverbed, and even private plunge pools. And the staff and rangers here are all incredible.
Jock Safari Lodge in Kruger National Park
Our day bed – you could lay down and watch elephants!
After arriving, we had some time to explore the property and then left on our first game drive in the late afternoon. And we saw the Big 5 (buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, and leopard) all within this first safari!
Where to stay: I was a huge fan of the Jock Safari Lodge, and would definitely recommend it. (Read reviews | Book here!)
Where to eat: When you stay at an all-inclusive lodge, all of your meals will be included.
Kruger National Park
You’ll want to devote at least 2-3 nights to Kruger. Even though you might be thinking that one or two game drives will be enough, the truth is that you will never see the same thing twice on a game drive – meaning every single one is exciting and unique!
Along with the Big 5, we saw things like lions mating, baby elephants charging our truck, a momma and newborn white rhino, wild dogs facing off with hyenas, and much, much more.
Going on safari truly is a bucket-list-worthy activity, and even after 4+ game drives, I wasn’t ready to leave!
Your days will look something like this:
5 a.m. wake-up
5:30 a.m. coffee/snacks
6-9 a.m. game drive (most animals are more active in the hours right around sunrise)
9:30 a.m. breakfast
Relaxing time / maybe a walking safari offered
More relaxing/pool time
4-7 p.m. evening game drive
Sunrise at Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger and departure
You’ll be able to squeeze in one more morning game drive on your last day, and then it will be time to fly back to Johannesburg and on to wherever in the world home is.
If you have a couple extra days to play with, you might want to consider adding:
The Blue Train
This luxury train, with its polished-wood interior and fancy lounge cars, is a throwback to the heyday of train travel. The Blue Train travels between Cape Town and Pretoria, taking 1.5 days to traverse essentially the length of South Africa. This is definitely a luxury experience, but the weak South African rand actually makes it relatively affordable right now (well, relative to “normal” prices!).
I was lucky enough to ride the Blue Train on my trip, and I was impressed by the efficiency of the tiny rooms, the service, the food, and how lovely it was to just relax for a day and a half and watch the countryside slip by outside the window.
The Blue Train
The room my dad and I shared – chairs during the days, beds at night. So efficient!
You can fit this in between Cape Town/Stellenbosch and your time in Johannesburg if you have an extra night to spend.
The Garden Route
If you have even MORE time and don’t fancy an expensive train ride, consider driving the Garden Route along South Africa’s southern coast. This is regarded as one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, but does require at least a couple extra days to truly enjoy.
South Africa is a beautiful country with a majestic “pull” that makes you never want to leave once you have set foot here….