Click here to learn about the ideal 2 week itinerary to South Africa.
1) What is the best neighborhood to stay at in Cape Town?
When doing my research, there seemed to be a lot of great neighborhoods:
- Camps Bay
- Sea Point
- Green Point
- Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
In the end, I picked Camps Bay, and we could not have been happier with that decision. We were right on the beach and had amazing views from our hotel (i.e., Primi Royal). In addition, there is a ton of restaurants and amazing sunsets. Lastly, it felt like a very safe area.
With that said, we stayed at Camps Bay in the Winter (end of June/early July). Our hotel room was $60 USD, but the price of the room triples in the summer. For the price premium, I would probably look at some of the other areas.
Sea Point could be really nice in the summer since there are public pools in the area. If you want to be closer to V&A waterfront then Green Point is probably better option. In either case, the distances can be quite far in Cape Town. You most likely will need to take Taxi, Uber, and/or Bus to get around the touristy spots
2) How many days to spend in Cape Town?
We spent 4 number of days in Cape Town. Technically, we spent 4.5 days since we flew into Capetown around 1:00 pm and got to hotel around 2:00 pm. We were so exhausted that we ended up just enjoying the sunset in Camps Bay.
Day 1: District Six Museum, Castle of Good Hope, and Robben Island
Day 2: Slave Lodge, Bo Kap, Company Gardens
Day 3: Cage Diving
Day 4: Cape Peninsula and Groot Constantia (1st Winery in Cape Town)
My personal recommendation would be to add another day to Cape Town and give yourself a full day in the wine region.
TIP: You should pick up some bottles of wine for the rest of your trip. There is nothing better than having a bottle of wine in Kruger National Park.
3) Should I stay in the Garden Route? How many days?
I was personally underwhelmed by the Garden Route. I personally feel like this area caters more towards local South Africans. It is beautiful area with hiking trails, cute towns, and nice beaches. I could easily see this being a popular attraction for someone that lives in Johannesburg and/or Cape Town that wants a change in pace.
As a foreign tourist, I was not blown away. I will caveat that we were only there for 1 day. We stopped at Wilderness National Park had lunch at East Head Café located at the Knysna Heads. With time running short, we were not able to explore Tsitsikamma National Park, which I had initially wanted to do. In particular, I wanted to check out the Storms River mouth portion of the park. From the highway, the gorges did appear beautiful and worth exploring. In addition if you want to bungee jump, this is the highest spot in the world to bungee jump.
If you have time, I would give the Garden Route 1.5 to 2 days. I would base myself in Knysna and explore the surrounding area with emphasis on Tsitsikamma National Park. I would also think about exploring the gorges on boat. This looks like a pretty cool activity.
If you don’t have much time and can only spend a day on the Garden Route, I think it makes more sense to add that day to Drakensberg mountains, Kruger, and/or Cape Town.
TIP: Watch out for the speed cameras coming into Wilderness!
4) Should I rent a car in South Africa?
Absolutely! While driving on the left side of the road might seem scary, it actually isn’t that difficult. I have driven on the left side in both South Africa and Australia.
The highways and any other major are in great condition. You won’t be driving on dirt roads except in the National Parks.
By renting a car, you can save yourself a lot of money by doing a self-drive safari as opposed to paying some tour operators thousands of dollars.
From all of the rental companies, you can rent a GPS that will make navigating the roads easy. One of my main concerns was the fear of being car jacked. I think that fear is highly overblown. We drove often at night and didn’t have any problems. The one big caveat is that you don’t drive into the townships at night. When we did hear of locals that got car jacked, they were always driving in the township on some sort of business.
We also didn’t drive around Johannesburg at night given our concerns. We decided to take Uber.
5) How do I get around Johannesburg? Uber vs. Taxi?
If you have a rental car, it is the easiest way to get around town. I would just be a little hesitant to drive at night.
If you don’t have a rental car, you can take a Taxi or Uber.
I am leaving off other options, such as minibus, because they aren’t probably the safest option. One night we wanted to go out to Melville (popular area for nightlife), which was on the other end of Johannesburg. Our hotel (Radison Blu Sandton) got a taxi quote of 300 Rand for a one-way fare to Melville. This seemed very expensive, and as a result, we decided to give Uber a try. Uber ended up costing only 125 Rand each way. It was fantastic! The added advantage of Uber is that it is a much safer option than a Taxi. Our hotel told us that the most dangerous part of getting to Melville is not the area itself, but it was getting to Melville. Taxis don’t have the reputations, and it is for this reason that Uber is very popular with the locals!
TIP: Give Uber a try!
6) What neighborhood to stay in Johannesburg?
For most tourists, they will only be spending a day or two in Johannesburg before heading to Cape Town or Kruger National Park.
We ended up staying in Sandton in Johannesburg, and we were glad that we stayed in that neighborhood. Sandton is one of the wealthiest areas in Johannesburg (thus making is safer), but more importantly the Gautrain that runs from the airport stops in Sandton. This made getting to the airport extremely easy.
7) Where should we go in the Drakensberg mountains?
We had the privilege of staying at Royal Natal National Park. It was a beautiful area. We were there only for one day, but I wish that we had stayed for 2 days.
I personally don’t think it is worth trying to stop at 2 or 3 spots in the Drakensberg mountains unless you are planning to spend 4 or 5 days in the area or not planning to do any hiking. My personal recommendation is to pick one area.
8) Should we stay at one rest camp or more than one rest camp in Kruger National Park?
For our trip, we stayed at three different rest camps: Skukoza, Olifants, and Mopani
I think there are advantages and disadvantages of each strategy. (one park vs. multiple) Most people will want to base themselves at Skukoza as it is not only the biggest rest camp, but it is the closest to Johannesburg. The southern end of the Kruger National Park probably has the highest concentration of animals in the park. We saw more Lions, Rhinos, etc. in this area of the park than in the other areas. You could easily do different routes and not repeat the same roads. The primary disadvantage is that a lot of tourists come from Hazyview to spend the day in the park. As a result, it is probably pretty doubtful that you will be the only tourist spotting any of the big animals (e.g., Lion). There will likely be 20 cars trying to get their glimpse of the animal.
When we headed up towards Olifants and Mopani, we did see different terrain and saw less traffic. There still was 8 – 10 cars looking at the leopard, but it would have been double that in Skukoza.
My personal recommendation would be to pick 2 rest camps. I would give myself 2 days in each rest camp.
9) How many days for a Safari?
I recently read in a high-end travel magazine suggesting 1 week+. I think that is vastly overrated. Most tourists will see the Big Five within a couple of days. You will find yourselves driving past elephants and even sleeping lions.
After a couple of days, you are mostly focused on hunting predators. For example after 3 days, we watched a leopard for an hour stalk some impala.
10) Is South Africa safe?
One of our biggest concerns coming to South Africa was about safety. If you read Lonely Planet, you figured that it is a forgone conclusion that you are going to get car jacked and mugged.
In reality, South Africa is very safe. We did feel safer in Cape Town than in Johannesburg. Since tourism is big part of South African economy, they have a strong incentive to make touristy areas safe. All of the touristy areas had plenty of security.
We did feel a little unsafe in Johannesburg, but we made sure to stay in the safest areas of the city. (e.g., Sandton). We did not drive at night and took Uber to get from point A to point B. When talking with locals, most crimes happens in the townships as expected. To play it safe, you should only go into these areas with a local.
In addition, it is always best to not overtly display signs of wealth. My fiancée left her ring at home, and we made sure to not keep excess cash on us.
11) BONUS Question: What would I have changed on my itinerary?
For our first time to South Africa, I frankly think it was the ideal itinerary. We got to experience a little bit of everything. If I had more time, I would have added a day in decreasing order of importance: Cape Town, Drakensberg Mountains, and lastly Garden Route.
The main changes would have been simply waking up earlier to get from Point A to Point B to maximize my time in a particular location.
If I needed to exclude one item, it would have been the Garden Route.