Three weeks in South Africa: the first-timer’s itinerary
A curated guide to planning your three weeks in South Africa from the best itinerary, where to stay and what to do in the country where two oceans meet.
South Africa, this country will make your soul smile the moment you get off that plane with its energy, wild beauty and kindness. Three weeks in South Africa will be just about the right amount of time to go from North to South of this immense country and experience a fair amount of it.
Our personal relationship with South Africa is unique and very special. JP was born and raised in Durban where myself (Anastasia) moved to in 2012 for work. We met in 2013 and fell in love to the sound of the ocean and in 2014 we left together for a new adventure in London, the rest is history! South Africa is and forever will be where our hearts live and we hope to share with you the best three-week itinerary to make you fall in love too!
Johannesburg: 2 nights
Johannesburg, or Joburg as the locals call it, will most likely be your arrival destination as it is the cheapest international airport to fly in to. It is also the closest international airport to the biggest and most popular wild game park, the Kruger National Park. Two days in bustling, dazzling, energetic Joburg will give you the chance to have a look into the modern Africa where all things happen.
Where to stay in Joburg
The best areas to look for your hotel or Airbnb in Joburg are Sandton (the center of the city life), Melrose, Melville (eclectic and alternative neighborhood) or Parkhurst. Some of our recommended hotels to choose from would be the Radisson in Sandton, the Peech Hotel in Melrose, Lucky Bean Guesthouse in Melville and Bridge House Guest House in Parkhurst.
What to do in Joburg
Joburg is a bustling city where you will feel at the centre of modern South Africa. The nightlife is always happening in Sandton and here you will also find plenty of restaurants and Nelson Mandel Square. As daytime activities, you should definitely visit the Apartheid museum, where you can learn through images, film, and artefacts about an important part of the history of the country. A must do is also a visit to the trendiest neighbourhood in Joburg: Maboneng. Maboneng is for Joburg what Brooklyn is for NYC, the best area to spot all the latest trends, where you can find the best cafes and restaurants and surely the best shopping.
Kruger National Park: 4 nights
The best way to get to the Kruger is renting a car in Joburg and driving to the park. In this way, you will be completely autonomous and will be able to explore the park with your own car (which will allow you to save a lot of money as game drives inside the park can be quite expensive).
Where to stay in the Kruger National Park
You can either sleep inside the park, our favourite campsite is called Olifants River Lodge located roughly in the centre of the park with a spectacular view of the valley (must book at least a couple of months in advance as it gets full over peak seasons). Outside the park, you can find accommodation in Hazyview and drive in and out of the park in the mornings and evenings. Sleeping in the campsite within the park is a wonderful experience with all comforts. You will be able to either use their facilities to eat or bring in your own food and braai ( South African way to call a BBQ, very important term to learn!) or eat at the restaurants in the campsites. At night you will be able to enjoy the most incredible starry sky while listening to the sounds of the animals in the distance.
What to do in the Kruger National Park
Visiting the Kruger National Park is a once in a lifetime experience. A land that covers 360 km from north to south and 65 km from east to west (pretty much the size of Wales!), where animals roam free in their natural habitat, setting their own rules. A land where the sun catches on fire at sunset, low on the horizon, tinting the sky orange and pink, while giraffes and elephants slowly cross your path looking for grass and tree leaves to nibble on.
Our recommendation would be to drive your own car around the park for most of the time, following the maps that you get at the entrance. But we do suggest you also organize one or two drives with the game rangers, a sunrise and a sunset one, to learn everything about the park and the animals from the experts. While driving around remember that the park is not a zoo, so it might happen that you will don't encounter any animals for kilometres but trust us, it’s still worth every single minute! The park has restaurants and pit stop facilities where you can stop for lunch or just to rest during the hot hours of the day. Remember that most animals will be moving either early in the mornings or later in the afternoon when the sun is less harsh.
Durban: 2 nights
From the Kruger go back to Johannesburg to drop the car and take a flight to Durban. Cheap airlines will be Kulula, Mango or FlySafair. Durban is a chilled beach town with the warmest tropical weather on the coast and a beautiful warm ocean.
Where to stay in Durban
The best and easiest place to stay in Durban to experience the holiday feeling is Umhlanga. A little beach village (although quickly expanding) packed with restaurants, cafes, beach spots and lots of energy. A couple of hotels we recommend are (from most to least expensive): The Oyster Box, The Beverly Hills , Breakers, or you can always look for an Airbnb, just make sure it’s close to the village centre and the beach.
What to do in Durban
Durban is all about the beach vibes. Uber runs smoothly and cost-effectively here so you will not necessarily need to rent a car to move around and in between the village and the beach, you can also walk. During the day you can enjoy Umhlanga beach for a dip in the ocean or a surf. The village is packed with restaurants and cafes and for lunch. Two of our favorites are Vovotelo for breakfast and lunch and Catch for sushi or fresh seafood dinner.
Start your evening with a glamorous drink on a rooftop bar at our absolute favourite hotel in the whole world (no kidding!): The Oyster Box. This hotel also offers a restaurant and cigar lounge as an extra treat. Colonial style interiors with marble floors and whirling palace staircase, open up to a pool overlooking the Indian ocean and a white an red lighthouse in front. Pure perfection.
Make a short walk to a restaurant in the village for dinner, where we recommend Catch or Mythos. While, if you feel like exploring a new part of town catch a taxi and make your way to Market, a fairy tale restaurant with a beautiful courtyard and delicious food (make sure to book).
End your evening with drinks and Jazz at The Chairman, the best jazz bar in town, where summer evenings pass by to the sound of live jazz music while sitting on a couch looking at the stars.
Port St Johns: 3 nights
Rent a car in Durban and make your way down south to the incredible, mesmerizing, Wild Coast. Port St Johns is a small village on the wild coast and also one of our favorite places in the whole of South Africa. The beauty of this part of the country is impossible to put down in words, you have to go and see for yourself the untouched wilderness, the deep blue ocean, the rough jungly coastline.
Where to stay in Port St Johns
Amapondo backpackers is always our first choice, whether you stay in the dorm, a private suite or the beautiful Crystal House up top. A place where life can stand still while you take in the African rhythm. Your days are filled with sun, hikes, swimming and your nights are spent talking to new friends by the fire, dancing or playing table tennis.
What to do in Port St Johns
The area is a wonderland for the active ones. Just ask the owners and they will organize a guide and take you hiking in the forest, passing through waterfalls and exploring caves. The views are out of this world so if you are passionate about photography you’ll have plenty of moments and landscapes to capture.
Coffee Bay: 2 nights
From Port St Johns continue south to reach an area which is possibly even wilder and even more beautiful. The little village called Coffee Bay, named after the hundreds of coffee trees which grew from beans either scattered by a shipwreck or by plunderers in the olden days, it has only 258 residents but plenty of backpackers and accommodation.
Where to stay in Coffee Bay
Our two favorite places are Sugarloaf Backpackers, for a crowd that can take a bit more roughness but a lot of energy and fun. Hole in The Wall, which has a different, more laid back energy from a backpacker facility, it has self-catering resort type accommodation set on a beautiful swimming beach meters away.
What to do in Coffee Bay
Must do in this area is visit Hole In the Wall. This unique structure is a huge, detached cliff with a giant opening naturally carved through its center by time and waves. When the weather is stormy, the waves crash through the hole so violently that the area becomes a place known as "izi Khaleni" by the local Xhosa people, meaning "place of sound or thunder".
Other activities include kayaking, visiting waterfalls, horse riding and more. The backpackers are extremely organized and will provide local guides for you. For lunch, we recommend either Sugarloaf Backpackers or Papazela Pizza, which comes with a wonderful view of the ocean.
Cape Town: 6/7 nights
From Coffee Bay continue down the Garden Route to get to Cape Town. You can stop at Jeffreys/St Francis Bay, Stormsriver, Knysna, George, Mossel Bay, Stilbaai, Hermanus and many more places. Be sure to check out the Nature Reserves eg. Tsitsikamma along the way too. If you want to sleep along the way in one of these stops we recommend Knysna, Mossel Bay and Hermanus.
Cape Town will be the cherry on top of your South Africa trip. A city of immense beauty that offers everything you can imagine and more.
Where to stay in Cape Town
Airbnb is a great option to find beautiful rentals. We recommend the following areas: Green Point, Waterfront, Sea Point. If you want to treat yourself to a lavish stay located right at the heart of the city book at Southern Sun The Cullinan.
What to do in Cape Town
Your options are unlimited so good planning will go a long way. Top activities to not miss are Table Mountain cable car or hike, Lion’s head and Chapmans Peak hikes, visit Robben Island, visit the vineyards and wine tasting, markets, visit to the Waterfront. A full article dedicated to Cape Town will be on our website soon!