You’ve hit the shores of our rugged, gorgeous, riddled with contradictions, big on diversity South African land, and have but 9 days in which to say you’ve done it all? A tall order at the best of times, but not impossible.
South Africa is huge by anyone’s standards, with unforgettable scenery, and memory-making places to visit, whether it’s mountains, beaches, deserts or cities you’re after.
You will already have heard of the ‘biggies’, the ‘must do’s’ when on our soil. And they’ve been selected because they truly are incredible places to visit and sights to see. For those of you who haven’t been here EVER, we’ve tried to squash as many of these into the 9 days as possible (it isn’t easy).
Whilst you could safely spend a lifetime on our shores, and not have to visit the same place twice, these guidelines on what to see when will safely give you a taste of South Africa, a camera full of pictures, and the urge to return …
South Africa in 9 days? Here are the ‘must see’ spots
Day 1: Scale Table Mountain, see Robben Island and drive the peninsula
Cape Town is without doubt the country’s gem. Other cities, like Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth don’t come close when it comes to magical sights, things to do and a cosmopolitan vibe. Cape Town just has ‘something’ that makes it a world-class city and one people want to visit.
The peninsula that is Cape Town lies with the Atlantic on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, which means even on a good day, weather can be unpredictable, and getting up Table Mountain is not always a ‘sure thing’ as the Cape Doctor (that notorious south-easter) can blow in a table cloth (a thin layer of cloud that just hangs there) in minutes.
Nonetheless, you can be up Table Mountain in minutes, if you take the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway to the top (it travels at 10m per second, which, as well as being fast, gives you ample time to look around). And it’s probably best to do this first thing, as by the afternoon the wind is usually up (but not always).
Conversely, if you want to do the more strenuous version, hike up the mountain through Platteklip Gorge. Table Mountain is part of the Table Mountain National Park, a beautiful and unspoiled mountainous spine of the Cape Peninsula from Signal Hill in the north, through Lion’s Head, Table Mountain, Constantiaberg, Silvermine and on, ending at Cape Point.
Whilst you don’t have to walk the entire route (leave this for a subsequent visit, when you can do the Hoerikwaggo Trail), getting up and down Table Mountain with time to spare, so that you can then drive along the peninsula, is a must.
Head off to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront to catch the next ferry across to Robben Island, South Africa’s answer to Alcatraz, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous as the prison that held political prisoners during apartheid, including Nelson Mandela. Your tour will be led by a former political prisoner.
Once back, take a drive along the Atlantic Seaboard out of town via Sea Point. To call this drive gorgeous is an understatement, and, if you time it properly, you can stop anywhere along the route, provided you’re on the Atlantic side, for sundowners.W hilst it would be optimal to continue into Hout Bay and then beyond to Cape Point, you’ll probably run out of time, trying to squash so much into one day.
Day 2: Cape Winelands
In Cape Town you are on the doorstep of the province’s biggest draw card – its wines and the Cape Winelands. There are so many wine routes to choose from that are easy to do from the Mother City that it is going to take a decisive attitude on your part.
If you’ve not done wines before, then perhaps start close to town: the Constantia wine route is in the heart of the southern suburbs, or the more recent Cape Point Wine Route is on and around the tip of the peninsula, great if you didn’t get there the day before. There is also the Durbanville wine route, if wanting to remain close to Cape Town is a priority.
Day 3: Gansbaai via the R44
But even if you don’t see the whales, it is also the Great White Shark capital of the world and an incredibly unspoilt coastline that includes a penguin colony at Dyer Island, milkwood forests, an incredible neighbouring whale watching spot (it is a village, but as villages go is pretty run-of-the-mill) called De Kelders (take the 7 kilometre hike along the coast to the caves) – where elevated cliffs give you a bird’s eye view of the whales – and the bordering Walker Bay Nature Reserve means that nature is pretty much undisturbed.
Make sure, when getting there, that you take the R44 from Gordon’s Bay through the little seaside hamlets of Rooi-Els, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond before joining the R43 on to Gansbaai and on to Hermanus.
Day 4 and Day 5: Garden Route
This will have to be a whirlwind tour, as you need to make time to get up to the Kruger National Park. Actually, you could spend the rest of your trip here. The Garden Route is sublime and one of the major reasons for visiting the Western Cape.
So, for those of you who are already exhausted, take the rest of the trip off and meander at will along the route that takes in the Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Nature’s Valley and Storms River. You won’t be sorry. The Garden Route is over 200 kilometres of fairyland giant trees, forests, ferns, mountains, pounding waves and a superb bird life. It is a top priority for visitors and sprinkled with a series of charming towns and adventure activities of every kind.
Day 6: Johannesburg (do a very quick tour of Soweto)
Fly up to Johannesburg (your closest links are either George or Port Elizabeth), the city of gold. Known to those who live here as ‘Jozi’ this upbeat, huge, metropolitan city hums. It is a colourful, fast-paced, happening city, with dangerous and fascinating elements that together mean the place seldom stagnates.
It’s impossible to do the large, sprawling city justice in a day, simply because getting around takes so long – traffic is hectic and the general city sprawl means getting from A to B is time-consuming.
That said, if you have time for one thing, let it be a tour of the town of Soweto – a cultural melting pot, that played an enormous role in the struggle for freedom that gripped South Africa, and the largest black township in the country, made up of some 26 townships.
Some tour operators do half day trip through Soweto combined with a drive through Johannesburg, while others spend as little as four hours doing the Soweto experience. It might take a little planning on your part, and the willingness of a tour operator to meet you at the airport, but anything’s possible in Jozi. (see Soweto tours for options)
Day 7 and Day 8: Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park, no matter how popular or how much it’s talked about, remains one of the most incredible experiences possible when in South Africa. You’re in the heart of the wilderness here, and the bush setting is all-enveloping.
Many describe difficulty reintegrating in society after only a few days here – it is such a break from it all. The Kruger National Park is the size of Israel, it is so vast. Huge tracts of land dotted with acacia bushes, bushwillow, sycamore figs, gushing rivers and kilometres of open bushveld are filled with buffaloes, elephants, giraffe, hippos, any number of antelope, lions, cheetahs and zebra. The Kruger is the epitome of Africa – where you can get an idea of the true feel of what the entire continent once was. It is one area over which man has no dominion, and the true balance of nature becomes obvious.
You can stay in lodges that range from extremely luxurious to basic camping facilities, the choice is yours. Make no mistake, your stay here will affect you deeply and any preconceived notions of what awaits you, will fail horribly to prepare you for the magnitude of the experience.
Plan your trip in South Africa – South Africa Travel Guide
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