With its epic scenery, fascinating cultural heritage and warm welcome, South Africa has long been one of our favourite destinations to explore. The country offers some of the best wildlife viewing and luxury safari lodges on earth, combined with cosmopolitan city stays, wine tasting in tranquil vineyards and beach breaks on golden sands. All in one holiday, all in one country. Discover our first-timer’s guide to South Africa, from top travel tips to dream itineraries.
South Africa travel tips for first-time visitors
Start plotting your trip to South Africa by reading our travel guide essentials, which detail everything from flight times to the country’s best cuisine, shopping and festivals. You can also peruse our top tips for planning your first safari and get some inspiration on creating the ultimate South Africa family adventure.
The biggest advice we can give first-timers in South Africa though is that you shouldn’t be afraid to explore independently. Although safety is a concern for many new visitors, simply practising basic precautions as you would anywhere in the world, such as keeping your valuables out of sight and avoiding late-night city strolls, should ensure your trip runs smoothly.
In particular, South Africa is a dream destination for self-drive trips, with good road conditions, manageable distances and left-hand drives. Travel along the lush Garden Route or head off the beaten track in KwaZulu-Natal, stopping off for wine tasting, whale watching, safaris and city sightseeing along the way.
South Africa itineraries
If you’re new to South Africa, here are a selection of itineraries to suit all travel tastes, whether you have a week, ten days or two weeks to explore.
South Africa in one week
A week is long enough to sample South Africa’s urban and natural wonders. Our safari and the city itinerary starts with four nights in Cape Town, which you can discover on walking tours with a local. Hike up to Table Mountain for views over the Mother City, take a sunset harbour cruise and a moving trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years as a political prisoner.
For a glimpse of the Cape Peninsula’s crashing coastline, take a vintage sidecar tour from Cape Town or soar above the Atlantic seaboard in a helicopter. It’s worth heading to Boulder’s Beach to see its famous colony of cute African penguins. End with a three-day safari at Kariega Game Reserve on the Eastern Cape, an 11,500-hectare private reserve where you can take game drives and bushwalks to spot the Big Five, over 350 bird species and a host of other iconic African wildlife.
South Africa in 10 days
A 10-day break is perfect for a road trip along South Africa’s Garden Route, which follows the N2 highway along the Eastern Cape, the road framed by seaside towns, emerald forests and idyllic beaches. Our Garden Route self-drive itinerary begins in Cape Town and continues to Hermanus for whale watching adventures, followed by lagoons in Knysna and eco-boat trips in Plettenberg Bay. End with a two-day safari at the 10,000-acre Kariega Game Reserve where you’ll enjoy 4×4 drives, sundowners and Big Five spotting.
If you want to get off the beaten track, take a road trip through South Africa’s diverse, lesser-visited KwaZulu-Natal region instead. Drive from Umhlanga’s languid beaches to the dramatic Drakensberg mountains and historic battlefields that tell stirring stories of the Anglo-Boer and Anglo-Zulu wars. Along the way, you can visit local villages to experience Zulu culture, then finish with a two-day safari at Thanda Game Reserve. Highlights include game drives and boat trips down the St Lucia estuary, home to hippos and crocodiles.
South Africa in two weeks
A two-week South Africa trip offers endless possibilities. If you’re on honeymoon or a romantic break, combine your South Africa trip with a Mozambique beach escape. You’ll spend three days exploring the city sights in Cape Town, taking helicopter trips and vineyard tours in the Cape winelands, then head to Garonga Safari Camp for bubble baths under the stars and private game drives. Finish at Machangulo Beach Lodge, which offers five-star luxury in Mozambique’s dunes, overlooking a white-sand beach.
Planning a family holiday in South Africa? Take a leisurely self-drive trip along the Garden Route, where family-friendly activities and hotels abound, including Hog Hollow Lodge, with its turn-down service featuring children’s stories, milk and cookies. To complete the trip, visit malaria-free Shamwari Game Reserve on the cape for a three-day wildlife safari. Shamwari is renowned for its Kids on Safari programme and world-class conservation work; kids and adults alike will love visiting Shamwari’s Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries and Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
Finally, for a food-focused tour of South Africa, try our Route 62 self-drive tour, which will take you across the Cape. Enjoy street food walks and gourmet heli-flights in Cape Town and head to the Franschhoek and Robertson wine regions for vineyard tram tours and fine dining at acclaimed wineries like Mont Rochelle, owned by Virgin boss Richard Branson. The trip continues along the Garden Route; highlights include meerkat encounters in Oudtshoorn and oyster cruises in Knysna, topped off with a stay at Long Lee Manor in Shamwari where you’ll gorge on high tea and indulgent safari sundowners.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Laura, who's travelled extensively in South Africa. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - ex banker who can show you the hottest foodie spots in Cape Town, the award-winning young sommelier who can introduce you to Stellenbosch's finest wines and the walking safari ranger who can guide you to the best game.
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