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Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban

Where to spend 3-5 days after Cape Town and a safari?

After spending a couple weeks touring Cape Town and the Garden Route with my wife, we've got 3-5 open days before a safari in Madikwe. Where should we spend  the extra time? Do we spend it in Joberg, Drakensberg, Durban, or elsewhere?  We'd love itinerary ideas for 3-5 days that include scenery (we hike), culture, and/or food (we love wine)! 

7 Answers

top answer by
Brew from Manhattan Beach

Kevin, first off... I'm jealous.  Probably my favorite country on the planet to visit.  The only problem is, there are so many good options its impossible to squeeze them all in.  Good news is, with 3 - 5 days you can see some great stuff and really get an understanding of the country outside of the Western Cape and being on safari.  Here are some of my suggestions:

I personally would skip Durban.  

JoBurg - while it is not the type of place that most people would put on their "must visit" list and most people avoid it completely (for some good reasons), if you end up spending a night or two, it can give you an interesting view into South African society and the juxtaposition of cultures, race and social classes.  Also, there are a variety of things within a days drive of JoBurg that are worth seeing:

  • If you end up spending time in JoBurg, I would agree with Paul that a visit to  Soweto is important from a historical and cultural perspective.

  • The  De Wildt - The Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre is an amazing place that is not too far from JoBurg.  Very few people that visit South Africa know or do this, but it is amazing and highly educational.  I spent 6 months in South Africa at one point and this was one of the more unique things I did during that time.  Tours are very early in the morning, so you need to sleep at the lodge there (or very close by) or be prepared for a very early morning, but highly worth it.  The place rescues cheetahs and other animals and rehabilitates them.  You can get extremely up close with cheetahs and wild dogs (very endangered and very rare).  Worth a day trip from JoBurg for sure, and if you drive to  Madikwe Game Reserve from JoBurg, this would be a good stop on the way.

  • There is an established tour route from JoBurg that visits places between the city and  Kruger National Park, that includes visiting Blyde River Nature ReserveGod's Window, Pilgrims Rest, etc.   You'll see many mini-vans with people on packaged tours, but I think renting a car and self-driving is a great way to go.  You can do this in a day or spend a night out near  Sabie (Sabie is famous for their pancakes, which are different than what we are used to ...  Petena Pancakes is a good choice on that front). All of this can be combined with a visit and self-drive safari in  Kruger National Park and would be worthwhile.   The national park system accommodations in Kruger are really good value (but need to book in advance). There are also private reserves near Kruger that you could visit.

  • Not sure if you are planning on flying or driving to Madikwe, but I would recommend driving from JoBurg.  We did it a few years back and really enjoyed it, as you go through some very interesting South African towns and feel like you are really out in Africa on the drive (it isn't a short drive, but interesting).  Something very adventurous feeling about pulling up to a dusty outpost to buy some local biltong (beef jerky) to snack on.   This area of the country is so different than the Wester Cape, I think driving around is really interesting and informative.  

The Drakensberg:

  • Very beautiful with lots of outdoor activities.  Ladysmith is a town that is centrally located there.  

  • The Drakensberg range extends into  Lesotho which is a mountainous country that is very traditional African.  An amazing place to drive through and exploure, but fairly remote with small villages with locals dressed in traditional clothing, etc.  

You could probably combine the Drakensberg with:

  • St. Lucia (South Africa), which is an extremely interesting place.  St. Lucia gives you access to Africa's largest wetlands, lots of nature and wildlife, lots of hiking trails, tours, plus miles of deserted wild beaches.  When we were there, we rented a four wheel drive and drove up miles of beach to fish, swim, barbecue, etc.  On one side is the Indian Ocean and on the other side are huge dunes.  

  • Lots of good little guest houses to say in St. Lucia (the city). 

  • St. Lucia can be combined with a self-drive or guided safari in  Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve which most people really enjoy.  You can self-drive and stay at self-catered camping sites.  A really unique experience that is mostly reserved for "locals" or really in the know travelers.  Self-driving can also be done at Kruger National Park and other places, as well.

  • Spending a few days in St. Lucia/Hluhluwe alone would be a good time and easy to do on your own.

The Wild Coast

  • The area between  Port Elizabeth and  East London is called the Wild Coast and is some of the most striking scenery in South Africa.   Coffee Bay is an established town there.  The scenery would be similar to what you'll find on the Garden Route, but much more frontier and wild.  Amazing place, but has some similarities to the garden route.

General comment about driving around the country:  If you are adventurous and don't normally do packaged tours and can get out and min in a little, I think driving around the country is fascinating and very worthwhile.  You end up seeing some very interesting places and towns and see the country in a totally different way. It always pays to be on your toes and use caution as you are driving in a third world country with pockets of extreme poverty and crime, however, if you can manage, it makes for a great trip.  

Reading list recommendation:  definitely pick up a copy of The Covenant by James Michener before you go.  Start reading prior to leaving or on the plane.  Historical fiction that gives you the whole history of the country in an amazingly entertaining way.  Reading it while in the country will add a lot to your trip.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Soweto (city)
  2. De Wildt - The Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre (attraction)
  3. Madikwe Game Reserve (city)
  4. Kruger National Park (amusement park)
  5. Blyde River Nature Reserve (attraction)
  6. God's Window (attraction)
  7. Pilgrims Rest (attraction)
  8. Sabie (city)
  9. Petena Pancakes (restaurant)
  10. Kruger National Park (amusement park)
  11. Ladysmith (attraction)
  12. Lesotho (attraction)
  13. St. Lucia (South Africa) (city)
  14. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve (attraction)
  15. Port Elizabeth (city)
  16. East London (city)
  17. Coffee Bay (city)
5 thankscomments (1)

answered first by

Johannesburg is not as frightening as its reputation. is worth the  time in Joburg alone and seeing Soweto is a trans formative cultural experience. There are very upscale accommodations and food is more than adequate. The city is in transformation with the downtown now somewhat vacated. It is very segregated.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Johannesburg (city)
  2. Soweto (city)
4 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Jen from Toronto

Have you looked at Swellendam?  There are some nice hikes in the area, or you can take a day trip from there down to Cape Agulhas (southernmost point of Africa).

Oudtshoorn is another option.  There's lots to see in the area: Cango Caves, ostrich farms, etc.  Great place to hire a mountain bike and explore on your own.

If wine is what you're after, Stellenbosch is the place to be.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Swellendam (city)
  2. Cape Agulhas (attraction)
  3. Oudtshoorn (city)
  4. Cango Caves (attraction)
  5. Stellenbosch (city)
3 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Markus from Kreuzlingen

You should definately stay in Drakensberg if you are into hiking, they are called the Switzerland of South Africa. Durban is ok for a one night stay, would definately do Drakensberge or maybe Hluhluwe to the North.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Drakensberg (attraction)
  2. South Africa (attraction)
  3. Durban (attraction)
  4. Hluhluwe (city)
3 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Christopher from Denver

Hey Kevin,

There are a couple good options you can choose from on the Garden Route

Hermanus(known for whales)

Gansbaai, (shark cage diving if you're interested, but make sure to book ahead of time)

L'Agulhas (southernmost point of the African Continent) small town and can be quite windy, but a unique place to be nonetheless.

Knysna (cool little town located on an inlet)

Tsitsikamma National Park

Jeffreys Bay (known for good surfing)

My favorite was the Tsitsikamma National Park.  We only stayed there one night, but I wish it was longer.  You can get cabins that are on the waterfront. There are kayaking trips available and hiking trails.  It is very beautiful in the national park. Not sure if you were planning to make it that far, but I would highly recommend it.

Another good area for some hiking and sight seeing is the Blyde River Canyon area, which is located Northeast of Joburg.  There is a loop you can drive, which includes waterfalls, blyde river canyon (second biggest canyon behind the grand canyon), and some other cool geological attractions.  Hiking trips are also possible, check ahead of time though for options.  

I have not been to the Metropolitan area of Durban, but there are some nice beaches in the area, and much warmer then the water in Cape Town since it is on the Indian Ocean.  

Johannesburg has some good spots.  The apartheid museum is a pretty strong experience.  There is a lot to take in, so if you are interested in what happened it is a cool place to go.  The really nice part of Johannesburg is around the Sandton area.  Johannesburg is similar to Denver I think in that there is a small downtown area (which they call the CBD Central Business District) and lots of surrounding neighborhoods sprawled around it.  The CBD has a bit of a reputation, but there are signs of revival.  The neighborgoods market happens every Sunday during the day, and large crowds visit.  There is also Arts on Main, which is in the same area, but occurs at night.  You'll see a big difference between the Cape Town city and the CBD in Joburg.  Sandton is where most businesses are located, and is the wealthiest part of the country.  A rugby game is a cool experience if you enjoy sports.  

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Hermanus (city)
  2. Gansbaai (city)
  3. L'Agulhas (city)
  4. Knysna (city)
  5. Tsitsikamma National Park (city)
  6. Jeffreys Bay (city)
  7. Blyde River Canyon (attraction)
  8. Durban (attraction)
  9. Sandton (attraction)
  10. Central Business District (attraction)
  11. Arts on Main (attraction)
2 thanks

answered by
Talia from Johannesburg

The Drakensberg for sure! 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. The Drakensberg (attraction)
1 thanks

answered by
Megan from Greenlawn, New York

Durban is a great city that will give you a totally different feel than Cape Town. It has a very large Indian population and with that some amazing Indian food. The beach front is beautiful, and there is a great aquarium and water park. You could always stop at the Drakensberg mountains on your way to Durban.

Another option is a visit to Lesotho and a drive up the Sani Pass. It is an incredible experience. At the top you can visit the highest altitude pub in Africa!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Durban (attraction)
  2. Cape Town (attraction)
  3. Drakensberg (attraction)
  4. Lesotho (attraction)
  5. Sani Pass (attraction)

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