Home #WHERETONEXT Africa Escape to the Garden Route Paradise in South Africa

Escape to the Garden Route Paradise in South Africa

With so many places to visit and countries to see, how can travelers be sure of a destination? It has long been known that South Africa is a playground for animal-lovers and culinary explorers, a place to unwind and leave the world behind, and here are some things that are good to know about the home of Nelson Mandela before jetting off. 

Plan the Start and Finish First

While it can’t be denied that booking a picture-perfect hotel or outdoor safari experience is exciting, when visiting a country as large as South Africa it’s always a grand idea to book the arrival and departure airport first. The majority of people believe that the Garden Route spans the entire way from Cape Town to Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), however, in reality, it’s actually much shorter—with the official starting point being Mossel Bay and the official end point Storms River. To save on costs, both in terms of smaller airport fees and vehicle return policies, it’s best to fly in and out of the same airport as well as return your rental car to the same pick-up and drop-off point. This will ensure that you don’t end up paying silly and unnecessary fees that’ll break the bank.

Speak to Locals

Once the flights are all sorted, more detailed plans can be made. Outlining the stops of a road trip never hurts, and it wouldn’t be a genuine Garden Route road trip if visitors didn’t stay or at least stop off for lunch in Mossel Bay, George, Wilderness, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Storms River. South Africans are a friendly folk and are always open to negotiating and finding an amicable solution. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount on accommodation, especially out of season. 

The winter months, between June and October, are ideal to see migratory southern right or humpback whales, with the Hermanus Whale Festival taking place in late September or early October. Hermanus may not technically be on the Garden Route, but it’s only about an hour outside of Cape Town and well worth a visit for travel enthusiasts.

As with visiting any country, it’s good to know the do’s and don’ts before arrival. While South Africa is a very relaxed country, there are some things that authorities frown upon and take more seriously than others. If you are planning on visiting one of the breathtaking vineyards, be sure to take the so-called Wine Tram, and yes, it is as cool as it sounds. Drinking and driving is a serious offence in SA and while a night in jail sounds like a story that could be told for decades to come, it may be easier and safer to just take a taxi. Since the Garden Route is located in the Western Cape, one of the nine provinces in South Africa, visitors are permitted to enjoy a smoke along the way since this became legal a few years ago. Traveling with weed in and out of the country’s borders is not permitted, but visitors could have something shipped to them—browse the offer and make your trip all the more relaxed. All in all, SA is a relatively easy-going country, a place to just be and feel the sun on your face.

Animals Galore

The N2 highway may be the one travelers will be using to explore the Garden Route, but off-road is also an option. Hire a 4×4 and head north to find the road less travelled. While locals do not travel by elephant or giraffe, as some tourists may think, visitors may be lucky enough to see zebras and elephants along the way. After the Garden Route experience and before heading home, the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces are well worth visiting, not least because they are home to the famous Kruger National Park. Here, there are many options to observe and enjoy the wildlife. 5-star resorts are at the ready to offer keen animal-watchers an all-inclusive safari, spa and dining experience, while smaller establishments provide traditional huts and rustic tents (obviously not inside the actual Park as this would be dangerous) for visitors to use their own vehicles and self-drive through the Park.

Whether it’s wine and fine dining, shark cage diving, hiking, whale-watching, relaxation or adventure that visitors are after, the Garden Route, and South Africa as a whole, has got travelers covered. With a reputation of being slightly dangerous at times and in certain places, be sure to plan well, stay aware and, just to be on the safe side, get some travel and health insurance. The stories and tales of herds of animals and easy living are not just made up. Dive into the culture and history, dance with African tribes, sit around a fire and experience a traditional Afrikaans ‘braai’ (BBQ) or get in a car and hit the open road.