The Perfect Two-Week South Africa Vacation

Africa

Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, South Africa | Photo Credit: Thompsons Holidays

Spend two weeks touring one of the most beautiful countries in the world, returning with amazing memories of a trip to South Africa.

I don’t mind going out on a limb when I say South Africa is one of the most scenically-attractive destinations anywhere. It is blessed with a wonderful climate year-round, which makes it available whenever suits your timetable.  An interesting destination has to have contrasts if you are spending two weeks exploring it. South Africa has an abundance of different and, sometimes, unusual scenery which will not disappoint you.

Cape Town

You should start your South Africa vacation in Cape Town, where you need to spend several nights. During your stay, be sure to check out the following highlights. Table Mountain dominates the city skyline and literally hovers over it. From the top, it offers fantastic views of Cape Town, Table Bay and Robben Island to the north, and the Atlantic seaboard to the west and south. The Table Mountain Cableway takes passengers from the lower cable station to the plateau at the top of the mountain. The cars rotate through 360 degrees during the ascent or descent allowing panoramic views of the city.

Table Mountain sunset, Cape Town, South Africa
Sunset in Cape Town

Robben Island is an island in Table Bay and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is famous, as the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars. On a tour, you will see where Mandela was imprisoned and spent his time.

Aerial View of Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa
Aerial view of Robben Island and Table Mountain in the background

The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, south of Cape Town, reached on a beautiful scenic road trip on your South Africa vacation. It is where the currents of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. It has long been of special significance to sailors, many of whom refer to it simply as “The Cape.” En route, try to stop at Boulders Beach to watch the colony of African penguins which makes its home on the beach in the town centre. You can get up close and personal with these birds who wander freely, albeit in a protected natural environment. There are as many as 3000 penguins here.

African penguins at Boulders Beach, South Africa
African penguins at Boulders Beach

South Africa is known for its wine, so a visit to the Cape Winelands, approximately 40 kilometres/25 miles away from Cape Town, should be included in your stay. The region is a collection of historic towns and Cape Dutch farmsteads that produce excellent wines known worldwide to be enjoyed on South African tours. The main centres are Stellenbosch, a charming old university town and the second oldest town in South Africa, Paarl with its beautifully restored Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian buildings, and Franschhoek, which lies in one of the most beautiful valleys of the region and has a wonderful collection of art and antique shops and galleries. In all of these, you will find world-class wineries who offer tours of their vineyards as well as wine tastings.

View of mountains and vineyards surrounding Stellenbosch, South Africa
View of mountains and vineyards surrounding Stellenbosch

The Garden Route

Leaving Cape Town and heading east, your next stop should be the Garden Route, a beautiful stretch of coastal scenery. Shall we say it’s South Africa’s “Garden of Eden?” It stretches along the coast for 300 kilometres/185 miles from roughly Mossel Bay in the west to Plettenberg Bay in the east. It has an exceptionally scenic coastline, excellent beaches with, in places, large waves crashing against tall cliffs, picturesque lakes and lagoons, ancient indigenous dense forests, dramatic ravines, deep gorges, and abundant wildlife. The main centres are George, The Wilderness, and Knysna.

Aerial view of The Wilderness on the Garden Route, South Africa
Aerial view of The Wilderness on the Garden Route

If only one destination along the Garden Route is possible on a South African vacation, my choice would be Knysna. Some of the reasons for this would be its location on an attractive lagoon and its selection of accommodation and restaurants. You must take the cruise to the Heads, a striking landmark made up of two brightly-coloured cliffs at the mouth of the lagoon where the ocean waters flow in and where the sea crashes spectacularly through a narrow rocky gap. If time allows, other Garden Route attractions include Storms River, where you can watch people bungee jumping from a very high bridge into a canyon amid a fantastically scenic setting, and Tsitsikamma National Park, a coastal reserve known for its indigenous forests, dramatic coastline, deep canyons, and wildlife sanctuaries.

Aerial view of Knysna in the Garden Route, South Africa
Aerial view of Knysna in the Garden Route

Durban

From the Garden Route, your next stop should Durban, South Africa’s third-largest city and a semi tropical urban metropolis, featuring a mix of grandiose Colonial buildings and Art Deco architecture. It is a very important tourist centre because of its warm subtropical climate and excellent sandy beaches and is home to the largest concentration of people of Indian descent outside of India, which gives Durban an unmistakable Asian feeling.

Durban's Golden Mile beachfront, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Durban’s Golden Mile beachfront, KwaZulu-Natal

Zululand

Now we head northwards and inland to Zululand where many cultural practices remain intact and there are sites of great cultural significance to be explored on South Africa tours. At places such as Shakaland, Dumazulu, or Simunye, it is still possible to have an idea of traditional lifestyles. You can drop in on a Zulu community village, where visitors are greeted with traditional Zulu hospitality and etiquette. Service invariably comes with a big smile from a people who enjoy showing off their heritage. You are almost certain to be entertained by dancing and singing in which Zulu men and women love to participate.

Zululand Cultural Interaction, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Zululand cultural interaction in KwaZulu-Natal

Swaziland

As you keep heading north, you will cross through Swaziland. Some interesting facts about Swaziland – first, it is an autonomous country surrounded by South Africa, secondly, it is a kingdom with a reigning monarch, and thirdly, you feel as though you have arrived in parts of Switzerland, as the hills are dotted with what look like Swiss chalet-type houses but then find yourself surrounded by appealing mountain ranges and lush valleys. In the capital, Mbabane, be sure to visit the Swazi Candles Centre where unusual candles – sculpted by local experts including those of animals – can be purchased.

Ezulwini Valley in Swaziland between Mbabane and Manzini, South Africa
Ezulwini Valley in Swaziland between Mbabane and Manzini

Kruger National Park

Now you have arrived in Kruger National Park, not only South Africa’s largest game reserve but one of the largest in the world. How large? It is 360 kilometres/220 miles in length north to south and its average width is 65 kilometres/40 miles. Statistically, and someone has been counting, there are 147 species of animals and 114 species of reptiles. The first question is usually “Will I see the Big Five?” Yes, in abundance. The term Big Five was actually coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. They are elephant, lion, leopard, rhinoceros, and buffalo. The most popular animals in the park include rhino, elephant, hippopotamus, lion, cheetah, hyena, warthog, zebra, crocodile, giraffe, wildebeest, and many species of antelope. Over 500 species of birds exist in Kruger, and of this number, around 250 are annual residents of the park. Typically, game drives on a South Africa safari take place early morning, late afternoon, and at night. No one should miss out on a night drive as this is a time when it is possible to view carnivores hunting their prey.

Leopard Crossing Road with Tourists in Jeep, Kruger National Park
Leopard crossing road with tourists on a game drive, Kruger National Park

There are two parts to the park. One is in the public domain where game viewing is restricted to staying on the roads in the park, and the other is staying at one of the many private lodges, each of which has its own territory. The lodges in these territories share their domain only with each other so the game drives can meander anywhere within this overall territory. The advantage here is also that vehicles can go off-road at any time, giving the visitor a much better game viewing experience.

The Panorama Route

Now turning west from Kruger and not too far way, you arrive at a region which has absolutely breathtaking scenery offering everything from dramatic scenery to colourful history and a wealth of other reasons to visit on South Africa travel. When I first set eyes on Blyde River Canyon, it literally did take my breath away. Think Colorado Grand Canyon experience. It is the third largest canyon of its kind in the world and the largest “green canyon” due to its lush subtropical foliage. It has some of the deepest and steepest cliffs of any canyon on the planet. The canyon itself is 33 kilometres/20 miles in length.

One highlight is the Three Rondavels, three huge pinnacles of rock which rise above the canyon and are also known as the “Three Sisters.” To get a perspective on the size and impact of this canyon, you head to what is known as God’s Window, the canyon’s most spectacular viewpoint with astonishing views over South Africa’s Lowveld. Another interesting place is Pilgrim’s Rest, a town with a very colourful history. It was where gold prospectors came hoping to make their fortune in the late 1800s. The town is now protected and preserved so that an important part of South Africa’s history can be available for visitors to enjoy.

Blyde River Canyon and The Three Rondavels (Three Sisters) in Mpumalanga, South Africa
Blyde River Canyon and The Three Rondavels (Three Sisters) in Mpumalanga

Johannesburg

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think Johannesburg will appeal to every visitor on a South Africa vacation, however, it is an essential part of the country and I have enjoyed my time there. So, don’t dismiss this city or just pass through; you can enjoy at least three special places of interest. One is the Apartheid Museum, which is quite thought-provoking and about an essential part of South Africa’s history. This is portrayed through photos, film footage, newspaper clippings, etc. Another is Gold Reef City just outside of Johannesburg. This theme park takes you back to the gold rush days. The exhibits include a tour of a disused shaft of a gold mine. My favourite attraction is Soweto (short for South Western Townships). Again just outside the city, this is a number of sprawling townships originally created for black labourers who worked in the mines and other industries. It is interesting to see how Soweto has developed and the great strides which have been taken to make it a more desirable place to live. Take an organized tour, while on a South African vacation, which will include the former home of Nelson Mandela and the Mandela Museum.

Johannesburg Skyline at Night, South Africa - Cropped
Johannesburg skyline at night

That concludes a roughly two-week itinerary to enjoy the best of South Africa. If you have more time at your disposal, it is very easy to add on a trip from Johannesburg to Sun City, a unique mini Las Vegas in the middle of the bush, and Victoria Falls in either Zimbabwe or Zambia, who both share this amazing phenomenon.