We had a vacation planned to hike in Austria. A week before we planned to leave, Trevor had to cancel the vacation due to a work meeting in Johannesburg the same week. We had to decide whether to cancel the entire vacation, or fly Christine to South Africa and take our vacation there. We decided on the latter. Our trip was slightly offseason (May, which is Autumn in South Africa) and wanted to limit our time in transit as there are so many things to do and see in a short period of time. Maybe you’re planning your own trip and wondering what to do in South Africa? Well, this the 1-week South Africa itinerary we came up with.
A priority for us was to do a safari. Pilanesburg is only a 2 hour drive north of Johannesburg, so is a fantastic option on a short time frame. The better known game reserve, the Kruger, is a much longer drive (and you need to take malaria pills to visit Kruger!).
There are many tour operators that will transfer you from Jo’burg to Pilanesburg either for a day-trip or overnight tour. Essentially they just take you to a game lodge where you participate on one of the daily game drives from the lodge. For about the same cost, we were able to get a private guide (through Ekala Tours (Click Here) for a 2 day/1 night safari. We were picked up by our guide, Malcolm, at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and driven directly to the park. The compromise was that instead of staying at the Bakubung luxury game lodge, we stayed at Manyane Resort, which was much more rustic (although clean and good value for dollar). The upside was that over the course of the two days, we spent 8 hours in the park versus the 2-3 hours we would have spent on a group tour with the luxury lodge. And since we were in normal truck rather than 20-person truck, we could pursue the animals we wanted to see. It’s really no comparison!
After Trevor’s meeting, we went back to the airport to fly to Cape Town. Flights are very frequent on South African Airlines and British Airways, and take about 2 hours.
In Cape Town, we rented a car and drove to the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, which is the main tourist area. There are plenty of great hotels across a range of budgets, and many restaurants with patios overlooking the harbour. We stayed at the Commodore Hotel (Click Here), which was easy walking distance from everything and had an excellent free breakfast.
The hop-on hop-off bus tour, despite being vastly overpriced in most cities, is actually a good option here. It takes you through downtown Cape Town, which can be dodgy at times. It also takes you around the coast from Hout Bay back to Cape Town, which is definitely worth exploring.
If the cable car is running (it often isn’t due to high winds) or if you’re up for a hike, head to the top of Table Mountain for a view down over Cape Town and the surrounding coasts.
A scenic drive south through the Cape Peninsula takes you through Fish Hoek and Simons Town. In Simons Town, the Boulders Penguin Colony (is a short diversion with a surprising number of penguins. From here, it is also possible to do Great White Shark cage diving if you don’t want to do the longer trek out to Gansbaai.
Continue south to Cape Point, with many viewpoints along the way. While there are a lot of tour groups, Cape Point is worth the stop as you explore the peninsula.
Of course, with us, wine is always an important consideration. There are several wine regions within a short drive (or easy tour) from Cape Town with Stellenbosch being the best known. We recommend Franschhoek which is a bit further from Cape Town and a bit smaller. We stayed at The Last Word hotel in Franschhoek (Click Here), which is a great boutique hotel and affordable in the offseason. Even though it is on the pricey end, we cannot stress enough how awesome that hotel is. They also have hotels in Constantia and Long Beach.
In Franschhoek, there are none of the security concerns that you get in the bigger cities of South Africa. Franschhoek also has a great mix of local art boutiques, small local shops, and great restaurants, giving you plenty to see and do. If staying overnight, and you want something slightly more active, we recommend a bike and wine tour through Franschhoek Cycles (Click Here). For something more relaxing, the Camelot Spa at Le Franschhoek Hotel (Click Here) is a great indulgence.
We flew back to Canada from Cape Town, transiting through Johannesburg and London.