Garden Route

Between Swellendam in the Western Cape and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape is a spectacular coastline known as the Garden Route. En route you pass some South Africa's most beatiful beaches and lively coastal towns. On this page you will find an overview of the Garden Route's top attractions.

garden route south africa

The Garden Route is one of South Africa's most adventurous and accessible areas. The infrastructure is excellent so you can travel easily from place to place. The area is characterised by endless deserted beaches, flanked by ancient forests filled with small game. There also is a number of rivers that plunge into the sea which have formed deep gorges in the landscape. You will also encounter many attractive and lively places along the Garden Route with many things to do and experience. The Garden Route is a paradise for nature lovers and families who actively want to explore all things to see and do.

Depending on your route the Garden Route starts at either Swellendam (when coming from Cape Town) or Port Elizabeth (when coming from Durban or Kuger National Park). When starting from Cape Town you will soon notice that the landscape changes rapidly: from rolling wheat fields to a more mountainous area with dense forests. Often the first stop is in Swellendam, most of the times just for one night. We recommend staying for a minimum of two nights due to the number of activities that can be done in the area. From here the Garden Route continues to Plettenberg Bay on the south coast. Before venturing into Plettenberg, we recommend an inland de-tour to the town of Oudtshoorn. Here you will see yet another completely different landscape characterised by the semi-aris desert of the Klein Karoo (Little Karoo). When arrived in Knysna or Plettenberg you can enjoy endless beaches or choose to become really active. For example, book a ocean cruise and look for whales and dolphins. Also a streneous, but very rewarding, nature hike in Tsitsikamma National Park should not be missed.

Our insider top tips in the Garden Route:


swellendam garden route

It is almost impossible to miss the historic town of Swellendam when driving the N2 motorway in easterly direction. There are many old Cape Dutch style houses on the main road, of which the Dutch Reformed Church is probably the most noticeable. You will also find many good restaurants alond the main road. In the vicinity of the village, on the other side of the motorway, lies Bontebok National Park. This is a relatively small nature reserve where we enjoyed touring around for an hour or two. Besides zebras the rare bontebok can be seen, this national park is one of the few places where these animals are easily spottable. A little further south of Swellendam is the "De Hoop Nature Reserve", a real treat in our opinion. It is a nature reserve with a very typical landscape for this region of South Africa: there are hundreds of fynbos species that can be seen, a real dream for botanists. Especially in the South African spring (September / October) we strongly advise to go and have a look. Many of the fynbos are in bloom in that periode which makes an incredible sight. The "De Hoop" stretches all the way to the coast, which allows you to see whales from the beach in whale season, a memorable experience.

Tsitsikamma National Park

tsitsikamma garden route south africa

Ttsitsikamma National Park is a coastal nature reserve. It it situated directly on the shores of the Indian Ocean that smashes onto the rocky coast with full force. From Plettenberg Bay it is a 45 minutes drive to the main access point of the reserve at Storms River Mouth. There is a nice restaurant built on the rocks (do not expect too much of the food quality) and a shop where information is available about activities in Tsitsikamma. Activities mainly focus on making beatiful walks along the rugged coastline. It is very impressive seeing the huge waves crashing onto the rocks. You will walk directly along the coast as steep cliffs overgrown with ancient trees rise up behind the coastline.

Whales & dolphins

south africa whale garden route

Maybe you did not make a stop in Hermanus to see whales on your way to the Garden Route. No problem at all: also further along the coast towards Port Elizabeth there are plenty of opportunities seeing these animals. Good places to do so are the "De Hoop" nature reserve near Swellendam and the busy coastal town of Plettenberg Bay. Whales are most commonly sighted between July and November. From Plettenberg Bay you can make half day excursions that take you out to the Indian Ocean. Please pay attention when booking such an excursion: only two operators are allowed to approach the whales to a distance less than a hundres meters. Dolphins can be spotted almost year round in Plettenberg Bay. The species that occurs here in great numbers is the bottlenose dolphin. Sometimes you can see hundreds of them from the beach as they frolic through the waves.

Plettenberg Bay

plettenberg bay south africa

There is more to do in Plettenberg Bay than just whales and dolphins. Plett (as local South Aficans affectionately name their village) is a rapidly exanding town on one of the most beautiful stretches of South Africa's coast. Are you a beach lover and sun worshipper? Then you are in good hands in Plettenberg, in the vicinity of town there is a number of very broad white beaches. Not just good for relaxing with a book and a cool refreshment, but also for making for long hikes. Our suggestion? Drive a little past Plettenberg Bay and cross the Bitou and Keurbooms rivers. Soon after that you will see the exit to Keurboomsstrand, which is often a lot quieter than the beached near Plettenberg Bay itself. Please note that this probably is not the best place to take a swim as there is a strong undercurrent. At the end of the road to Keurboomsstrand there is also a very nice restaurant that provides picture perfect views of Plettenberg and the ocean. You can also put on your walking shoes and go for a nature walk on the Robberg Peninsula on the other side of town. Here you walk through dense fynbos but also on deserted beaches. There is also a big chance that you encounter a large sea lion colony.

Oudtshoorn & Swartberg Pass

oudtshoorn karoo south africa

From the city of George you take the N12 motorway north. This road takes you deeper inland over the Outeniqua mountains. Immediately after the mountain pass is crossed, you arrive in a completely different world. There no longer is the green landscape that is so typical for South Africa's southern coast, but a much drier landscape with red-orange coloured rocks. The first place you come across is Oudtshoorn: centre of the South African ostrich farming industry. The most important attractions near Oudtshoorn are the Cango Caves and the spectacular Swartberg Pass. The caves, at 18 miles from Oudtshoorn, are perfect for an afternoon visit. Amaze yourself by seeing impressive stalactites and some very large underground chambers. We would also recommend crossing the Swartberg Pass (not for those who suffer from vertigo). This dirt road twists steeply through the colored rock formations. At the top we recommend continuing to the other side where you drive through some deep gorges. Through the sleepy Karoo town of Prince Albert, which makes a great lunch stop, you can drive back on the N12 in the direction of Oudtshoorn. En route you then pass the 'Meiringspoort' road, a stunning road with many stops to appreciate this very special. Please note: visiting the Cango Caves and crossing the Swartberg Pass takes a full day.


south africa knysna heads

Besides Plettenberg Bay, there is another important coastal town along the Garden Route, namely Knysna. It is an attractive little town situated directly on the shores of a large lagoon where oysters are being grown. Especially in South African summer Knysna gets very crowded, so wel actually advise against staying in the village during that period. However, Knysna always lends itself perfectly for a day trip. A good idea is taste the locally grown oysters, make a boat trip across the lagoon, or visit the pectacular "The Heads" viewpoint. Also in the vicinity of Knysna some good beaches are te be found, of which Noetzie beach probably is the best.

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Did you know?

swartberg pass oudtshoorn

The Swartberg Pass a marvelous example of road engineering is? The pass is ascending rapidly along steep cliffs and winds its way through the Swartberg mountains. It took seven years building the road (between 1881 and 1888), mostly through forced labor by prisoners.

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