A car approaches on a tar road as part of a mountain road trip.

5 South African Road Trip Adventures to Try in 2024

A road trip is the best way to see South Africa on a budget. Road trips allow you to see more than just big cities. You can explore national parks and historic towns along the way.

It may sound cheesy, but it truly is just as much about the journey as the destination. South Africa has beautiful mountain passes, wide open spaces, and long coastal roads, making it perfect for road trips.

At Drive South Africa, we encourage travellers to hire cars and escape urban areas. It’s a big country, after all. We’ve assembled a list of our top five road trips to try in 2024. Read on to learn all about them.

The Garden Route

The Storms River Mouth in Tsitsikamma National Park.

The suspension bridge at Storms River Mouth

Stretching 300 km from Mossel Bay to the Storms River, the Garden Route might just be South Africa’s most famous road trip experience. Here, lush greenery hugs the coastline, rapidly transitioning into beaches, lagoons, and estuaries.

The Garden Route National Park offers a more scenic drive than the N1 between Cape Town and Johannesburg. It’s split into three sections:

  • Wilderness Section (Wilderness Ebb-and-Flow Camp)
  • Knysna Section (Knysna Forest)
  • Tsitsikamma Section (Storms River Mouth Rest Camp and Nature’s Valley Rest Camp)

Wilderness and Knysna are popular holiday destinations, but it’s the Tsitsikamma Section that steals the show. Here, gigantic yellowwood trees dominate the indigenous forests, comprising some of the best examples of forested wilderness in South Africa.

Nature’s Valley and the Storms River Mouth straddle either end of the famous Otter Trail and there are many other hiking routes in the area. More daring travellers can also go bungee jumping at the Bloukrans Bridge, the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee.

You can do the Garden Route south-to-north or vice versa. If this sounds like your kind of adventure, check out this three week road trip along the Garden Route.

The Panorama Route

A view of the Blyde River Canyon in South Africa.

The Blyde River Canyon along the Panorama Route

Like the Western Cape, Mpumalanga has its own iconic road trip: the Panorama Route. The name is a dead giveaway to what you can expect. Much of the route, which runs in a loop from Lydenburg to Ohrigstad, follows the sharp descent from the Great Escarpment to the Lowveld.

The area is famous for its beautiful viewpoints, including God’s Window, Pinnacle Rock, and the Three Rondawels. These spots offer the most breathtaking views of the Blyde River Canyon.

Unlike the Grand Canyon and the Fish River Canyon, the Blyde River Canyon is lush and green, fed by the massive Blyde River Dam. Local tour operators offer boat tours and kayaking adventures on the dam, giving you a completely different perspective.

However, many people come to the Panorama Route to see its waterfalls, including:

  • Berlin Falls (80 m tall)
  • Lisbon Falls (94 m tall)
  • Mac-Mac Falls (70 m tall)
  • Bridal Veil Falls (70 m tall)
  • Lone Creek Falls (70 m tall)

All are incredible in their own right, and they’re not the only ones in the area. In fact, thanks to the many rivers along the Panorama Route, you can find cascades virtually everywhere you look. Upstream from Mac-Mac Falls, for example, you can braai and swim among smaller waterfalls at Mac-Mac Pools.

The Panorama Route has its fair share of thrills, too. In Graskop, the Graskop Gorge Lift Co operates a 120 m long zipline, a lift that descends 51 m into an indigenous forest, and the Big Swing: a 70 m freefall into the gorge.

Every South African should try to see the Panorama Route at least once. If you’re keen, check out this four day road trip through Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

West Coast Road Trip

An eland crosses the road in West Coast National Park during a road trip.

An eland crosses the road in West Coast National Park

South Africa’s West Coast is criminally underrated. That’s why West Coast Way developed six overlapping themed routes, each appealing to a different type of traveller:

  • The Culture Route
  • The Tractor Route
  • The Foodie Route
  • The Berg Route
  • The Wild Route

Each segment offers a unique perspective on the area, but they also merge seamlessly. That’s why you should dedicate at least a week to fully experience the West Coast’s offerings.

The Culture Route starts just outside Cape Town, including Koeberg Nature Reserve, the Atlantis Dunes, the West Coast National Park, and !Khwa ttu San Heritage Centre. Here, you can experience the indigenous San way of life first-hand.

The Tractor Route celebrates the West Coast’s agricultural roots, spanning inland fruit farms, several historic towns, and the famous Riebeek Valley. You can also stay at game lodges and experience safaris just a few hours from the Mother City.

The Foodie Route is all about beer, wine, seafood, and self-care. It includes several luxurious hotels and lodges, the Darling Brew Experience, and Paternoster, home to several world-renowned restaurants.

Finally, the Berg Route and Wild Route highlight the West Coast’s remarkable wilderness areas. On the coast, Rocherpan Nature Reserve attracts 183 different species of birds in the rainy season. Inland, the Cederberg Wilderness Area is a hiking and stargazing paradise.

For something truly memorable, visit during flower season in August and September. If you’re interested in living the West Coast way, get some inspiration from this six day Cederberg road trip.

The Wild Coast

The Wild Coast

A view over Coffee Bay and Hole in the Wall along the Wild Coast.

A typical scene along the Wild Coast in Coffee Bay

It seems like South Africans have a habit of giving our favourite road trip routes very unoriginal names. What do we mean? Well, the Wild Coast is just that – wild.

Located along much of the Eastern Cape coastline, the route is the heartland of the Xhosa people. Besides cities like East London and Mthatha, most of the region is rural, with much of the coast untouched by development.

The Wild Coast includes popular tourist destinations like Coffee Bay and its Hole in the Wall rock formation, the Kei River Mouth, and Port St Johns. Just past East London, the Cintsa region features endless white beaches hugged by dense tropical forest. However, head a little further north, and you’ll encounter the wonders of Pondoland.

At Mkambati Nature Reserve, you can find some of the world’s only waterfalls that plunge directly into the ocean. There’s another epic example at Waterfall Bluff, but you’ll have to hike to get to it. There’s also an endangered Cape vulture colony along the Msikaba River.

Travellers often overlook the Wild Coast because of its relative inaccessibility compared to other routes. However, it’s worth the effort. If you’re ready to take on the challenge, start with this 15 day road trip through the Eastern Cape.

The Midlands Meander

The Nelson Mandela Capture Site near Howick, KwaZulu-Natal.

The Nelson Mandela Capture Site near Howick, KwaZulu-Natal

Most visitors to KwaZulu-Natal tend to focus on Durban or the Drakensberg. However, between the two, you’ll find the Midlands, a historic region that looks more like a collection of European meadows than an African wilderness. That’s largely because it’s a major cattle farming area, making it a hotspot for cheese and other dairy products.

The Midlands Meander combines five tourist routes into one, spanning waterfalls, museums, arts and crafts experiences, and several historic sites. One notable example is the Nelson Mandela Capture Site near Howick, where apartheid police arrested Madiba after 17 years on the run. Today, it’s home to an incredible sculpture of our national hero.

The route caters to foodies, shoppers, hikers, and everyone in between, with plenty of activities for children and adults alike. And, because it’s close to Durban, it’s a great holiday destination for people from Johannesburg, too.

Ready to meander through the Midlands? Check out this two week road trip through KwaZulu-Natal.

An aerial shot of Mac Mac Falls along the Panorama Route.

An aerial shot of Mac-Mac Falls in Mpumalanga

South Africa offers an array of unforgettable road trip experiences, showcasing the country’s vast diversity from the lush Garden Route to the sandy, rocky West Coast. These journeys offer more than just scenic views – they promise a deep connection with the land’s soul and stories, encapsulating the essence of South African adventure.

If you’re planning to head out on a road trip in 2024, consider car rental with Drive South Africa. Whether you’re looking for a reliable car rental service in Cape Town or a rugged 4×4 rental for an adventure through Botswana, Namibia, or South Africa, we have you covered.

For more road trip inspiration, take a look at our handy Road Trip Explorer. Better yet, add your own itinerary to the collection!

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