The Everything You Need to Know Garden Route Adventure Guide

With some of the most breathtaking coastline in the world, the Garden Route in South Africa is one of Africa’s most beautiful travel destinations. The area’s rugged, rocky coastline, breathtaking bays and river mouths, and wealth of wildlife viewing and hiking opportunities have made it a must-see attraction for those visiting South Africa. With so much to see and do, it can be difficult to know where to being with your planning. In this Garden Route adventure guide, I will be your tour guide in helping you plan a trip to the Garden Route that you will remember for a lifetime.

Garden Route Adventure Guide

So, while you might be excited to start planning your trip to see the Garden Route in South Africa right away, I would strongly suggest that you take the time to research this amazing area first so that you can plan a trip you will remember for a lifetime. One of the best ways to do that is to read this detailed Garden Route adventure guide that I have prepared for you.

In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to see South Africa’s beautiful Garden Route. I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip. 

In addition, I outline the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are.  With the information in my Garden Route adventure guide in hand, you can be confident that your trip to see South Africa’s Garden Route will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.

At a Glance

Before you start making any travel plans, you will want to make sure to take care of all of the passport, VISA, and immunization requirements for your trip.   In addition, you will want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what languages they speak in South Africa and what currency they use so that you can plan any translation needs you might have for your trip and exchange currency before your trip if necessary.  I have included some of this key information in my Garden Route adventure guide below for you to review as you start to make your travel plans.

Passport requirements exist. See below for details.
Immunization recommendations are listed below.
The official languages in South Africa are Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu, Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swati, and Ndebele.
The official currency in South Africa is the South African Rand.

Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements

In order to assist you in navigating the legal requirements for visiting South Africa, I have included a link to my South Africa Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements for Visitors Guide for you to review below.  This guide will give you all of the information that you will need to meet the VISA, passport, customs, and immunizations requirements and recommendations for visiting South Africa.

I have also outlined all of the vaccination requirements and recommendations for travel to South Africa in the guide below. You will want to be sure to review this section of the guide thoroughly to ensure your health is protected during your visit.

In addition to this passport, VISA, and immunization advice, I have also included links to supplemental guides that I have created on why I recommend getting the Rabies pre-exposure vaccination before traveling internationally and how to protect yourself from tick and mosquito-borne illnesses when travelling. Even though the Garden Route isn’t in a high-risk area for malaria, it is still good to protect yourself just in case.

Packing Tips

Outside of taking care of the passport, visa, and immunization requirements so that you can get into South Africa and don’t get sick, there is no more important pre-travel planning task than making sure you pack the right clothing and gear for your trip.  To help make sure you are properly packed and prepared, I have included links to some of my packing resources for you to review in my Garden Route adventure guide below.

Top Things to See and Do

Garden Route Adventure Guide

The Garden Route in South Africa is a very big and beautiful area with so many incredible things to see and do. Whether you plan on doing some hiking, getting out on the water, having a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounter, or just driving along the coast and admiring the views, visiting the Garden Route is certain to be a memorable experience. In order to help ensure that you have all of the top sights on your itinerary, I have outlined the Top Ten things that I would recommend seeing while touring the Garden Route in my Garden Route adventure guide below.

Garden Route Adventure Guide - Top Things to See Map

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Wilderness Beach

Garden Route Adventure Guide

There are a lot of beautiful beaches in the Garden Route, but Wilderness Beach just might be the most beautiful. Sitting just north of the city of George, the beach is perfect for talking long walks, letting the kids swim along its sandy shoreline, or just sitting back and enjoying the beauty and serenity of the day. Not to mention, the beach is also a wonderful spot to see dolphins and whales, which are frequently seen breaching near the shore.

Margaret´s Viewpoint in Knysna

Garden Route Adventure Guide

It is very hard to pick a favorite city within the Garden Route of South Africa because they are all so pretty. Each city has its own beautiful stretch of coastline, pristine beaches, and variety of activities to enjoy. However, I have a real soft spot for the city of Knysna because I think it is so beautiful. One of the best spots to get a birds-eye view of this breathtaking city is from the Margaret´s Viewpoint. You can see almost the entire city, as well as the breathtaking coastline, from this vantage point. It is definitely worth stopping at if you are making your way thru Knysna.

Knysna Heads Viewpoint

Garden Route Adventure Guide

An absolute can’t-miss spot when you are in the Knysna area is the iconic East Head Viewpoint, otherwise known as the Knysna Heads Viewpoint. Of all the beautiful viewpoints in the Garden Route, the Knysna Heads Viewpoint may have the most spectacular views.

From here, you are able to see where the Knysna River empties into the ocean. The shoreline is rocky and beautiful, the waves are typically enormous, and the views are breathtaking. You can also see the pretty Eastern Heads Beacon from this spot, which is perched on the rocks to help ships navigate. With the waves crashing over it, it is definitely picture worthy.

Robberg Nature Reserve

Garden Route Adventure Guide

Located on a peninsula near Plettenberg Bay, the Robberg Nature Reserve is an area of protected shoreline and inland coast that has some of the Garden Route’s most beautiful coastline. However, the nature reserve isn’t just a collection of pretty viewpoints.

The land is also protected to preserve some of the area’s vulnerable fish species and to provide habitat to some of the area’s incredible wildlife. Lucky visitors have a chance to spot the rare blue duiker, which is the Western Cape’s smallest antelope. Visitors will also often spot cape fur seals resting on the rocky shoreline within the nature preserve.

And if you are really, really lucky, you might even spot some whale activity off the coast. With so much pretty coastline and wonderful wildlife to see, the Robberg Nature Reserve is a can’t miss spot in the Garden Route.

Tsitsikamma National Park

Garden Route Adventure Guide

Next to the Robberg Nature Reserve, the most iconic location within the Garden Route in South Africa is undoubtedly the spectacular Tsitsikamma National Park. The park encompasses an incredible marine reserve, deep gorges, and towering yellowwood trees.

The park is also home to one of the most renowned hiking trails in Africa, if not the world. The famed Otter Trail follows the incredible coastline of the park along some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful coastal areas you will find in the Garden Route.

If you decide to hike the trail, you may spot animals such as bush pigs or baboons. The park is also home to the Storms River Bridge, which itself is a destination on my list of must-sees within the Garden Route. Many who visit spend a few days in the park because there is so much to see and do, including taking an incredible guided sea kayaking adventure.

Storms River Bridge

Garden Route Adventure Guide

Speaking of Tsitsikamma National Park, one of the most popular attractions in the park is the incredible Storms River Suspension Bridge. It is actually a series of bridges, which cross over the Storms River Mouth as it enters the ocean. If you haven’t crossed a suspension bridge over the ocean before, it is an amazing experience. Watching the waves crash below you as you cross is an exhilarating experience. It’s only a short 1-mile hike from the parking lot to the bridge, which makes it a very accessible spot for hikers of all experience levels.

Lookout Beach

Garden Route Adventure Guide

After a long day of exploring the coastline, you may want to just find a nice spot on a beach and perhaps dip your feet in the warm Indian Ocean. If that sounds nice, then I would strongly suggest checking out the beautiful Lookout Beach in Plettenberg Bay. The beach is hugely popular because of its seemingly endless stretch of soft white sand beach and its close proximity to the town center.

If you visit in the latter part of the year, you may also be treated to seeing whales off the coastline. So, whether you are looking for a down day or just a short reprieve from your sightseeing while touring Plettenberg Bay, the gorgeous Lookout Beach is a great spot to add to your itinerary.

Elephant Sanctuary Plettenberg Bay

Garden Route Adventure Guide

While the Garden Route may be quite a ways from South African wildlife hot spots like the infamous Kruger National Park, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, and the Madikwe Game Reserve, that doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunities to see and interact with wildlife.

In fact, there are quite a few wildlife rehabilitation centers in the Plettenberg Bay area that I think are worthy of checking out. My favorite is the Elephant Sanctuary. You will have a hard time understanding just how big and powerful, yet gentle and caring, these wonderful creatures are until you see them up close.

When you visit the rehabilitation center, you will have a chance to brush them, walk with them, feed them, and pose for some amazing selfies with these gentle giants. It is definitely an experience you will remember forever!

Birds of Eden

Garden Route Adventure Guide

Another incredible wildlife experience that you can have in the Plettenberg Bay area is the amazing Birds of Eden bird sanctuary. It is the world’s largest free flight aviary and features over 3,500 birds from over 220 different species, many of which are native to Africa.

The continent of Africa has some of the world’s most beautiful and incredible bird species and this is one of the best ways to get up close to these beautiful creatures and see them for yourself.

The two-hectare dome enclosure spans over a gorge of indigenous forest, so seeing the birds at Birds of Eden is as close to it gets to seeing them in the wild as you can get. Definitely a memorable experience you will want to check out if you have the time.

Featherbed Nature Reserve

Garden Route Adventure Guide

The last, but definitely not least, attraction on my list of the top things to see in the Garden Route in South Africa is the spectacular Featherbed Nature Reserve on the Knysna Lagoon. This stretch of forested coastline with beautiful sandstone cliffs and enchanting sea caves has some of the best hiking trails and scenic views that you will find anywhere in the Garden Route.

In particular, the sea caves are absolutely gorgeous and are definitely worthy of exploring. In addition to the area’s many hiking trails, there are also lagoon boat tours available and plenty of amazing shops and restaurants along this stretch of coastline to explore. The Featherbed Nature Reserve is undoubtedly a can’t miss destination when visiting the Garden Route in South Africa.

How to Get There

Garden Route Adventure Guide

If you are planning on visiting the Garden Route from outside of South Africa, most likely you will be flying into either the O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg or the Cape Town International Airport (CPT) in Cape Town. From there, your best bet is to book a connecting flight to George Airport (GRJ) in the city of George in South Africa’s Western Cape.

The city of George is within the Garden Route and in my opinion flying into George is the best way to get there. However, if you are spending time elsewhere in South Africa and would like to drive to the Garden Route instead, renting a car and making the drive to the Western Cape is also an option.

Garden Route Adventure Guide - How to Get There Map

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If you do plan on driving to the Garden Route from elsewhere in South Africa, you will want to make sure you fully understand the South Africa driving rules and regulations, as well as the South Africa rental car policies within the country. Also, you will need to have a valid driver’s license that is printed in English or a valid International Driver’s License before arriving within the country. For an idea of how far of a drive it is to the Garden Route from various large cities in South Africa, I have included a driving distance table for you to review in my Garden Route adventure guide below.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In South Africa, traffic drives on the left side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the left-hand side of the vehicle. Make sure you are comfortable with this driving configuration before renting a vehicle and driving in South Africa.

CityDistanceDrive Time
Gqeberha324km3hrs 45min
Cape Town428km4hrs 30min
Johannesburg1,170km11hrs 50min
Durban1,285km14hrs 30min

Best Time to Visit

Garden Route Adventure Guide

Average Temperature (°F)

In the Western Cape of South Africa, the summer months of November thru April can be quite warm during the day and then cool at night as the ocean breeze cools down the coastline. This is the most popular time for people to visit the Garden Route and it can be quite busy along this stretch of coastline, especially over the Christmas and school holidays.

During the winter months the daytime high temperatures dip into the upper 60’s Fahrenheit, but it still gets plenty warm enough to explore the coastline. However, you should definitely pack a warm jacket and a winter hat if you plan on visiting during this time of year as the evening temps can be rather chilly.

Average Precipitation (Inches)

If you do plan to visit the Garden Route during the summer, you should prepare for the occasional rainy day as this is the wettest time of year in the Western Cape. If you plan on spending a lot of time hiking or on the beach during your visit, you may want to target the early summer months of November or December, as these months tend to be a little drier than the late summer months of March and April.

If you don’t plan on spending a lot of time on the beach and don’t mind cooler temperatures, the winter months of June and July are the driest months of the year in the Garden Route. It is typically less crowded in the area during this time of year as well, so this may be a great time to visit if you want to beat the crowds and have the coastline more to yourself.

Where to Stay

Garden Route Adventure Guide

One of the most important decisions you are going to have to make when planning your trip to see the Garden Route in South Africa is where you will stay.  When you travel, the accommodations you choose are oftentimes amongst the biggest expenditures for your trip.  So not only do you need to be comfortable where you are staying, but you also need to be comfortable with how much you are paying to stay there. 

Finding the right accommodations for your trip involves looking at the amenities, the location, and most importantly, the price.  If you are starting to plan your trip to South Africa and want some hotel and hostel suggestions, I have included some great options at different price points in my Garden Route adventure guide below for you to review.  As always, don’t be afraid to expand your search to room sharing sites such as Airbnb or VRBO if you aren’t finding a hotel or hostel that meets your needs.

Garden Route Adventure Guide - Hotels and Hostels Map

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Where to Eat

Garden Route Adventure Guide - Restaurants

When most people plan a trip, the primary focus is one how to get there, where to stay, and what is on the list of things to see and do.  What many travelers neglect to plan, is where to eat when you are there.  Granted, it is sometimes fun to be spontaneous when choosing a restaurant while traveling, and it is always smart to get recommendations when you arrive.

However, it can also be advantageous to have some ideas of restaurants you would like to try during your trip written down beforehand as well.  This way you can be assured that you won’t miss out on a highly recommended culinary experience that you will regret.  To help you decide on some restaurants in the Garden Route to add to your list, I have included a list of some highly recommended options for you to review in my Garden Route adventure guide below.

Garden Route Restaurant Recommendations
Restaurant Cuisine Price
101 Meade Street Restaurant (George) Steakhouse, African, Seafood $$-$$$
The Hussar Grill (George) Steakhouse, Grill, Veggie $$-$$$
Freshline Fisheries (Knysna) Seafood, Gluten Free Options $$-$$$
East Head Cafe (Knysna) Healthy, Veggie, Vegan Options $$-$$$
Ristorante Enrico (Keurboomstrand) Italian, Seafood, European $$-$$$
Peppermill Cafe (Plettenberg Bay) Bar, Cafe, Contemporary $$-$$$
Tsala Treetop Lodge (Plettenberg Bay) International, Fusion, Veggie $$$$
Zinzi Restaurant (Plettenberg Bay) African, European, Fusion $$$$

Garden Route Adventure Guide

There is an abundance of amazing things to see and do in the Garden Route and one of the best ways to experience those things is on a tour.  If you are looking for fun tours and excursions to fill out your trip, I have included some category links to recommended tours and excursions you can review in my Garden Route adventure guide below.

One thing that the Garden Route is not in short supply of is amazing things to photograph. I was able to capture a lot of great photographs while touring the Garden Route, and I have included some of my favorites in a gallery in my Garden Route adventure guide for you to review below.

If you would like to view some more of my top photos from this trip, as well as photos from some of my many other travel adventures, make sure you are following me on Instagram as well!

Wanderlust Travel and Photos Blog

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Categories: Africa Travel Guides, International National Parks, South Africa, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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