A handy 3 week South Africa itinerary

I always have wanted to go to South Africa. Me and my boyfriend Jurgen had talked about it more than once, but a couple of weeks ago we decided to do it. I mean, who doesn’t want to see the Lion King in person (and not behind bars)? So we planned out a 3 week trip and I’ll tell you how we did it. Hopefully it will give you some inspiration of what to do, where to stay and where to stay. As a bonus, I’ve listed some packing essentials and my photography gear. After reading this, you’ll be prepared on everything you’ll need to know when traveling to South Africa. Beware: you’ll see some breathtaking pictures.

Trip summary

Day 1 – 4: Johannesburg

We had a direct flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg with KLM. It was around 10 in the evening when we landed and we took an Uber to our b&b. As a tourist, you have to be careful and always put all your stuff in the trunk. Your Uber driver will tell you this. Uber is widely available and since it will give you the option of knowing where your driver is when he comes to pick you up, so always go with this option if you don’t have your own car. Driving is on the left side of the road, so for most of us, it is the easy option anyways. The difference between poor and rich is dramatically high in South Africa. If you have luggage or even a bag with you in the car, it is possible people trying to sell you stuff at traffic lights will try to steal it. Traveling safe is a point of focus here.

Breakfast at Remote Corner, Johannesburg
Breakfast at Remote Corner, Johannesburg

We arrived at Remote Corner and after we got in, the Uber driver took off. We were told that breakfast was as between 7 and 9, but because the sun is up early (around 5) this was not really a problem. At breakfast we enjoyed the stories about Africa and the surroundings from our hosts Darryl and Helen. We asked where we could enjoy some coffee in the neighbourhood and they told us we would really like the Four Seasons hotel, which is close to the Johannesburg Zoo. It was safe enough for us to walk there and we looked for the Westcliff Stairs. These steps are amazing to photograph and they give you a very nice view over Parkview. Later at the Four Seasons hotel we sat down for a coffee, but we enjoyed it there so much that we stayed for lunch as well. We met up with a couple of friends and we went to Northcliff Ridge Ecopark where we had this amazing view of Johannesburg. For dinner we went to Hell’s Kitchen, a nice low key biker-kind of restaurant where we could sit outside and where we had may too many shots. So that is how you experience Johannesburg with a local. ;)

Apartheids museum

It was day 2 and we decided to take it slow for obvious reasons. In the morning we got an Uber to the Apartheids museum. The museum shines a light on the live of Nelson Mandela and what apartheid meant. That white people and black people actually lived separated lives and how it all came to be. There is a viewing of the history of apartheid and colonization. At the entrance you can choose which path you wanted to take: The road for white people or the road for black people. The overall museum is laid out really well and it tells the story in such a manner that it made me feel really uncomfortable about how suppressed people were because of the color of their skin. At the time we were there, there was a really cool black and white photography exhibition.

Entrance at the Apartheids museum, Johannesburg
Entrance at the Apartheids museum, Johannesburg

Mandela House

The next day we went to the Mandela house. We called an Uber and we drove past Ellis Park Stadium, the soccer stadium where the Dutch lost in the finals against Spain. The Uber driver wanted to know how we felt as Dutchies seeing the stadium and how close we came to winning. When we arrived in Soweto the Uber driver stressed that there was one road where it was safe for us to go and we needed to stay on that road. The street where the Mandela house was located was turned into a tourist attraction, with little market stands where people sold all kind of souvenirs. I got myself new sunglasses because I had already lost mine and some earrings made out of wire. The house itself is small, as you would expect. Before it was turned into a museum it had burned down, but because the walls are made out of stone, they remained and was it fairly easy to rebuild the house. We made a tour trough the house and it was possible to make pictures without getting other people in the frame, but it was a bit of a task. It is very humbling to walk in the same place as where Nelson Mandela stayed for years. It has a magical feeling about it, as he meant so much for the people of Africa.

Day 4 was our driving day to Motswari Private Game Reserve. We had rented a car which was delivered to us that morning and we headed out on the road. We were a bit nervous at the beginning of this trip, because we heard some very scary stories about people who got stranded and did not get out of their situation alive. But overall the trip was more than fine. The main thing we had to look out for were potholes. A lot of them are repaired, but there are still a lot of them remaining. And you don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road where people who look like they are coming to help you actually have bad intentions. For gas we stopped at Total Petroport at the N4 road. When we went to the toilets there we walked up to this breath taking view where animals were laying in the shade and drinking from a pretty water pool. At this point it sunk in: we were about to go on safari!

Around 4:30 PM, we arrived at Motswari Private game reserve. Just a little after the guests had left to go on their afternoon safari. It wasn’t really a big problem that we were late for the safari, because we were going to be there for 5 more days. We walked up the camp and we were amazed by everything we saw. Literally everything was amazing. There are animals walking around the camp and everyone was so incredibly nice. It really is like a little piece of paradise. A little bit later we had dinner with the guest who had returned from the safari. You have the option to sit by yourself, but normally you sit with the people from your safari. At that point, we had not gone on safari yet, so we sat with random people and heard about their safari day.

Nyala's are roaming freely around the camp at Motswari Private
Nyala’s are roaming freely around the camp at Motswari Private

Restaurants in Johannesburg

Day 5 – 9: Timbavati Game Reserve

Motswari Private Game Reserve is more than you can ever imagine. Even elephants walk through the camp and all you have to do is being on time in the correct spot. Early in the morning you will be woken by the staff. They will gently knock on your door to wake you and you’ll be given 45 minutes to get to your jeep. In that time, you can come to the veranda to enjoy some drinks and muffins. In the jeep there is room for 9 guests and you’ll be driven by a guide driver and there will be a guide on the front of the car. The morning game drive will take 3 hours. After the first 2 hours there will be a little break to enjoy some drinks before you’ll get back in the car for the rest of the morning drive. Back at camp there will be breakfast waiting. One time there was a group of at least 70 elephant passing the camp. Be careful of these animals, they are still wild creatures.

A hyena with a freshly scared face
A hyena with a freshly scared face

During the day you can go on a bush walk, where you’ll walk around the bush with a guide and cover smaller ground. We ended up not doing the bush walk, but relaxed by the beautiful pool. The huts also have a bathtub and once there were warthogs passing by the window. It is really amazing to see wildlife walking around all relaxed.

Female warthog walking through the camp at Motswari Private
Female warthog walking through the camp at Motswari Private

Around lunchtime you’ll be called to the veranda with a drum. Lunch will be served by the staff accommodated with beautiful songs. It is a show to see and you can choose from all kinds of food.

Lunch time at the veranda at the Motswari camp
Lunch time at the veranda at the Motswari camp

In the afternoon it is time for the next game drive. The rhythm is the same: You’ll drive around for 2 hours and then you’ll have a drink. The morning coffee has been replaced with evening gin and tonic, beer or soft drinks. During drinks the sun will set and it will turn dark soon. The last hour of the drive is in the dark and you’ll realize your guides are very skilled in finding the different animals.

Herd of greater Kudu females
Herd of greater Kudu females

There are so many types of animal you’ll come across. Within two days we saw the big five. We were most excited to see the leopards and rhinos and we saw multiple. Most people stayed one or two days, but we were so fortunate to stay for five days and see so many animals. There are many places in the greater Kruger that are cheaper than this place or you can go and drive yourself, but Motswari is worth every single penny. The drivers and guides are amazing. They are skilled at finding the animals and they know just how to position the cars to get the best angles for your photo’s. They take such good care of you all day and they give you so much information on all the animals you come across. It is so relaxing and so exciting at the same time, it is unbelievable. I didn’t know it before, but it was really a dream come true. You’ll probably have enough with 2 days, be happy with 3 days, but you will not have any regrets if you stay 4 days or longer. If you are traveling to South Africa, save money on everything else and spend your money here. It will be worth it.

Most beautiful sunset at Motswari Private
Most beautiful sunset at Motswari Private

Day 10 – 13: Cape Town

It was time to make our drive back to Johannesburg. We drove straight to the airport, handed over our car and went on our way to Cape Town. Later that evening we picked up our new rental car and we arrived at our hotel: The Greenhouse Boutique Hotel.

Every morning we would go to Origin Coffee Roasting. They have a very good breakfast and lunch menu and their coffee is delicious. Their ambiance is also really relaxing. It would be best described as a hipster / loft type place with nice seats and sweet baked goods. They also sell coffee and tea pots and t-shirts. I ended up buying a t-shirt for a friend of ours.

Origin Coffee Roasting, Cape Town
Origin Coffee Roasting, Cape Town

Boulders Beach

On our first day in Cape Town we headed out to Boulders Beach. It is famous for its penguin colony. You have to pay a small entrance fee to see them, but once you are in, you’ll see a lot of them. There is a pathway past the nests and it leads al the way to the beach. There you’ll find the penguins swimming and sunbathing. Be sure to go early, because it can become pretty busy with tourists. The penguins are pretty photogenic, so bring a camera.

Cape Point Nature Reserve

After going to Boulders Beach we went on to see Cape Point Nature Reserve. It is the most south / west point of Africa. (Not the most south). It is this beautiful nature reserve where you can find ostrich and baboons. Drive carefully, because tourists may stop out of the blue because they saw wildlife and they forget they are on the road, so keep a safe distance. When you reach Cape of Good Hope, there are probably already a lot of tourists there. People wait in line to take a picture with one of the signs. You can walk up the mountain and have an incredible view of the ocean. I heard it is possible to see some wale, but we didn’t see any that day. There is a cable car up to the highest point. Tourists are driven in by bus and there are a lot of busses there, so be patient. We decided not to go up, but we still ended up with a lot of great pictures.

Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point
Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point

Robben Island

If you think about going to Robben Island, buy your tickets beforehand. You can buy tickets at the gate, but it will take you way longer to get on the boat then when you already have tickets. So it is way faster and it will save you some frustration. To get to Robben Island, you go to the dock at Waterfront. There you make a boat ride that will take you somewhere around 20 minutes. When you get to the island, you’ll be getting on a bus. This bus will tour you around on some parts of the island. A guide tells you about the history of the island, that it was an island where a lot of seals rested from being in the sea. That is actually where the name comes from: robben is the dutch word for seal. The island was also used as an island to keep people who suffered from leprosy away from healthy people on the main land. That is why there is also a leper graveyard on the island. Then there is the prison, where one of the former prisoners will show you around. He will tell you about his time in the prison and what it is like and he will show you Nelson Mandela’s cell. It is a nice addition if you went to the Apartheids museum and Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto. From the prison it is a 5 minute walk back to the boat, which will drop you back off at Waterfront.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world and once you set foot in this park, you’ll know why. Even for people who are not into flowers or plants or trees, it will stun you with the beautiful views. No wonder that a lot of people go here to lay in the sun and picnic. I felt like a kid in a toy store and even though the light was not at it’s best when we were there, I still got some great pictures of plants and animals, which wander freely around the park. We enjoyed it so much that we went here two days in a row. It is so nice to sit here, talk and just slow down and relax. There is a little shop at the entrance where you can buy the regular souvenirs that you can buy anywhere in South Africa, next to some special flower themed books and home decor.

Muizenberg Beach

If you are looking to go surfing or just want to get a breath of fresh air at the ocean, Muizenberg Beach is a great place to sit down in the sand. There is a nice square where you can park your car and there are enough places where you can get something to eat. When we were there, they were shooting a film, which was very entertaining to watch. It is a great spot with nice lighting and obviously everyone goes to check out the iconic changing houses a bit further up the beach. If you don’t like to sit in the sand, but do like to watch all the surfers, there is a boulevard with benches where you can sit and enjoy the surroundings.

Muizenberg Beach changing houses
Muizenberg Beach changing houses

Restaurants in Cape Town

Day 14 – 17: Franschhoek

We said goodbye to Origin Coffee Roasting and we went on our way to Franschhoek. It is not surprising this place is called Franschhoek, which translates back to ‘French Corner’, because it looks a lot like France with all the wineries. We stayed at Val d’Or Estate, which is this nice estate neighbouring a wine field. The garden has a pool and a nice pond, where a lot of birds build their nest. The staff was also very nice and pointed us in the right direction when it comes to restaurants. We choose to go to Franschhoek in stead of going to Stellenbosch, was simply because we thought it looked a little greener and a bit less crowded. But that is different for everybody.

Franschhoek wine tram

The day after we arrived in Franschhoek we took a trip with the Franschhoek wine tram. We took the pink line (there are multiple lines) and we went to Grand Provence Estate, Eikehof Wines, Rickety Bridge Winery, and Haute Cabriere Tasting Room. With every visit we did a wine tasting where you can taste the different types of wine. Most of the time this will be three red wines and two white wines. Each stop is set to take 30 minutes, but if you want to sit down and relax it is better to skip a slot and sit down for an hour. You will be transported with the tram, a bus or a tractor. We started at Grand Provence. There is a cheetah outreach where you can learn about cheetah’s. At Eikehof there is an ostrich and at the time we were there, there was an owl with 3 little ones. We sat down and had a delicious meat and cheese platter. At Rickety Bridge we had a great lunch and we ended up at Haute Cabriere for the last tasting. Normally you spit out the sip of wine you tased, but we have not seen many people do that. And at every stop you can have something to eat, so why should you?

Franschhoek wine tram near Grand Provence
Franschhoek wine tram near Grand Provence

Le Bonheur Reptiles and Adventures

Because we found a snake in our hotel room, we went to Le Bonheur to learn more about reptiles and crocodiles. Finding snakes can be very common, just call your manager to have it removed. But actually finding one made us realize we didn’t know a lot about snakes or what to do when you get bitten. So we went to Le Bonheur and did a tour. A lot of the crocs there came from other parks and some were even saved from death. You’ll learn that crocodiles are actually very dangerous even though they don’t move much to save energy. The tour we got was very educational and we were able to ask anything we wanted and got pretty good answers.

A nile crocodile at Le Bonheur, Franschhoek
A nile crocodile at Le Bonheur, Franschhoek

Babylonstoren Wine Estate

One of the wine estates that is particularly instalicious is Babylonstoren. This estate has everything you might think of. From shops to greenhouses, cactus gardens and flowers and wandering chickens. Babylonstoren has it all and is very popular with influencers. The place is beautiful and if you are looking for a nice wine estate to make gorgeous pictures, this is the place you’ll need to go. It is also a place to sit down and relax and just enjoy countryside nature.

Restaurants in Fransschoek

Day 18 – 20: Hermanus

For our last days we drove up to Hermanus to do some whale watching. We drove the car down the whale trail and stopped every once in a while to stare at the ocean in the hope we would see some whales. We didn’t see much besides some boats so when we arrived at our last guest house, Whale Away, we were asked if we wanted to go on a boat trip to go whale watching. The chance we would see whales would be significantly greater, because we were there in October, exactly the time when the whales swim past Hermanus. So we booked a trip for the next day and walked from our hotel to our restaurant. The path we took goes past the shoreline and we saw some dolphins and seals.

It was early in the morning when we were on our way to Southern Rights Charters, the company that would take us out to sea. The sunrise at sea is the most wonderful thing I have ever seen. With the mountains in the background, it looked as if the world was being recreated. I’m not even kidding! It really looked like heaven on earth. It didn’t took long before we found some wales. We were fortunate enough to find a mother with her calf and she was teaching it to slam its tail on the surface of the water, to prepare it for the big trip to the south. Photographing on a boat was a bit of a challenge, but even if you do not want to take your DSLR with you on a boat, I’ll have the option to buy the video the company makes with a drone. We did and it was worth every cent.

Whale hitting the water at Hermanus
Whale hitting the water at Hermanus

After spending the morning on the boat we wondered a bit more around Hermanus and walked passed some of the marked stands in the center. This would be our last day and besides whale watching there is not much more to do in Hermanus to sit back and relax so we did.

From Hermanus we drove back to Cape Town. There we took the plane to Johannesburg. We had a couple of hours overlay so we went for dinner with our friends and before we knew it we were back on a plane to Amsterdam. It was a trip we would never forget!

Restaurants in Hermans

Conclusion

This was really an amazing vacation and it is one of the few places I would really love to go to again. There are still so many places I would like to see in Africa. If I would have had more time, we would have driven up to Port Elisabeth. For what we did do: There is not one thing I would have done differently. Johannesburg felt dangerous sometimes, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I really feel like it was a great experience. For those of you who would like to know what we packed and what my camera was, I made a couple of lists for you.

Packing list

Photography gear

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