It’s no surprise that self-drives have become a popular choice among travelers - offering flexibility and a true sense of freedom and adventure. But is it safe to drive the garden route in South Africa? It most definitely is, and so many of our clients who have traveled the garden route would agree!The garden route has become a prominent part of travel within South Africa, seeing thousands of local and international travelers embarking on the scenic journey. With the interest in the garden route growing extensively year on year, the garden route is a well-trafficked destination that is equipped to cater for both local and international visitors, offering several tourist information centers and roads that are closely monitored by law enforcement. Now that you know it's safe, here's how to do it properly!
Is it safe to drive the Garden Route: Where is the Garden Route?
Renowned among travelers across the world as one of the most beautiful self-drive routes, the Garden Route encompasses diverse landscapes, top-rated wine estates, national parks teeming with wildlife, sumptuous seafood cuisine, pristine swimming beaches, and a number of thrilling experiences.
The Garden Route is a 300 kilometer stretch of pristine wilderness that extends from the picturesque town of Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River in the Eastern Cape. A significantly bio diverse conservation area, the Garden Route encompasses mountains, lakes, indigenous forests and fynbos that’s mostly endemic to the region and can’t be seen anywhere else in the world. The diverse vegetation is home to a number of animals including the bush pig, various antelope species, baboons, Vervet monkeys and even predators such as leopard and caracal. South Africa also boasts some of the most beautiful bird species you’ll ever see and the Garden Route is the best place to see the Knysna Loerie, Narina Trogon, Olive Thrush, Chorister Robins, Cape Robins and Starred Robins.Every town on the Garden Route eludes a unique charm so our advice to travelers is to explore as many of the towns along the Garden Route as possible, gaining full insight into the significance of this incredible region.
Plotting your self-drive along the Garden Route
Many travelers are often bound to certain time constraints and unfortunately can’t visit each and every town along the Garden Route. Deducing your stay to only a few iconic destinations doesn’t necessarily affect your overall experience but should be carefully planned to align with your individual interests and include destination that are achievable within your time frame. There is nothing more stressful than visiting an unknown country and not knowing where to go or how long to stay there. Although some travelers enjoy planning their own vacations, self -drives are definitely more complex and it’s always best to consult with a reputable travel company such as Safari.com who have a team of expert consultants equipped to plot the perfect course and fulfill all of your travel needs. There are several Garden Route variations to consider so it’s best to speak to a consultant about the different options.
Our favorite self-drive routes
Route Option 1:
- Cape Town to Franschhoek (81.5 km/1 hr 15 minutes)
- Franschhoek to Gansbaai (138 km/1 hr 45 minutes) for a visit and then travel onwards to Oudtshoorn (357 km/ 4 hours )
- Oudtshoorn to Knysna (119 km/ 1 hr 45 minutes)
- Knysna to Plettenberg Bay (32 km/ 25 minutes)
- Plettenberg Bay to Jeffrey’s Bay (163 km/ 1 hr 45 minutes)
- Jeffrey’s Bay to Addo (115 km/ 1 hr 35 minutes)
- Addo to Port Elizabeth (59.4km/ just under 1 hr)
Route Option 2: Driving along the N2 Highway
- Cape Town to Swellendam, passing through Sir Lowry’s Pass, Grabouw & Elgin (218,1 km/ 2 hr 30 minutes)
- Swellendam to Mossel Bay (167,6 km/ 1 hr 45 minutes)
- Mossel Bay to Wilderness with stops in George and Victoria Bay (58,7 km/ 43 minutes)
- Wilderness to Knysna with stops in Sedgefield and Buffalo Bay (46,7 km/ 38 minutes)
- Knysna to Tsitsikamma with a stop in Plettenberg Bay (150,6 km / 1 hr 55 minutes)
- Tsitsikamma to Port Elizabeth with a stop in Jeffrey's Bay ( 157,3 km/ 1 hr 38 minutes)
Route Option 3: Driving along Route 62
This scenic route passes through farming towns of Calitzdorp, Ladismith, Amalienstein, Zoar and the fruit growing and wine producing towns of Barrydale, Montagu, Ashton, Bonnievale, Robertson, McGregor, Rawsonville, Worcester, Ceres, Wolseley, Tulbagh, Wellington and Paarl.Cape Town to Port Elizabeth along route 62 is 850 km.
Activities along the Garden Route
There is something for everyone on the Garden Route and a trip most certainly suited to the outdoor enthusiast. If you a naturalist, surfer, wildlife lover, or hiker; the Garden Route is the only place you should be considering for your next vacation. Each town offers a unique range of activities to experience.
Popular attractions: Cango Caves, ostrich farms, Cango Wildlife Ranch, meerkat interactions, Swartberg Pass
Popular things to do: Swellendam hiking trail, berry picking, Bontebok National Park, horse riding trails, golfing
Popular things to do: Wine tasting, horse riding trails, museums
Popular things to do: Museums, hiking trails, caves, ocean safaris, horse riding trails
Popular things to do: Abseiling, canyons, mountain passes, museums, berry picking, wildlife parks, golfing, beaches
Popular things to do: Beaches, hiking trails, mountain passes, wildlife parks, oyster experiences, mountain biking, abseiling, paragliding, acro-branching
Popular things to do: Beaches, paragliding, Elephant Park, scenic flights, oyster experiences, golfing, hiking trails, horse riding trails, marine safari activities, mountain biking, cultural tours, sand boarding, snorkeling, bird watching
Popular things to do: Horse riding trails, Bird of Prey Rehabilitation and Awareness Centre, Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre, whale watching experiences, Plettenberg Game Reserve, Robberg Nature Reserve, fishing experiences, mountain biking, Birds of Eden, Monkeyland, Jukani Wildlife Ranch, Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary, marine safari activities
Storms River/ Tsitsikamma
Popular things to do: River adventures, abseiling, mountain biking, hiking trails, bird watching, blackwater tubing, bungee jumping, kayaking, suspension bridge, canopy tours, zip lining, quad biking, wall climbing, Tsitsikamma Segway Experience, Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary.For a truly magnificent vacation in South Africa, a Garden Route trip is easily combined with a safari experience in one of the game reserves surrounding Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. Many of the reserves offer Big Five game viewing and are ideal for families with no risk of malaria.
Choosing your Garden Route accommodation
It is important to recognize that many of the towns along the Garden Route are relatively small and therefore have limited accommodation options, particularly during festivals and whale watching season. In some towns, it may not always be possible to secure hotels but rather guest houses that are privately owned and run. We all plan a vacation with a specific budget in mind and tend to allocate most of our spend to activities and not the accommodation. There is nothing wrong with that but we must recognize that our accommodation choices play a big role in the success of a trip, so it is always important to book hotels and guest houses that have a solid track record and are centrally located to top attractions in the area and offer good dining options.When booking your accommodation with a reputable travel company such as Safari.com, you can rest assured that you are being offered the best available rate and that the beautiful images seen on the website are not photo shopped and that each property offered to you for consideration has been carefully reviewed. Booking your accommodation with a travel company offers you peace of mind, knowing that everything is taken care of - from secure parking to internet connectivity. In the event that help is needed, a consultant is always available to take your call.
If you looking for an unforgettable Garden Route getaway, then perhaps you should be looking at this self-drive tour.
Securing a Rental Vehicle
When renting a vehicle for your self-drive trip along the Garden Route, it is important to consider a few factors.
Choosing a reputable car rental company
When booking a vehicle it’s important to do so with a reputable company. There are certain car rental companies that operate internationally and should be considered above smaller companies that have a restricted fleet of vehicles, especially when looking to hire an automatic vehicle. Booking with an internationally recognized company means that you can expect to receive a regularly serviced and reliable vehicle, 24-hour roadside assistance and competitive rates. When booking a vehicle you are urged to look at options with unlimited mileage, given the distances you will cover on the garden route including your stops for sightseeing. Restricting yourself to 100 or 200 kilometers a day is not advisable. Other important factors to consider are insurance excesses in the event of a vehicle accident or theft.
Selecting a vehicle
The network of roads traveled on the garden route are generally well-maintained so there is no real need for a 4x4 vehicle unless you are interested in driving the mountain passes and designated 4x4 routes. When booking a vehicle, it’s important to consider transmission, comfort and vehicle size. Your travel expert is equipped to advise you on the passenger and luggage capacity of each vehicle in the fleet in order for you to make an informed decision. As alot of your time will be spent traveling, it’s important that you book a vehicle that is best suited to your travel needs
It’s a requirement for any car rental company to book a vehicle inclusive of insurance. Most car rental companies offer two insurance options - Standard Cover and Super Cover. International travelers are generally encouraged to book a vehicle inclusive of Super Cover as there is a lower non-waivable liability in the event of an accident or theft, and is inclusive of unlimited mileage. Each vehicle is inspected and noted for any body damage - this is done on both collection and return. The vehicle is released to the driver with a full tank of fuel and a fuel deposit is held on the drivers' credit card. This holding deposit is released once the vehicle is returned with a full tank of fuel.
Standard insurance inclusions
Unlimited mileage, Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), Tourism Levy Water and Undercarriage Damage, General Public Liability Insurance, Personal Accident Insurance (PAI), Premium Theft Loss Waiver (TLW), Third Party Liability Insurance, Location Surcharge, Tyre damage waiver, Sandblasting Damage, Windscreen Damage Waiver, Rim & Hubcap Damage, and a Damage Claim Admin Fee – only in the event of an accident / theft.
International Drivers License
All national driver’s licenses are recognized by law enforcement within South Africa, however in the event where a license is not in English or any of the other official languages of South Africa, travelers are advised to apply for an International Drivers Licence (IDP) within their local country. This will avoid travel delays during routine roadblocks where traffic officers undertake an inspection of driver's licenses and vehicle roadworthiness.
When booking a vehicle, you should be aware of additional fees that are not included in the cost of a rental. Your Travel Expert will be able to provide you with a detailed list. Some listed fees include contract/admin fees, towing fees, additional spare tires, child safety seats, bike racks, toll fees, additional driver fees, roadside assistance, tire replacement/repairs, cross-border fees, one-way drop off fees, GPS, traffic fines, collection and delivery fees
Booking a GPS
Booking a GPS is essential when self-driving the Garden Route as it offers precise mapping information, speed limit alerts, traffic updates, alternative routes in the event of road incidents, and lists top attractions and restaurants in each place you visit. For a minimal daily rental fee, a GPS will become your most trusted friend as you embark on your adventure through South Africa.
Keeping connected during your trip
It is always a good idea to have a means of communicating with your hotels, car rental company and Travel Expert. Many travelers tend to activate their international roaming service with their service provider back home, but it can be relatively expensive and at times unreliable. Phone rentals and local sim card purchases in South Africa have become popular among travelers and are easily arranged. With self-drives, it is often difficult to know exactly what time you will arrive in each destination so it’s vital that you stay in contact with your hotel to avoid being a no-show and losing your reservation. An open line of communication is also vital in case of unforeseen situations such as your vehicle breaking down or picking up an unfortunate puncture. A quick call to the car rental company provides you with quick roadside assistance and a minimal delay in your travel plans.
Here at Safari.com, we design bespoke itineraries to suit the needs of our clients and understand that safety is always a top priority, so we expect questions such as "Is it safe to drive the Garden Route?". Traveling around the world is not without risk but we do believe that this should never discourage anyone from experiencing a new country, especially the garden route which offers unforgettable experiences.