South Africa is a vast country, filled with world-famous game reserves, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, stunning beaches and multicultural cities. To explore it fully would take a lifetime. However, those of us that don't have endless vacation time or unlimited resources may have to be content with a much shorter visit. If you only have a few days, don't despair—you can still see several of South Africa's highlights before heading home. In this article, we prove that short trips can still be rewarding by creating the perfect 10 day itinerary.
Top Tip: Whether you choose this itinerary or decide to create your own, don't spread yourself too thin. South Africa is so large that if you try to see everything in 10 days, you'll spend more time traveling than actually experiencing each destination. Pick your must-see places and build your trip around them.
Arrive in Cape Town, arguably the most beautiful city in the world. As your plane circles above the airport, make sure to look out of the window for iconic Mother City landmarks, including Cape Town Stadium and of course, Table Mountain. Spend an hour or two settling into your accommodation (whether you opt for a cozy B&B, or an iconic 5-star option like The Twelve Apostles. If it's your first time in the city, book tickets for an afternoon cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, where breathtaking views of the city await.
If you've been before, you can skip this rite of passage and spend the afternoon recovering from your jet lag in beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens. An hour or two before sunset, make your way to Blouberg Beach to watch the kite surfers and take sunset snaps of the mountain on the other side of the bay. Head to nearby restaurant The Blue Peter for dinner. It's a local landmark and a great place to sample a few pints of South African craft beer while tucking into an oversized steak.
After a leisurely breakfast, grab your camera and hop into your hire car for a tour of Cape Town's scenic suburbs. Drive south to Boulders Beach, home to a colony of endangered African penguins. Here, a boardwalk winds through the nesting site, allowing you to see these comical little birds up close. Next on the itinerary is Hout Bay, a picturesque fishing town accessed by Chapman's Peak Drive—a winding route famous for its stunning cliff views. When you get there, treat yourself to a fresh seafood lunch.
Afterward, it's time to head back to the city center for an afternoon trip to Robben Island. Sightseeing boats leave from the V&A Waterfront, and include a tour of the island on which Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years. Here, ex-prisoners explain the story behind the world's most notorious prison, and the role it played in South Africa's fight for freedom. When you get back to the Waterfront spend an hour or two strolling the vibrant boardwalk before choosing one of its many restaurants for dinner.
Check out early and drive west into the world-famous Western Cape winelands. There are three main areas—Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, all of them beaming with private wine estates. You can pick one (like the iconic Spier Wine Farm), and spend the day touring the vineyards, tasting different vintages and dining on fine seasonal cuisine. If you can't decide which estate to visit, consider booking a trip on the Franschhoek Wine Tram. This hop-on, hop-off tour takes you on an unforgettable journey through the mesmerizing scenery of the Franschhoek Valley, stopping along the way for tastings at different estates. Sleep off the day's indulgences at one of the region's luxury hotels.
Your fourth day in South Africa brings you back to the coast—to the idyllic town of Hermanus, known as one of the best whale-watching spots in the southern hemisphere. From July to November, southern right whales can be seen in the town's deep bay, often within a 100 meters of shore. The best place to spot them from is Gearing's Point, a rocky promontory with elevated ocean panoramas. Alternatively, book a whale-watching tour with a local company like Southern Right Charters. Even if you're not traveling during whale season, Hermanus is a worthwhile stop, with a wealth of gourmet restaurants—Burgundy is special not only for its excellent menu but for its seaside views as well.
Drive east from Hermanus to Mossel Bay, and from there, join up with the Garden Route—a 186 mile/ 300 kilometer stretch of coastline that includes some of the best spots in the Western and Eastern Cape provinces. The beauty of the route is that it allows you to stop wherever you want. Pause in the town of Wilderness for a stroll along the town's beautiful, windswept beach; or sample one of Knysna's famous oyster restaurants. George is home to one of the best golf courses in South Africa, while The Crags is an ideal stop for families thanks to interactive wildlife sanctuaries like Monkeyland and Birds of Eden. The area around The Crags is full of B&Bs, allowing you to get a good night's sleep after a busy day.
Spend a relaxing morning enjoying the South African hospitality at your B&B before continuing northwards towards Port Elizabeth. There are plenty of opportunities for adventure along the way. Stop at Bloukrans Bridge to throw yourself off the world's highest bridge bungee jump; or park your car and join a ziplining canopy tour in beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park. Jeffreys Bay is also well worth a visit if you have time—especially if you happen to have an interest in surfing. Home to some of the best waves in Africa, this charismatic town has played host to top pros like Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, and South Africa's own Jordy Smith. Spend the night just north of Port Elizabeth at idyllic Dungbeetle River Lodge.
Day 7, 8, and 9
No South African adventure would be complete without a safari. Save the best for last by spending your final three days in nearby Addo Elephant Park. It's not as famous or as vast as Kruger National Park, but it is far less crowded. It has the same incredible variety of wildlife—including all of the Big Five. Best of all, Addo is an affordable option for everyone, since it's possible to explore in your own vehicle for a fraction of the cost of a guided game drive.
If you want the expertise of a local tracker, you can still book game drives through your accommodation, or at the main reception. Addo is especially famous for its huge elephant herds—on a hot day, you're likely to see hundreds of them at waterholes like Rooidam and Gwarrie Pan. In addition to lion and leopard, the park also has its fair share of smaller predators—many of them quite rare. Keep an eye out for caracals, aardwolves and bat-eared foxes.
Sadly, your time in the best country on Earth is coming to a close. Head into Port Elizabeth for one last brunch, before returning your hire car and catching a flight back to Cape Town for your return trip home. Don't be too sad, though—there's still so much of South Africa left to explore that you'll have plenty of reasons to return.