South Africa offers a plethora of experiences for every type of traveler. Its vast lands are rich in wildlife, beautiful landscapes, and unique cultural experiences. We were lucky to have an opportunity to spend almost 2 months exploring various parts of South Africa, but we know that many travelers are limited to just 1-2 weeks.
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The most popular 2 week South Africa itinerary includes a week in the East, exploring wildlife and nature combined with a week in the West, splitting time between Cape Town and the Garden Route.
To explore the Eastern part of South Africa, we joined a 5-day Tourvest Wildlife Discovery Tour that started in Johannesburg and ended in Durban. This small-group tour allowed us to see the highlights of this region and served as a perfect introduction to South Africa.
Here are some of the highlights!
Johannesburg: 1-2 days
The fast-paced city of Johannesburg (or Joburg, as the locals call it) is the largest city in South Africa and an economic hub. Start your 1 week South Africa Itinerary here, however, don’t skip over Johannesburg too quickly!
Sure, Johannesburg may get a bad reputation at times due to its troubled past. But the city has been rapidly reviving itself. Hip neighbourhoods, world-class museums, and a burgeoning art scene are just some of the things that make Johannesburg worth a stop.
To dive into South Africa’s troubled past visit the Apartheid Museum. It was opened in 2011 and has many interactive exhibits to explore. Then head to Soweto, a township South West of Johannesburg to learn about the important role it played in South Africa’s history.
Head to the site of the Soweto uprisings, visit Nelson Mandela’s home and the Soweto Soccer Stadium. We recommend exploring these sights with a local guide to get the most out of your visit.
Back in the heart of Johannesburg visit Maboneng. This trendy neighbourhood is the product of an impressive urban gentrification project. It’s home to hip restaurants, vibrant bars, boutique shops, art galleries, and some cool street art. If you are there on Sunday, pop into Market on Main in the Arts on Main building. It is the city’s leading food and design market. This is a great opportunity for you to support the local community by buying from local vendors.
Where to Stay in Johannesburg
We opted to stay in Maboneng to get the feel for the urban vibe of the city and rented this Airbnb apartment for a few nights. It was fun to stay in the heart of the action and to see how this once dangerous neighbourhood has blossomed into a hip young arty area of Johannesburg.
For a hotel close to the airport, choose Armagh Guesthouse. This tidy guesthouse has well-equipped rooms, a lovely outdoor area, and a pool. We stayed here a few times when we needed to catch a flight out and wanted to be close to the airport.
For a sustainable hotel in the heart of the city, consider the Maslow Hotel. Located in the affluent neighbourhood of Sandton, the Maslow is a 4 star, modern hotel. It is located close to the Santon train station and offers three restaurants onsite.
The Greater Kruger Area: 1-2 days
Next, head 440 kilometres or 5-6 hours east towards Kruger National Park, South Africa’s most iconic place to see the Big Five as well as hundreds of reptile, bird and mammal species.
The Greater Kruger Area covers not only of the famous Kruger National Park but includes a number of private game and nature reserves, including the Timbavati Nature Reserve, and Makalali Private Game Reserve.
Makalali Private Game Reserve, for example, is set on over 22,000 hectares of bushland. The Big Five can be spotted on game drives through Makalali, as well as a strong population of Rhino. Unlike in Kruger National Park, where cars must stay on marked roads, certified jeeps in reserves around Kruger can go off-road and get as close as 6 meters away from the animals.
Animals roam freely between the national park and the surrounding nature reserves and fewer people venture onto the private reserves so you will be less likely to spot other vehicles on your game drives. They also don’t have to adhere to park hours, so you have the possibility of a night game drive.
Where to Stay in Greater Kruger Area
Stay at aha Makalali Main Lodge, one of the few hotels in Makalali Private Game Reserve. The lodge offers 20 air-conditioned, modern superior rooms, a lovely outdoor dining area, and a pool. Game Drives at also on offer and the on-site guides are experts in finding wildlife inside the reserve.
If you want to stay close to Kruger National Park entrance, stay in Hazyview, at the aha Casa o Sol a European-style guesthouse. The garden and pool area are lovely and the rooms are bright and beautifully decorated. The property is set on 50 hectares of the private game reserve and there are hiking trails connecting the outer edges of the property to the main accommodation area.
Panoramic Route: 1 day
A popular area to check out while in the region is the Panoramic Route, a 170 kilometres scenic drive spanning from Sabie to Hazyview.
Along the way, stop at the Blyde Canyon Nature Reserve. It contains some of the most memorable sights along this route and plenty of hiking trails to explore.
The park’s namesake, the Blyde Canyon is the crown jewel of the nature reserve. It is the third-largest canyon in the world and the largest green canyon in the world. Nearby you can see the Three Rondavels, a geological formation likened to three traditional huts. Or Bourke’s Luck Potholes, natural water pools carved into the edge of a cliff by the convergence of two rivers.
The most impressive lookout is called God’s Window and is located near Graskop. The lookout has views over Kruger Park and on clear days you can see out toward the border of Mozambique.
The dramatic landscape, along the Panoramic Route, makes for some very impressive waterfalls. Mac Mac Falls is a 70-meter drop waterfall with a viewing platform and swimming holes and picnic facilities nearby. Lisbon Falls is the highest waterfall in the area at 90-metres while Berlin Falls cascades 45-meters down the cliffside.
Where to Stay along the Panoramic Route
The most popular places to spend the night along the Panoramic Route include Hazyview, Sabie, and Graskop. During our trip, we stayed in Hazyview, but any of the above-mentioned towns offer plenty of accommodation options.
The Kingdom of Swaziland (Eswatini): 1-3 days
The tiny nation of Swaziland, now known as Eswatini, is landlocked between South Africa and the border of Mozambique. It is the smallest country on the continent and one of the world’s only true remaining monarchies.
The people of Swaziland have a strong cultural identity. To learn more about it visit Central Swaziland. At the Mantenga Reserve, you’ll find a traditional 19th-century cultural village. The highlight is the traditional sibhaca dances which are performed twice daily.
At the Malandela’s complex in the Malkerns, visit Gone Rural. This social enterprise empowers local women through their handweaving organization. Eco-friendly products are shipped worldwide and each Tuesday visitors are invited to tour the Gone Rural facilities to see the weavers in action.
At the Swazi Candle Centre peruse the market for handmade artisan souvenirs and products. Swazi Candle is a social enterprise, so you can see candles being made first hand via a technique called millefiore. At another social enterprise, Tsandza Weaving, you can learn to weave with local women or shop for fair trade products at Black Mamba.
Swaziland is a popular overland destination and most people with a Western passport are permitted a 30-day visa-free stay. It’s impossible to see the country in just 1 day, but if you are short on time, it’s a worthwhile stop en route to South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal Region.
Where to Stay in Swaziland (Eswatini)
We stayed at the Royal Swazi Spa, set in Ezulwini Valley in Lobamba. While it wasn’t a particularly sustainable hotel, it offered modern facilities and a nice on-site restaurant, as well as a pool and golf course on site.
St. Lucia: 1-2 days
A 4-hour drive from Eswatini, along the main highway, will take you to St. Lucia, the getaway to iSimangaliso National Park. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose name roughly translates to ‘miracle and wonder’ in Zulu. The park is divided into Eastern and Western parts and offers an opportunity to explore wetlands, beaches, as well as grasslands and game viewing. St Lucia is a great getaway to explore the park and the wildlife it offers.
Rhino, giraffe, leopard, zebra, buffalo, rhino, elephants, crocodiles, turtles, and even the humpback whale can be spotted within the confines of the iSimangaliso National Park. Not to mention, over 500 species of birds.
To spot the land mammals, we hopped into an open game vehicle with a local ranger for a morning game drive. For an opportunity to get up close to hippos and crocodiles, we joined an eco-friendly boat cruise through the wetlands. The hippo population here is the largest single population in Africa.
Where to Stay in St.Lucia
Forest Lodge in St Lucia was our favourite accommodation on this leg of our South African adventure. The lodge consists of 17 en-suite rooms with patios overlooking the subtropical garden. There are double rooms, family rooms, and family suites. It’s set within the lush grounds, making you feel like you are staying right in the heart of the National Park.
Read Next: 10 Things To Do In St Lucia, South Africa
Durban 1-2 days
With over 300 days of sunshine a year, Durban is a great place to spend the last couple days of your trip.
The 6 km of beaches running alongside the city’s downtown core has been dubbed the Golden Mile. It encompasses the beaches of Addington Beach, Blue Lagoon South, and Durban Harbor. It is popular with sunbathers, surfers, and joggers.
Our favourite beach was Umhlanga Rocks, located in northern Durban. We found it to be a bit quieter than the alternatives at the Golden Mile. The Umhlanga Lighthouse is a historical landmark and the promenade running all along the beach offers a great spot for runs or afternoon strolls.
If you are into surfing, there are lots of great surf beaches in Durban too. They include Dairy Beach, North Beach, and Ansteys Beach. Although, they are not suitable for beginners.
Where to Stay in Durban
Mackaya Bell Guest House is located in the heart of Durban. This modern guesthouse has a stunning outdoor garden and has incorporated an ethos of sustainability in their business practices. Their rooms are well decorated and comfortable.
The Oyster Box is located in Umhlanga Rocks and has made a commitment to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the area. Their 5-star property is located directly in front of the Umhlanga Lighthouse, right on the beach. We didn’t stay at the Oyster Box Hotel, but stopped by for their famous all-you-can-eat curry buffet. The food was excellent as were the views.
Our Experience on the Tourvest Wilderness Discovery Tour
While this 1,500 km journey can be done as a self-drive, we opted to join the Tourvest Wilderness Discovery Tour to cut down on our driving and to lessen our impact on the environment. The tour followed the exact itinerary we were interested in, stopping at the destinations mentioned before.
One of the best parts of this tour was our local guide, Ephraim, who helped us navigate this part of South Africa and shared many insights into South African culture, traditions and history during our long car rides.
The tour was a bit fast-paced and did not offer much time to slow down and enjoy each destination to the fullest, but it offered a great opportunity to get the feel for some of the destinations in Eastern part of South Africa.
Disclaimer: Big thanks to Tourvest for hosting us on the Wildlife Discovery Tour. As always, all opinions expressed in this article are entirely our own.