How to Plan a Trip to South Africa — 6 Easy Steps

By Cindy | Updated Jul. 18, 2023

A land of wonders and natural beauty, South Africa is a dream destination for adventure seekers, culture enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike.

However, planning a trip to South Africa can be overwhelming due to its vast size and numerous options, especially for families. Choosing the wrong timing or an unsuitable safari experience could ruin your meticulously planned journey.

This guide provides practical tips and tailored recommendations for families and couples visiting South Africa. From family-friendly attractions to romantic getaways, we'll help you to create an itinerary that caters to everyone. Let's embark on a South African journey that fulfills your travel desires, whether you're a family or a couple.

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1. Consider When to Travel to South Africa

south africa safari

South Africa offers diverse climates and landscapes, making it a year-round destination with something to offer in every season. The timing of your trip to South Africa can greatly impact the experiences and sights you encounter during your adventure.

Our experienced team has explored South Africa during different seasons, providing you with firsthand knowledge to offer you insightful and reliable recommendations.

For a remarkable safari experience, the best time to visit is from May to September. During these months, the dry season has less vegetation, making it easier to spot animals around water sources in reserves like Kruger and KwaZulu-Natal.

If you're dreaming of a beach vacation, the summer months of December to February are the perfect time to visit. With warm and sunny weather, you can bask in the sunshine and enjoy the beautiful coastal landscapes.

For those interested in whale watching, the optimal time to visit South Africa is from June to November. During this period, southern right whales migrate to the coastal regions to mate and give birth. July to September is considered the peak whale-watching season.

According to our experience, if your travel dates are flexible, the ideal time period is September to October, when the weather is still comfortable and there are fewer crowds. It is a great time to experience a combination of different regions and wildlife.

See more details on our page: The Best/Worst Times to Visit South Africa.

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2. Choose What to Do and Where to Go

South Africa is enormous. The natural terrain ranges from sub-tropical forests to deserts to bushveld to wetlands, with varying climates to go with it.

It can be challenging to choose where to go. We are experts and especially excel at helping families and couples to tailor a suitable itinerary by combining their needs with the characteristics of this country. Here are the top things to do and where to do them:

south africa places to go

1). Embark on a Safari Experience: Which Game Reserve will Suit You?

south africa safari

You might have heard of the famous Kruger National Park. However, if you want to have comfortable or luxurious accommodation, or are traveling with children, Kruger may not be the best choice for you.

With such a range of choices of the safari destination, which one to go? Everything depends on your own preference.

Do you want to have a luxury safari? Sabi Sands Game Reserve, a stupendous reserve with wildlife drama, beauty, and high-end luxury, is the best option. Do you want to drive yourself? Kruger Park is a great choice. Do you want to find a kid-friendly safari? Choose one malaria-free national park in Eastern Cape.

Let us know your interests and requirements, and our experts will recommend the reserves that are best suited to your needs.

Insider's tip: For the best wildlife viewing experience, consider scheduling your trip between June and September. Book your safari for the morning when there are more animals out. --- Eason Wang, GH South Africa Specialist

2). Explore Cape Town

Cape Town Table Mountain

We recommend spending a few days in Cape Town, a vibrant city offering a mix of natural beauty and cultural attractions. Ascend Table Mountain for breathtaking views, visit historic Robben Island, explore the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood, and stroll along the lively V&A Waterfront. Don't miss the opportunity to enjoy delicious cuisine at local restaurants.

Insider's tip: If you aim to secure restaurant and hotel reservations more easily, it's advisable to avoid traveling during the busy Christmas and Easter peak seasons. --- Eason Wang, GH South Africa Specialist

3). Bask in the Sun on the Beaches

south africa beach vacation

South Africa offers breathtaking beaches along its coastline. Consider visiting stunning spots like Camps Bay in Cape Town, Clifton Beaches, or the pristine shores of the Eastern Cape's Garden Route. Relax on the sandy beaches, soak up the sun, or take part in water sports and coastal activities.

4). Go Whale Watching by Land or Sea

whale watching in south africa

During the whale-watching season, go to popular spots like Hermanus and False Bay near Cape Town. Observe these majestic creatures from land as they come near the shore or join a boat tour for an up-close encounter. Look out for southern right whales, humpback whales, and dolphins leaping from the waves.

Insider's tip: Joining a guided whale-watching tour can greatly enhance your experience. These tours often have experienced guides who can provide insights into the whales' behavior and ensure compliance with responsible whale-watching practices. --- Eason Wang, GH South Africa Specialist

5). Take a Road Trip Along the Garden Route

south africa

The Garden Route is renowned for its stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, and charming towns.

As you travel along the coastal stretch, you'll encounter lush forests, dramatic cliffs, pristine beaches, and panoramic views that will leave you in awe. You can enjoy activities, such as whale watching, hiking, zip-lining, and exploring the Cango Caves.

Be sure to stop at viewpoints, such as the Knysna Heads, Tsitsikamma National Park, and Wilderness, for unforgettable photo opportunities.

Insider's tips: Plan for a minimum of 5–7 days to fully enjoy the Garden Route, giving ample time for exploration and relaxation. --- Eason Wang, GH South Africa Specialist

6). Indulge in Wine Tasting in the Cape Winelands

If you are wine enthusiasts or travelers looking for a unique and immersive experience, you should not miss the Cape Winelands, just a short drive from Cape Town.

Explore historic towns, such as Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl, known for their world-class vineyards. Take part in wine tastings, cellar tours, and indulge in gourmet cuisine complemented by exceptional wines from some of South Africa's finest estates.

Insider's tip: Booking tastings or tours for mornings or weekdays can provide a more personalized experience. Consider booking a guided tour to fully enjoy the wine tasting while gaining insights from a local guide. --- Eason Wang, GH South Africa Specialist

3. Decide How Many Days to Stay

Kruger National Park

For first-timers, 10-14 days is ideal to see the highlights of South Africa. You could go on a safari in Kruger National Park, explore the vibrant city of Cape Town, or visit the stunning beaches of the Garden Route.

Considering a shorter visit, you're recommended to spend at least 7–8 days visiting Cape Town and Kruger National Park.

If you're interested in exploring Cape Town and the beautiful coast along the Garden Route, it is recommended to allocate 10-14 days for your trip. This will give you enough time to thoroughly enjoy these regions and all they have to offer.

However, if you want to truly experience the diverse landscapes and attractions South Africa has to offer, a three-week itinerary would be ideal. You could start in Cape Town, drive along the scenic Garden Route, continue to the renowned Kruger National Park for an unforgettable safari experience, and conclude your journey in Johannesburg.

South Africa is a great starting point to visit other places in Southern Africa. From Johannesburg, you can easily catch flights to Victoria Falls, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and Mozambique. Adding these destinations to your South African trip is a breeze.

You might want to contact a travel specialist to have your requirements, including the length of your vacation, designed into a fulfilling tour that's uniquely planned for you.

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4. Consider Your Budget

When it comes to expenses, South Africa offers a relatively affordable travel experience compared to the USA or Europe.

Accommodation in South Africa is generally reasonably priced, providing excellent value for money. For a truly luxurious experience, high-end resorts charge upwards of US$300 to US$400 per night. However, mid-range hotels are also available, ranging from US$150 to US$250 per night, depending on the location and season.

The biggest expense of a trip to South Africa is often the safari experience. Prices can vary greatly depending on the type of accommodation chosen, ranging from budget campsites to luxury lodges costing approximately US$1,000 per night, which offer all-inclusive packages with accommodation, meals, game drives, and other activities included.

While flight costs can be a significant portion of the overall trip expenses, it's important to note that South Africa doesn't have as many budget airline options as Europe or America. As a result, flight tickets for longer distances in the country can be relatively pricey. For example, a return flight between Cape Town and Johannesburg starts from around US$150 and goes up to US$180 on popular days.

Private tours in South Africa are highly recommended!

Private tours in South Africa may be slightly more expensive compared to some popular tourist destinations, such as Egypt or Thailand. However, they still offer overall excellent value for money and are the best choice for enjoying a trip to South Africa, especially for families and couples.

Please feel free to contact us and we will be delighted to create a customized itinerary and provide you with a personalized quote.

5. Check Out the Visa Policy

Marakele National Park

Citizens of the USA, most European Union countries, and Australia may enter South Africa for tourism or business purposes without a visa for stays of up to 90 days.

However, it's advisable to check the latest requirements and ensure that your passports are valid for at least 6 months beyond your intended departure date.

6. Getting To and Around South Africa

cape town

International Flights

Travelers from major U.S. cities, Europe, and Australia can easily fly into South Africa. There are numerous international flights connecting these regions to either Johannesburg or Cape Town, which are the main entry points.

Domestic and Regional Flights

Upon arrival in Johannesburg or Cape Town, you can easily access other destinations within the country through domestic or regional flights.

South Africa's domestic airline network offers frequent flights to popular tourist destinations, such as Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Kruger National Park. Regional flights can take you to neighboring countries, such as Namibia, Botswana, or Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, expanding your exploration possibilities.

Getting Around in South Africa

When considering transportation options within South Africa, it's important to note that public transport is likely not be the most reliable or efficient choice, even in major cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg. Strikes are common and routes are limited.

To ensure a smoother travel experience, a private tour with a dedicated guide and driver is highly recommended.

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