South Africa is astonishingly varied so you have to choose carefully," says Cape Town travel writer Lucy Corne, co-author of the popular African Brew beer guide.
An ideal itinerary, she suggests, could include two days in Durban, three days on the Elephant Coast, two days in the Battlefields and three days in the Drakensberg. "This would be great for experiencing gritty city life, awesome curry, wildlife-watching, surfing, history, hiking and spectacular scenery."
But her home region tops the must-see list. "Three days in Cape Town, two days in the Winelands, two days on the Whale Coast and seven days split between the Garden Route and Route 62 gives you great insights into the Western Cape: think wine, whales, outdoor adventures, small towns and – of course – Cape Town itself.
"You could easily spend a fortnight in Cape Town," she adds. "It has mountains and glorious beaches, hikes that feel far from civilization and great restaurants like the Test Kitchen."
Beer lovers should sample Cape Brewing Company and Devil's Peak Brewing Company offerings, but wine remains the region's biggest lure. "Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch are the holy trinity of Cape Winelands areas. All are as notable for their scenery, architecture and fine dining as their spectacular wines," says Corne, singling out Leopard's Leap, Boschendal and Villiera wineries for particular attention.
Agreeing with Corne's Cape-flavoured ardour, Canadian travel bloggers Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift (goatsontheroad.com) regard South Africa as a major highlight of their continuing nomadic adventure.
Reached in Grenada, Wharton's advice focuses on wildlife. "A perfect itinerary could include four days in Cape Town with a day trip to Simon's Town for the penguins on Boulders Beach. From there, Hermanus has amazing land-based whale-watching, Jeffreys Bay often has surf competitions and Addo Elephant National Park offers heart-pumping safaris."
His second suggested itinerary weaves from Durban to Johannesburg (where an eye-opening Soweto visit is recommended) and includes hippo and crocodile-spotting in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a border hop to Swaziland's Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and a trip to ever-popular Kruger National Park.
But the tourist-packed latter, he says, isn't for everyone. "We actually recommend self-drive safaris in smaller parks, like Addo, iSimangaliso and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. There's nothing more incredible than being face-to-face with elephants or lions when there's no one else around."
Wharton recommends booking a car hire from home to save on costs. Once you're on the road, streets smarts are essential: keep doors locked, don't stop for anyone and avoid night-driving. For accommodation, he also suggests perusing coasttocoast.co.za, which lists many good-value rooms in private homes and family run guesthouses.
Like Wharton, Vancouverites Erin Aldridge and Dominic Schaefer enjoyed their multiweek South African odyssey. But plotting the right itinerary, says Aldridge, was vital. "We landed in Johannesburg, drove to Pilanesberg Game Reserve then through the Drakensberg Mountains to the coast and along the Garden Route to Cape Town and returned home from there."
Pilanesberg was a highlight. "Unlike Kruger, it's relatively unknown and we didn't have to deal with tour buses or inflated prices," she says, adding that other top discoveries included Quayside Cabin restaurant in Hermanus and Cape Town's Old Biscuit Mill markets for arts and crafts.
Were there any downsides? "Not being able to stay longer. We chose to drive so we could see as much as possible – but after 3,600 kilometres, we wished we could have extended our trip. You have to be prepared to leave a piece of your heart behind – it's an incredible country."
Wharton adds that connecting with the locals is the secret to a memorable visit. "Travel with a reasonable amount of caution, but don't be scared. South Africans are extremely friendly – and no matter how much research you do, they'll always know great places tourists don't know about."
OUR READERS WRITE
I'd say to check out one of the local big cat sanctuaries – and possibly volunteer. My favourite is Panthera Africa. @elisabetheats
The Maboneng Precinct in Joburg is a must: an amazing example of urban regeneration. The gourmet scene in the Cape is also another hotspot: check out Tokara Restaurant, Delaire Graff Estate and Babylonstoren. @JordiCasinos
You must go and see lions on a safari in Sabi Sand Game Reserve. @SandInSuitcase
Have time on your side: South Africa is best explored slowly. @thetravelmanuel
Go to SA in spring or autumn time & not summer peak season. The weather is great, cheaper & not overcrowded. @grant_09927
I would love to go on a safari … but one that doesn't cost the earth. @HolidayBakerMan
Do a safari with Tydon Safari Camp. The combination of Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Kruger National Park was fantastic. I really can't recommend it enough. Family-owned and operated, affordable, intimate – and I even saw the big five. @sandyhermiston
Tough question. Concentrate on the Western Cape. The Wild Coast is a particularly stunning part of South Africa. @YouTravel
Take the kids wine touring. Many vineyards have zoos, playground equipment and activities for tots inside. @Jody_Robbins
Explore Soweto with one of our local guides. It's safer and will give you insights into another side of South Africa. @Tours_By_Locals
Use a knowledgeable professional and prioritize. Wildlife? Culture? Adventure? Wine? There is so much choice. @vic68
First tip: read my blog (southafrikhan.com). Don't come to Cape Town expecting to go on safari an hour away – there are no proper game lodges here, Instead, fly to Kruger. Also, rent a car: the roads are great. Make sure you request an automatic car if-needed as most rentals here are manual. @BySarahKhan
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