Last updated: 22nd June 2021
In this South Africa 2 week itinerary and tour review, we’ll show you how to see the best highlights of South Africa for first timers like us. What you can expect to see and do on a small group tour with Explore. If you don’t fancy doing an escorted tour, simply follow the days in this 2 week itinerary and you can do it all yourself. Happy days!
Review of Explore’s ‘South Africa Highlights’ Small Group Tour
We wanted to go on a bucket list safari and see as much of South Africa in 2 weeks as we could. So after doing lots of research online we for paid for a small group tour of South Africa with Explore Worldwide. Their South Africa Highlights tour is a great introduction to South Africa for first timers like us. It’s also a great adventure and a moderately paced tour with lots of sightseeing and activities like hiking, plus plenty of free time to do your own thing. Accommodation is good at well chosen small hotels and guest houses. Comfortable rooms, nice surroundings and some places have swimming pools which Phil loved.
Our group was a great size – 13 people made up of people from all walks of life, we all had a shared interest to see South Africa and passion for travelling. One of the nicest things was that we all got on well, and had a right good laugh throughout the trip! Explore’s group sizes are small which we like, usually between 12-18 people. You also have a dedicated tour leader for the whole trip taking care of the logistics and answer any questions. This small group tour takes in lots of diverse cities, landscapes and experiences across 14 days in South Africa. Travelling across the country is by 2 minibuses and one internal flight.
We made so many wonderful memories – we saw the famous African penguins and sights in cosmopolitan Cape Town. Had 2 amazing days on our first ever safari in Kruger National Park (a huge bucket list tick!). Garth loved photographing the wildlife and landscapes as we travelled along the Panorama and Garden routes and hiking in South Africa’s incredible lush and coastal landscapes. Phil loved the whale watching in Hermanus and wine tasting in Stellenbosch. We both also learnt so much about South Africa’s turbulent history and modern culture, we even visited a township in Johannesburg that Explore organised with a local community.
2 Weeks South Africa Itinerary – Overview Map
South Africa 2 Week Itinerary & Tour
Day 1: Johannesburg
Soweto township tour & Nelson Mandela House
Stay Johannesburg 1/1
Day 1 starts by flying into Johannesburg where we were met and taken to our hotel for the night. The rest of the group arrives on this day and straight after lunch and the tour begins. If you’re flying in from the UK the good news is we didn’t suffer any jet lag as Johannesburg is the same time zone as back home.
The South Africa Highlights Tour starts with a visit to Soweto, where we learnt about apartheid at different museums and the struggles people faced. We also visited a township which was a sobering experience, ending the day visiting Nelson Mandela’s former home. Read a more detailed guide of our day in Johannesburg here.
Day 2: Panorama Route to Graskop
Sightseeing stops at Blyde River Canyon & God’s Window
Stay Graskop Hotel 1/1
Day 2 was a long day travelling by minibus but with some rewarding viewpoint stops along the scenic ‘Panorama Route’ starting at Blyde River Canyon to see The Three Rondavels. This is Africa’s Grand Canyon and the third largest canyon in the world. From the canyon it was a 1 hour drive to God’s Window for some more incredible views across the wide open plateaus of the lush lowveld. Our final destination for the day was Graskop. An old gold mining town and a tourist hub because of its proximity to Kruger National Park. Read more about what to see along the Panorama Route.
Day 3: Kruger National Park
Full Day Safari
Stay Timbavati Safari Lodge 1/2
Day 3 and we were super excited as this was the highlight of our holiday – an African safari within the Kruger National Park. The day starts early as you need to make the most of your full day safari searching for ‘the big 5’. Our group split up into 2 jeeps – our jeep had one guide and driver, Eric who was amazing and taught us about the different animals in South Africa’s biggest national park. He was in radio contact with other drivers so was able to drive us to parts of the park where there had been sightings of lions or the endangered white rhinos. A fabulous day! That evening we were treated to a ‘braai’ a traditional African barbecue where we all shared stories of what we had witnessed. Read more about our first day at Kruger National Park.
Day 4: Kruger National Park
Full Day Safari & Optional Sunset Safari
Stay Timbavati Safari Lodge 2/2
Another early start 4.30am, we grabbed a quick coffee and breakfast before setting off at 5.30am into the park for another full day safari. It’s important to get there early before the heat of the day so you can see the animals when they are most active. Another amazing day seeing so much wildlife but we didn’t see all of the Big 5, we were just missing a sight of a leopard. Back at the lodge we were offered the optional sunset safari to a private game reserve. Of course we said yes and before we knew it we were searching off road on the dirt tracks until we found an elusive leopard eating an impala it had caught that day. It was a very special moment.
Day 5: Travel Day & Flight to Port Elizabeth
Long full day of road travel by minibus & short internal flight
Stay Ibhayi Guest Lodge, Port Elizabeth 1/1
Another early start and a very long and somewhat boring day of just travelling. First in the minibus all the way back to Johannesburg with regular comfort break stops and then an afternoon flight down to Port Elizabeth. Our flight was delayed so we didn’t get time to see anything of Port Elizabeth in the evening. However there was some time to relax before a group dinner.
Day 6: Start of Drive along The Garden Route
Tsitsikamma National Park
Stay Plettenburg Bay, The Dunes Resort 1/2
Day 6 was the start of a 4 day road trip from Port Elizabeth along the famous Garden Route en route to Cape Town. Our first stop was at the Tsitsikamma National Park. A lovely place where we spent a couple of hours hiking along the dramatic coastal paths and suspension bridges. After a nice leisurely lunch we hit the road with a short stop to witness Bloukrans Bungy, one of the world’s famous bungee jumping sites. Later that afternoon we arrived at Plettenburg Bay our base for the next 2 nights. Read more about our experiences along the Garden Route.
Day 7: The Garden Route – Plettenburg Bay
Robberg Nature Reserve Hike
Stay Plettenburg Bay, The Dunes Resort 2/2
Thankfully no travelling today, instead some time to hike the Robberg peninsula. It’s lovely here on the beach and so scenic just leisurely walking the coastal paths and spotting seals in the water. After working up an appetite for lunch we all voted to have fresh fish and chips! The afternoon was spent visiting the world’s biggest bird aviary and free time back at the hotel to relax before a sunset evening dinner. A very nice day especially in the sunshine!
Day 8: The Garden Route – Kynsa
Explore Kynsa & Lagoon Cruise
Stay Lagoona Inn, Kynsa 1/1
Day 8 and a new destination on the Garden Route just a 30 minutes drive to Knysna. It’s a small seaside town and considered to be one of the nicest places to stop on the Garden Route. We had the morning free to explore by ourselves before taking a cruise on the lagoon with lunch onboard the boat. Late afternoon we drove into the town to check out the Knysna Heads. The evening was lovely having dinner on the waterfront in an upscale restaurant for oysters and fresh fish. Read more about our time in Knysna.
Day 9: Last Day of The Garden Route to Hermanus
Stop off to Hike At Wilderness National Park
Stay Whale Coast Hotel, Hermanus 1/2
Back on the road it’s a 4 hour drive to Hermanus, this is the last day on pretty Garden Route. Before we reached Hermanus we stopped off the Wilderness National Park in the morning for a 5 mile hike through the forest. It’s beautifully lush here with elevated walkways that take you through the trees to a beautiful waterfall. Later that day we arrived in Hermanus our base for the next 2 nights. Read more about Wilderness.
Day 10: Hermanus
Free Day for Whale Watching plus optional hike
Stay Whale Coast Hotel, Hermanus 2/2
Hermanus is the whale watching capital of South Africa. There was a planned boat trip to see the Southern Right Whales up close but it was cancelled due to poor weather. However we were able to spot the whales from the shore which was amazing, we saw dozens of them! The day is free to do what you wish with an optional hike to the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. Read more about whale watching in Hermanus.
Day 11: Stellenbosch
Morning Tour of Stellenbosch & Afternoon Wine Tasting
Stay The Stellenbosch Lodge 1/1
The morning starts with a 1½ hour drive to Stellenbosch. Along the way we stopped off on the stunning coast road for a spot of shark spotting. Stellenbosch is a delightful town full of old Dutch architecture. We explored the town’s museum of period homes and had lunch before an afternoon of wine tasting! We went to 2 different wine estates and had a great time sampling the different wines in idyllic settings of the vineyards and mountains, highly recommend! Read more about our wine tasting and visiting Stellenbosch.
Day 12: Cape Town
Boulders Beach, Cape Point, Cape Town & Table Mountain Cable Car
Stay La Splendida, Cape Town 1/2
Today is an early start to get to Boulders Beach before the crowds arrive. Seeing the endangered African penguins in their natural habitat on the beach and watching them having fun in the water was adorable. From the penguin colony we drove for half an hour to the Cape Point Nature Reserve. This is home to more wildlife, Cape Point and The Cape of Good Hope – Africa’s most south-western point. In the afternoon we drove for an hour to Cape Town, the final destination of the tour, ending the day with a cable car ride up to the top of Table Mountain. Read more about Boulders Beach and Cape Point.
Day 13: Cape Town
Free Day in Cape Town & Optional Robben Island Morning Tour
Stay La Splendida, Cape Town 2/2
Today is the last day of our South Africa 2 week itinerary with lots to do in Cape Town. There was an early morning option to visit the Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served in prison. The rest of the day is free time to explore Cape Town. In the evening we met up the rest of the group for a final meal and chatted about our favourite highlights we had experienced across our 14 days in South Africa. Read our travel guide to Cape Town.
Day 14: South Africa Highlights Tour ends in Cape Town
Fly Home or Extend your stay
Before we knew it our 2 weeks in South Africa had ended. As with other small group tours we’ve been on we made some lovely friends so we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. When we booked the tour we felt a day wasn’t enough in Cape Town so we extended our stay for another 3 nights. We booked the Glen Hotel in Camps Bay for a luxury relaxing stay to end our holiday. Over the next few days we explored more of Cape Town including the colourful neighbourhood of Bo-Kaap where we took part in a fabulous cooking lesson. Garth also wanted to see the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens which showcases flora indigenous to South Africa. We even squeezed in another safari for the day, 2 hours from Cape Town.
South Africa Highlights Tour Practical Information & Advice
Phil and Garth’s Top 5 South Africa Small Group Tour Tips
- Tip #1: Pack lightly as you’ll be staying at lots of hotels. Most provide a laundry service you can use it halfway through the tour.
- Tip #2: Binoculars are essential for wildlife viewing, especially when you get to Hermanus for whale watching.
- Tip #3: Budget £30 per person for the group kitty this is for tipping hotel staff, drivers and tour guides.
- Tip #4: You also need to tip your tour leader, we suggest £15 per week, per person.
- Tip #5: You’ll really need another holiday to get over the pace of this tour, so book extra days to relax in Cape Town.
How We Did It
- We booked and paid for the ‘South Africa Highlights Tour’ with Explore Worldwide. Check their website for the latest price.
- We travelled at the end of September into the first week of October. The weather was perfect.
South Africa FAQ
- What time zone is South Africa? GMT +2 hours. South Africa Standard Time.
- What currency is used in South Africa? South African Rand (symbol: R)
- What language is spoken in South Africa? English & Afrikaans most common. Also Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, & Zulu.
- What is the population of South Africa? 59,62 million.
- What number should I call in an emergency? Numbers vary across the country. Call 112 from a mobile to be routed to an emergency service closest to you.
- What plug type is used in South Africa? Plug Type D – 3 round pins. Types C & N are also used, voltage is 230V / 50Hz.
- When is the best time to visit South Africa? May to September is the best time for safaris in the cooler winter months.
- When is the worst time to visit South Africa: October to April is autumn and summer. It can be very hot and also rainy season.
- What is South Africa famous for? Gold, Big 5 Safaris, Wine, Diverse landscapes, Nelson Mandela.
- What’s the history of South Africa? South Africa was colonised by the Dutch in 1652 and later by the British. Apartheid ended in 1994.
- What are the 5 must see sights of South Africa? Kruger National Park, Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Garden Route & Johannesburg.
- What is a South African local dish? Eat bobotie, South Africa’s national dish. Spicy minced meat cooked with egg and milk until set.
- What’s a fun fact about South Africa? 2 Nobel Peace Prize winners lived on the same street in Soweto – Nelson Mandela & Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
- What movies have been filmed in South Africa? Invictus (2009) Starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.
- Where is the best photo spot in South Africa? Blyde River Canyon.
- Where is a hidden gem in South Africa? Robberg Nature Reserve, Plettenberg Bay.
- What’s the best souvenir to buy in South Africa? A bottle of South African wine.