Best Places to Visit on the Garden Route
One of the most scenic drives in South Africa, the Garden Route offers everything this sun-drenched country is known for stunning scenery, breathtaking wildlife and adrenaline-pumping adventures. Stretching for more than 200km from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storm River in the Eastern Cape, the route winds its way through high mountains and surf beaches in the Indian Ocean.
Along the way, visitors can sail through sparkling lagoons, hike through lush coastal forests cut by rivers, explore caves and panoramic ravines, and bungee jump into steep canyons. Animal lovers will find many attractions, from elephant experiences to cheetah encounters, bird sanctuaries to ostrich farms and whale-watching tours. The most popular towns along the route are Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, but Mossel Bay has a fascinating museum complex and George is the largest city and transport hub.
It is recommended to set aside at least four days to explore the area, but with so many attractions, visitors can easily explore the area for weeks. During the peak summer months, travelers need to book their accommodation in advance.
Discover the best places to visit and the best things to do on this famous drive with our list of the Best Places to Visit on the Garden Route and make your trip enjoyable.
10 Best Places to Visit on the Garden Route
Let’s explore the top 10 Most Beautiful and Best Places to Visit on the Garden Route:
1. Knysna Elephant Park
At Knysna Elephant Park, animal lovers can enjoy a rare wildlife experience with a herd of rescued elephants. Under the watchful eye of experienced trainers, visitors can walk with the elephants, feed and interact with these magnificent hardy hides.
Operating for over 20 years, the park was South Africa’s first refuge to welcome African orphans. Many residents were knocked out or rescued from circuses and rescued by staff. The experience begins with educational demonstrations and safety briefings, then visitors interact with the elephants at their own level, as long as the elephants are happy to cooperate. This is a must for wildlife lovers.
Address: Harkerville, Plettenberg Bay, 6600
Official website: http://knysnaelephantpark.co.za/
2. Swartberg Pass
Swat Pass is one of the most scenic gorges in the world, with stunning rock formations and breathtaking views. Beyond Cango Cave, the road crosses the Swartberg Mountains, which form the border between the Little Karoo and the Great Karoo, stretching for 200 kilometers and reaching up to 2,326 meters in some areas.
The 27 km road twists and turns from Oudtshoorn in the south to Prince Albert in the north. Constructed by South African road engineer Thomas Bain in 1881-88 using prisoner labor, the road is mainly gravel but can be negotiated with 2WD in dry weather.
Spectacular views greet visitors at every bend, and the vegetation is equally beautiful with an abundance of protea. Viewpoints along the way offer dramatic views. Before going out, be sure to bring your camera and check the road conditions.
3. Cango Caves
About 29 kilometers north of Oudtshoorn is the impressive Cango Cave at the foot of the Great Swart Mountains. In previous centuries, these dripstone caves were occupied by Bushmen, who now left almost indistinguishable petroglyphs. Visitors can choose between heritage tours or adventure tours. Both take visitors through a series of huge rooms lined with impressive stalactites and stalagmites enhanced by spectacular lighting effects.
Van Zyl Hall is named after the man who first entered these dark caves in 1780. This huge 70m long, 17m high room features bright floodlights and can accommodate 1,000 people. It has excellent acoustics and concerts are held here occasionally.
The adventure starts at the same point but continues deep into the cave system, which requires some twisting and climbing. Pre-booking tours is important.
Official website: http://www.cango-caves.co.za/
4. Ostrich Farm
Set in a fertile valley, Oudtshoorn is the largest town in the Little Karoo region and the main center of ostrich farming in the world. Along the Garden Route, many tourists stop here (about 70km) to take in the beautiful views of the surrounding Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains and visit one of the ostrich farms. Safari Ostrich Demonstration Farm, Cango Ostrich Demonstration Farm and Highgate Ostrich Demonstration Farm offer educational and entertaining tours where visitors can learn about ostrich breeding and show their strength by standing on ostrich eggs.
Another popular tourist attraction in Oudtshoorn is Cango Wildlife Farm, where visitors can dive with crocodiles in cages and interact with lemurs and cheetahs. The ranch also has a snake garden, an Australian rainforest exhibit featuring wallabies and lorikeets, and much fascinating wildlife including white lions, leopards, tigers, flying foxes and an array of colorful birds.
5. Wilderness National Park
Now part of Garden Route National Park, Wilderness National Park stretches between the Garden Route towns of George and Knysna from the mouth of the Trou River in the west to Sedgefield in the east. This beautiful park is surrounded by the Outeniqua Mountains to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south. Along this coastline, lakes, wetlands, and estuaries are interconnected, and the mix of salty and freshwater produces an astonishing diversity of flora and fauna.
The national park is a haven for waterfowl, including gray herons and five species of kingfishers. Visitors have access to campsites and hilltop cabins, as well as water sports facilities such as canoeing, fishing, windsurfing and sailing on the lake. A Segway tour is another fun way to explore the park.
Just a few kilometers east of Wilderness National Park, Goukamma Nature Reserve occupies the mouth of the Goukamma River and offers rolling sand dunes, unique birdlife, and well-defined hiking trails. The Kingfisher Trail crosses the tidal zone up to the waterfalls and is a popular day trip in the park. The area is especially beautiful in the spring when wildflowers dot the landscape.
Official website: http://www.sanparks.org/parks/garden_route/
6. Robberg Nature Reserve
About 8 kilometers from the famous seaside town of Plettenberg Bay, the magnificent Roberg Nature Reserve is a national monument and a paradise for hikers with its various trails and other activities. It is located on a four-kilometer peninsula at the foot of Mount Seal, where some rocks date back 120 million years and the cave shows evidence of prehistoric humans.
The reserve is an important breeding ground for many waterfowl, and hikers can also see whales and dolphins (in season) as well as seals sunbathing on the beach and swimming in the rough waves. Their formidable predator, the great white shark, also lurks in the waters here.
Before starting the hike, visitors should stop at the visitor center in the parking lot to learn about the local flora and fauna. From here, hiking trails traverse the peninsula and are of varying length and difficulty, from a gentle 2km hike to a challenging 10km hike around rocky and rugged spots through pristine beaches and steep sea cliffs.
Hikers should pack well-fitting shoes, binoculars, sunscreen, plenty of water and a picnic while enjoying the stunning coastal scenery. A hut accommodates hikers who want to spend the night.
Official website: http://www.capenature.co.za/reserves/robberg-nature-reserve/
7. Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary
About 16 kilometers from the beautiful beaches of Plettenberg Bay, animal lovers can enjoy educational wildlife experiences at three affiliated preserves owned by the South African Wildlife Reserves Federation.
At Bird of Eden, the world’s largest dome shelters two hectares of native forest, representing more than 280 bird species from around the world in free flight. Visitors can watch the birds from the two-mile boardwalk, including the Canopy Walk. Many birds—particularly parrots—were formerly pets, were not afraid of humans, and could be seen and photographed up close. Favorite spots include the Knysna, slit-billed toucans, blue and crowned cranes, and the striking blue and gold macaw.
Adjoining Monkeyland is a sanctuary that rescues more than 11 previously captive primates and restores them in their natural forest habitat. Monkey Tours takes visitors along a 128-foot canopy walk and observation deck to see lemurs, slow loris, squirrel monkeys, and many other charismatic primates. Multilingual guided tours are also available.
Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary rescues big cats and rehabilitates them in as natural a setting as possible. Here, visitors can learn about these graceful creatures on a guided tour and have the opportunity to learn about their history and unique personalities. Highlights include white lions, cheetahs, tigers, and beautiful black panthers.
8. Knysna Heads and Knysna Forest
Nestled in a lagoon between lush forest and sparkling sea, Knysna is one of the most popular towns on the Garden Route. On the seaside, two large cliffs called Knysna Heads surround the mouth of the lagoon. Visitors can explore the area from the water on a cruise ship or along walkways with many panoramic views overlooking the perilous sea below and the jagged multicolored rocks along the shore. The cafe offers a landscaped terrace with great views, and seafood lovers should try some delicious local specialties when visiting Knysna.
In the lush forests around Knysna, scenic trails meander along rivers and waterfalls where large herds of elephants once roamed. Vegetation includes giant yellow trees, some of which are between 400 and 800 years old, as well as stinkwood and beautiful pink Cape chestnuts. Hikers can also see antelopes and a variety of birds, including the Knysna.
Among the most popular walks are the Circle in the Forest; There is the 3.4-mile Jubilee Creek Trail and the 5.6-kilometer Millwood Mine Trail leading to the ruins of the gold prospecting settlement.
9. Bloukrans Bungy
Located about 40 kilometers outside of Plettenberg Bay on the way to the Storms River, Bloukrans Bungy is the world’s highest commercial bungee jump, running over the world’s highest bungee bridge. Even crossing the bridge can bring butterflies to the stomach, but many brave souls jump into the dizzying 216-meter-deep valley. Those who want to take bird’s-eye photos can bring their own GoPro, but they can purchase videos and photos of the dive after the dive.
Address: Bloukrans River Bridge, Tsitsikamma, Plettenberg Bay, 6600
Official website: https://www.faceadrenalin.com/
10. Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex
While the view of Mossel Bay is now devastated by industrial development and oil rigs, this seaside town is home to the magnificent Bartolomeu Dias Museum complex. It was built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Bartolomeu Dias’ landing in Mossel Bay in 1488. Inside the museum building, the reception and information center is located in the granary, where visitors can view specimens of local plants and flowers. The Ethnobotanical Garden opens to other museums from here.
Overlooking the granary is the Maritime Museum, formerly a grain mill and sawmill. The star exhibit here is a replica of the Caravel on which Diaz rolled the cape.
The Shell Museum showcases shells from around the world, as well as aquariums where shellfish live in their natural habitat. Outside the Mossel Bay, Shell Museum is the Post Office Tree, a large karite tree that sits next to a spring from which boats fill its water. Sailors sailing east used it as a mailbox where letters were collected and stored for delivery by returning ships.
Also in the complex, the Munrohoek Cottages were built around 1830 and restored in the mid-1980s. It is one of the oldest buildings in Mossel Bay.
Address: 1 Market St, Mossel Bay, 6500
Official website: http://www.diasmuseum.co.za/
Hope you like our choice of the best places to visit on the Garden Route. If you think there are some more beautiful places to visit on the Garden Route, we should cover them. Write us below in the comment box.