South Africa is a wonderful and very diverse country. I recommend going there when it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere so you can enjoy their summer. I went to Cape Town, did a road trip in the Western Cape (including the Garden Route) and went to Kruger Park. In this travel blog I’ll tell you what to do, where to stay and what to eat in South Africa. You can also watch my video on my YouTube channel.
Wherever you are in Cape Town, you’ll always see Table Mountain. This 1000 meters high mountain looks like it’s very steep and flat at the top (hence the name). Don’t underestimate the climb, it’ll take you a few hours so wear good shoes and bring enough water and snacks. There are several routes up and they’ll all take you a couple of hours. Once you get to the top you’ll discover that it isn’t as flat as you might have thought but it actually has a few valleys and peaks. Not in a sporty mood? There’s also a cable car going up and down. My suggestion is to walk up on the Camp’s Bay side and take the cable car down.
Lion’s Head and Signal Hill are two peaks at Table Mountain National Park. Signal Hill is really nice. You can go there by car (or walk up) to enjoy the view and have a picnic at sunset. You can also go paragliding from there. It’s not only for daredevils as it’s actually a very smooth ride.
Robben Island, the prison Island where Nelson Mandela was kept, is now open to the public. I advise you to book your tickets online in advance. The District Six museum will tell you even more about the terrible consequences of Apartheid which is unfortunately a very recent history.
You can witness how the apartheid left its trails in the country by doing a Township Tour. Opinions vary on this point and I didn’t want to do it at first. It feels a bit uncomfortable to look at how less fortunate people live. Now that I’ve done it I still have mixed feelings. It made me grateful for my own situation and it was great to see how people had fun together and supported each other. But it was also a very unpleasant side of the country and I found it difficult that there wasn’t much I could do for them. I brought some coloring pages and crayons with me for the kids and they loved it. So if you decide to do a tour, maybe you can think of something to bring as well.
In Cape Town you have several very nice areas. Bo Kaap was a neighborhood that made me very happy, because all the houses are painted in a different color.
Bo Kaap is really close to Long Street, a street with many restaurants and bars. If you’re looking for a fun night out, Long Street is definitely the place to go.
A great place for burgers is Tiger’s Milk. I had their Tree Hugger Burger, a vegetarian burger with portobello, aubergine and feta cheese. They also have some nice cocktails to get you in the party mood before exploring Long Street some more. You could start around the corner at Aces and Spades, a great bar if you like rock music from the nineties.
Buena Vista Social Cafe is a tapas bar with a few streetside tables. From here it’s great people watching especially a bit later in the evening when everybody is getting ready to go out. They have a delicious vegetarian tapas platter for two with hummus, tzatziki, marinated mushrooms and grilled aubergine. Their nacho’s are also superb and besides tapas they also serve regular main dishes.
Close to Long Street you’ll find Kloof Street, a bit more calm but a great street to have dinner since there are many restaurants and most of them have outdoor seating. My favorite is Kloof Street House. It’s a bit more upclass but very reasonably priced. The interior is great and the food is delicious. They have several veggie options, as a starter they have a vegetarian antipasti platter for two with hummus, bread, olives and vegetables. I had their lentil artichoke bake with carrot and cumin puree and avocado as a main, but they also have a good potato gnocchi with roasted butternut. If you like gnocchi you should check my recipe for vegan sweet potato gnocchi by the way!
Vegans will love Unframed Ice Cream on Kloof street, they have several vegan ice cream flavors like mint chocolate chip, caramel and coconut raspberry. Most of their toppings are also vegan, they have raw date caramel, cardamom dark chocolate and raw macaroons amongst others. I went for the vegan chocolate ice cream and it was delicious!
During the day you can visit the V&A waterfront, it’s a bit touristic but nice buzzing atmosphere. The Botanical Gardens are beautiful and worth the taxi ride. Camp’s Bay is perfect for a lazy beach day. Beachside Kauai is a great spot for brunch, they have healthy breakfast bowls, wraps and juices. Many veggie options are available here and gluten free wraps as well.
Although the South Africans often say that they don’t really have their own cuisine since they mostly serve dishes from other countries, there’s one restaurant I recommend for getting a taste of Africa: The Africa Cafe.
At the Africa Cafe they’ll put 16 dishes on your table, each from a country in Africa. They were all very delicious and they had many vegetarian options like Congolese spinach, Cape Malay lentil curry and Ethiopian white curd cheese with home-grown herbs.
And the best place for food lovers on a Saturday is the Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock. There are many food stalls serving all kinds of food. Whether you like Vietnamese Spring Rolls or Belgian Wafels, there’s something for everyone. Below you’ll see my four favorite food stalls. Top left you see the big heaps of veggies at the Salad Lover’s stall. Top right you see the potato fritters from Cooked. They serve Middle Eastern and mediterranean food. I had a potato fritter with hummus and grilled vegetables. The handcrafted curly chocolate ice cream is from Cut & Shave. Bottom right you see some of the gluten free and sugar free cakes that are sold, the same stall also has dairy free options.
You can read more about healthy food options in Cape Town in my blog post for Book Detox Retreats.
Skip the hotels when you go to Cape Town and rent a Guesthouse or Bed and Breakfast instead. I was amazed by the friendliness of the people and how wonderful the houses are. Below I’ve listed my top 3 with my favorite B&B’s in Cape Town:
* The Blue House in Tamboerskloof, near Kloof Street is a beautiful blue building. There’s a small pool and a terrace with chairs. We had a room with a balcony. Included is a nice breakfast in the dining room or balcony with fresh fruit, toast, cheese and more. We stayed here for Christmas and we got Christmas Crackers, a Christmas card and chocolates. So thoughtful!
* La Rose B&B in Rose street in colorful Bo Kaap. The French owner will join at the communal breakfast table every morning to chat with you if you like. They make your eggs how you want them (scrambled, omelette, poached; you order and they make it for you). They also have homemade granola and a rooftop with beautiful views of Table Mountain.
* Villa Bianca also has a wonderful view of Table Mountain: from your own bedroom! It was great getting up in the morning, opening the curtains and see that impressive mountain. We had a big bathroom at Villa Bianca and the breakfast here was also great!
From Cape Town there are two great things you can do as a day trip: wine tasting in Stellenbosch and a road trip to The Southern Peninsula.
Rent a car and explore the Southern Peninsula by yourself. You can start at Muizenberg beach. Some people go here to surf, but for me the water is way too cold. I thought the coloured beach houses were worth the visit instead. There’s a great falafel joint at the beach called Yoffi Falafel, they have many vegan and gluten free options.
Continue to boulders beach to watch the penguins. There’s a free accessible beach with a couple of penguins and a paid part with a boardwalk and many of them. It’s really worth paying the small fee to get in and watch the dozens (or even hundreds) of penguins.
If you drive all the way to the southern tip of the Peninsula you can visit Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. There are some animals to be found here and overnight hikes to be done. But you can also just visit it to see Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope, the most South-Western part of Africa.
You can drive back via the west side of the peninsula and stop for lunch at Whole Earth Cafe in Scarborough. They have many vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options. And delicious cakes!
Before you head back to Cape Town, I advise you to drive via Chapman’s Peak, it’s a beautiful scenic route with great views.
The other day trip I recommend is to go wine tasting in Stellenbosch. There are many vineyards around the small town of Stellenbosch and they pretty much all offer free wine tastings. Villiera had my favorite bubbles. Besides their traditional brut they also have a ‘Starlight Brut’ with less alcohol and a light taste. Simonsig has really good red wines. Both vineyards have a lovely setting with an outdoor terrace and beautiful surroundings. I also recommend Beyerskloof and Jordan.
We visited one vineyard before lunch, had lunch in the town of Stellenbosch and visited another vineyard afterwards. This way you can drive yourself and you don’t have to go on an (often overpriced tour). My favorite lunch spot in Stellenbosch is Schoon de Companje. They have a small food hall so you can buy artisan products to take with you, or you can sit down for a drink and a nice lunch. Weather permitting you can sit outside on their terrace and enjoy a mushroom toast, eggs benedict or quinoa tabbouleh salad.
Western Cape / The Garden Route
We rented a car so we could explore the Western Cape and the Garden Route.
Our first stop was Oudtshoorn, it’s a 5 hour drive from Capetown and it has several attractions. The most famous one is the Cango Caves. When you visit the caves you can choose between the regular tour and the adventure tour. We did the adventure tour and I really recommended it for everyone who’s in decent shape and not claustrophobic. During this 90 minute tour you see much more of the caves than the 60 minute regular tour. And it’s a lot more fun since you’ll have to crawl through small openings.
If you don’t mind getting up early in the morning you can go on a meerkat safari and see how they warm themselves up in the morning sun. We did the tour at Buffelsdrift. A meerkat tour isn’t cheap and there’s a risk that you won’t see them very well. But if they do come out and warm their bellies in the sun, it’s a great experience!
We also visited an Ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn, we went to Cango Ostrich. What I liked about this farm is that it’s not a breeding farm. So the ostriches don’t get killed for their meat or leather but they get taken good care of.
The restaurant has several vegetarian options like a vegetarian quiche, pasta or sandwich.
If you’re spending the night in Oudtshoorn I recommend Le Roux’s Bed & Breakfast, we had a really nice room and they have a heated pool. Oudtshoorn has several restaurants where you can go for dinner, The Black Swan was recommend by pretty much everyone we talked to. And rightfully so; it has a delicious vegetarian curry!
Mossel Bay is a small beach town that you might want to visit. If you’re interested in the early Portuguese settlers in Mossel Bay the Bartolomeus Dias museum is interesting. And if you want to enjoy some South African cuisine you should go to Kaai 4. This ‘braai’ (barbecue) restaurant prepares your order on big grills while you sit at a picnic table with your feet in the sand. This spit serves a lot of meat of course but they also have a very tasty grilled vegetarian sandwich.
We continued our trip to Victoria Bay. Victoria bay has two small beaches but not many things going on. We stayed at Surfari which is relatively new but a bit impersonal. The location is perfect though, close to the beaches and in a beautiful green area.
Neighboring Wilderness has a bit more to offer than Victoria Bay. We rented a kayak there and did a nice 90 minute trip. Beachside restaurant Salinas has very nice sea views and a couple of vegetarian options like salads and curries. Beejuice is perfect for breakfast and lunch. You can get a table on their porch and get poached eggs with pesto for breakfast or a vegan burger for lunch.
Knysna is a nice city in a beautiful environment. The Knysna lagoon is ringed by two ‘heads’ from which you have a beautiful view. There are several nice hiking trails close to Knysna. We did the Elephant trail North East of the city. The red route is the nicest, don’t be put off because it’s listed as difficult, since it’s really easy.
In the afternoon you can have a drink at Senza to enjoy the early evening sun while watching the waves and blue water. Nextdoors East Head Cafe is great for breakfast and lunch. They have several vegetarian options including a quiche and a few salads. For dinner you can go to Anchorage, a fish restaurant (the oldest in Knysna) with several vegetarian choices like an oven dish with sweet potato and spinach.
On the way back to Cape Town you can make a stop in Hermanus to watch the dolphins and whales if it’s the season (from June to December)
Like Africa? You might also like Zanzibar.
As soon as you’ve got more than a week to spend in South Africa I really recommend that you visit Kruger Park. From johannesburg to Kruger is about 4 hours by car. On the way you can stop at Old Joe’s Kaia on the R539 before Elandshoek, they have a great outdoor seating area with beautiful green surrounding.
For me Kruger Park was definitely the highlight of my trip. It’s wonderful to see so many animals in their natural habitat. It was so special! There aren’t many places in the world where you can make an elephant selfie but in Kruger you can!
We saw many elephants, impalas, springboks, zebras, buffalos, giraffes, waterbucks, velvet monkeys, baboons and hyenas. We also saw wildebeest, a jackal, a warthog (Pumba), a chameleon, a snake, rhinos and a mongoose. There are also many birds, we spotted eagles, vultures and storks. We also saw the very rare sable antelope. And we saw lions three different times. That was very special, especially the last time when we saw 5 of them together.
We stayed at Pretoriuskop Rest Camp. It’s the oldest camp in the park and located close to the Numbi entrance gate. The location is perfect, we saw many animals near the camp. There’s a shop selling souvenirs and food. The only restaurant at the camp is a Wimpy fast food restaurant, luckily they had a great grilled veggies baguette with guacamole. Lower Sabie is a beautiful rest camp next to a river with hippos, it’s a further away from Johannesburg though, so it’s an even longer ride. At the rest camps you can book sunset and sunrise safaris and you can also drive around the park by yourself as long as the gates are open. It’s advisable to book your accommodation far in advance, and keep in mind that the park and the camps close at sunset, so plan to arrive on time. Also Kruger Park is a Malaria affected area, you can buy day pils at most pharmacies in Johannesburg or Cape Town.