Open roads and clear blue skies in South Africa

Best South Africa Self-drive Routes

April 5, 2024

Whether you're a seasoned road trip enthusiast or embarking on your first adventure, we've got you covered. Get ready to explore breathtaking landscapes, encounter diverse wildlife, and experience the thrill of the open road as we take you on a journey through some of the country's most scenic and unforgettable routes.

Cape Town and Cape Winelands

As a small, compact city, Cape Town is easy to navigate. And with so much to do in and around the Mother City, having your own car means that you can be spontaneous – and change your itinerary at short notice, should the weather not play ball. Taking a scenic drive along Chapman’s Peak, often described as one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world, and on to the penguins of Boulder’s Beach and Cape Point, is a brilliant excursion. Alternatively, explore the wine estates of the Constantia Valley, or further out, the Cape Winelands. If you’re visiting Stellenbosch and Franschhoek and want to make the most of the wine-tasting opportunities on offer, it pays to stay overnight – chat to us for recommendations on the most scenic wine farm stays.

Sample itinerary: Winelands & Cape Town Self-drive Tour

Cape Town to Cape Agulhas

A self-drive to Hermanus for a spot of whale-watching makes for a wonderful day trip. You can either drive over Sir Lowry’s Pass and then along the R43 and through the Elgin Valley; or take Clarence Drive (aka the R44), which winds down the eastern side of False Bay and around the Hangklip headland between Pringle Bay and Betty’s Bay. The Cape Peninsula’s distant blue outline and the Kogelberg and Hottentots-Holland ranges above the road make this a picturesque coastal drive. Keep going, and you’ll reach the southern tip of Africa – where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet – at Cape Agulhas. Further east, De Hoop Nature Reserve is a worthy detour for its majestic sand dunes, great hiking trails, and memorable whale encounters.  

Sample itinerary: Cape Town & Garden Route

Garden Route

Offering the world’s mildest climate after Hawaii, South Africa’s Garden Route offers a scenic kaleidoscope of tropical beaches, iridescent lagoons, and indigenous forests, all dotted with pretty towns and an ocean-hugging highway, the N2 – ensuring its inclusion in every top road trip list in the world. Stretching 200km through the Western Cape between Mossel Bay and Storms River, the road covers the distinct landscapes of the Cape Winelands, Overberg and Little Karoo regions, and is as much fun for novices as it is for seasoned road-trippers. Major stop-offs along the way include George, Knysna, the Wilderness National Park, and South Africans’ favourite holiday playground, Plettenberg Bay. Having said that, countless detours and pit stops along the way make it hard to decide whether to dedicate four days or a fortnight to your trip.

Sample itinerary: Cape Town & Garden Route

Route 62

If you’re planning a return trip to Cape Town from the Garden Route, rather than retracing your tyre marks along the N2, detour inland to the R62. South Africa’s version of Route 66, it connects Cape Town with Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) – and at 850km, it is the longest wine route in the world. A few mountain passes cross from the Garden Route to this fertile semi-desert, but the easiest route is the N12 via the Outeniqua Pass from George to Oudtshoorn. Drive slowly to soak up your surroundings – a rich tapestry of fruit farms, vineyards, and sleepy dorpies (small towns) in the Klein Karoo. Stop off at port-making Calitzdorp, quaint Barrydale, and 19th-century Montagu; on the far side of the latter, the R62 meanders through the Swartberg to the Robertson Wine Valley – a spectacular passage between the craggy sandstone cliff faces of the Cogmanskloof Pass. Just past Gqeberha are a clutch of genuine, big five game reserves in pristine wilderness areas offering excellent lodges, first-rate guides and the cherry on top: a malaria-free safari.

Sample itinerary: Safari, Garden Route and Cape Town

Kruger National Park

While many African reserves are only accessible to those with deep pockets, the Kruger allows for a more affordable self-guided safari. Apart from costing less, these self-drives let you go at your own pace, with the flexibility and thrill of spotting wildlife at your leisure. It’s also the most family-friendly option, as your children, irrespective of age, can be with you at all times on the lookout for the Big Five.

The easiest way to start your self-drive safari is to fly either straight into Skukuza, the park’s largest rest camp, or into Kruger Mpumalanga, and pick up a rental car from the airport. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t need to be a 4x4 – all roads are either tarred or gravel, and off-roading is not permitted. It’s worth noting that Wi-fi and 4G is very limited within the park, but you can buy maps at the airport and in park shops, and Kruger’s major camps also have petrol stations. The southern region is richest in wildlife, but can get busy, while the central region is great for spotting cats – the plains area attracts antelope species, which in turn lures predators. The northern region is excellent for birding, but often more challenging for other sightings.

Sample itinerary: Cape Town Tour and Kruger National Park Safari

Contact us for details on other thrilling self-drive routes in South Africa, such as the Panorama Route in the Mpumalanga province, which is centred around the Blyde River Canyon, the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, and the Waterberg Meander in Limpopo. Check out our 21-day Ultimate South Africa safari itinerary for more inspiration.

Practical self-drive tips

Parking: Parking metres are uncommon in South Africa – in their stead, you’ll find parking lots (where you pay at the gate) or car guards on regular streets, usually clad in day-glow vests. Always park in a secure, well-lit area with guards, and only tip them once you’re back in your car, by rolling the window down slightly. A R5 to R10 tip is common.

Petrol: You can find petrol stations along highways, as well as in most towns and larger villages. While you might find it odd initially to not fill up on petrol yourself, self-service doesn’t exist in South Africa – an attendant will always be on hand to do the work for you, and can also wash your windshield and check your oil and water. A small tip is appreciated, usually R5 to R10.

Speed limits: 120km/hour on highways and main roads, 100km/hour on secondary roads and 60km/hour in urban areas. Different speed limits apply within the Kruger – plus, the slower you go, the more likely you are to catch that once-in-a-lifetime sighting!


  • Even though you’re likely to encounter plenty of trucks chock-a-block with people at the back, with no seatbelt in sight, it’s illegal – as is having more than one drink, not completely stopping at a stop sign, and using a hand-held phone.
  • For security reasons, it is best to try and avoid driving at night as much as possible.
  • When stopping at traffic lights, make sure to have your doors locked and windows rolled up – ‘grab and run’ is common in some areas.
  • Never leave valuables within sight in your car – the boot is the place to be – and always lock your car, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  • Never pick up hitchhikers, no matter how innocent they might look.

Last but not least…robots: if someone tells you to turn right ‘at the robot’, don’t worry – you haven’t landed in the middle of a Star Wars movie, it’s a traffic light!

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