Spend 16 days sightseeing through South Africa with this itinerary. Start off in Cape Town and survey the scenic views from Table Mountain and seaside cliffs, descend in a shark cage, and sample the city's culinary scene. Switch to Franschhoek to sip from the local wine cellars, then over to Johannesburg to soar above the plains in a hot air balloon. Continue straight on to safari in Kruger National Park, then escape to the sea at Thonga Beach.

Highlights

  • Go whale-watching off the coast of Hermanus
  • Tour the wine cellars and museums of Franschhoek
  • Get a history lesson in Johannesburg’s Soweto district
  • Search for the Big 5 on a safari in Kruger National Park
  • Meet the marine life surrounding the Thonga Beach

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cape Town, City Tour & Table Mountain Cape Town
Day 2 Atlantic Seaboard, Cape Peninsula, & Wine Tasting Cape Town
Day 3 Shark Cage Diving Adventure Cape Town
Day 4 Hermanus Tour - Whales, Wine, & Water Cape Town
Day 5 Cheese, Wine, & Chocolate Tour in Winelands Franschhoek
Day 6 Free Day in Franschhoek Franschhoek
Day 7 Winelands to Johannesburg via Cape Town, Soweto Tour Johannesburg
Day 8 Hot Air Balloon Flight & Johannesburg City Tour Johannesburg
Day 9 Johannesburg to Kruger, Big 5 Night Drive Kruger National Park
Day 10 Transfer from Safari Lodge to Bush Camp Kruger National Park
Day 11 Safari Camp, Bush Walk Kruger National Park
Day 12 Transfer from Safari to Thonga Beach Lodge Thonga Beach
Days 13-15 Thonga Activities: SCUBA, Snorkeling, & Sea Turtles Thonga Beach
Day 16 Transfer to Johannesburg from Thonga, Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cape Town, City Tour & Table Mountain

Cable car to Table Mountain
Cable car to Table Mountain

Welcome to South Africa! Arrive at Cape Town International Airport and transfer to your accommodation to unpack and unwind. After you settle in, spend the rest of your day exploring the city. 

Known as the 'Rainbow Nation,' Cape Town and South Africa have a long and complicated history involving a multitude of ethnic and cultural groups. The area's history starts with the indigenous Khoisan and Bantu people, who were the primary residents of the area until the Portuguese and Dutch arrived in South Africa, beginning a centuries-long occupation.

These days, South Africa is home to a diverse population. Roughly 80% of South Africans are of Bantu ancestry from a variety of ethnic groups, each with a distinct language. The remainder of the community is made up primarily of European, Asian (Indian, Chinese, and others from the formerly enslaved and indentured population), and mixed-race (Cape Coloured) ancestry. 

Meet your local guide in the city center for a 4-hour walking tour of the historic city. You'll explore the different eras of Cape Town and learn about South Africa's history, as well as the people who shaped it. Stops along the tour include the Company's Garden, Parliament, Green Market Square, The Castle of Good Hope, and the Slave Lodge.

The Company's Garden dates back to the 1650s when European settlers farmed the land to grow fresh produce to replenish ships rounding the cape. Around the corner is the Iziko Slave Lodge, a national history museum dedicated to exploring the history of slavery at the Cape. Since its construction in 1679, the building has functioned as a center for the bustling slave trade (primarily operated by the Dutch East India Company) as well as a government building and supreme court. 

Nearby sits the historic Green Market Square, which has served as a slave market, vegetable market, and center for political protests under Apartheid. These days it hosts a flea market with African souvenirs and crafts for sale.


Just down the street is the Castle of Good Hope, South Africa's oldest existing Dutch East India colonial building. On the way, you'll pass by several memorials and monuments, including the We Are Still Here Street Memorial to destitute children and the District Six Museum, which commemorates forced relocation under apartheid. 

After strolling the streets of Cape Town, stop for lunch in the city center. In the afternoon, give your legs a rest with a hop-on-hop-off tour aboard the distinctive red open-top bus. Start at the Cape Town City Center Terminal, then take the bus to Table Mountain. From the bus stop, continue to the summit on the cable car for spectacular views of the city, mountains, and ocean. Return to Cape Town in time for dinner at the bustling Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, where you'll find a variety of fine dining restaurants and pubs with views of the ocean.

Day 2: Atlantic Seaboard, Cape Peninsula, & Wine Tasting

Chapman’s Peak Drive
Chapman’s Peak Drive

Today's excursion is the ultimate driving tour. Hit the road with your guide for a full-day adventure on this Cape Peninsula Tour. The Cape Peninsula is a rocky peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean at the south-western extremity of the African continent. At the southern end of the peninsula are Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. On the northern end is Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town. The Cape Peninsula has outstanding flora and fauna and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Cape Floral Region.

 
Head out from Cape Town early in the morning, passing Cape Town University and Constantia before heading for Ou Kaapse Weg in Noordhoek. Stop here for a coffee break and some photos, then head to the Cape Point Nature Reserve where you will visit the Cape of Good Hope and the lighthouse.

Afterward, head to Simons Town and visit the penguin colony before breaking for lunch at a local seafood restaurant along the water in the sleepy fishing town.

In the afternoon head to the scenic Boyes Drive above Muizenberg—famous for its surfing—then continue to the Constantia Winelands district. Pick from the many wineries to experience a South African wine tasting, then return to the city in time for dinner. 

Day 3: Shark Cage Diving Adventure

This could be you
This could be you

Get an early start for your full-day shark diving adventure. Meet the rest of your group at the Great White House in Kleinbaai, a two-hour drive from Cape Town, where you'll gather for breakfast and a wetsuit fitting. Throughout the day, you'll be accompanied by a marine biologist and an expert crew, who will guide you on the whole experience. No previous diving experience is necessary.

Kick things off with a pre-trip safety briefing, as well as a biology lesson on the life history of great white sharks. From here, make the short walk down to the harbor to board Slashfin—a custom-designed, luxury boat named after a legendary shark with a unique dorsal fin. It's an exhilarating 20-25 minute boat ride to Dyer Island, which, together with the nearby Geyser Island, forms a narrow channel known as Shark Alley.  Keep in mind that depending on the time of year, the ride to Shark Alley can be quite cold and windy, so be sure to bring a jacket. 

After finding a suitable place to anchor, the adventure begins! You'll spend about two hours anchored, but this depends on shark activity, conditions, as well as the number of divers. After getting suited up, dive down to see the incredible animals close-up from the safety of a shark-proof cage. While you're waiting for your turn, spend time learning about the behavior of this misunderstood apex predator. You'll learn how and where the sharks feed, breed, and breach. 

Depending on the day, you'll likely also see at least two or more members of the Marine Big Five—dolphins, whales, penguins, seals, and sharks, as well as a variety of bird species. After the dive, if the weather permits, take a quick trip through the infamous Shark Alley. 

Arrive back at the Great White House, and debrief with soup and bread to warm you up. Showers are available here if you want to freshen up before heading out for your next adventure.

Return to Cape Town in the evening.

Day 4: Hermanus Tour - Whales, Wine, & Water

Hermanus coastline
Hermanus coastline

Get an early start today for your full-day adventure at the seaside town of Hermanus, an international whale-watching destination with a plethora of other activities on offer. 

Formerly known as Hermanuspietersfontein, the village shortened its name in 1902 to Hermanus. Over the years the small fishing community of the rugged South Cape coastline has grown to become one of South Africa's most well-known and loved destinations. The Voëlklip and Grotto Beaches offer unparalleled views of the ocean, while the Old Harbor Museum encompasses the former harbor, fisherman's hut, and the Whale House Museum. Stop here to see the suspended whale skeleton and other fascinating exhibits. 

Pick from the following suggestions to make the most of your time on the coast: 

  • Take in the spectacular vistas of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley on a wine tour of the award-winning vineyards
  • Visit Harold Porter National Botanical Garden in the heart of the Cape Fynbos Region to see a multitude of native and exotic plants
  • Check out one of the world's largest colonies of breeding penguins and other rare birds at the Stony Point Nature Reserve with a walk along the elevated boardwalk
  • Go on a whale-watching tour to see migrating Southern Right, Humpback, and Bryde's Whales (you'll also see dolphins, seals, and thousands of sea birds!) This option is available to travelers visiting from June-November

After a full day exploring the nature and culture of the coast, return to Cape Town for a relaxed evening.

Day 5: Cheese, Wine, & Chocolate Tour in Winelands

Overlooking the Winelands
Overlooking the Winelands

Enjoy a full-day cheese, wine, and chocolate tour—a heavenly combination. You'll sample dark chocolates, creamy cheeses, and superb wine while experiencing South Africa's stunning scenery and acclaimed hospitality. 

Start your day with a drive to the Fairview Winery from Cape Town. With several hundred years of wine-making heritage originating on the farm, it's no wonder that Fairview wine has become a cornerstone of South African wine history. Enjoy a wine and goat cheese tasting in an intimate setting, then head outside to visit the winery's furry mascots (baby goats!) and take in the beautiful views. 

Your next stop is the Tokara winery in Stellenbosch for wine tasting, located on the southern slopes of Simonsberg Mountain about 20 minutes down the road. Round out your wine tour with a 20-minute drive to visit Bilton, on the foothills of the Helderberg Mountains. Here you can sample fine South African wines, accompanied by dark Belgian chocolates to complement the flavors of the wines.

Spend the night in Franschhoek.

Day 6: Free Day in Franschhoek

Franschhoek wine tram
Franschhoek wine tram

Spend the day exploring Franschhoek. One of South Africa's oldest European towns, Franschhoek is nestled in the Franschhoek Valley in the mountains of the Cape Winelands. This area is the heartland of South Africa's food and wine, with award-winning wineries around every corner. 

The original inhabitants of this region are the herder Khoikhoi and the hunter-gatherer San people. Later, in the late 17th century, French Huguenot refugees arrived in the valley, bringing wine agriculture and establishing family farms. 

Spend the afternoon exploring the region and everything it has to offer. 

  • Franschhoek boasts several of South Africa's 'Top 100' restaurants and is renowned as a culinary capital. Choose from one of several excellent options and enjoy a decadent meal and world-class wine
  • Tour the area's wine cellars, many of which are housed in original Cape Dutch homesteads complete with towering oaks and rolling vineyards. From small boutique wineries to extensive cellars, the winery options are as varied as the wine they produce
  • View local and national art at the many art galleries which line Huguenot Road, the town's main shopping street
  • Recharge and relax at one of the area's many luxurious spas
  • Go shopping for gifts and treasures to bring home in the town's shops and boutiques. Browse for wine, jewelry, artwork, chocolates, and more to bring back. Many of the area's wine estates also feature superb bakeries where guests can purchase baked bread, fresh olive oils, charcuterie, and much more
  • Visit the luxurious Val de Vie resort for a game of polo or golf at the award-winning Paarl Valley golf course 
  • Rent a bicycle and explore the area on your own, or opt for a horseback wine-tasting tour
  • Explore the beautiful nature of the Franschhoek Valley with a hike on the trails in nearby Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve
  • If you're having a hard time deciding where to spend your day, join a local tour to visit a curated selection of wineries, with options for all tastes and palates
  • For a wine tasting you'll never forget, take a ride on the Franschhoek Wine Tram as it winds its way through the lush valley vineyards. Hop off when you reach your preferred winery, then enjoy a world-class picnic in the vineyards before catching the tram to the next winery

Day 7: Winelands to Johannesburg via Cape Town, Soweto Tour

Braamfontein streets
Braamfontein streets

In the morning transfer back to the Cape Town International Airport, then board your flight to the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

In the afternoon enjoy a guided Johannesburg and Soweto Tour.

Johannesburg (also called Jozi, Jo'burg, and eGoli) is South Africa's largest city and one of the world's largest urban areas. The town dates back to 1886 when workers arrived to mine the large deposits of gold. Within a few years, the population of the city had ballooned, with thousands of native African and Indian workers working in the gold mining industry. Due to racial segregation during the Apartheid era, the workers were forced to live in separate townships outside of the city limits. The most famous of these are Soweto (short for South-West Township) and Lenasia, which was home to a large population of South Africans of Indian descent. Several prominent individuals have called the districts home, including Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and the comedian Trevor Noah. 

In the afternoon head out for a guided half-day tour of the Soweto Township. Soweto's history stems back to the early 1900s when the government began forcibly separating blacks from whites by removing the black population from the city and relocating them into separate areas. These were separated from the white neighborhoods by a cordon sanitaire (sanitary corridor) like a river, road, or industrial area. 

The area experienced civil unrest during the Apartheid era, with the most notable riots occurring in 1976. The riots followed a rule that Afrikaans should be the official language for schools of black Africans in the area (most of whom spoke indigenous African languages). Tens of thousands of black students took to the streets to protest the decision. The demonstrators were met with police violence and brutality; several hundred students were killed, and many more were injured. 

One of the murdered students was 12-year-old Hector Pieterson. His story became the face of the student uprising after a photo of his body being carried by an older student gained international fame. The Hector Pieterson Memorial Site commemorates the students' bravery.

After stopping by the memorial, enjoy a quiet stroll down Vilazaki Street to see the former homes of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu and visit the Nelson Mandela Museum. Along the way, you'll pass street vendors selling fresh fruit, snacks, and various African arts—the perfect excuse to stop for a mid-afternoon treat and a quick shop for souvenirs.

Today's tour includes a tapas-style lunch at a local joint and a visit to the Kliptown Youth Program, an after-school tutoring and personal development program for disadvantaged youth. After the tour, stop at a tavern for a beer or a soft drink to reflect on the day's experiences.

Day 8: Hot Air Balloon Flight & Johannesburg City Tour

Magaliesberg plateau
Magaliesberg plateau

Get a pre-dawn start to your day for a hot air balloon flight over the Magaliesberg Region. Drift over the incredible Magalies River Valley as you sip champagne, enjoying the silence of the flight and the faint calls of birds or animals from below. You'll pass over the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site which lies just north of Johannesburg's northernmost suburbs. 

After landing, enjoy breakfast at the clubhouse before continuing your day with a guided city tour. You'll explore the northern suburbs of Saxonwold, Houghton, and Parktown,  as well as the bustling neighborhood of Hillbrow that's home to African immigrants from all over the continent. Stop to visit Constitution Hill, the new home of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Head to the center of Johannesburg to the Carlton Center, then take the elevator to the 50th floor for panoramic views of the city. 

If there's time, head to the Museum Africa in the Newtown Cultural Precinct, where the interactive exhibits tell the complex story of Johannesburg from the Iron Age to the discovery of gold over 100 years ago, all the way up to the first democratic elections of 1994. From here continue across the Nelson Mandela Bridge into the business district of Braamfontein and the University of the Witwatersrand. Pass through Fordsburg to see the large plaza and Mosque, then go for a drive on the elevated M1 or M2 highways to see spectacular views of the city skyline.

Day 9: Johannesburg to Kruger, Big 5 Night Drive

Male lion at Balule Nature Reserve
Male lion at Balule Nature Reserve

Today you head to the Greater Kruger National Park, one of South Africa's most remarkable safari destinations. Depending on your preference and timing, you may choose to fly, shuttle with a driver, or rent a vehicle to complete the drive yourself. 

The park was created in 1926 when Sabi Game Reserve joined with the adjacent Shingedzi Game Reserve and local farms to create South Africa's first national park. With a rich history and vast landscapes, the park is a must-see destination for unforgettable wildlife experiences. 

Within the park and the adjoining private reserves that make up Greater Kruger, choose from a wide variety of accommodations, from rustic bush lodges and tent camps to 5-star luxury all-inclusive resorts. No matter what your budget, you'll find unique lodging in a breathtaking landscape. 

After arriving at the lodge, take some time to freshen up and relax. Have a drink at the bar to unwind, go for a swim, or stroll around the lodge to stretch your legs after the day's travel. 

In the evening, board an open Land Cruiser for your first game drive in the park. The three-hour drive is a thrilling and exciting opportunity to see Africa's big wildlife up close. The Big 5 include elephants, buffalo, rhino, lion, and leopard, and were named by big-game hunters for being five of Africa's biggest most dangerous animals to hunt. Keep your eyes peeled for nighttime animals as you cruise around the park in the comfort of the Land Cruiser. When darkness falls, the tour guides use spotlights to scan the nighttime for nocturnal animals. 

Top off the evening with a drink as you listen to the sounds of the nighttime bush life.

Day 10: Transfer from Safari Lodge to Bush Camp

Giraffes on patrol
Giraffes on patrol

After a game drive in the morning and a filling brunch, transfer to your safari camp in an open 4x4 vehicle. 

Settle into your tent and explore the camp, then enjoy tea time followed by a brief introduction to bush walks by your guide. The guides in the park pass strict requirements to lead tours and hold the highest possible qualification. After the informational meeting, head out with your armed guides for an introductory walk. Return to your vehicle in time for sundowners and a short night drive, then enjoy dinner at camp under the starry skies. 

Day 11: Safari Camp, Bush Walk

Hippo gathering
Hippo gathering

After an early morning wake-up, enjoy coffee with rusks (a South African tradition) then head out with your guide for a safari walk. Nothing is predictable in the bush, so each new walk offers a unique opportunity to see African wildlife. Your guides will share specialized knowledge about the park's birds, animals, and medicinal plants. They'll also share local folklore, basic tracking, and traditional survival techniques.

Walking trails in the bush are best enjoyed in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat. Return to camp in time for brunch and relax during the heat of the day. Cool off with a dip in the pool and enjoy the views of the plains where zebra, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, rhino, and lions gather. 

In the afternoon head out for another game drive followed by a short walk, then return to the vehicle for sundowners before returning to camp for dinner. 

If you want the ultimate African Bush experience, opt for an overnight tent sleep out. The giant treehouse and tall elevated platforms provide safety from the wildlife while giving you unparalleled views of the sunrise. Head out in the late afternoon for the one-hour walk to the tents, arriving in time for dark. Enjoy sundowners by the watering hole as your guides prepare the fire and a traditional South African braai (barbecue).

Day 12: Transfer from Safari to Thonga Beach Lodge

Kruger at sunrise
Kruger at sunrise

After one final morning bush walk, return to camp for brunch and a shower before packing up. Drive to Skukuza or Nelspruit Airport, then catch your charter flight to Mazengwenya Airstrip. The flight is incredible, with views of Kruger, Swaziland, and northern Zululand. 

From the airstrip, you'll take a 4x4 ride to Thonga Beach Lodge, a scenic half-hour drive on sandy roads. 

On arrival, you'll be welcomed with a refreshing drink and ocean breeze. Take some time to relax and sunbathe on the deck, or enjoy afternoon coffee and cake before treating yourself to a pamper session in the Sea Spa. 

In the evening, head to the bar for a drink before ending the night with dinner under the stars.

Days 13-15: Thonga Activities: SCUBA, Snorkeling, & Sea Turtles

Whales from above
Whales from above

Spend the day exploring the coastal area, enjoying all the activities the resort has to offer. 

Go SCUBA diving at Mabibi, with diving options ranging from beginner to advanced. A myriad of fish, dolphins, whale sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles inhabit the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. If SCUBA diving isn't your thing, board a boat for a trip out to the open ocean for snorkeling and incredible views. 

Explore the coast on a sea kayak, take in the sunsets from the beach decks, or visit beautiful Lake Sibaya. Learn about the local indigenous people on a Tsonga cultural tour, go for a nature walk in the forest, or simply relax with a spa treatment at the resort. 

If you're visiting from November to January, join a nighttime beach walk to see sea turtles laying their eggs. You'll witness the culmination of an incredible open ocean journey as giant leatherback and loggerhead turtles come ashore to carefully dig nests in the sand and lay their precious eggs. In December, tiny baby hatchlings emerge and make their frantic dash to the water. 

The turtles' safety is threatened by a variety of factors throughout their lives, so every precaution is taken to ensure that they are not disturbed during the laying process. Information collected during the turtle walks and drives is submitted to the Ezemvelo Turtle Monitoring Program to aid in research projects.

Day 16: Transfer to Johannesburg from Thonga, Departure

Wave to the waves
Wave to the waves

After breakfast, check out of your Thonga resort and hop into a 4x4 vehicle to meet your transfer for your trip back to Richards Bay Airport

Board a short flight back to O. R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, then meet your connecting flight back home. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Explore South Africa: Cape Town, Winelands, Johannesburg, Safari, & Beach - 16 Days
Map of Explore South Africa: Cape Town, Winelands, Johannesburg, Safari, & Beach - 16 Days