26 Best Sights in The Garden Route and the Little Karoo, South Africa

Cango Caves

Fodor's choice

Between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert, the huge and stunningly beautiful 20-million-year-old Cango Caves, filled with weird and wonderful stalactite and stalagmite formations, are deservedly one of the most popular attractions in the area. Only a small fraction of the caves, which extend for several miles through the mountains, is open. There's some damage from vandals, especially to the first chamber, but things get more magnificent the more the tour progresses. One of the highlights is Cleopatra's Needle, which stands 29 feet high and is at least 150,000 years old. You can choose between two tours: the hour-long standard tour and the aptly named adventure tour, which lasts 1½ hours. The latter is exhilarating, but the temperatures and humidity are high, there's not much oxygen, and you'll be shimmying up narrow chimneys on your belly, wriggling your way through tiny tunnels, and sliding on your bottom. Wear old clothes and shoes with a good tread.

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Fodor's choice

Set between Montagu and Barrydale on the R62, the Op-de-Tradouw region, named after a pass through the mountains, is best known for its excellent wines. Joubert-Tradauw is a great place to stop for a wine tasting or for lunch or tea. Owner Meyer Joubert makes wine in the age-old French tradition—unfiltered and unrefined. His Chardonnay is sublime, and he has publicly stated that it is his ambition to make the best Syrah in the world. (Try it; he's definitely on the right track.) While he works his magic in the winery, his wife Beate waves her star-spangled wand over the small deli–coffee shop, where you can sit under the pergola and spend ages over a superb cheese platter or Gruyère salad, or just have a quick coffee and cheesecake. It's tapas alfresco with a traditional Afrikaner touch.

Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Fodor's choice

Sanbona Game Reserve couldn’t be more different than Kruger National Park and the Lowveld. The gorges and ridges of the towering Cape Fold mountains, the semi-arid terrain of the Karoo plains, and unique vegetation of the fynbos (scrubland) make this a must for visitors to the Cape. Expect to feel dwarfed by the vast landscape. Even elephants look tiny compared to their majestic surroundings. The roads are rough and the distances long, but the overall experience is breathtaking.

Roughly the size of Singapore, this enormous area supports a free-roaming population of animals that were indigenous to the Western Cape before European settlers arrived. Here you’ll find the Big Five (lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo, and leopard), although the area is so vast and desolate that you're certainly not guaranteed to spot them all. Guides make use of tracking devices to locate them. A unique experience is to spend time on foot with wild cheetahs that have grown accustomed to being approached by rangers.

Wildlife isn’t all you’ll find here. Be sure to climb up to some rare examples of San rock art, some reputed to be over 3,500 years old. Crystal-clear night skies deliver exceptional stargazing.

Conservation is the primary concern of the non-profit Caleo Foundation, and it shows in every detail from the building materials to the hand-carved furniture to your personal water bottle. Three luxury lodges cater to all types of guests. Historic Tilney Manor has an old-world feel, Gondwana Lodge is geared toward families, and the strikingly beautiful Dwyka Tented Camp is styled as a bush safari camp and is perfect for couples. If you want to get even more immersed in the wilderness, choose a two-day hike from Explorer Camp where you sleep in tents and dine under the stars around a crackling fire.

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Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex

Named for the 15th-century Portuguese navigator, the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex concentrates on the early history of Mossel Bay, when it was a regular stopover for Portuguese mariners en route to India. The most popular exhibit is the full-size replica of Dias's ship (a caravel), which was sailed from Lisbon to Mossel Bay as part of the quincentenary celebrations in 1988. When you see how small it is, you'll realize just how brave these sailors were. If you pay extra to board it, you'll find it all pretty authentic, except for the modern galley and heads. Look out for the Post Office Tree. In 1501 Pedro de Alteide left a letter here, which was picked up and delivered by another Portuguese navigator on his way to India. That's how South Africa's first post office was born. De Alteide was so grateful that he built a small chapel here, reputed to be the first place of Christian worship in South Africa. Pop a postcard into the shoe-shaped mailbox and it will arrive with a special postmark.

Church St. at Market St., Mossel Bay, Western Cape, 6500, South Africa
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Rate Includes: R20, Opening and closing times vary.

Birds of Eden

Built over a valley cutting through an old-growth forest, this magical sanctuary is a free-flight aviary spanning five dome-enclosed acres. More than 3,500 birds of 220 species fly, flutter, and perch here, some of which are quite tame. The main focus is African birds, and you'll see African grey parrots, Cape canaries, and greater flamingos. Take time to sit on one of the benches and listen to their calls—it's like being in the Amazon. You can grab a bite at the little restaurant overlooking the flamingo pond. Buy a memento or a gift at the well-stocked gift shop as you leave.


The beach at Brenton-on Sea, past Belvidere, is a long stretch of sand popular for its 6-km (4-mile) walk to neighboring Buffalo Bay. Although spectacular, this beach is not particularly good for swimming because of a strong undertow. Lifeguards are present in season, but only swim between the flags. The beach is about 12 km (7½ miles) west of Knysna. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking; toilets. Best for: sunrise; sunset; walking.

Brenton-on-Sea, Western Cape, South Africa

Buffalo Bay Beach

About 20 km (12 miles) from Knysna, Buffalo Bay is a sandy beach on a half-moon bay. Safe swimming and excellent conditions for surfing and bodyboarding make this an ideal family destination. A popular beach walk takes you toward Brenton-on-Sea. The village has been spared overdevelopment because of its proximity to the nearby Goukamma Nature Reserve. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: family, surfing; swimming; walking.

Buffalo Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

C. P. Nel Museum

This museum focuses on Oudtshoorn's boom period at the beginning of the 20th century when ostrich feathers were all the rage. There’s a section on the contributions of Lithuanian Jews to the economic development of Oudtshoorn that contains a reconstruction of the town's first synagogue. The most interesting remnants of the glory days are the magnificent palaces built by successful farmers. Most are private homes, but you can visit the Le Roux family's townhouse, built in 1909 and furnished in period style. Check out the Art-Nouveau stained glass panels. It forms part of the C. P. Nel Museum.

Cango Ostrich Farm

One of the least commercialized ostrich farms, Cango has guides that explain the bird's extraordinary social and physical characteristics. There are lots of interactive opportunities, including feeding and petting the ostriches and posing with one for a photo. From September to February, you may see babies hatching. The farm is conveniently located en route to the Cango Caves. 

Cango Wildlife Ranch

The name is a bit misleading, as this is really just a glorified zoo, crocodile farm, and cheetah-breeding center, but it is great fun, especially for kids. In addition to the crocodiles and cheetahs, you may see white Bengal tigers and lions. Other attractions include a snake park, a tropical house with giant fruit bats, and enclosure with pygmy hippos. In short, there are loads of different animals to keep the little ones amused for hours.

Central Beach

All the dolphin-watching boats and kayaking trips leave from Central Beach. A constant stream of tenders going out to the fishing boats moored in the bay makes this area quite busy, but it's still a great spot. Just avoid the boat ramp area and swim in the southern section. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming; walking.

Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Domein Doornkraal

On a real working farm, this shop sells wines from 25 cellars and has an excellent selection of pot-still brandies, dessert wines, and dry wines. They also make their own superb range of fortified wines and an inexpensive blend of white wines like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Colombard. The shop also stocks local olive oils from 10 local suppliers, fruit preserves, honey, and cookies, all sourced from local farmers and bakers. In season, they operate a small outdoor restaurant focusing on old-fashioned home cooking.


You can't come to Knysna without making a trip out to the Heads, at the mouth of the lagoon. The rock sentinels provide great views of both the sea and the lagoon. Only the developed, eastern side is accessible by car, via George Rex Drive off the N2. You have two options: park at the base of the Head and follow the walking trails that snake around the rocky cliffs just feet above the crashing surf, or drive to the summit with panoramic views and easy parking.

Knysna, Western Cape, South Africa

Holy Trinity Church

One of the most interesting buildings in the area stands across the lagoon in the exclusive community of Belvidere. The Anglican Holy Trinity Church, built in 1855 from local stone, is a lovely replica of a Norman church of the 11th century. The interior is notable for its beautiful stinkwood and yellowwood timber and stained-glass windows.


Named after the native keurboom tree, this sandy beach is about 10 km (6 miles) from Plett on the eastern edge of the bay. If you're fit you can walk all the way from here to Nature's Valley, but you need to watch the tides. Otherwise, you can stroll about a mile down the beach, relax for a while, and then walk back. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets. Best for: walking.

Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Leisure Isle

In the middle of Knysna Lagoon, Leisure Isle has just a few tiny strands of beach. It does have great views out toward the Heads of Knysna and nature trails and wheelchair-accessible boardwalks where you can spot emerald cuckoos and black oystercatchers. Green Hole on the east shore is a public park with toilets, showers, picnic spots. The surrounding mudflats of the lagoon provide bait for the local fisherfolk. Amenities: parking. Best for: solitude; windsurfing; small nature reserve.

Lookout Beach

Always one of Plettenberg Bay's most popular beaches, Blue Flag-certified Lookout Beach is a favorite spot for swimmers and surfers. Families enjoy paddling on the lagoon side of what is essentially a large sandy spit. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards (in season); parking; toilets; water sports. Best for: surfing; swimming; walking.

Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa


Don't be put off by the cutesy name. This award-winning refuge houses abused and abandoned primates, most of which were once pets or confined to zoos. They now roam in a huge enclosed area of the forest and are free to play, socialize, and do whatever it is that keeps primates happy. There are lemurs, gibbons, spider monkeys, vervet monkeys, howler monkeys, and many more. Guided walks are offered throughout the day, and the tamer residents often play with guests. Entrance to the viewing deck and restaurant is free, but you'll only get close up and personal if you take one of the guided walks. Prepare to be enchanted.

Mons Ruber Estate

This estate is named after the red hills that dominate the landscape and whose soil creates the perfect environment for growing grapes with a high sugar content. So it's not surprising that this winery specializes in dessert wines and makes a fine brandy. There is a lovely restored 19th-century kitchen and an easy hiking trail that stretches into the hills.

N12, De Rust, Western Cape, 6650, South Africa
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Rate Includes: Free

Outeniqua Hop

If you're itching to explore the countryside, follow the Outeniqua Hop, a fun route past farms growing strawberries or hops (used in beer making) and numerous craft outlets. Pick up a map from George Tourism at 124 York Street.

Outeniqua Transport Museum

This museum in a hangar-like building is a steam train lover's delight, with 13 beautifully restored locomotives and other examples of vintage vehicles. One of the highlights is the original " White Coach" (now a bit shabby) in which England's Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret slept during their 1947 visit to South Africa.

Robberg Beach

Just past the Beacon Island Resort is Robberg Beach, a great swimming beach that continues in a graceful curve all the way to the Robberg Peninsula. You can catch a glimpse of dolphins and whales just behind the breakers. Robberg 5 Beach is popular for surfing and bodyboarding. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking; showers; toilets. Best for: swimming; sunbathing.

Beachy Head Dr., Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Robberg Nature Reserve

There are three fabulous walks through Robberg Nature Reserve, all with equally spectacular scenery. Even the shortest one needs you to be steady on your legs because there are rocks to clamber up and down. The shortest takes about half an hour and offers great views of the ocean. A longer walk taking 90 minutes passes above a seal colony. Taking at least three hours (or even four or more if you have a more leisurely pace), the longest walk goes right to the end of the peninsula and often offers views of dolphins and whales offshore. It's worth taking a picnic, because you’ll want to stop and admire the wildflowers along the way. A fascinating archaeological excavation at Nelson's Bay Cave has a display outlining the occupation of the cave over thousands of years.

Ronnie's Sex Shop

No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. That sign definitely says Ronnie's Sex Shop. And no, it's not a country brothel or a sex shop. It's actually a Route 62 icon that started out as a joke. Ronnie Price (a real person) planned to open a shop here near the road, but his friends painted the word "sex" in big red letters next to the sign to read "Ronnie's Sex Shop." It stayed like that for years—a local landmark—until Ronnie thought he would cash in on the unintentional marketing, and opened a pub instead. It's a far cry from a sophisticated venue, but it's a great place to meet the locals, some of whom spend a large proportion of the day here. It's also a mandatory stop on most motorcycle rallies. It's open from 10 in the morning until the last person leaves at night, which is usually pretty late. You can't miss it—it's right on Route 62, just on the Ladysmith side of Barrydale.

Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park

If you want to hike through some of the most fantastic scenery along the Garden Route, head to this park between Nature's Valley and Plettenberg Bay. One of the best ways to experience it is the five-day Otter Trail, one of South Africa's most popular hikes. However, it’s usually booked out a year ahead. The somewhat easier Dolphin Trail is also incredibly popular. 

A less strenuous option is to visit Storms River Mouth, where the river enters the sea through a narrow channel between sheer cliffs. From the Tsitsikamma Visitor Center, a trail descends through the forest and over a narrow suspension bridge strung across the water. It's a spectacular walk, a highlight of any trip to the Garden Route. On the other side of the bridge, a steep trail climbs to the top of a bluff overlooking the river and the sea. Other trails, ranging from 1 to 3 km (½ to 2 miles), lead to a cave once inhabited by hunter-gatherers or through the coastal forest.

Wilderness Section of the Garden Route National Park

This 299,000-acre reserve stretches eastward along the coast for 31 km (19 miles). A wetlands paradise, the park's two blinds draws birders from all over the country hoping to see African fish eagles, great crested grebes, and red-knobbed coots. Several walking trails wind through the park alongside lakes, rivers, and the sea. A relatively gentle, accessible option is the 45-minute Woodville Big Tree Walk, which takes you past an 800-year-old yellowwood tree and into the indigenous forest.