South Africa's Garden Route Is Worth Visiting, But…
These pros and cons of the Garden Route are one of our 4-part Unearthing the Garden Route Travel Blog.
The Garden Route is one of South Africa's top tourism destinations for good reasons. It has tons of fantastic things to do, see, and eat, so anyone who decides to visit won't regret it.
But that doesn't mean it's the best destination for everyone.
Depending on how long you have in South Africa and your interests, your answer to, "Is the Garden Route worth visiting?" may differ.
These Garden Route pros and cons will help you decide.
Garden Route Pros and Cons
✓ Pro: It's Safe
Compared to Canada, where we're from:
We felt we only had to take our safety radar up one notch, not ten.
If our hotel was a kilometer from our restaurant at night, we'd take a taxi home instead of walk. And on one occasion, we decided against an unofficial hike from Wilderness to Victoria Bay partly because of reports of recent assaults (but mostly because the weather sucked).
Compared to Cape Town, where we're living:
We felt we could take our safety radar down a notch.
For instance, the houses here mostly aren't surrounded by walls with electric fences and signs warning of armed response security.
✗ Con: There's Little of Cultural Interest
The overwhelming cultural force on the Garden Route is tourism so not much distinguishes the Garden Route from beach holiday destinations up north in Europe or North America.
The towns, vacation homes, and retiree residents look and feel no different. They just sound a bit different because of their South African accents.
✓ Pro: Traveling's Easy
The Garden Route's tourism infrastructure is first-world level. Everyone speaks English, the road and trails are well-marked and in excellent condition, the food quality and variety is impressive, and tourist information is abundant.
✗ Con: It's More Expensive than the Rest of South Africa
For example, where we'd generally budget around R500 a night for a basic double room, along the Garden Route we had to stretch our wallets to R700. And that's even though we avoided December and January peak season.
The park entry fees also sucked (our money)—especially the R230 for Storms River Mouth. But we'd do it again and recommend you do it too.
Now, somebody from Garden Route tourism is probably reading this, pulling their hair out, and muttering, "But compared to Hawaii or Europe, we're super affordable!"
True. But it's not super affordable compared to the rest of South Africa, whose attractions are equally worth your consideration.
✓ Pro: There Are Excellent Restaurants
Despite the name, there are surprisingly few gardens along the Garden Route.
But wherever it is the restaurants source their ingredients from, they sure grow good stuff. And the chefs know how to cook it!
We ate extravagantly everywhere we went, especially in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, where we wish we had more time to dig into the diverse, delicious, dining.
If you're hungry for more info, read part 4 of our Unearthing the Garden Route series, Garden Route Restaurants: A Food Fanatic's 8 Favorites
✗ Con: The Seafood Was a Let-Down
Fish fiend Kim had high hopes for the fruit of the Garden Route's seas, but they didn't deliver.
It wasn't for Kim's lack of trying. She ordered seafood wherever she could, including linefish from Enrico's in Plett, oysters at Knysna, and braaied hake from Quai 4 Braai in Mossel Bay. None of it met her high expectations.
Despite its "Oyster Capital of South Africa" reputation, there are no oysters left in Knysna. They're brought in from other parts of the country, so don't feel obliged to splurge on slurping "local" oysters.
✓ Pro: It's Spread Out but Compact
It's less than a 3-hour drive from the westernmost Garden Route attraction, the St Blaze Hiking Trail to the easternmost one, Storms River Mouth, so you can stay in between them and be within easy access of everything.
And even though it's compact, the area has enough attractions and activities to dilute the hordes of tourists.
The only place we went that felt particularly packed was the suspension bridge at Storms River mouth.
✗ Cons: It's Not Exotic
We didn't feel the same thrill of traveling to a new and exotic place as experienced elsewhere in South Africa.
The Garden Route's low-key vibe, farms, hills, ocean, and forest looked and felt eerily similar to areas of Vancouver Island, which is only a three-hour ferry ride away from where we grew up.
✓ Pro: The Weather's Reliably Beautiful
While the scenery resembles Western Canada, where we're from, it would take a couple hundred years of global warming before the weather there gets as nice as it is on the Garden Route.
Even in the coldest month of the year, July, the average high remains a shorts and t-shirt-able 20°C / 70°F.
✗ Con: The Towns Aren't Beautiful
Without exception, the cities and towns along the Garden Route serve as bases to explore nearby natural attractions from, not as attractions themselves.
The Garden Route isn't Eden, but despite all the hype it gets, we wouldn't say is overrated. It's properly-rated.
But what's most important to keep in mind when deciding if the Garden Route is worth visiting is that the rest of South Africa is way underrated.
So the biggest con of visiting the Garden Route is that when you do, you're missing out on those places.
Keep that in mind and you'll make the right decision.
Read This Next
Garden Route Travel Blog
- Honest FAQ for 1st-Time Garden Route Visitors
- Garden Route Travel Tips: 15 Dos and Don'ts Nobody Tells You
- A Food Fanatic's 8 Favorite Garden Route Restaurants