These Garden Route Pros and Cons are Part 2 of our 4-part Unearthing the Garden Route series. For all our insights and tips, don’t miss Part 1: Quick-Hitting Guide, Part 3: Dos and Don’ts, and Part 4: Restaurant Recommendations.
Is the Garden Route Worth It?
Not everyone who comes to South Africa should do the Garden Route.
Yes, it’s a top tourism destination for good reason. Yes, it has tons of fantastic things to do and see. And yes, anyone who decides to do it won’t regret it.
You might have an even better South Africa trip if you limit your time on the Garden Route and visit other parts of South Africa instead.
It depends on how long you have and what you’re looking for. 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.
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
Culturally, 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. It all has a South African accent to it, but the overwhelming cultural force on the Garden Route is tourism.
✓ Pro: Traveling’s Easy
Traveling in the Garden Route is easy. Everyone speaks English, the road and trails are well-marked and in excellent condition, and tourist information is abundant.
The entire tourism infrastructure is first-world level.
Almost. Apparently, it’s not immune to load shedding (rolling blackouts) that occasionally sweeps South Africa.
✗ Con: It’s More Expensive
This shouldn’t surprise you. The top tourism area of every country is always a bit more expensive.
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.
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 not compared to the rest of South Africa, which has equally worthy attractions.
✓ Pro: There Are Excellent Restaurants
There aren’t actually that many gardens along the Garden Route, but wherever it is the restaurants source their ingredients from, they sure grow good stuff and know how to cook it.
We ate extravagantly everywhere we went but in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay especially we wish we had more time to dig into the diverse, delicious, dining.
Check out our post on the best Garden Route restaurants and eating experiences from our trip.
✗ Con: The Seafood Was a Let-Down
Fish fanatic Kim had high hopes for the fruit of the Garden Route’s seas, but they didn’t deliver.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. As is her wont, 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 (admittedly high) expectations.
p.s. Despite its reputation as the oyster capital of South Africa, there are no oysters left in Knysna, so don’t feel obliged to uphold to splurge on slurping them while you’re there.
✓ Pro: It’s Spread Out but Compact
It’s less than a 3-hour drive from what we’d say is the easternmost 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.
At the same time, 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
Despite being on the opposite end of the world, the Garden Route’s low-key vibe, farms, hills, ocean, and forest all looked and felt eerily similar to areas of Vancouver Island, which is only a three-hour ferry ride away. So we didn’t get the same exotic feeling of traveling to a wild place that we get elsewhere in South Africa.
✓ 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 gets as nice there 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 its cons and all the hype it gets, we wouldn’t go so far as to say is overrated. It’s properly rated and deserves the attention it gets.
It’s just that the rest of South Africa is way underrated and equally deserving of your attention.
So the biggest con of visiting the Garden Route is that when you do, you’re missing out on those places.
If you’re open to going over the fences of the Garden Route and into the wild, so to speak, check out our South Africa archive for some inspiration. We suggest you start by checking out the Hectic Route, our Johannesburg to Cape Town itinerary.
But if you’re set on the Garden Route, that’s cool too. Complete our 4-part Unearthing the Garden Route series with Part 1: Quick-Hitting Guide, Part 3: Dos and Don’ts, and Part 4: Restaurant Recommendations.