Wilderness Travel Guide, South Africa's Hidden Paradise
Before leaving New York in October, I needed a work exchange in South Africa as a way to travel for a long period while saving money. While I was only looking at popular cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, I realized I wasn't ready to spend that much time in a big city. While researching other parts of South Africa, I came across the Garden Route. Similar to California's pacific coast highway, the Garden Route stretches from Mossel Bay to Storms River in the Eastern Cape offering some of the best beach, forest views and more in the country. I then changed my plans and decided to volunteer in the Garden Route instead, which is where I discovered Wilderness. Wilderness is a small village in the forest with killer beach views, forests, lakes, rivers, and great locals.
How To Get Here
Getting to Wilderness will depend on whether you're driving or not. And to be honest, driving is probably the best option. Otherwise, you can fly to a nearby town called George which is only a 20-minute drive to the village and can be arranged by your hotel/backpacker. Another option would be getting a pass/ticket from BazBus, which is a very popular transportation service amongst backpackers in South Africa. Even though it's a bit pricey, BazBus is stress-free and convenient since they drop you off at your hostel/backpackers. Once here, I would suggest renting a car since there's no public transportation within the village.
Where To Stay
There's a lot of lodging options in Wilderness, but only a few are worth actually staying in. There are both hotels and backpackers here. Depending on your budget, backpackers seem to be the better option, great for meeting fellow travelers as well as locals. A few great backpackers are Wildfarm, Beach House and the best being Fairy Knowe Backpackers. Fairy knowe is about a 25-minute walk/hike to the village center or a 5-minute drive. It's located in the middle of the forest, with swings, volleyball court, tons of rooms and a bar that stays open until 2 am. Ask any local where their favorite bar is, they'll tell you it's at Fairy Knowe Backpackers, just come prepared for some tequila shots.
Things To Do
Wilderness has lots of activities to offers, but the only one to get your adrenaline pumping is paragliding with Flytime for ZAR750. I honestly never thought I'd be sitting here writing about paragliding. I'm absolutely afraid of heights, I don't even like planes, so you can imagine how terrified I was off flying. During take-off, I screamed my eyes out, then it got better. First of all, the views were out of this world, literally, It was actually quite calming being in the air. Would I paraglide again? Yes, I would love to do this again, I really enjoyed it.
Hike to the waterfall- there are two ways to get to the waterfall. Hike for two hours, pay an entrance fee of about ZAR112, or kayak (cost ZAR250) for an hour through the river. I chose to kayak since I'd never kayaked before. I was definitely unfit for an hour each way kayak trip, luckily I was paired with a much more experienced traveler whom I met at the backpacker. Who knew a fun looking activity would be so hard on the arms. Our trip went pretty well until we spotted a few snakes floating which made me almost jump out the kayak, swim for my dear life while crying for help in the middle of the forest. The views of the forest and almost clear waters was quite beautiful which made it worth it, after all, This is Wilderness.
Wilderness offers a few viewpoints with spectacular scenery, one of them being the famous Map of Africa. Getting here from the village is a bit of an adventure in itself, which is why I wouldn't recommend small cars. The ride is about 30 or so minutes up the mountain which is almost a one way making it very possible for you to stop while waiting for on-coming traffic. You will also pass by a township before reaching this awesome spot. Not only will you get stunning views of the mountains and river, but you can also paraglide here when the weather allows it.
Where To Eat
Although a small village, Wilderness has some great eats with about 20 or restaurants. It doesn't matter what you're in the mood for, you can find almost anything here. From Thai to Italian, Seafood, and American and a cafe. A few places caught my attention, places where I would go looking for a specific dish. Such places include Greenshed Cafe, a rustic but yet modern cafe with great pastries, coffee, and vibes.
Ask any locals and you'll be guided to the best of the best. The Locals Pub and Diner for the best Ribs on the Garden Route, Flava Cafe for a great pork belly and great service, Bongos for great pizza, and Cocomo Restuarant for great food overall and where you'll find the best live music every day, in Wilderness.