Just east of George on the south coast of South Africa, the village of Wilderness is packed with as much natural beauty as its name suggests. It has a long sandy beach on the Indian Ocean as well as a national park full of dense native forests. Although it's one of the most popular stopping points for Garden Route travellers, it has a laid-back and peaceful vibe. With lagoons to plunge into, mountains to climb and trails to hike, it's the perfect place to get right back to nature.
A Wilderness hostel is usually a beach house with ocean views or a traditional South African lodge. Most have outdoor spaces with herb gardens and grills for a braai (barbecue). There are also places to mingle indoors, such as cosy lounges with book-exchange libraries, fireplaces and on-site bars. Free parking is often available at Wilderness hostels, and some have free shuttles to the beach and town: ideal for joining in with the local tradition of sundowner drinks at twilight.
George Road is the main street in Wilderness. There's a cosmopolitan range of places to eat, with artisan coffee roasteries, restaurants serving international food and some boutique chocolate shops too. On sunny days, people head down to the quiet beach to sunbathe and watch the breakers roll in. The area has kilometres of unspoilt sands, where you can spot dolphins and whales. Wilderness National Park, with its rivers, lakes and beaches, as well as five hiking trails, is just a 7-minute drive east of the village.
The tranquil forests around Wilderness are criss-crossed with hiking trails, the most unique being one to the Map of Africa viewpoint. This overlooks the Kaaimans River on a bend resembling the outline of the continent. A kloofing (canyoning) tour will get you up close and personal with South Africa's dramatic scenery as you swim, leap and clamber your way through the Kaaimans River gorges. Back in town, at the Milkwood Evening Market you'll find stallholders selling local produce and crafts, as well as live music.
Most people arrive in Wilderness by road as part of the Garden Route road trip. It's just over 4.5 hours by car east of Cape Town. The Baz Bus backpacker bus stops in Wilderness on its way between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Once you're in the village, it's worth hiring a bike to explore, as the main places to see are spread around the village and its outskirts.