South Africa’s Eastern Cape province is astonishingly diverse and, in parts, wonderfully undeveloped. In winter, snow sometimes drifts onto its striking mountain peaks and in summer the sparkling coastline attracts many surfers, swimmers and sun worshipers. From the sea to the inland desert, the landscape of the Eastern Cape is spectacular. Tourists can explore everything from ancient forests and yawning valleys to steep sea cliffs and the lush coastline that stretches from the Tsitsikamma section of Garden Route National Park to the subtropical Wild Coast. Inland, the rolling hills around Grahamstown are known as Settler Country, after the British migrants who settled these ancestral Xhosa lands in the early 19th century. Animal lovers can admire a dazzling variety of wildlife in the national parks and private game reserves, including the rare Cape mountain zebras, white lions and rhinos. Travelers can explore part of the Eastern Cape coastline via the scenic Garden Route.
1 The Valley of Desolation
In Camdeboo National Park , the city surrounds Graaff-Reinet, the Valley of Desolation is one of the Eastern Cape’s most striking natural features. The access road climbs to 1,500 meters and ends at a car park with well-maintained footpaths to panoramic viewpoints along the bluff. Here visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the towering dolomite rock pillars and the surrounding countryside, where the moving light plays on the vast landscape. To the south lie the semi-desert landscapes of the Great Karoo; to the east, Graaff-Reinet; and to the north, the distinctive peaks of the Sneuberg Mountains. For the best photos, visit at sunrise or especially sunset, when the deep, golden light drenches the landscapes with a honey glow. Wildlife in the park is diverse and abundant.
The nearby town of Graaff-Reinet is also worth a visit for its restored Karoo-style houses and historic buildings. A highlight is Reinet House , a former Cape Dutch-style parsonage that is now a museum with a large collection of furniture and agricultural equipment from the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as a doll collection from the First World War. About 50 kilometers from Graff-Reinert, in the small hamlet of Nieu-Bethesda , the Owl House is a favorite tourist attraction with its collection of work (including many owls and camels) by the eccentric sculptor Helen Martins, who lived a solitary life here.
Official site: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/camdeboo/tourism/activities.php
Accommodation: where to stay in Graaff-Reinet
2 The wild coast
Stretching north from East London, South Africa’s Wild Coast is a land of spectacular beauty. Steep sea cliffs, windswept beaches, subtropical forests and hills shrouded in golden grass characterize this untamed wilderness, which runs along the northern coast of the Eastern Cape, from the Mtamvuna River in the north to the Great Kei River in the south. The Wild Coast is the ancestral home of the Xhosa people and other tribes whose villages mar the landscapes. During the apartheid era, the Wild Coast was part of the Transkei, one of four territories declared independent of South Africa, until it merged with the Eastern Cape province in 1994. The best way to explore this rugged and remote region is by 4WD vehicle, but the adventurous can also walk along the trails that connect the local villages or explore the area on horseback. Tourist highlights in the region are the popular onesInkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve and the Hole in the Wall , a natural arch sculpted by crashing surf. Many travelers base themselves in towns such as Coffee Bay, Port St. Johns, Chintsa , and Morgan Bay and venture out into the surrounding wilderness for outdoor fun such as ocean and river fishing, diving and snorkeling along the reefs and shipwrecks, and observing animals in the many nature reserves. Birds are also fantastic with over 320 species recorded in the region.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in East London
3 Addo Elephant National Park
Addo Elephant National Park is approximately 72 kilometers north of Port Elizabeth and the third largest national park in South Africa. It was founded in 1931 to save the last 11 South African bush elephants from extinction, and today provides a habitat for more than 600 elephants and a host of other fascinating creatures. The park extends from the Karoo to the coast and also includes offshore islands, which are home to important breeding populations of Cape gannets and African penguins. Thanks to the diversity of ecosystems, the park’s claim to fame is that it is the only national park in the world that protects the Big 7 – the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, Cape buffalo, lion and leopard) and the great white shark and southern right whale. Nature lovers can also spot zebras, antelopes, spot an impressive array of birds and nocturnal animals such as porcupines, anteaters and forest pigs. In addition to organized day and night game drives, visitors can enjoy other adventures such as horse riding and hiking trails. The park welcomes day visitors who can choose to explore the wilderness in their own vehicles or opt for a guided tour. Accommodation is available for overnight visitors in cottages, chalets or campsites.
Official site: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/default.php
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Port Elizabeth
4 The Storms River Suspension Bridge
Along the famous Garden Route, a more than 200-kilometer scenic drive stretching from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape, the Storm River Suspension Bridge is one of the most popular attractions in Tsitsikamma National Park , a spectacular coastal reserve that is now part of Garden Route National Park. The 77-metre-long bridge spans the frothy, foam-covered waters of the Storms River mouth, which swirl and splash less than seven meters below the bridge as they merge with the Indian Ocean. Standing on the bridge, visitors feel as if they are floating above the waving sea. To access the bridge, visitors walk through 900 meters of beautiful bird-rich forests with waterfalls and numerous viewpoints to stop and rest while enjoying the sea views. Two smaller suspension bridges lead hikers back to the trail for their return journey. After the rewarding hike, which takes about 30 minutes each way, hungry hikers can refuel at the lodge’s nearby restaurant.
5 Mountain Zebra National Park
Mountain Zebra National Park offers nature lovers the chance to see a fascinating variety of wildlife against the backdrop of beautiful mountain scenery. Established in 1937 to ensure the survival of the Cape mountain zebra, the park is located approximately 24 kilometers southwest of Cradockon the northern slopes of the Bankberg Mountains, with peaks rising to 2000 metres. In addition to a healthy population of Cape mountain zebras, which are smaller than their common counterparts, the park is also home to springbok, kudu, carafes, jackals, cheetahs, lions, Cape buffalos, black rhinos and many species of birds. Lucky visitors may also catch a glimpse of the shyaardwolf. Wild olives, sumac and thorny acacias are noted for the dry and rocky landscapes, and the vast grasslands along the roadway offer views of grazing game. Visitors can also view San (Bushmen) paintings dating back some 300 years. Other activities include paddling in the park’s pools, walking the nature trails and exploring the 4WD trails. Guests can also explore the park with their own 2WD vehicles. Accommodation ranges from a guest house to family chalets and campsites, all with access to a shop and à la carte restaurant.
Official site: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/mountain_zebra/
6 Surfvakantie in Jeffreys Bay
About 77 kilometers southwest of Port Elizabeth, Jeffreys Bay, affectionately called J-Bay, is one of the world’s top surfing spots. In particular, the beach is known for its excellent right-hand point break, a consistent and exceptionally long and rapid serpentine formation along the western side of the bay. The break is divided into sections; Supertubes are the most famous and can break more than 300 meters. For the best waves, surfers should try to visit between May and September when offshore winds provide ideal conditions. But for swimmers, the best time is the summer months (December to February), when the weather is warm and sunny and the water warms up.
The town itself is one of the fastest growing on the Eastern Cape and is a favorite holiday destination – especially for South Africans who come here to relax on the beach, enjoy fresh seafood and swim in the excellent Blue Flag Beach . Whales can often be spotted offshore between June and October. At the Noorskloof Nature Reserve , an attractive footpath winds its way along a river for three kilometers where hikers can spot antelope and vervet monkeys. To the northeast of the city, the Kabeljous Nature Reserve includes a pristine estuary with fantastic fishing opportunities, while to the south of the city, in the small resort of Aston Bay, the Seekoei River Nature Reserveis a popular destination for birdwatchers with more than 120 species recorded in the area. nearby Paradise Beach is also a beautiful stretch of coastline and a great place to hunt for shells.
7 Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area
Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area
About 90 kilometers west of Port Elizabeth, the spectacular landscapes of the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area offer a rugged and rugged 4WD adventure. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is South Africa’s third largest inland shelter with an incredibly rich biodiversity. In addition to mountain zebras and Cape buffalo, nature lovers can also see the region’s namesake baboons (Baviaanskloof means ‘Valley of the Baboons’), vervet monkeys, mongoose and many species of birds, including white-tailed eagles. Hiking is also rewarding – especially for those who enjoy peace and solitude. The most popular driving route for travelers runs from Patensie in the east to Willowmore in the west and follows the 200-kilometre long Baviaanskloof Valley with beautiful red rocks and green mountains rising to the north and south. Allow plenty of time as the roads are soaked dirt roads that are particularly tough after heavy rains. The route can take up to six hours of driving and even longer depending on conditions. The route crosses two mountain passes with beautiful views, as well as low-water crossings. Four-wheel drives are highly recommended and essential in parts. Basic accommodation and campsites are available for those who wish to spend the night.
Official site: https://www.baviaans.co.za/
8 Beaches of Port Elizabeth
Port Elizabeth, the popular tourist town at the end of the Garden Route, boasts over 40 kilometers of clean and safe surfing beaches along the glittering Algoa Bay. Unsurprisingly, water sports are a favorite pastime. Swimmers can paddle at a range of beaches with coveted Blue Flag status, awarded for exemplary water quality and safety, including Kings Beach , one of the most popular thanks to its nearby restaurants and skate park; Wells Estate Beach with a paddling pool and slides; and Humewood Beach . Surfers can ride the waves at Pollock Beach and SCUBA divers and snorkelers can immerse themselves in the underwater world in beautyBay of Sardinia , which is located in a marine reserve. Fishing is best along the northern beaches such as Bluewater Bay and Brighton beach . For both swimming and windsurfing, head to Hobie Beach , near the Boardwalk entertainment complex. Depending on the time of year, visitors can also enjoy the coast aboard a whale watching cruise with the chance to spot migrating humpback whales, southern right whales and Bryde’s whales.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Port Elizabeth
9 Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve
Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve, on South Africa’s Wild Coast, approximately 20 miles from East London, offers an exciting safari adventure and hands-on experiences with some of the fascinating wildlife. Under the careful guidance of experienced staff, visitors can visit the elephant and cheetah sanctuary and interact with them at close range, enjoying the opportunity to touch, feed and learn about these beautiful animals. Thanks to its many ecosystems, the park is also home to an amazing diversity of other wildlife, including lions, Cape buffalo, rhinos, zebras, giraffes and many species of antelope. Birdlife is also abundant with over 180 different species recorded in the park. Another highlight here are the white lions in a separate enclosure in the park. Day visitors are welcome and can choose to explore the park in their own car or on a guided tour in an open-top 4WD vehicle. Other adventure options include walking safaris, quad bike tours, canoe trips and mountain bike trails. Many visitors stay in luxury tents that blend in beautifully with the surrounding wilderness, but accommodation is also available at a nearby lodge. Another popular choice for a plush safari is Many visitors stay in luxury tents that blend in beautifully with the surrounding wilderness, but accommodation is also available at a nearby lodge. Another popular choice for a plush safari is Many visitors stay in luxury tents that blend in beautifully with the surrounding wilderness, but accommodation is also available at a nearby lodge. Another popular choice for a plush safari isShamwari game reserve approximately 75 kilometers from Port Elizabeth.
Official site: https://eastlondon-info.co.za/
10 Grahamstown: Settler Country
In a sheltered catchment area 60 kilometers from the south coast and halfway between Port Elizabeth and East London , historic Grahamstown is the capital of Settler Country where white settlers fought the Xhosa in the early 19th century. Despite its turbulent history, Grahamstown is today a vibrant cultural center thanks to Rhodes University and its many other educational institutions. The Grahamstown Arts Festival, famous throughout South Africa, is held annually at the end of June, when the city becomes a giant stage hosting an impressive array of cultural events. Grahamstown is also often called the ‘city of saints’, due to its many churches which are said to number more than 40. The queen of them all is the beautiful Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George with the tallest spire in South Africa. To learn more about the city’s history, visitors should stop at the Observatory Museum, with a Victorian interior and displays of old furniture and antique telescopes. The camera obscura here, still the only one in South Africa, shows a view of the city and its surroundings in clear weather. Another top tourist attraction here is the Settlers Monument , a modern cultural center opened in 1974, where the popular Arts Festival takes place. A bronze monument at the entrance depicts a settler family in typical early 19th-century dress.