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The Eastern Cape Travel Guide

  • Photo: Thomas Ramsauer / Shutterstock
  • Photo: Vincent van Oosten / Shutterstock

Plan Your Eastern Cape Vacation

The Eastern Cape is South Africa's most diverse province and has some of its best vacation destinations, yet it is perhaps the most glossed over by overseas visitors. Starting where the Garden Route stops, it includes much of the Great Karoo—a large, semidesert region of ocher plains, purple mountains, dramatic skies, and unusual, hardy vegetation—and abuts KwaZulu-Natal in the

northeast and Lesotho's mountain lands in the north. But a glance at a map will reveal the region's main attraction: its coastline, largely undeveloped and running for some 640 km (400 mi) from temperate to subtropical waters.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Take a Walk on the Wild Side The Wild Coast is a fabulous "slackpacking" destination. You can walk all day on long, lovely beaches, past turquoise lagoons, and through unspoiled villages. Wonderful day-hiking opportunities include the 37-km (23-mi) walk between Bulungula and Coffee Bay—which takes you along beaches, cliff tops, and rolling hills—plus guided hikes run by many of the lodges.
  2. Take a Look at the Wildlife With its rich and varied topography and flora, the Eastern Cape supports a wide range of game, much of which was once hunted to near extinction by farmers and settlers. Initiatives to reclaim this area for its original inhabitants include Addo Elephant National Park, Shamwari Game Reserve, and Kwandwe Private Game Reserve. Most of the terrain here is hilly with thick bush, so you won't see vast herds of animals wandering across open plains, and some areas bear visible scars from farming. But the game is here elephants, antelope, rhinos, buffalo, and much more. And best of all—it's malaria-free.
  3. Take a Dive on the Wild Side If you've cage-dived with great whites, plumbed the depths of dark and narrow caves, and dived under ice, you probably think you've done it all. Wrong. Diving with a "baitball"—fish herded together by dolphins for dining purposes—in the sardine run off the Wild Coast is the ultimate adrenaline dive. Sharks, Cape gannets, Bryde's whales, and even humpbacks have all been known to join in the feast.
  4. Take in the Culture and History From unsullied Xhosa villages—where women paint their faces with ocher clay and boys undergo circumcision rites of passage—to colonial mansions, the range and depth of the Eastern Cape's cultural heritage is amazing. Since the early 19th century, the Eastern Cape has been a frontier and focus of black resistance. In almost every town you'll find fascinating museums and art galleries and a good tour operator who can expose you to the history and culture of this heterogeneous society. The cultural highlight of South Africa is the annual National Arts Festival, which runs for 10 action-packed days every late June and/or July in Grahamstown.
  5. See the Other Side The Transkei is the real Africa. Taking a tour will allow you to interact with locals while traversing the spectacular Wild Coast on foot, horse, bicycle, or ATV. If you're more interested in culture than adventure, a visit to Bulungula will let you meet locals and generally interact on a far more personal level.

When To Go

When to Go

Although winters are pretty mild, especially farther north along the Wild Coast, summer—from September to April—is the most popular time to vis...

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