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The Eastern Cape Travel Guide

Places To Explore In The Eastern Cape

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.

The climate is mild across the region and throughout the year, with temperatures at the coast ranging between winter lows of 5°C (41°F) and summer highs of 32°C (90°F). It has many of the country's finest and least crowded beaches, African montane forests and heathlands, an ever-increasing number of fantastic malaria-free game reserves, and some of the most interesting cultural attractions in South Africa.

There are a few areas of note. Frontier Country, formerly known as Settler Country, stretches from the outskirts of Port Elizabeth to Port Alfred in the east, Grahamstown in the northeast, and the Zuurberg Mountains in the north. It was here that the early-19th-century immigrants (colloquially called the 1820 Settlers) tried to set up farms, some successfully, some not. Toward the end of the last century, many of the unprofitable farms were bought up and redeveloped as game reserves, thus adding superb game-viewing to the already existing cultural attractions.

Another noteworthy region on the Eastern Cape is the Wild Coast, which is aptly but perhaps a little unfairly named. Sure, it does get some monumental storms, when huge waves crash into the beach and cliffs, but it also has a gentler face.

Unfortunately, during the political uncertainty of the 1980s the Wild Coast lost a lot of its allure—more due to the perceived threat of violence than anything else. Hotels went out of business, the overnight huts on the fantastic Wild Coast Hiking Trail fell into disrepair, and the Transkei sank further into economic depression. For many years it was only die-hard locals with strong emotional ties and hordes of backpackers who frequented these still-lovely and little-known places. Today the area is going through a revival. Coastal hotels are being renovated one by one, and community projects are being put in place to ensure that the tourist dollar goes where it is intended. In addition to long, lovely beaches, the Wild Coast has crystal-clear turquoise lagoons, some of which can be paddled for miles. The area is still virtually unspoiled, and the people who live here are mostly subsistence farmers and fisherfolk. It's not uncommon for a family who can't afford a loaf of bread to dine (reluctantly) on oysters and lobster. It's just another of the Eastern Cape's contrasts and seeming contradictions.

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