Wild and rugged, yet brimming with culture and history, South Africa’s second largest province feels like its own country – an exotic and captivating one at that. The Eastern Cape, situated in the country’s southeast and bordered by the warm Indian Ocean (Cape Town, by the way, is in the Western Cape province) is known for its incredible natural diversity both on land and in the waters.
What this means is that you have a lot of choices when it comes to your vacation.
How about a big-five safari?
National parks and private reserves offer malaria-free safari experiences that replicate the Africa of your imagination. At the Amakhala Game Reserve I witnessed graceful giraffes foraging on the tree tops, elephants partaking in a mud bath and a pride of lions lounging on the top of a cliff overlooking a pristine green valley. And then there were the monkeys, zebras, water buffalos, wildebeest and the rhinos. It was a magical experience made even more memorable because of the luxurious four-star wilderness accommodation at the Safari Lodge that included private plunge pools, stocked fridges and four-poster beds. Nearby is Addo Elephant Park, South Africa’s third-largest national reserve with one of the highest densities of elephants in the world.
Or maybe you’d prefer the wildness of the ocean?
The Eastern Cape’s over 800km of dramatic shoreline attracts surfers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts of all sorts. Here, you can try a different type of African safari, a marine one, in the coastal waters off Port Elizabeth. In the ocean the big five to photograph are whales, dolphins, sharks and penguins. On our Raggy Charters Marine Safari, we didn’t spot any sharks or whales but it didn’t matter a bit because the penguins stole the show, diving off the rocks of St. Croix Island. Located four kilometres offshore, the island has 22,000 breeding pairs of these waddling black and white cuties, the largest colony in Africa.
Or perhaps you’d like to explore the human and cultural side of the region?
The province has a rich cultural legacy and strong ties to Xhosa (a Bantu ethnic group) traditions. Nelson Mandela was born here; and the rural, pastoral landscape dotted with traditional, colourful homes is a beautiful and fascinating place to explore. It was an absolute thrill to see firsthand where his remarkable life began on a Nelson Mandela early childhood excursion with Imonti Tours.
As we drove through the scenic countryside, Velile, our good-natured and knowledgeable guide, pointed out significant places of Mandela’s childhood. The highlights were the school he attended and his village homes, both the modern house Mandela had built when he was released from prison and the site of his childhood abode.
Other Mandela related points of interest in the Eastern Cape include the Nelson Mandela Museum in the city of Umtata. This cultural institution examines all stages of Mandela’s life (character, comrade, leader, prisoner, negotiator and statesman) and the exhibitions encompass photographs and artifacts from his childhood until his presidency. In Port Elizabeth, Route 67 is
an initiative to honour Mandela’s 67 years in politics through gardens, murals, sculptures and other art-based projects.
A lot of activities to choose from to be sure. But the good news is that in this beautiful corner of the world you don’t have to decide between culture and nature or elephants and penguins for that matter. You can do it all on your vacation in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.