Eastern Cape, Travel Guide

Covering almost 170,000 square kilometers along the southeast of South Africa, Eastern Cape combines various cultures and landscapes. The Great Karoo that was once fully submerged dominates the west, while the north is home to mountain ranges piercing clouds and overlooking Lesotho. The long stretch of coastline has a rugged landscape that only the cone-shaped Xhosa huts can survive. Despite the roughness of the terrain, Eastern Cape has a long-forgotten treasure of stories, from the prehistoric fossils to South Africa’s most influential figures. Think about it; aren’t you curious about the province where Nelson Mandela was born?

If you are planning on a road trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg or Durban, you can see a lot of Eastern Cape with a bit of detour. Here are some details that will be helpful if you decide to set foot.

Best Time To Visit

While visiting the Eastern Cape is pleasant all year round, different parts of it face different climatic challenges.

In general, the climate gets wetter from west to east. In the west, the semi-arid climate dominates the Karoo region. Here, the rain is a miracle even in the winter, but frost is much more common than you might think. The summers drain much of the minimal water resources, leading to drought. On the other hand, the coastal climate combines the Mediterranean in the west with subtropical in the east, which means you must be prepared for summer rain.

The best time to visit depends on the region you want to visit. The coastal stretch has pleasant weather all year-round, with more rainfall in summer. The inner parts also have mild temperatures during the day, but nights can be freezing below zero degrees. With a bit of luck, you can even witness snow in Africa!

Getting Around

Being the second-largest province in South Africa, Eastern Cape is a tough nut to crack when it comes to getting around. The roads are well-maintained to the west, especially around N2. As you go east, you will see a lot of poverty-stricken places. The road conditions will get worse, with massive potholes, cows roaming freely, and villagers crossing the road regularly. 

Don’t let this scare you off; with a few simple rules to remember, you will be perfectly fine. The trick is to start driving early, making sure to go slow so that you can get to your destination safely and on time. Driving at night is a no-no because of the reasons we have listed above.

Baz Bus is another option if you want to stick to the coast. It will take you to the cities like Port Elizabeth, and East London, as well as towns like Coffee Bay. However, the drop-off points for the places in the Wild Coast, such as Coffee Bay, are far from the town centers. So, you might need to arrange a transfer from Baz-Bus drop off points to your accommodation.

Places of Interest

Coffee Bay

Getting its name after a shipwreck that spilled coffee beans into the ocean, Coffee Bay is the ultimate tropical vacation spot in the Eastern Cape. Its highlights are the breathtaking natural spots like Mapuzi Cliffs and Hole In the Wall – an iconic rock arch, both of which you can access via guided hiking tours.

Hole In The Wall, Coffee Bay
Hogsback

We might associate Lord of The Rings with New Zealand, but the rumor has it that Tolkien’s inspiration came from a small village called Hogsback. It wouldn’t be a surprise, as the tranquil and mystical nature surrounded by the Amatola Mountains has an atmosphere that calms the soul and sparks creativity. That’s why many artists have retreated here to create phenomenal works, such as the Ecoshrine by Diana Graham.

Eco-shrine, Hogsback
Camdeboo National Park

Not many national parks become subjects or titles of books, but the Camdeboo National Park has inspired everyone, from travel writers to political writers. Due to the Valley Of Desolation – a series of dolomite rocks over 100 meters-tall, Camdeboo attracts not only writers and artists but also enthusiastic hikers and paragliders.

Valley Of Desolation
Graaf Reinet

Being the town where the Great Afrikaner Trek started in the 1800s, Graaf Reinet has more monuments than all the other places in the country.  The magnificent Dutch-Reformed church, bookshops, galleries, and the proximity to the Camdeboo National Park make it even more appealing.

The Dutch Reformed Church in Graaf Reinet
East London
East London

The coastal city of the Buffalo Municipality has a distinct charm combining a laid-back beach life and a rich history. Amongst its many attractions, East London Museum stands out for its exhibition related to fossils of the first human footprints, the only remaining dodo egg in the world, and the type specimen of the coelacanth (a fish that used to be extinct until its discovery in the 20th century).

Grahamstown

Thanks to well-established Rhodes University, Grahamstown has a thriving student population. The university also contributed to the establishment of exquisite art and literary museums. As part of the sealed fate of every university town, Grahamstown hosts some of Africa’s largest festivals, such as the National Art Festival.

National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown
Safari

Imagine being able to view wildlife without worrying about the risk of malaria. Thanks to the dedication of the SA National Parks Management and the local communities, the wildlife population has been growing exponentially. Some of the biggest and the highest-ranked national parks are in Eastern Cape, which is far away from any threat of malaria.

Addo Elephant Park
  • Addo Elephant Park: The third-largest national park in the country, with an abundance of elephants and other big game animals
  • Shamwari Game Reserve: An award-winning game reserve known for having a massive variety of vegetation, and bearing 14 different habitats
  • Mount Zebra National Park: Known for the endangered mountain zebra population, cheetah viewing, and an abundance of big cats
  • Samara Private Game Reserve

Other Attractions

Here is a list of other attractions that you might find interesting.

  • Qunu, Nelson Mandela’s House: Visit the house where Mandela was born and spent his childhood years.
  • Bathurst: It might sound odd, but this small place has the world’s biggest hand-made pineapple. The region is one of the world leaders in pineapple production, so you can find out more about the history of the pineapple industry here.
  • Walter Battis Museum, Somerset East: Here is the house that South Africa’s famous abstract-artist Walter Battis lived. From his quirky personality to his imaginary “Fook Island” concept, the museum-house will inform you all about his life.
  • Helen Martens’ Owl House, Nieu-Bethesda: Another distinguished artist from South Africa was Helen Martens, who decorated her house with life-sized sculptures.

Tips And Things You Might Need To Know

  • Eastern Cape is dealing with a severe case of draught because of the dry climate and the invasive plants using up the water resources in the soil. Make sure you are using the water sparingly.
  • Avoid drinking tap water for the same reason.
  • You will see a lot of Vervet monkeys on the road. Do not try to feed or touch them as it will make them more demanding and aggressive.
  • Try to camp only in the designated campsites since tourist-targeted crime is still a danger in the Eastern Cape.
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