The Eastern Cape is one of South Africa’s best-kept secrets.
Epic Wild Coast adventures, the Addo Big 7, ‘stoep’ stories, Port Elizabeth and Route 67 and the timeless Karoo, await those travellers who have already ticked off the big sights and are now looking for new and authentic South African experiences.
The epicentre of the struggle against apartheid and home to Nelson Mandela, the malaria-free Eastern Cape boasts 800km of pristine coastline and landscapes that allow you to see for miles and miles – from the semi-arid Karoo to empty sandy shores and tropical forests, ancient shipwrecks and majestic mountains!
Follow the big skies and open roads that lead to South Africa’s unhurried alternative to the Garden Route:
Here are our favourite Big Seven Eastern Cape adventures:
Undoubtedly the best known and most popular of the South African long-distance hiking trails, the Otter Trail follows the spectacular Eastern Cape coastline from Storms River Mouth to Natures Valley in the Tsitsikamma National Park.
The trail is 42,5kms long and takes 4.5 days to complete following the rugged, rocky shoreline ranging in elevation from sea level to a height of more than 150m, with abundant wildlife to spot along the way.
Is the traditional home of the Xhosa people, and the birth and final resting place of Nelson Mandela.
This unique rural region includes over 350km of pastoral coastal landscapes where clusters of hamlets are scattered over the rolling hills. Exhilarating beach gallops and cliff-top horseback adventures are a firm sightseeing favourite. Also, see www.wildcoasthorsebackadventures.com.
Is home to all of Africa’s Big 7: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino, the Southern right whale and the great white shark.
The park stretches across five biomes from the vast Darlington Lake, Zuurberg Mountains and dense bushveld of the Sundays River Valley to the indigenous forests at Woody Cape.
These forests hug the largest coastal dune fields south of the Namib, overlooking the park’s marine area at Bird Island and St Croix Island.
A popular option for both seal and whale-watching followed by either self-guided or guided game drives in the same park.
Takes in a beautiful historic region shaped by the spirit of the Khoi, Xhosa, Boer and British cultures; a favourite with outdoor adventures seekers and Big 5 enthusiasts, enjoying game viewing, skydiving, hang-gliding, fly-fishing, abseiling, river rafting and mountaineering.
This scenic landscape around Grahamstown was once the setting for Britain’s longest colonial war and has more forts than the rest of the country combined.
Not just for adventure seekers as centre stage is Grahamstown, home of the annual National Arts Festival that, runs for 11 days in June and is the biggest and oldest annual celebration of the arts in Africa.
With its ‘koppies’ or flat-topped hills, vast open plains with blue-tinged mountains in the distance, are South Africa’s soul spaces.
This is the place for your next road trip; big star-filled skies, endless roads travelling towards an empty horizon, punctuated by typical Karoo ‘dorpies’ or villages, full of rustic charm, traditional dishes and home to sculptors and artists.
You’ll stop at the many festivals, farm stalls and frontier bars to immerse yourself in the local culture.
If you are really looking for authentic, traditional hospitality and bags of fun and adventure.
A city that has rediscovered its cool, with none of the prices tags and pretentiousness.
There are superb galleries including the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, home to the very best Eastern Cape art.
There is also the fabulous Route 67 which is a collection of public artworks honouring the 67 years Nelson Mandela dedicated to the struggle and to South Africa’s freedom.
The most iconic of these works is the ‘Voting Line’ by Anthony Harris and Konrad Geel. Lastly, this city is proudly the bottlenose dolphin capital of the world.