South Africa, like just about every other place on earth, has associations in our minds which may or may not hold true in reality. For many, things like African safaris, apartheid and Cape Town’s beaches spring to mind. However, there is far more to the country than these things. In fact, thanks to the well-trodden tourist trail which visitors tend to stick to, vast tracts of South Africa miss out on a lot of attention, and the Eastern Cape is one such example.
This humble province may not have the advanced tourism infrastructure of the more touristy areas, nor does it have obvious iconic attractions such as Table Mountain or the Kruger National Park, but that is no reason not to explore the Eastern Cape. In fact by not visiting you may well be doing yourself a disservice.
Here are 6 reasons why you really should explore the Eastern Cape.
1) The incredible diversity of landscapes.
The Eastern Cape is a large coastal province in South Africa, lying between the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal. Stretching inland on its western side, you will find a semi-arid Karoo landscape, complete with tiny shrubs, vast tracts of space and an abundance of stars. Inland there are a number of impressive mountain ranges to explore from the UNESCO-protected Drakensberg to the Sneeuberg (Snow Mountain).
Moving eastward the mountains dissolve into rolling hills, lush and green, thanks to the ample rains which fall in the summer time (December to March). The Eastern Cape’s coast is especially noteworthy for its rugged beauty – sandy beaches interspersed by deep gorges.
2) Famously friendly people.
The Eastern Cape’s capital city is Bhisho, but its two largest cities are Port Elizabeth and East London. These cities are both renowned throughout South Africa for locals who are especially open and hospitable, always ready with a smile. The best part is that this friendly demeanour is not limited to these two cities and you’ll be greeted by friendly locals throughout the province.
3) Malaria-free game reserves.
For the most part, when people come on safari in South Africa, they visit the reserves in the north, close to the Kruger National Park. What they don’t realise is that the Eastern Cape boasts a number of big 5 reserves, such as the Addo Elephant National Park or private parks like Kwandwe and Shamwari. Unlike in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, Malaria is not a threat in the Eastern Cape reserves.
4) Cultural experiences second-to-none.
The central and northern reaches of the Eastern Cape form the Transkei and Ciskei regions, the traditional home of the isiXhosa tribes in South Africa. To this day you can find traditionally-painted huts dotting the hills, see the young initiates painted white and note the herds of cattle and sheep which signify wealth in these parts. The best way to experience this culture is by visiting the Wild Coast in the north of the province, where there is a slightly more established backpacking scene where homestays and cultural exchanges can be easily organised.
The Eastern Cape is a veritable treasure trove for those interested in history. The area where Port Elizabeth sits today for example is the site where the famous 1820’s British settlers first set foot on South African soil. That city is brimming with stories of the settlers, from the interesting museums and old colonial buildings in the city centre, to the Donkin Heritage Trail. More recently, the Transkei area was a designated ‘Bantustan’ during the Apartheid era and is the birthplace of many of South Africa’s most influential political activists such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo.
6) Abundant adventures on offer.
The Eastern Cape, thanks to its varying landscapes offers a little something for everyone, especially those who like the taste of adventure. Inland, Tiffindell is South Africa’s only snow-skiing resort, while Jeffrey’s Bay is famous for its surf spot, Supertubes, a world-renowned wave. Hiking along the Wild Coast is bound to throw up some magical experiences and the Indian Ocean is so warm that even the most thin-skinned of swimmers will enjoy a dip in the sea.
As you can tell, anyone wishing to get a taste of the ‘real’ South Africa’, and experience some lovely people and beautiful scenery on the way, should not miss the Eastern Cape for anything!