Boasting beautiful national parks, gorgeous scenery, and a vast swathe of beautiful coastline that hugs the Indian Ocean, the Eastern Cape in South Africa is a delight to explore, with something for everyone to enjoy. While its natural wonders are certainly what draw many people to South Africa’s second-largest province, its thriving cities and charming villages and towns are equally fascinating places to visit, with its multicultural population speaking Xhosa, English, and Afrikaans, among other languages.
Although Addo National Elephant Park, the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, and the famous surfing destination of Jeffrey’s Bay understandably attract the most visitors, the Eastern Cape has lots of hidden treasures just waiting for you to discover them.
Eastern Cape Map
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Lying along the appropriately named Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape, Coffee Bay is a wonderful place to visit. Its lovely, sandy beaches are beautifully framed by the rolling verdant hills that lie behind them.
The small, rural Xhosa community is a very peaceful and laidback place to spend some time. Visitors can go hiking in the picturesque natural areas, surfing in the sea’s ample swells, or simply lie on the beach and take in the stunning views.
A must-see when in the area is the distinctive Hole in the Wall, which is dramatically located in the middle of a crumbling cliff jutting out into the ocean.
Located just to the east of Addo Elephant National Park, Schotia Game Reserve is a fantastic place to head to if you want to go on a safari. Amongst the two thousand animals in the reserve, you can see lions, rhinos, elephants, and more, up close and personal.
Schotia is the oldest private game reserve in the area, and the landscapes on show are just as breathtakingly beautiful as the animals themselves, with expansive African skies look down on sun-kissed savanna. Staying the night in one of Schotia’s lodges only makes the experience more memorable, as you enjoy a delicious braai while the sun sets over the reserve and the stars come out above.
Despite its small size, Rhodes has a lot for you to see and do. Its proximity to the stunning Drakensburg mountain range makes it a great base from which to go hiking or trekking, with the highest mountain in the Cape, Ben Macdhui, also not far away.
Located just 18 kilometers away from the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, Rhodes has a long and interesting history for you to explore. It was invaded numerous times during the Boer War, and legend has it that the village was renamed after the mining magnate Cecil Rhodes in the hope that he would look favorably on its people.
A sleepy, laidback place for most of the year, Rhodes comes alive during the annual Rhodes Trail Run, the Rhodes Mountain Bike Challenge, and the Wild Trout Festival, when crowds of visitors descend upon its streets.
Encompassing scenic coastlines, lush forests, and sparkling rivers winding to the sea, the scenery on show in Tsitsikamma National Park is absolutely stunning. As such, it’s a great place to head to if you want to explore the great outdoors.
With hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and mountain biking all on offer, this magnificent stretch of the Garden Route National Park will delight nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
In addition to hiking along lovely paths such as the gorgeous Otter Trail, visitors can also catch a glimpse of dolphins, porpoise, and whales playing offshore.
With so much fantastic scenery for you to enjoy, and so many activities for you to take part in, Tsitsikamma National Park is not to be missed.
Tucked away high up in the Amathole Mountains with verdant forests all around it, Hogsback is certainly located in an idyllic setting, with three scenic peaks looking out over the peaceful village.
Popular with both local and international tourists, Hogsback is a charming place to visit; its cozy cottages and elegant gardens only add to its charm.
Snaking through the surrounding forests and mountains are a myriad of beautiful hiking trails and paths for you to explore. These take you past glittering waterfalls to viewpoints that offer up fantastic panoramas of the Amathole Mountains.
One of the oldest towns in the country, Graaff-Reinet was set up by the Dutch East India Company all the way back in 1786. Due to its long and illustrious history, there are lots of interesting national monuments and cultural landmarks for you to check out.
Surrounded by the beautiful Camdeboo National Park, Graaff-Reinet is bordered by majestic mountains, with lots of farmsteads and game farms scattered around town.
Offering the perfect mix of culture, history, and nature, the town has something for everyone to enjoy, and is particularly ideal for people looking for a quiet getaway.
Established in 1937 to protect and preserve the natural habitat of the Cape Mountain zebra, this wonderful national park actually boasts many other species, with lions, cheetahs, buffaloes, and rhinos all found within its confines.
Whether you explore the park’s many paths or roads on foot or by 4X4, you are sure to see the majestic Cape Mountain zebra wherever you go, and the scenery you pass through is always stunning.
Camping or staying in one of the park’s cottages is another fabulous way to experience Mountain Zebra National Park, as the wild and rugged landscapes change completely once the heat of the day fades away and the cool night sets in.
Lying at the mouth of the Cintsa River, the small, sleepy village of the same name is the perfect place to head to if you want to escape the hubbub of nearby East London for a quiet weekend away.
With a lovely, sandy beach running along the coast, which is bordered by lush forests and peacefully rambling hills, the village is set in a beautiful location with lagoons and rivers nearby.
Due to all the beautiful nature on show, Cintsa has lots of fun outdoor activities for you to enjoy; many guests go horseriding along the beach or canoeing and fishing in the gushing rivers. Alternatively, you can simply lounge around on the beach and take in the unspoiled scenery.
With one of the most dramatic settings in the country, Port St Johns is a treat to visit. Plunging gorges, impenetrable forests, and towering mountains surround the town, while the Umzimvubu River courses right through it and beautiful beaches lie along the coast.
While the town’s natural riches mean many people come here to go hiking, kayaking, fishing, or whale watching, Port St Johns’ vibrant feel and multicultural identity are just as alluring to many others.
Set in Xhosa country with Afrikaans and English also used around town, crumbling buildings dating back to colonial times hint at its diverse heritage, while the lively yet laidback vibe has long attracted both backpackers and hippies alike.
With the Wild Coast’s breathtaking natural sights just a short walk away, Port St Johns is well worth visiting if you have the chance.
Lying on the southeast coast of the country, East London is the second-largest city in the Eastern Cape and the only river port in South Africa. As it lies on the Sunshine Coast, which is blessed with untouched and unspoiled beaches, the city is a popular tourist destination with both locals and foreigners alike, who flock to its shores to enjoy its golden sands.
Consequently, it has all the amenities that you would expect of a city its size, with lots of great restaurants, bars, and hotels all on offer.
If you want to gain a great understanding and appreciation for the region’s ancient history, head to the East London Museum to learn all about the Khoisan people who used to live here and the Xhosa-British battles that took place in the 19th century Frontier Wars.
With incredible and impressively named places such as the Valley of Desolation and the Cathedral of Mountains for you to check out, you really don’t want to pass up on the opportunity of visiting Camdeboo National Park.
While the landscapes and views on offer are simply jaw-dropping, there is a wealth of activities for you to try out, such as mountain biking and hiking, while windsurfing and canoeing at Nqweba Dam are also great fun.
In addition to all this, visitors can also enjoy birdwatching or game viewing, with buffalo, springbok, and wildebeest all residing within the park. The undoubted highlight, however, is the great Karoo plains, which are dramatically overlooked by crumbling, jagged rock formations.
While many people still know the town as Grahamstown, the official name was changed in June 2018 to Makhanda, after a legendary Xhosa warrior and prophet. This name change emphasizes the town’s at times turbulent and troubled past; it was once at the forefront of battles between British settlers and the Xhosa during the Frontier Wars.
Nowadays, there is a vibrant feel to the multicultural town, with a number of interesting museums on offer. Each year, both the National Arts Festival – the largest arts celebration on the continent – and SciFest Africa attract crowds of visitors to Makhanda.
On top of all this, the town is just a short drive away from some very scenic coastline, while nature reserves where you can view the Big Five are also not too far away.
Often nicknamed PE – or ‘the Windy City’ – Port Elizabeth is one of the largest cities in South Africa. It lies at one end of the Garden Route on the scenic Sunshine Coast. As well as boasting many beautiful beaches, PE also has several great surf spots for you to check out, in addition to lots of other fun watersports.
In recent years, the center of town has been spruced up; now you can find some great restaurants and bars that perfectly complement its vibrant multicultural feel and identity.
With Addo Elephant National Park lying nearby, and whale and dolphin watching offshore, Port Elizabeth certainly has something for everyone to enjoy.
One of the most famous surfing destinations in the world, Jeffrey’s Bay attracts surfers from all around the globe, who descend upon the town to try out the challenging Jeffrey’s Bay Surf Break. Due to all the surfers who hang out along its beautiful beach, the town has a very laidback vibe, with lots of coffee shops and beachside restaurants and cafes on offer.
While the surf, sea, and sunshine are what most people come for, Jeffrey’s Bay is bordered by some beautiful nature reserves. The two rivers that lie to either side of it have plenty of great hikes for you to check out, with some fantastic birdwatching to boot.
Located just a short distance from Port Elizabeth, Addo Elephant National Park is the third-largest national park in the country, and within its confines you can find a wide range of different landscapes, animals, fauna, and flora. With over 600 elephants, alongside lions, buffalo, leopards, and more, it is a fantastic place to spot these majestic mammals up close in their natural habitat.
As well as camping and staying the night in the park, guests can also go hiking or mountain biking through the glorious Zuurberg Mountains, or stroll along the sandy dunes that lie in its coastal regions. A very popular place to visit, and with good reason too, Addo Elephant National Park is certainly the crown jewel of what the Eastern Cape has to offer.