Five reasons to visit the Eastern Cape

By Samara on January 8, 2019
This part of South Africa, wedged between the well-known Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, is largely ignored by tourists. Despite being one of the poorest provinces in South Africa, it has a wealth of riches to offer visitors in culture, history, scenery and wildlife.

Its private conservancies and SANParks reserves are malaria-free, making these a fantastic destination if you’re travelling with small children or want to avoid taking antimalarials. The Eastern Cape’s long rugged coastline has some of the least developed and wildest beaches and the north of the province includes the wide, open spaces and sparse beauty of the Great Karoo semi-desert. Harriet Nimmo from safaribookings.com talks us through her favourite Eastern Cape activities.

1. Tracking cheetahs on foot

Cheetahs have been reintroduced into the Karoo and it is possible to track them on foot at Samara Private Game Reserve. I was lucky enough to track cheetahs at Samara, where they are the top predator. It is thrilling to go out with your guide and use the radio aerial to hone in on approximately where the cheetahs are and then track them on foot. The cheetahs, although used to humans, are wild and ignored us completely, instead focusing intently on some distant springboks. It was amazing how close we could get without disturbing them – fantastic for photography with the spectacular Karoo scenery behind. An unforgettable experience and definitely one of my top five reasons to visit the Eastern Cape!

2. Slackpacking trails

South Africa has some of the best slackpacking trails in the world. Slackpacking is where someone else transports your heavy luggage – so you can still enjoy all the benefits of a multi-day trail, but you only need carry the bare minimum during the day. Overnight accommodation varies from up-market hotels, to village huts or camping. One of the most spectacular slackpacking trails is the four-day Leopard Trail in the wilds of the Baviaanskloof. Your first night’s accommodation is in an old Karoo Farmhouse, and after that you are camping. It was such a privilege to hike for four days and see no roads, humans or fences, just stunning scenery and pristine wilderness – and leopard footprints! The trail is best walked in autumn or spring when temperatures are not so extreme.

3. Beaches

The Eastern Cape has some of the best beaches in South Africa, with around 800km of stunning coastline. Jeffrey’s Bay, 75km west of Port Elizabeth and known locally as J Bay, is one of the world’s top surfing spots. Dolphins are also frequently seen surfing the waves here. If you prefer somewhere less developed, the quaint seaside resort of Kenton on Sea, east of Port Elizabeth, lies along two river valleys, perfect for a short beach holiday. It has sandy beaches, rocky coves and dunes – although swimmers need to be aware of the risk of strong riptides. Emptiest of all are the spectacular beaches of the Wild Coast. This is one of South Africa’s most unspoiled areas, with several, reasonably priced hotels geared to family seaside holidays. Resorts are isolated and down long winding gravel roads, and cows may be your only neighbours on the beach.

Corona Open J-Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Copyright Kelly Cestari

4. Cultural heritage

One of the top five reasons to visit the Eastern Cape is its cultural heritage. It is the birthplace of several of the country’s leaders. You can follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela and visit the village where he was born, Qunu, just outside Mthatha. The anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko was born in East London and you can visit his grave at King William’s Town. For something quirkier and more surreal, check out the Owl House in the hamlet of Nieu Bethesda. This was the home of reclusive artist Helen Martins, and every inch of the house and garden is decorated with stone owls, stained glass and mirror fragments and bizarre cement sculptures.

5. The vastness of the Great Karoo

The northwest of the Eastern Cape is dominated by the sparse beauty of the Karoo – a vast landscape of flat-topped mountains and arid plains stretching for hundreds of kilometers, and one of the top five reasons to visit the Eastern Cape. One of the best panoramic viewpoints of this spectacular, empty arid-desert is at Camdeboo National Park, outside the charming historical town of Graaff-Reinet. The reason for visiting here is the stunning Valley of Desolation. Take the scenic drive right to the top for the most outrageous views of vertical rock formations and the endless sight of the Karoo.

View from Camdeboo National Park, Great Karoo, Eastern Cape. Copyright Mike Kendrick

This blog post was written by Harriet Nimmo from safaribookings.com.

Image credits (in order of appearance): Samara Private Game Reserve, Mike Kendrick, Steve Gore x 2, Kelly Cestari, Mike Kendrick.


Samara Private Game Reserve is a luxury safari destination with a difference. Guests are invited behind the scenes of a passionate conservation journey to restore a unique South African wilderness. This genuine conservation participation, combined with heartfelt Karoo hospitality and breathtaking landscapes, offers a safari that feeds the soul.

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