Eastern Cape

Photo of Eastern Cape

About Eastern Cape

Wild, beautiful and underappreciated, Eastern Cape province is as overlooked by tourists as it is by its own government. One of the poorest regions of South Africa, it is defined by its geographical variety: long stretches of arid sunburnt plains, rugged mountains and the wild and wide 1000km coastline that stretches along the scintillating waters of the Indian Ocean. Spell-bindingly beautiful and perfect for a getaway to the countryside, it is a region full of nature reserves, colonial frontier towns and indigenous Xhosa mudbrick villages, and a coastline which is held in high regard by surfers worldwide. The best places to stay in Eastern Cape will make you fall in love with this wild and underexplored region.

To the northwest lies the Karoo, the traditional frontier plains that were wrestled over in centuries past by European colonists and the indigenous peoples, a thorny desert in the shadow of great mountains. It is in this unforgiving desert that you can find towns like Graaff-Reinet and Grahamstown, classic 18th century Dutch Karoo towns, that are both architecturally and historically interesting for students of colonial history.

The Karoo heartland is also home to the Xhosa, an indigenous South African people, whose assortment of whitewashed farmsteads and makeshift mudbrick homes show a very different side to the region, of hardworking folk scratching a living herding Merino sheep, Angora goats and dairy cattle as well as growing wheat, corn, sorghum and oranges.

The coastal cities of East London and Port Elizabeth couldn't be more different. Both are leisure resorts that are popular with families: Port Elizabeth, nicknamed "the Friendly City", is a small and self-contained place full of colonial Victorian architecture and is known for its wide and white sandy beaches and waters perfect for whale-spotting; East London is great for watersports, particularly sailing, surfing and fishing while its unspoilt beaches and unpolluted waters are idyllic.

If you like rambling through the wilderness of Mother Nature, then the Eastern Cape is the place for you. Mountain Zebra National Park, roughly 200km inland from Port Elizabeth, is a truly sublime place to be, defined by long arid plains and flat-crested mountain ranges. The Addo Elephant National Park is a must-see: with over 200 elephants, numerous Cape buffalo, Black rhino and rare species of South African birds, it is a treasure trove of nature with the added bonus of being one of the few places in the country that is malaria-free all-year-round.

What Not to miss

  • The coast: the 1000km stretch of untamed coastline is magnificent, popular with surfers and scubadivers alike. Places like Port Elizabeth and East London are great spots for fishing and sailing, while Jeffrey's Bay is a surfer's idyll.
  • Frontier towns: for students of colonial history, towns like Graaff-Reinet and Grahamstown are quintessential South African frontier towns and have a lot to offer in terms of museums and ornate Victorian architecture. For a complete contrast, visit the traditional Xhosa villages of the Karoo.
  • Mthatha, the capital of Xhosa is worth a stop as this is where you'll find the Nelson Mandela Musuem, and on the outskirts of the town lies Qunu, his birthplace.
  • National parks: if you're a fan of hiking through wilderness, then Eastern Cape is ideal for you. Places like the Zebra Mountain National Park, made up of sweeping sunburnt plains in the shadow of brooding mountains, are stunning, particularly at sunset. Whereas in the Addo Elephant National Park, you can find elephants, buffalo and rare species of birds.

The Eastern Cape is raw, undiluted South Africa at its finest, and one of the most underappreciated and yet most enduringly beautiful places in the country. Our collection of the best places to stay in the Eastern Cape will let you see why.

The best places to stay in Eastern Cape

For the wildlife

  • Riverbend Lodge is situated within the Addo Elephant Park, so anyone wanting to spot great wildlife should come here. Its eight luxury suites are elegant yet homely and all boast fantastic views. The food is gourmet standard plus there's a swimming pool, spa and beautiful gardens.

For an apartment or villa

  • Our partner Booking.com has a wide range of villas and apartments in the region.

Travel information

  • The climate varies greatly in the Eastern Cape due to the topographical differences of the region. The weather in the northeast, along the Wild Coast, is remarkably hot and balmy throughout, experiencing higher levels of rainfall then anywhere else. In towns like Port Elizabeth, the winter (between April and August) temperatures flit between 7 and 20 degrees celcius, while in the summer it lies between 16 and 26 degrees. The Karoo heartland however has moderately cool winters and long, hot summers.
  • Port Elizabeth International Airport, East London or Bisho are the best airports to fly to.
  • If you want to rent a car, contact our partner Rentalcars.

Still not sure?

  • Expand your search to include all our Western Cape recommendations
  • or contact one of our Gurus for advice.

Best Hotels in Eastern Cape

  • The Village Lodge 10 rooms from £54

    Stormsrivier,, Eastern Cape

    Family and budget friendly, this great-outdoorsy hotel provides laidback living for all ages. Flexible accommodation includes outdoor terraces, opening up onto gardens teeming with wildlife (make friends with the resident chameleons)! A buffet breakfast is the perfect start to a day's exploring.

    Families  -  Activitie, games, the great outdoors, and family suites: plenty to keep everyone occupied
    Sights nearby  -  Knysna Big Tree is just 1km away
    Traditional
    Full of character
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  • Tsitsikamma Village Inn 49 rooms from £66

    Eastern Cape

    A village within a village, this hotel is comprised of a collection of colonial style cottages scattered around manicured grounds and an inviting pool. There are several restaurants and shops surrounding the 'village' from Marilyn's 60's Diner to an on-site microbrewery. Plenty of activities nearby!

    Families  -  Beautiful, spacious, cottage accommodation is ideal for families
    Value chic  -  Excellent value family accommodation
    Sights nearby  -  Tsitsikamma Falls Adventure is an adrenaline filled afternoon spent zip-lining through the forest
    Local markets  -  Storms River Arts and Crafts Market is a short stroll from the hotel
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  • The Fernery Lodge & Chalets 16 rooms from £141

    Eastern Cape

    Occupying an epic setting, overlooking the Sanddrift River Gorge. Like a scene from Jurassic Park, the restaurant boasts views across a 30m waterfall, accompanied by a gourmet breakfast: a great way to start the day. Luxurious cottages and lavish bathrooms, plus there's a pool, sauna, and jacuzzi.

    Active Holiday  -  Surrounded by beautiful Mother Nature, with a bounty of outdoor pursuits nearby
    Birdwatching  -  With over 165 birds to be spotted on the property, you better pack your binoculars!
    Fishing  -  Rods and equipment are available at the hotel
    Kayaking  -  Boats are available to take out on the dam
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  • Riverbend Lodge 9 rooms from £166

    Addo 6105

    A lovely Victorian homestead set within Addo Elephant Park. The eight individual suites are elegant yet homely with antiques, beautiful bathrooms and fabulous views. Spend days on exhilarating game drives before returning to feast on top-notch gourmet cuisine and unwind in the indulgent spa.

    Birdwatching  -  Due to the unique climatic area and 5 different biomes, River Bend is home to over 300 bird species
    Back to Nature  -  In lush colourful gardens this Victorian lodge is a refreshing way to experience African wildlife
    Great walks  -  Beautiful hiking and biking trails around the area
    Traditional  -  Furnished in an old-fasioned style
    Recommended by  -  I Escape
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