South Africa's Eastern Cape is a place of rugged beauty. Its pristine coastline, virgin bush and sub-tropical forests exist as though untouched by time. Featuring the Big Seven, premier South African surfing and the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, this province's attractions offer a mix of natural, historical and cultural activities.

Did you know?

The 2009 Earthwatch Film of the Year, Wild Ocean 3D, was filmed off the Eastern Cape's Wild Coast.

Covering 170,000 square kilometres from snow-capped peaks of the southern Drakensberg mountains to the lush forests of the Tsitsikamma and along an 800-km-long coastline from Cape St Francis to the Wild Coast, the Eastern Cape province incorporates seven distinct biomes.

Inhabitants are 80% Xhosa-speaking and the economy is driven by the automotive sector, agriculture and tourism. The malaria-free Eastern Cape is the only province with three harbours: East London, Port Elizabeth and Ngqura.

The province boasts an abundance of birdlife, with hundreds of recorded species; and a rich and varied marine life, including 27 species of whales and dolphins.

The Eastern Cape is also Big Seven country, where the great white shark and seasonal southern right whale may be viewed offshore and buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino may be enjoyed from the comfort of a luxury safari tour.

The Eastern Cape is steeped in cultural and historical significance and stories of Xhosa kings, early settlers, cultural conflicts and frontier battles abound. The towns of Bathurst, Grahamstown and Cradock have documented and preserved much of this cultural heritage, and, as the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, the province is also noted for its role in fuelling the fight for African democracy.

To assist visitors in exploring the province, nine Eastern Cape tourism routes have been established. These not only highlight its wealth of natural beauty and deep historical roots, but a number of must-see Eastern Cape attractions as well.

Visit Tsitsikamma and do the world's highest commercial bridge bungee jump or renowned Otter Trail; see the Sundays River Valley with the world-famous Greater Addo Elephant National Park and 120 000 hectare marine reserve; or stop over at the aptly named Wild Coast, site of the Nelson Mandela Museum.

Do the Frontier Country route and see the sites of Britain's longest colonial war; or the Karoo Heartland to immerse yourself in the intriguing geology of the region, including the awe-inspiring Valley of Desolation. Looking for snow? Head out on the Friendly N6 route and visit the southern Drakensberg mountains.

Wild, beautiful and totally absorbing – a world of wonder awaits the visitor to South Africa's Eastern Cape.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency
Tel: +27 (0)43 701 9600
Email: emma@ecpta.co.za

How to get here

Fly to Port Elizabeth International Airport: domestic airlines offer flights to Port Elizabeth from major cities. Car hire is available at the airport.

Best time to visit

The months from September to May are best.

Around the area

The waves of the warm Indian Ocean lure surfers and kite-boarders, while Blue Flag status of Dolphin Beach in Jeffrey's Bay, Kelly’s Beach in Port Alfred, Kariega in Kenton-on-Sea and the Humewood Beach in Port Elizabeth attract bathers and sun-lovers.

Tours to do

Vast open spaces, beautiful mountain passes and pristine marine conditions offer eco-adventures to runners, hikers, cyclists and scuba divers. Many adventure trails including Mehloding, Dolphin, Storms River and Striptease are popular, while 4x4 and quad trails are to be found in Colchester, Barkly East and Rhodes.

What will it cost

Hundreds of game farms in the province cater for various budgets, from intimate boutique destinations to world-renowned Shamwari Game Reserve and Addo Elephant Park.

Length of stay

A week minimum, to sample all that the province has to offer.

Where to stay

The Eastern Cape offers a wide range of accommodation, from budget-friendly back-packer accommodation to five-star luxury getaways.

What to eat

The Eastern Cape is renowned for its fresh seafood, so a seafood platter for two is a must. Its cultural and heritage routes include visits to traditional African villages, where authentic African cuisine may be enjoyed.

What's happening

Tourism Month takes place during September each year with a range of visitor-oriented activities being held across the province. Five-day painting and drawing holidays are held in the Karoo between April and June, and August and October each year.