The Western and Eastern Cape

Collectively protecting around two-thirds of South Africa’s phenomenal coastline, the country’s two most southerly provinces also incorporate several of its oldest and most characterful settlements. The main regional travel hub (and administrative capital of the Western Cape) is the city of Cape Town, which boasts an incomparable setting on the Atlantic coastline below the slopes of majestic Table Mountain. For nature lovers, the adjacent Cape Peninsula stands at the core of the world’s smallest and most botanically diverse floral kingdom, one that supports a wealth of endemic plants and animals, ranging from the beautiful King Protea to the endangered Cape mountain zebra and striking Cape sugarbird.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Cape Town The iconic Table Mountain is the landmark of Cape Town, boasting city, beaches and the pleasures of nature

Further afield, some of the world’s finest and most scenic wine estates are concentrated around the historic towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The clifftop resort town of Hermanus offers the world’s best land-based whale-watching, while the Garden Route is named for its lush vistas of scenic lagoons and beaches framed by tall mountains and evergreen forests. The garden route runs into the the Eastern Cape, a province that is less popular with international tourists than its western counterpart, but almost as rich in attractions. These range from the idyllic Wild Coast and surfing scene at Jeffrey’s Bay to the malaria-free Big Five game-viewing on offer in the Addo Elephant National Park and the National Arts Festival held in Grahamstown every July.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Grahamstown The quaint, old frontier town of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape hosts the National Arts Festival each year, drawing thousands of performers and artists from all over the country | Credit: The Goodman Gallery

Highlights

One of the world’s most scenic and culturally rewarding cities, Cape Town is the gateway to any number of fine swimming beaches as well as a magnificent mountainous peninsula that terminates at the sheer wave-battered cliffs of Cape Point. The Western and Eastern Cape_Clifton Beach Clifton beach in Cape Town is a popular spot for sunbathers and yachts during the summer months

A perennially popular day or overnight excursion out of Cape Town runs inland to the Cape Winelands, where dozens of historic wine estates offer tasting sessions in characterful Cape Dutch buildings shadowed by spectacular mountain ranges such as the Simonsberg and Groot Drakenstein.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Cape Winelands The picturesque winelands outside of Cape Town offers delightful wine farms and beautiful scenery

Stretching for 200 km between Mossel Bay and the dramatic Storms River mouth, the Garden Route is lined with family-friendly Indian Ocean beaches, but its plethora of lakes, forests and mountains - many protected in the patchwork Garden Route National Park - offer rich pickings to hikers, birdwatchers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Storms River Mouth Storms River Mouth along the famous Garden Route

Set on the cliffs above Walker Bay 120 km southeast of Cape Town, Hermanus is an attractive town of cobbled alleys and relaxed seafood restaurants best known for offering some of the world’s finest land-based whale-watching. The season runs from Jun to Nov and peaks over Sep-Oct, when around 100 Southern Right whales and a smaller number of Humpback whales converge there to calve.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Hermanus The seaside town of Hermanus draws visitors from all over the world during the whale-watching season between July and November | Credit: Hermanus Tourism

Protected within the recently created Agulhas National Park, the rocky headland known to the Portuguese as Cabo das Agulhas (Cape of Needles) is not only the southernmost tip of Africa, but also forms the semi-official divide between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. More than 250 ships fell victim to the jagged offshore rocks for which Agulhas is named prior to the construction of what is now the country’s second-oldest lighthouse.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Cape Agulhas Cape Agulhas is at the Southernmost tip of Africa and has claimed many lives due to the rough seas and unpredictable weather | Crdit: Pam Golding

The West Coast National Park north of Cape Town is centred on the vast Langebaan Lagoon, a globally important site for marine birds, ten species of which breed there colonially. It is also renowned for its multihued spring wildflower displays, which usually take place over Aug-Sep.West Coast National Park The West Coast National Park is well-known for Spring flowers, a blue lagoon and great birding opportunities

Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast is studded with scenic gems, ranging from arty Port St Johns on the Mzimvubu River mouth to the sea-eroded rock formation known as Hole in the Wall or EsiKhaleni (isiXhosa for ‘Place of Noise’). It is also the birthplace if Nelson Mandela, whose three-hut maternal home is preserved as a museum annex in the village of Qunu.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Hole in the Wall The Hole-in-wall of Coffee Bay along the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape

Founded by the British immigrants known as the 1820 settlers, the well groomed university town of Grahamstown is studded with Georgian and Victorian buildings, including an astonishing 40 churches. The 11-day National Arts Festival held here in early July is the premier event of its type in South Africa, hosting everything from Shakespearean plays to live African music and a multitude of street artists.

The Western and Eastern Cape_National Arts Festival_Grahamstown The National Arts Festival brings many different people together in a celebration of South African creativity and talent | Credit: Michelle Cunliffe

Created in 1931 to protect the region’s last 11 surviving elephants, Addo Elephant National Park is now one of the country’s top malaria-fee Big Five safari destinations. Roughly 500 elephants roam the park, alongside naturally occurring populations of leopard, buffalo and greater kudu, and reintroduced black rhino, lion and spotted hyena. While Addo is ideal for self-drivers, several neighbouring private offer guided luxury safaris in game lodges comparable to those in Sabi Sands.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Addo Elephant Park There are over 600 elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park

The attractive Blue Flag beach at Jeffreys Bay is dominated by what many surfers regard to be the world’s longest and most perfect right-hand break: supertubes. Scintillating surfing aside, dolphins are frequently observed from the unspoilt coastline protected within the nearby Cape St Francis Nature Reserve.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Jeffreys Bay Jeffrey’s Bay is considered the surfing mecca of South Africa where surfers from all over the world come to compete for glory in the waves

Practical information

The Western and Eastern Cape_Chapmans Peak South Africa has a variety of well-maintained roads and beautiful scenic coast lines. While there are numerous airports around the country, sometimes it’s worth taking a road trip | Credit: TravelNation.co.za

  • The main air gateway to the region is Cape Town International Airport (CTIA), which lies about 20 km east of the city centre and 35 km from Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. An increasing number of international flights land at CTIA, and it’s also serviced by dozens of flights daily from Johannesburg, and domestic flights to all other major centres in South Africa.

  • Other important airports can be found at George (the largest town on the Garden Route), Port Elizabeth (capital of the Eastern Cape) and East London (gateway to the Wild Coast). Depending on how long you have to spare and where you want to visit, an excellent way to explore the region independently would be to fly into Cape Town, self-drive east as far as George, Port Elizabeth or East London, then fly back out. It is also possible to continue driving northeast of East London vis the Wild Coast and southern KwaZulu-Natal to Durban.

  • As South Africa’s most travelled province, the Western Cape offers a immense selection of overnight options, ranging from five-star city and boutique hotels to backpacker hostels and B&Bs. Overnight options in the Eastern Cape are also profuse and varied. Although it is usually straightforward enough to find a competitively priced room, rates rocket sky high, and booking is usually necessary, over the South Africa Christmas and New Year school holidays.


You might also like

Big Five safari holidays in South Africa

The most elusive of the Big Five; the leopard will drag its prey high up into the trees to escape scavengers For many first time visitors to Africa, a top priority is ticking off the so-called Big Five: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. South Africa offers many excellent opportunities to do this, and it is the easiest place in Africa to see rhinos, since it supports more than…

Vaccinations for South Africa

The one vaccination certificate you may be required to show at immigration is yellow fever, and then only if you arrive from or via the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America. Other recommended vaccinations are tetanus and polio. You could also consider immunisation against hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, rabies, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis. That said, please ensure that you…

Beach and bush safari holidays in South Africa

Cape Town has some of the best beaches in the world South Africa is an ideal location for a beach and bush holiday. Time permitting, best perhaps to split the ‘bush’ and ‘beach’ components. For the former, try the Kruger National Park and associated private reserves for a great chance of ticking the Big Five, or almost-as-good but malaria-free Madikwe and Pilanesberg Game…

Luxury safari holiday in South Africa

The five-star Singita Lebombo in the Kruger is an example of safari luxury A must-for for anybody with a taste for bush luxury is a stay at one of the small and exclusive camps or lodges set in private reserves or concessions such as the Kruger concessions, Sabi Sand, Madikwe, Phinda and the vicinity of Addo Elephant National Park. Typically these lodges combine chic Africa-themed…

A South African holiday as a couple

There are plenty of romantic getaways in South Africa that are perfect for couples | Credit: Madikwe Safari Lodge Most parts of South Africa are suited to couples. However, it’s easier for couples travelling without children to self-drive (which also helps keep costs down) and ensures plenty of privacy and quality time together. Many couples opt to visit areas like the Garden Route,…

South Africa in April

Lush foliage can hide wildlife in its fold during April Johannesburg and the highveld is warm by day, cool at night and might receive occasional rainfall. Cape Town and the Western Cape is mild by day, cool at night and might start receiving occasional rainfall to mark the start of the wet winter period. The Kruger Park and surrounds sees the seasonal shift towards autumn with…

Popular South Africa Safaris

These popular itineraries can be customised to match your budget and travel dates

 | Luxury Cape Town and Kruger Safari

Luxury Cape Town and Kruger Safari

Explore two of South Africa's most desirable locations in this whirlwind safari tour...

Mountain Walk | Deluxe Victoria Falls, Cape Town and Hermanus Odyssey

Deluxe Victoria Falls, Cape Town and Hermanus Odyssey

Experience a safari adventure that combines the very best of Victoria Falls with the undeniable highlights of Cape Town and the Whale Coast....

 | Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve and Okavango Delta safari

Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve and Okavango Delta Safari

Explore the famous reserve that offers exceptional game viewing and sight the elusive Sitatunga antelope...

Elephant on Game Drive | Cape Town & Kruger Luxury Safari

Cape Town and Kruger Luxury Safari

Combine Cape Town and the surrounding Cape Winelands with a safari in the Kruger National Park for a relaxing and exhilarating South African safari...

 | Nature, Romance, Exclusivity and Luxury - A Complete African Honeymoon

Nature, Romance, Exclusivity and Luxury - A Complete African Honeymoon

This exclusive African honeymoon through East and Southern Africa is the perfect way to celebrate the start of your new journey together...

 | Big Five South African safari

Big Five South African safari

Get the best possible chance to see the Big Five wildlife in the iconic Kruger National Park and Manyeleti Game Reserve ...

 | Garden Route safari adventure

Garden Route safari adventure

Discover one of South Africa’s best kept secrets - the Garden Route...

 | Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa safari

Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa safari

This Southern Africa safari adventure will take you to the tip of the African continent...

 | Big Five safari in the Kruger National Park

Big Five in the Kruger National Park

Encounter the Big Five safari and discover the elusive leopard...

 | Cape Town & Kruger Family Safari (SA 8 days)

Cape Town and Kruger family safari

Combine the best that Cape Town and the Kruger National Park have to offer – beach and bush – for the ideal family holiday...