• Megan Gieske

Guide to Visiting South Africa's Eastern Cape

Updated: Feb 25

The rugged magic of the Eastern Cape will steal your words and leave you speechless. A lot of people miss out on this untouched natural beauty when they visit South Africa, and that really is a tragedy. Some people skip the whole province all together!

But those people don’t get to watch the sunset above rugged cliffs in Coffee Bay, listen to the waves crash in The Hole in the Wall, hang out with cows beachside on rugged coastline, watch baby elephants play in watering holes of Addo Elephant National Park, or test their nerves on Tsitsikamma suspension bridge. Those people miss the mesmerizing cascade of Magwa Falls as it spills into a deep gorge cut through the heart of the Eastern Cape.

In doing so, they not only miss out on some of the country’s best natural beauty but also on South Africa’s history, on Nelson Mandela’s homeland, the place of his birth and the place that raised him.

The Eastern Cape, previously known as the Transkei, is not on the itinerary for many travelers or even South Africans, but this part of the country, called the Wild Coast is one of my absolute favorite places. Its stunning natural beauty is largely untouched. You’ll be blown away by the warm hospitality of the people here, as well as the rugged cliffs, green mountains, hills dotted with rondavels, and secluded beaches they call home.

I couldn’t recommend adding this province to your list of must-sees in South Africa enough. I can’t wait to return!

Psst…Want more South Africa travel tips? Check out these other posts:

Read on for my guide to visiting this South African province.

Table of Contents

Hike and Swim at Tsitsikamma National Park

Visit the Elephants at Addo Elephant National Park

Rest and Relax on Coffee Bay's Beaches

Go Back to Nature at Magwa Falls


HIKE AND swim at Tsitsikamma national park

On your way, we stopped at the Robberg Nature Preserve to stretch your legs and watch dolphins on our seaside walk over cliffs and stunning beaches.

As you cross the Bloukrans Bridge, mist descends upon you, and you know you’ve made it to the Eastern Cape. If you think you can take it, sign up to bungee jump off the bridge. Arlton, my partner, did it before, but it’s definitely not for me (I’m afraid of heights!). This is the third highest bungee jump in the world.

Don’t leave here without visiting Tsitsikamma National Park, and its famous suspension bridges, three bridges hanging precariously across narrow cliffside edges, where the sea rushes in and laps the rocky shores. I’m afraid of heights, but these bridges felt comfortable enough to walk on. If you have time, stop to swim in the little beaches along the trail.

visit the elephants at ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK

Estimated Travel Time FROM TSITSIKAMMA to Addo: 2 hours 40 minutes

*All travel times in the Eastern Cape are estimated, as the roads are often made of dirt, full of potholes, hair-raising bends and cattle, sheep, or goats.

We stayed for the night at The Kraal Addo, which was basic but affordable lodging close to the main camp of Addo Elephant Park. We drove up along the west side of the park to The Kraal Addo, so we could make our way down through the park the next day all the way to the South gate.

Addo Elephant Park is the third largest national park in South Africa, and it’s yours to roam from the comfort of your car. Keep an eye out for elephants, zebra, ostriches, kudu, and more animals than you can probably name. One of our favorite stops in the park was stopping at a "hide", where you can view some of the park’s watering holes from the safety of a fenced area. Peering through the narrow slits in the walls, perfectly placed alongside benches, is where we saw our first Addo elephants.

*Word to the wise. Make sure only to get out of your car in designated areas, or you will have to pay a hefty fine.

REST AND RELAX ON coffee bay's beaches

Estimated Travel Time FROM ADDO's south gate TO Coffee Bay: 6 hours 50 minutes

When we finally reached Coffee Bay late at night, thanks to dirt roads, cows, sheep, goats, and a plethora of potholes in my little Honda Brio, we had no idea the beauty we would wake up to the next morning. Visiting Coffee Bay is a must, and so is staying at Coffee Shack Backpackers, where you can sleep in a charming rondavel, shaded from the morning sun by quirky Nelson Mandela curtains. If I could choose one place to come back to and stay for longer, this would be it! This backpackers has delicious food, coffee, and a welcoming, relaxed vibe that’s as inviting as their group activities. Think hikes to the Mapuzi Cliffs with jumps into the warm sea and explorations of secret caves. From what I’ve heard, their surf lessons are a must.

What you really need to do while you’re here is take the drive to the famous Hole in the Wall just under an hour from Coffee Bay. You’ll walk a short 10 minutes to a secluded beach, where your only company may be long-horned cattle and watch as the waves rush through an arch into the sea.


Estimated Travel Time FROM COFFEE BAY to Magwa Falls: 4 hours 50 minutes

From Coffee Bay, your next stop should be at what I’ve declared The Most Beautiful Waterfall in South Africa, Magwa Falls.

It took us about 2 hours to reach the area of Magwa Falls from the nearest town, Lusikisiki. We drove over potholes and down dirt roads past cattle, sheep, goat, and horses. But it was so worth it!

If you’re planning to visit and you have a small car like us, we suggest staying overnight at Louis at Magwa Falls. You can learn about organic gardening, wake up to incredible panoramic views of lush green mountains stretching into the sea, and visit Magwa Falls in Louis’ open air 4x4!

Did I miss any of your favorite EASTERN CAPE HIDEAWAYS? Let me know in the comments.

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