Port Elizabeth Travel Guide, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Port Elizabeth, the friendly city on the Garden Route.
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For an overview of east coast attractions, this Port Elizabeth travel guide offers ideas and insights into the “Friendly City”.


Known as the watersports capital of South Africa, Nelson Mandela Bay has 13 beaches to choose from! Fully trained life-guards patrol the beaches in summer.

Port Elizabeth has 40km (25 miles) of coastline, warm seas and brisk sea breezes. This busy sea port is the gateway to the Eastern Cape and also the Garden Route. It is about halfway between Cape Town and Durban on the east coast. Port Elizabeth is the 5th largest city in South Africa and also known for vehicle manufacturing, wool export and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, with over 20 000 students.

The city is an affordable South African holiday destination and favoured by many families year after year. Port Elizabeth attractions benefit from the warm, dry summers and mild winters. This year round destination is a haven for beach and water fanatics as well as being a sporting events centre. International rugby and cricket tournaments are held here, also biking and triathlon events amongst many others. Roads are less congested than other holiday cities and it's easy to find your way around.

Nelson Mandela Bay includes Port Elizabeth, and the little nearby towns of Uitenhage and Despatch. Port Elizabeth is well connected to the rest of the country. There is a busy airport and harbour, also good rail links and extensive highways. From here, visitors can take Route 72 north along the coast to East London (Sunshine Coast); the N2 to Grahamstown (Frontier Country); head west to the Karoo or south to the renowned Garden Route and Route 62 through picturesque mountains.

Algoa Bay, as it is also known was named by Bartholomew Diaz who dropped anchor here in 1488. This sea port is an excellent gateway to Malaria free National Parks and reserves which are coming to the fore as major Port Elizabeth attractions. Visitors don't have to travel too far from the city either which is great for those short of time and families wanting a bush and beach holiday.

Included on the list of Port Elizabeth attractions is the conferencing industry. The city prides itself on being a hub in regional, national and international business networks. Nelson Mandela Bay has a growing portfolio of excellent conference venues offering great facilities in various settings. From here, delegates can enjoy excursions to beautiful Tsitsikamma for fabulous team building adventures such as bungi jumping (the worlds highest), Tree Canopy Tours through this ancient forest, rafting, hiking and many other options.

Port Elizabeth accommodation caters for every kind of traveller. Visitors can choose top quality hotels right through to charming Port Elizabeth Guest Houses, and many are along the beachfront. For something in between, Port Elizabeth guest houses offer business and leisure travellers home comforts and more personalised atmosphere.

See Port Elizabeth Guest House Options

Highlights

  • Friendly city, easy to navigate, great beachfront
  • Attractions to suit all kinds of travellers
  • Well connected to other cities
  • Gateway to the Garden Route and other tourist routes
  • Quick access to Malaria free game parks and Big Five reserves
  • Regular sporting calendar with local and international events

What To Do in Port Elizabeth

Family fun:

  • Outdoor fun at Holmeleigh Farmyard and Restaurant just off the Kragga Kamma Road.
  • The Apple Express Steam Train trips departing from Humewood Road Station - day trips and weekend trips on offer.
  • The Seabreeze Express (miniature train) at Kings Beach Promenade in summer - also at Sunridge Park, 1st Sunday of the month with the local locomotive society.
  • Happy Valley near Humewood beach for lovely gardens and walks in a fairytale setting
  • Port Elizabeth Observatory for star gazing.
  • For outdoor swimming pools - McArthurs Baths, Kings Beach also St George's Park.

Shopping:

The Bridge Shopping and Entertainment Centre together with Greenacres form a massive mall on C.J. Langenhoven Drive, Port Elizabeth. The Boardwalk Entertainment Centre in Summerstrand and Walmer Park in Walmer all offer great shopping and leisure activities, most are wheelchair friendly. For something different there is the Kings Beach Flea Market which takes place on Sundays and public holidays.

Entertainment:

The Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World in Summerstrand is built around a series of man-made lakes and lovely gardens which are lit up at night. The complex has a full range of entertainment venues, cafes, and restaurants, gaming and shopping attractions.

Bay World incorporates the Oceanarium, Snake Park and Port Elizabeth Museum. At the Oceanarium visitors can see various exhibits, dolphin and seal shows, sharks and stingrays and other ocean fish in tanks, there is also an underwater observation area.

Safaris and game viewing:

The Eastern Cape is emerging as a world-class Malaria free eco-destination with more than a million hectares of land set aside for game reserves and parks, like the Addo Elephant National Park. Many can be reached quickly and easily from Port Elizabeth. A number of reserves offer Big Five game viewing and other activities such as quad biking, bush walks and 4x4 trails.

Visitors who are touring or self-driving the Garden Route can now save time and money by including a Big Five Eastern Cape safari without needing to go elsewhere. A safari here also combines perfectly with fascinating Frontier Country tours to towns and villages where early European settler history is well documented and evident.

Watersports:

The Port Elizabeth climate and coastline is especially suitable for sailing, wind surfing, kite-surfing, angling (many kinds), fly-fishing, jet-skiing, cruising and canoeing - basically any kind of activity on water. Quality snorkelling and scuba diving can also be enjoyed on coral reefs and around shipwrecks. There are around 13 beaches to choose from.

Adventure:

Types of adventures vary according to location and include, horseriding, quad biking inland and on the beach, cycling and mountain biking, hiking (many trails), 4x4 trails. Tsitsikamma National Park adventures include forest trails, hikes, Canopy tours, bungi jumping and associated adrenalin sports, coastal snorkelling and diving also rafting. Abseiling and rock climbing can also be enjoyed in various mountainous areas.

Walks and hikes:

There are at least 6 official coastal, city and nature trails. Avid walkers who want to enjoy the city and surrounds can follow the promenade right along the Summerstand beachfront in Port Elizabeth (great for joggers), and also go to St Georges Park and Settlers Park where there are a numerous routes of varying distance.

History and architecture:

Nelson Mandela Bay has an interesting history and saw the first interactions of Khoisan, British, Dutch, German and Xhosa people. There have been many skirmishes, wars and battles over the years. Port Elizabeth has a variety of architectural styles co-existing in the city. Visitors can see Victorian, Art Nouveau, Modern and also the largest collection of Art-Deco buildings in South Africa.

Some interesting sites include the City Hall, Public Library, and Campanile chiming clock, No 7 Castle Hill Museum, Donkin Reserve, and Fort Frederick

Culture and city tours:

Visitors to Port Elizabeth can experience vibrant township life, history and traditions. Culture enthusiasts will also find museums, art galleries and theatre productions at various venues including the Opera House and Feather Market Centre. Art-in-the-Park is offered in St George's Park on the first Sunday of the month. Those looking for something different can go to haunted Central Hill (the oldest and most historic suburb in Port Elizabeth) - this well known area has a variety of ghostly tours.

Scenic tourist routes: South

  • Kouga Route - Jeffrey's Bay (international surfing), St Francis Bay.
  • Tsitsikamma - Mountains and Forest route.
  • The Garden Route - south on the N2.
  • Route 62 leading on into southern cape mountains.
  • North
  • Sundays River Valley Route - Addo Elephant Park, Kirkwood and Alexandria dunes.
  • Sunshine Coast Route - the coastal road extending to Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred.
  • Frontier Country - Grahamstown, Bathurst and game farms.
  • The Karoo - Graaf Reinet, Mountain Zebra Park and settler towns.
  • The Amathole Mountains - adventure country and Stutterheim, Hogsback, Xhosa history.
  • The Wild Coast - wild coastline and rural Xhosa communities, Nelson Mandela roots.
  • N6 route - off the beaten track, country hospitality and skiing in winter.