South Africa is quite a big country and there are loads of amazing sites to visit such as Kruger National Park, the Potholes, Camps Bay and many more. But one the least well known places is the amazing city of Durban. And it’s a pity because Durban is the perfect place to visit in South Africa.
In this blog post I’m going to run down why I thing you should add Durban as one of the cities you should be visiting during your vacation to South Africa. From convenience, to amazing food, outdoor living and all the other good things, here’s my list as to why you should be visiting Durban.
Table of Contents
- Where is Durban?
- Why Durban so convenient for visitors.
- What Durban offers to visitors.
- How about those beaches!
- Getting to grips with the wildlife.
- Stretch your legs in the mountains.
- Ocean playgrounds.
- For the foodies.
- Culture is where it’s all at.
- Immerse yourself in a little history.
- Contact us to book your next vacation.
Where is Durban?
Good question. Unlike Kruger National Park and Cape Town, Durban is not particularly well known. This may be because those that call Durban home try to keep it quiet as to just how amazing Durban is (we like being the underdogs) or it may be that we simply don’t shout loud enough (possibly we’re too busy enjoying all Durban has to offer).
Durban is situated on the east coast of South Africa (here’s a map that opens in another tab). Roughly 2 hours flight north from Cape Town or an hour from Johannesburg, Durban is kind of 3/4’s of the way up the coast line from the cape.
Durban can also be driven so easily from the Cape and from Johannesburg although they are long drives, the roads are really good and there are plenty of opportunities to stop for breaks along the way.
Why Durban is so convenient for visitors
King Shaka International Airport is just 20min from Durban, just 10 minutes from the upmarket coastal town of Umhlanga and just 2 hours south of the biggest game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve.
From Johannesburg, Durban is about a 6 hour journey by car and from Cape Town, about 16 hours depending on the route you take (you are going to want to break that journey up).
So getting to Durban is really easy, but what’s more important is what you can do once here.
From Durban you can head north towards Zululand and visit or stay in some of South Africa’s most amazing wildlife sites such as the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, iSimagaliso, Thanda, Phinda, Bayete Zulu and so many more.
Or you can drive westwards into the mountains of the Drakensberg (also known as the uKhahlamba), or stop along the way at the battlefields of the Boer war or the Anglo Zulu war.
Heading south takes you towards the Wild Coast where you can watch whales, swim with sharks, hike amazing wild coastlines as well as enjoy the warm hospitality of the folk who live in those parts.
Durban as about as convenient as it gets for travelers!
What Durban offers for visitors
Everyone has different tastes, I for example am quite happy to spend hours watching the bird life or animals while you may prefer a little more of a zesty day out hiking, water-skiing or surfing. Fortunately Durban is one of those cities that has everyone covered.
There’s more to a vacation than activities, you need accommodation, banking, food, etc; Durban offers you all of that.
In terms of accommodation Durban as everything from 5 star hotels to B&B’s. Some of the accommodation is just meters (or yards) away for the sandy beaches, some in the rolling hills, some in city where the nightlife is. There are so many options available that you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Credit or debit card is accepted 99.9% of the places you’ll visit, and for that very rare moment you’ll cash, there are more than enough ATM’s. On top of that banking via apps is pretty advanced here, so banking will never be an issue. The only caveat I would mention is Diners Club, there’s not too many places that it’s accepted.
Getting around is easy as well. In the city center there are buses, for surrounding neighborhoods you can use Uber, Bolt, or regular metered cabs. If you’re feeling up to it, you can hire a vehicle from a number of different places in or around the city or King Shaka Airport.
How about those beaches!
Durban has been referred to as South Africa’s playground ever since I can remember. South African’s from around the country flock to Durban over the school vacations and the biggest reason…the amazing beaches.
Recently extended, Durban’s main beaches are what makes life here so amazing. There is some 6 kilometers of beaches and you can surf or bodyboard pretty much anywhere. Stand up paddling is also popular, kite surfing and kayaking not too mention fishing.
As for swimming, local bylaws are clear that you can only swim at demarcated spots, fortunately there are loads of places demarcated from swimming, each with a lifeguard(s) on duty.
A number of Durban’s beaches have Blue Flag status and the city regularly monitors the quality of the water for the health of everyone.
Beaches in Durban are protected by both shark nets and drums lines which are managed by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board who’s efforts have kept bathers safe resulting in only 67 shark attacks with no fatalities in 67 years!
Throughout the weekend and over the weekend, the boardwalk is used by walkers, cyclists, joggers, rollerbladers and those just out from a walk. There is always a police presence on the beaches to assist you and there are even security staff as well.
Durban’s beachfront always has many great restaurants to visit if you’re needing a pick-me-up after a surfing lesson or swim in the ocean. Or you can pack a picnic and sit on one of the grassy banks and enjoy the views.
For visitors wanting to try something new, you can book yourself some surfing lessons or you can even hire a bicycle and ride the promenade. For the more adventurous you could even join a SUP session and paddle out to where the dolphins frolic.
And if you really want to try something new, hire some fishing equipment and try your hand at some salt fly-fishing.
- Check out expressions for surfing lessons or to hire bicycles.
- Visit the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board for tours of the shark nets or facilities.
- Contact us for guided fly-fishing trips for Trout, Yellowfish, Tiger’s or salt water species.
Getting to grips with wildlife
It’s the reasons that 90% of visitors from around the globe come to the South Africa, the wildlife. There are countless game reserves and nature reserve dotted around South Africa and fortunately for residents of Durban (and you lovely visitors), some of the best are only hours away.
Starting off close to Durban, the best spot to see a lot of game is Tala Game Reserve. About 60 minutes west of Durban, Tala is a private reserve that is home to a myriad of general game species such as Impala, Blesbok, Wildebeest and many more. There are also Rhino, Giraffe and Hippo. Entry into the park is affordable and there is a restaurant and picnic site as well as a swimming pool for those hot days. You can enjoy the park as a day visitors or you can book into their accommodation.
Hluhlulwe Imfolozi Game Reserve is a bit further away than Tala, about 2,5 hours north of Durban, but it’s a drive that is will worth the effort. Proclaimed in 1895 (making it Africa’s oldest proclaimed game reserve) the Hluhluwe Imfolozi is home to the big 5 and offers both closed vehicle game drives and open vehicle game drives. Compared to Kruger National Park, spotting animals at the Hluhluwe Imfolozi is a lot more work, the foliage is far denser, but the pros are that you are unlikely to experience the traffic jams that Kruger does! There is accommodation so you can spend just the day there or a few days there.
St Lucia is a small town situated within the iSiamangialso Wetlands Park and just 2,5 hours from Durban, the small town offers a number of wildlife options. St Lucia is known throughout South Africa for it’s rather high Hippo population. You can book a 2 hour estuary cruise and see more Hippo here than you can throw stones at (thought why would you wnat to throw stones at them hmm?) but that’s not all. There are also crocodiles, the odd shark, some Buffalo, Elephant and so, so many bird species from the majestic African Fish Eagle to the common but fun to watch Plovers.
St Lucia is also home to the Western and Eastern Shores game reserves, and there is plenty of beach shores to walk and explore not too mention the walking trails that take you past grazing animals like Impala and Zebra.
St Lucia has loads of different accommodation available as well, from very exclusive boutique hotels, 3-star backpackers and camping sites for tent or caravan. There are loads of restaurants and coffee shops, plenty of tour operators and thins to do.
Closer to Durban are a number of nature reserves that you can visit and hike through, far too many to go through here so I’ll have to do a separate post at some point, but some of my favorites are; Krantzkloof Nature Reserve (25 min from Durban), Umhlanga Reserve (10 min from Durban), Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve (10 min from Durban), Burman Bush (in Durban), Giba Gorge (15 min from Durban) and Oribi Gorge (90 min from Durban).
There are a thousand more spots I could mention, but you get the idea; Durban is well worth the visit if wildlife and nature is your thing!
Stretch your legs in the mountains
Just 2 hours west of Durban lies the mighty Drakensberg mountains. Part of an escarpment that starts off in the south, the Drakensberg has the highest peaks in South Africa, reaching over 3000m meters in some sections. And situated right at the top is the kingdom of Lesotho.
The mountains are known as “uKhuhlamba” in Zulu which means “barrier of spears” and in Afrikaans it’s Drakensberg which translates to “Dragon Mountains” – so named because of the many peaks that reasonable the spiny back of a dragon.
The Drakensberg has many nature reserves and hiking trails so if you;re into getting to grips with nature, this is probably one of (if not the) best spots in South Africa.
There are a number of day hikes you can enjoy that require relatively low fitness and skill levels, to day hikes and multi-day hikes that definitely require a lot of experience to negotiate.
The Drakensberg was also home to the Bushman people a few hundred years ago and the area is rich in rock art. There are a number of rick art sites that you can easily travel to on a day trip and hike to; Game Pass Shelter in the Kamberg Nature reserve and Main Cave at Giants Castle are probably the best known, but there are many other (Battle Cave is another favorite).
- I offer a number of day trips to the Bushman Paintings in the Drakensberg Mountains, contact me for more info.
- Interested in hiking trips in the Drakensberg? We have a few trips that include all equipment, get in touch.
- Want to try your hand at fly fishing for trout and yellow’s? We can set that up for you – inquire here.
The Indian Ocean is Durban’s meat and potatoes; it’s what keeps visitors flocking back year after year. Apart from just staring wistfully at the ocean there is a great many activities you can enjoy; here’s the list.
Surfing is popular, very popular in Durban. From just after sunrise to pretty much sunset you’ll find surfers enjoying the power of the ocean. And as you would expect, an entire industry has established itself around surfing. Want to experience the thrill of riding a wave yourself? Get lessons from Expressions at South Beach or hire a board and get into the waves.
Enjoy the promenade
Now the longest in Africa, Durban’s promenade is perfect for cycling, jogging or lazily strolling along. Stop at any of the piers to admire the surfers and swimmers or do some selfies. Grab an ice cream or have a coffee or even treat yourself to a rickshaw ride (it’s so much fun).
Provided you have yourself a fishing license, there are money spots along the beach you can throw a line in. Personally I’m a salt-water fly fisherman so I can’t say I know much about surf fishing but if it’s what you into, have at it. You could also book yourself a day out deep sea fishing with any number of operators.
If surfing is not your thing, then perhaps windsurfing is, or surf-ski paddling, or kite surfing, or just plain old swimming. Whatever ever you’re into, you’ll be able to enjoy it all here. There are a number of hire spots along the promenade so keep an eye out for options and deals.
Migrating Humpback Whales and Southern Right Whales are a common occurrence from May through to November as they make their way along the east coast to breed and give birth. You can book a tour to head out and look for these amazing creatures as they make their way past.
North north and south of Durban are amazing reefs, perfect for divers and snorkelers alike. At Aliwal Shoal, just 45min south of Durban you can swim freely with up to 7 different species of shark (or use the cage if it makes you feel better. And often it not just the sharks you’ll spot, but also dolphin, giant turtles and other aquatic wildlife. And just to reassure you, I have swum with the sharks 22 times now, and I still have all my appendages!
For the foodies
Durban definitely is not known for it’s cuisine in the way that Cape Town or even Johannesburg is, and that’s a real shame since Durban has arguably some of the best restaurants and the country and is home to one of the best dishes on the planet (in my humble opinion anyway).
First off, restaurants. My favorite is SPICE restaurant situated just north of Durban. Considered to be one of the finest (if not the finest) in Durban, the owners Linda and Russel have entertained the wealthy and famous with their Indian inspired deliciousness.
There are many more restaurants to choose from, far too many to list here so the easiest thing to do is to head to “Florida Road” (here’s map) which has some twenty different restaurants situated along it’s length from Italian to Indian.
Speaking if Indian, the one dish that Durban is know for is the “bunny chow”. A holdover from the early days of Durban settlement, the bunny chow was simply a convenient way to get lunch from the shop keepers out to the men and woman working in the fields – it consists of a curry dished into a hollowed out loaf of bread.
Being next to the Indian ocean means fresh fish is always available, Most restaurants will have a line-fish of the day that was brought in by the early morning fisherman.
Oh and one last thing, if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, Durban is perfect for you. Durban has always had a large vegetarian population and there are restaurants every where that one can go meat free.
Culture is where it’s at
If you are going to make the trip all the way to South Africa then you’ll want to learn more about the people and the culture. Durban is home to four main groups of people (boardly speaking), the Zulu people, the Indian people, the British and the Afrikaner people. Each group left their own imprint on Durban.
The Zulu have always called this part of the world home with clans spread throughout Zuluand all the way down to the great Fish River. The scattered clans were brought together under the rule of King Shaka kaSezangakhona in the 1820’s and his legacy continues to live on today; the airport is named after him as are many roads and buildings in Durban.
The Indian people were brought into Durban in the 1860’s as part of an Indentured Labour plan. Many of the Indian people remained in Durban after their contracts ended and at one stage, Durban was home to more Indian people than anywhere outside of the Indian sub-continent.
The Afrikaner and British arrived in the 1820’s and set about establishing the city of Durban as we know it today. Initially working with the Zulu, they quickly began to see the Zulu as a threat to “civilised” living and engineered the Anglo Zulu War of 1879 bringing an end to the Zulu empire.
All of the these peoples and cultures can be experienced at such sites as the Victorian Street Market, the Zulu herbal markets, the City Hall and many many more.
From the food to the language to religous groups, no where in South Africa is the true melting pot of cultures better experienced than in Durban.
- Book a city tour and learn more about the history of Durban.
- Join a tour to the rural Zulu village of iSithumba and learn first hand about the Zulu tradition and culture.
History tours around Durban
There are some amazing historical sites that can easily be visited in a day, starring off with some of the oldest residents of Southern Africa, the Bushman people.
The Bushman people (also known as the San people) predate the arrival of both “white” and “black” people of South Africa. The San are hunter gathers that roamed from Botswana down to the Cape of South Africa. They built no structures since they followed their migratory food source, antelope. The San people did leave evidence of their existence, amazing paintings on the walls of caves are rocks scattered about the mountains.
There are a number of sites that you can visit today to view the paintings and all of them are protected and curated for future generations. The best thing to do is get in touch and book a tour to the Bushman caves from Durban.
Another popular historical site is the Rorkes Drift and Isandlwana. Both sites were battlefields of the Anglo Zulu War where British and colonials clashed with the Zulu people. Made famous by the films of “Zulu” and “Zulu Dawn“, tours to these sites have become industries in of themselves.
The Anglo Boer was is another historical event that sees visitors travel from Durban to visit the far flung battlefields of Ladysmith, Spionkop, Talana and Colenso. Many tour packages spend a week visiting these sites interspersed with visits to nearby wildlife safari parks.
Contact me to book your next vacation
Hopefully I have convinced you enough to investigate traveling to Durban for your next vacation. From amazing wildlife parks, to the vibrant culture, the amazing historical sites, the beaches and friendly people, you would not go wrong in booking your trip to Durban.
If you would like more information about my tours, feel free to get in touch with my using any of the convenient options below.
- Call or Whatsapp me on +27 (0) 74 995 6669
- Email me: info (@) durban safaris and tours .com
- Use the contact form below