Discover Transkei Wild Coast Tour: Sangomas to Valley of 1,000 Hills

A 14 day trip to South Africa 
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Tradition remains untamed in the evocative Transkei. Semi-independent during apartheid, this is where witch doctors perform ceremonies on the beaches, locals welcome you into their circular huts, and village life remains cut off from the rest of the world. This immersive 2-week tour explores South Africa’s most traditional lands in depth, traveling from the hills of Zululand to the stunning Wild Coast. Combining hiking and guided driving, this is offbeat South Africa at its best. 

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General Information

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Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, Zululand, Valley of 1,000 Hills, Mbotyi, Port St. Johns, Wild Coast, Transkei, Mazeppa, Wavecrest, Haga Haga, Cintsa, Port Elizabeth

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Durban – Lounging on the Indian Ocean Coast

Touch down in Durban, and you’re immediately captivated by the charms of the Indian Ocean. Turquoise water cascades beyond the horizon, frothy waves break onto white beaches, and there’s a calm that always comes with the Indian Ocean. There’s a soothing serenity, one that helps to revitalize the mind after the international flight. Durban is a city built on the sand, one where the beach acts as the city center. Vibrantly multicultural, it’s where you can hear most of South Africa’s 11 official languages and find odes to both British and Indian histories. You’ll be picked up at King Shaka International Airport and transferred to a colonial-style five-star hotel that’s just a few meters from the sand. The cultural discovery starts tomorrow; for today, lounge amongst the beauty of the coastline.

What’s Included: accommodation, airport transfer

Day 2: Durban – Exploring the Traditions of Zululand

Women greet you in flamboyant hats, with vibrant jewelry covering their necks and wrists. Men shake your hand, firmly, breaking into a wide smile as you enter their circular huts. Swords and arrows adorn the walls while a cauldron bubbles on the fire outside. This is the Valley of 1,000 Hills, hidden amongst the folds of the Zululand Mountains. Tradition continues uninterrupted here, preserving the lifestyle of the Zulu tribe. Barely an hour from Durban, this valley is amongst South Africa’s most evocative destinations. It’s been set up to promote community tourism, rather than the museum-style experience found in Shakaland. 

There are dozens of villages in the valley, each similar in size and style. By visiting on the weekend, you’re virtually guaranteed to visit a local celebration, in the form of a wedding, birth, or death. These vibrant affairs are when the ceremonial dress is worn, and the lifestyle of a bygone era comes to the fore. You’ll take a small gift (a guide will assist) to the village chief, gaining his blessing, and therefore an acceptance from all the villagers. Through this tradition, you’re no longer a visitor; you’re part of the village. Huge pots of umqombothi (maize beer) have been bubbling for three days and sharing a drink ensures you’re completely integrated.

Like most days on this South Africa tour, the experience responds to what’s happening in the villages. You’re not coming to watch actors perform a traditional dance; you’re coming to marvel at the enthusiasm and vitality when traditional dances form the centerpiece of the celebration. The more you get involved, the more the village takes you in. A local Zulu guide is with you the entire time, helping to ease you into what’s going on. While the locals will be speaking Zulu, all the younger generations speak fluent English. After the day’s action and energy, return to Durban where the coastline helps you return to a tranquil state of mind.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch

Days 3 – 4: Mbotyi – The Tranquility of the Wild Coast

A short drive north and you cross into the Transkei, home to 12 Xhosa-speaking tribes. Each has their own piece of the coast, and throughout history, they were fiercely divided. Apartheid brought a tribal union, as the 12 came together to battle against the regime. It should come as no surprise that this was where Nelson Mandela and many of the forefathers of the ANC were born and raised. Semi-independent during apartheid, it was able to preserve an old-world African way of life. In recent years, inaccessibility has helped to maintain its charms. There isn’t a coastal highway, just a series of rugged roads that link settlements to the inland highway.

Your first stop along the Wild Coast is Mbotyi, a village that epitomizes the appeal of the region. Circular huts dot the cliffs, some of them standing 200 meters above the Indian Ocean. Cows and horses roam freely, usually creating the only prints in the sand. Waterfalls drop directly into the ocean, cascading down vertical cliffs that are miles from any road. Traditional healers wander about in their red robes, usually accompanied by a small band of followers. The Wild Coast can always respond to your mood. If you want a day of solitude, then the beaches are as hidden as they come. If you’re seeking culture, then the guide will arrange visits to local communities. There’s always a sense of adventure around, and you can take horses on wild gallops across dramatic escarpments.

A local Xhosa-speaking driver-guide accompanies you throughout and helps to explain local culture. He’s the person who gets you access to these communities, which are far away from the tourist trail. Traditional dancing comes with local ceremonies; songs ring out as fishermen pick oysters from precarious cliffs, while small boats can lead you inland along snaking rivers. Accommodation is a delightful lodge, perched on the intersection of a river and the Indian Ocean. Tranquility reigns, and you’ll soon become accustomed to the Wild Coast’s ability to marry culture with nature. It’s a five-hour drive to Mbotyi from Durban in a luxury saloon vehicle.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, transfer, breakfast

Days 5 – 7: Port. St Johns – Sangomas, Serenity, Villages, and Beaches

Mbotyi to Port St. Johns is a full day’s travel if you go the way of the locals and ride a horse along the cliffs. Or it’s a two-hour drive, winding inland past dramatic waterfalls and stark canyons. You can choose the means of travel. Green valleys extend in every direction, and there’s no interruption to the charms of local culture, whichever way you choose to travel. Like most days on this tour, there is no fixed itinerary. Just a start point and an end point, with the rest, worked out dependent on the mood.

The Transkei is indelibly relaxed, running to a rhythm without a watch. All villages receive visitors with a warm welcome. When there’s song and dance, you’ll be able to visit the village and see what’s going on. More than that, you’ll be welcomed as royal guests. Celebrations are taking place all the time, and they have huge social significance; to welcome foreign visitors would be an honor. On the Wild Coast, the challenge isn’t finding something interesting, but having the energy to accept every invitation.

Port St. Johns is the only real town along the Wild Coast, although it feels more like a collection of villages. The location is exquisite, with vertical headlands rising hundreds of meters above ocean waves; these were the cliffs that Leonardo DiCaprio climbed at the end of Blood Diamond. Your lodge is hidden away with expressive views over the ocean. Within walking distance there are two completely untouched white beaches, only accessible by a narrow coastal path; it’s easy to spend relaxed afternoons soaking up nature.

On one of the days, you’re invited to a traditional ceremony performed by a sangoma. In the west, this holy man would be called a witch doctor. In the Transkei, he’s a traditional healer, sought after by the local community to perform a number of ceremonies. First, you’ll visit his hut for a consultation, which involves burning roots and preparing herbs. Then wander down to the coast with a bucket of umqombothi, the sangoma’s red robes flowing in the ocean breeze. Offerings are thrown into the water as songs are softly chanted, and the odd cow wanders past. Then the party begins, the umqombothi shared around as you look out onto the Indian Ocean waves.

There’s a lot to see and do around Port St Johns, which is why it really deserves a three-night stop. Of all the tribes along the coast, it’s the AmaMpondo people who are the most laid-back, so rushing through the sights really wouldn’t work. There are options for guided kayaking, horse riding, and hiking, along with a host of villages within proximity. Again, having a private driver-guide ensures each day is tailored to exactly what you want to do.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, transfer, breakfast

Days 8 – 13: Southern Wild Coast – Hotel-Hopping Hiking Along an Untamed Coastline

Completing the tour is a 6-day journey by foot, hopping between rural villages that stand proudly on the cliffs. Many of these villages aren’t even connected by road, and the area showcases the most untouched and unseen part of South Africa. You’ll have already grown accustomed to the welcoming smiles and waves, and these continue as you follow the dolphins that migrate down the coast. In this part of the world, many of the locals don’t even speak English; your Xhosa guide will also act as interpreter.

The 6-day trail is ideal for anyone with moderate fitness. While there are some rocky beach sections, most of the trail is along long empty beaches and rolling coastal cliffs. Secluded bays provide places to swim and cool off; warm lagoons are crossed on foot, while jutting headlands provide spectacular views. You’ll pass shipwrecks forgotten by the world, lose yourself in huge dunes, search for ming dynasty porcelain shards around Black Rock, and watch the crowned cranes around the sublime Nxaxo lagoon.

Luggage is carried by a porter for the first four days and then transferred by vehicle. Accommodation is in old-world Transkei hotels, where welcoming locals cook sumptuous four-course dinners every evening. Not all of them are four-star luxury, but they’re more than comfortable and blend nicely into the surroundings. Packed lunches are taken at shaded stops along the route, and the pace is very leisurely. This isn’t a race. It’s an immersive journey through a raw and untamed piece of South Africa. Along the way, you’ll pass countless villages and be enveloped by the welcomes of the Xhosa people.

Your guide takes you to Mazeppa, and then it’s onwards to Wavecrest. An extremely remote stretch leads from here to Trennerys, then onwards to Morgan Bay, which has a superb hotel and spa. Then it’s onwards to Haga Haga, crossing 14 kilometers of virgin sand, before the final stretch to Cintsa, which might feature the odd giraffe and zebra. Cintsa is a fitting end to a 6-day adventure, where a tropical lagoon and a seemingly endless beach awaits.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 14: Cintsa to Port Elizabeth – Departure

From Cintsa, it’s a short transfer to Port Elizabeth, where you take a local flight to O. R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and connect onto your homebound departure. Wave farewell to the coastline for a final time and leave South Africa with enchanting memories of the Zulu and Xhosa traditions.

What’s Included: airport transfer, breakfast

Price

Starting Price 

$5,595
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.