Durban, Mbotyi, Port St. Johns, Transkei, Southern Wild Coast
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
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.
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.
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.
Day 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.
Day 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.
Day 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.
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.
- Discover the authentic culture of Zululand by visiting the Valley of 1,000 Hills on an interactive and non-obtrusive tour
- Meet a sangoma, a traditional doctor, on the beach of Port St. Johns and partake in a local ceremony
- Visit the untouched Xhosa villages of the Transkei, where circular huts and local tradition remain unchanged for centuries
- Enjoy some of Africa’s finest beaches, with endless miles of silky sands rolling beneath the green cliffs
- Spend six days on a luxury hike along the southern Wild Coast, piecing together remote villages and landscapes that are far from the tourist trail
- Get fully acquainted with all the local flavors and styles as you’re immersed in the world of the Transkei
The Transkei region of South Africa evokes the beautiful traditions of history. Pastel-colored circular huts cling to dramatic cliffs, the front doors opening out to Indian Ocean vistas. Local sangomas (traditional healers) take maize beer down to the beach for ceremonies. Songs and dancing ring out from villages untouched by time. Local village chiefs welcome you with a firm handshake, then pass you on to locals with welcoming smiles. While South Africa is very much a modern nation, the Transkei is where tribes and traditions continue to prevail. This is where Nelson Mandela and most of the ANC grew up, a region that was semi-independent throughout the Apartheid regime. It’s remained blissfully off the tourist trail, although a handful of small lodges provide upmarket accommodation throughout your tour.
This isn’t just a destination of tradition. It’s perhaps the most beautiful coastal region in Africa. White beaches are hidden beneath dramatic cliffs, and it’s rare that there are any prints in the sand, other than those made by wandering cows. Valleys cascade above the Indian Ocean, hiding hundreds of tiny villages. Dolphins are spotted on a daily basis, great pods of them on their migratory route. And there’s a silence that’s unthinkable in the modern world. This is where you can be alone with your thoughts, where thoughtful and immersive travel is the only way to explore.
This 2-week tour starts in Durban, where you have a day discovering the traditions of Zululand. Then it moves to the northern side of the Wild Coast and the delightful village of Mbotyi; wild horse trails provide an adventurous option here, but like every day, there’s a wonderful serenity to the coast. Move on to Port St. Johns, home of the AmaMpondo tribe. You’ll spend time with a sangoma, be welcomed into tiny villages, and taste all the local delicacies. Among the visuals are the cliffs that Leonard DiCaprio climbed at the end of the movie Blood Diamond, and a series of beaches that are completely unknown to the world.
The Wild Coast is the coastal section of the Transkei. There is no coastal road, only rugged roads that lead to each of the main villages. Instead, you must travel like people have done for centuries: on foot. You’ll set off on a 6-day coastal hike, winding along the cliffs from village to village. You’ll wade across lagoons, wind over headlands, pass lone surfers on remote beaches, and follow the dolphins on their journey along the coast. It’s the best means of being immersed in local lifestyles, as you meet village chiefs and enjoy astonishing Indian Ocean views. This is South Africa at its rawest and most untouched, a chance to explore a mostly unseen and undocumented piece of one of the world’s most enchanting countries.
$5,595 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
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Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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