Located on the Eastern Cape’s aptly named Sunshine Coast, Port Elizabeth is one for the sun-seekers. Its glorious weather is a given and though it may not be a competition, having forever been in Cape Town’s Table-Mountain-shaped shadow, Port Elizabeth isn’t shy about advertising the fact that its waters are substantially warmer than it’s Western Cape counterpart. Add its “bottlenose dolphin capital of the world” status and an array of world-class watersports to its list of credentials and you’ve got yourself quite the holiday destination.
And, with its recent rejuvenation, it doesn’t stop at the city’s coastal attractions. Port Elizabeth is a place with a history to be remembered and a future to be excited by.
Founded in 1820 by British settlers, Port Elizabeth quickly became known as the “Liverpool of South Africa”. Today, that may signal die-hard football culture and a population with an extraordinary resilience to the cold, but in the 19th century, this moniker denoted Port Elizabeth’s importance in the trading industry. Since then, the city has risen and fallen with the various industries that have called the port their home. As a migrant city, it found itself at the forefront of the apartheid struggles and after a turbulent 20th century was labelled the “ghost of the coast”.
The turn of the 21st century saw the people of Port Elizabeth reclaim their city and like any urban area that has had its fair share of struggles, out of the city’s chaotic past has grown a great breadth of creativity. Now, Port Elizabeth is home to innumerable up-and-coming musicians and artists. From trendy Township nurtured sounds to experimental DJs, there’s a distinct underground feel to the music scene – it’s a good night out that’s for sure. Far from gentrification, this is simply a city finding its feet on the map again.
With its laid-back beachy vibes, easy-going people – this is the “friendly city” after all – and trademark sunny boulevards, Port Elizabeth’s pull is self-explanatory.
When it comes to things to do in Port Elizabeth, there’s no better place to start than with a stroll along its beachfront promenade. With all the soul of California's famed Venice Beach, minus the incessant hordes of tourists, this is the best way to soak up the vibrancy of the city whilst witnessing the beauty of its beaches firsthand.
With Algoa Bay’s 40 km stretch of irresistible sands, it would be easy to do nothing but lounge on the beach all day. But what a waste that would be. If the ocean is your sole draw to the city then make the most of it. Head out on a dolphin watching trip around the bay, or release your inner mermaid by taking to the water yourself – there are a whole host of watersports here for you to try your hand at. Or, if you’re not up for getting your hair wet, why not trot along the sands on horseback? A sunset jaunt makes for the ultimate romantic experience.
For the culture vultures, a closer look at the city’s vibrant art scene is a must. Forget the arid landscape of the USA’s renowned Route 66, Port Elizabeth’s Route 67 presents an explosion of colour. The series of artworks dotted around the city have each been designed to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s 67 year-long political life. It was a long fight for freedom, but Port Elizabeth’s evocative recognition of South Africa’s dark history is yet another way that this city looks to the future with a sense of unwavering positivity.
You can visit Port Elizabeth on our Garden Route itinerary as a stopover before heading off to Vic Falls or Mauritius.
Once “the Liverpool of South Africa” and now the country’s “friendly city”, if you hail from the Beatles’ hometown, it would be easy to think that Port Elizabeth can’t have changed that much over the centuries. And yes, much like Liverpool, this destination is home to a roaring bar scene, knows how to support up-and-coming artists and shares its urban cool – but Liverpool may have just been one-upped here when it comes to the beaches. Oh, and the weather. Check out our blogs to find out more.
For the adventurous souls. The wine connoisseurs. The wildlife obsessed. And anyone who lives to grab life by the horns.
Travel and lifestyle bloggers, Dan and Niki – a.k.a. Wanderlust Us – spent two weeks exploring South Africa's incredible Garden Route.
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