South Africa’s third-largest city, Durban, is also arguably the country’s most laidback centre (although Port Elizabeth gives it a run for its money), by virtue of its sauna-like summer heat, and beach-centred culture (if slops and shorts are your idea of attire, then you’re in the right place).
Although these are a drawcard in their own right Durban moves to the drumbeat of its cultural heritage, involving visitors in tours that venture into the heart of the inner-city and two of Durban’s Indian townships, Phoenix and Chatsworth, in a whirl of African colour and noise.
The city of many street-name-changes is full of surprisingly diverse tourist attractions. Our list of 10 must-do’s is a good place to start.
The Durban Experience…
1. Take the Ricksha Bus City Tour
Durban’s version of the hop-on-hop-off city bus tour is an orange and blue Ricksha bus (its name a play on the traditional Zulu rickshaw on the city’s Golden Mile) that is, admittedly, more hop-on than hop-off, but is worth doing nonetheless, particularly if you’ve just arrived in the city. The three-hour tour’s highlights include: Juma Musjid Mosque, City Hall, Florida Road, Moses Mabhida and the beachfront. Catch it at North Beach at the Tourist Information Centre.
2. Or the SkyCar (or both)
The SkyCar (a funicular that runs the length of the north arch) takes you to the top of Moses Mabhida Stadium and is one of the best aerial vantage points over the city of Durban – ideal for first-time visitors (even the locals love going to the top for the views, particularly of the coastline). You could walk the 550 steps to the top but the SkyCar is far more exciting and well priced. Don’t forget the camera.
If you really want to connect with the pulse of Durban’s inner-city, this tour is a must. Warwick Junction, through which 460 000 commuters pass daily, lies just outside the Victoria Street Market.
The tour through Warwick’s nine markets gives you a bird’s eye view of how most people in Durban live, combining a rather interesting shopping experience with a first-hand account from tour guides who used to work the market stalls. Go on a Friday to include the bead market.
4. Visit People’s Park
People’s Park lies just south of the Moses Mabhida Stadium, a park designed for people – particularly children.
A track and field area gives new meaning to ‘kids’ playground’providing a smooth, gentle slope on which children cycle, rollerskate and skateboard (bikes hired by the hour), whilst a playground down one side of the track is thick with swings, climbing frames, jungle gyms, sand pits, sprung seat rides and a ton of beach sand. A café selling coffees, snacks and light lunches overlooking the park rounds things off.
5. Explore the Woza eNanda Route
Inanda, and its surrounds, is steeped in history and some of the city’s most important historical sites – Mahatma Gandhi’s home is a monument, whilst the Ohlange Institute, founded by the first president of the ANC Rev. John Dube, is famous as the site where Nelson Mandela cast his vote in the country’s first democratic election in 1994.
Make sure to include the Mzinyaathi Falls and Rastafarian cave in your tour. For more information visit the website: enanda.co.za or contact Durban Green Corridor for details on +27 (0)31 322-6026.
6. Swim at alternative beaches
Whilst a swim at North Beach or Vetch’s Pier is still one of the best swims you will have in Durban, the school holidays (particularly during December) see these beaches so inundated you may want to give the beachfront a complete skip. Rather head to one of the equally beautiful and swimmable beaches north of Durban – like Salt Rock, Shakas Rock, Thompson Bay, and Ballito. Get there early.
7. Experience Durban’s coffee culture
Not only is coffee grown on the fringes of Durban (there are coffee farms in Assagay and Cato Ridge) but the city’s coffee culture is big. You won’t have to look far to enjoy a really, good cuppa.
8. Explore Durban’s markets
Like sister cities, Cape Town and Johannesburg, Durban has been bitten by the market bug. Weekend food, craft and farmers’ markets outnumber the hours in a weekend and you may have a hard time deciding just which markets to visit.
9. Head to Durban’s theatres
Durban’s theatres provide entertainment across the spectrum – from the BAT Centre’s art studios and galleries (which often include stand-up poets), to the more formal Playhouse or Elizabeth Sneddon theatres.
Durban also has a myriad fringe theatres: The Catalina Theatre, The Kwasuka (in an historical church), the Barnyard Theatre, the Heritage Theatre (Hillcrest) and the Rhumbelow Theatre.
10. Escape into the great outdoors
Durban has a great deal of ‘outdoors’ right on its doorstep.
The Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve and Umgeni River bird Park are a stone’s throw from one another, and each provides hours of pleasure; Durban Botanic Gardens are on the Berea (if it is summer, take in one of the concerts in the park); the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve, Hawaan Forest, Mount Moreland Conservancy and Kloof Nature Reserve are worth visiting.