Formerly Umtata, the rough-and-tumble town of Mthatha, South Africa, 370 mi/600 km south of Johannesburg, once served as the capital of the Transkei, an apartheid-era "independent" Xhosa homeland that was reintegrated into South Africa following the release of its most famous son: Nelson Mandela.

The paramount reason to stop there is to visit the impressive Nelson Mandela National Museum, which has three components: the museum in Mthatha, the Jonopo Traditional Village and Nelson Mandela Youth Heritage Centre in the former president's birthplace of Qunu, and the Nelson Mandela Monument in Mveso (near the remains of Mandela's family homestead).

Native Xhosa in the area wear distinctive red blankets, and the entire region is known for expansive beaches, excellent hiking trails and a varied landscape, including mountains.

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