Most first-time visitors to South Africa fly in and out of Johannesburg, the City of Gold, and then travel on to Cape Town before leaving the country. The Cape is undeniably beautiful and cosmopolitan, but if you want a true African experience in South Africa, head for Durban, Africa's busiest port and a balmy coastal metropolis in the heart of the legendary Zulu Kingdom.
eThekwini, Durban's Zulu name, means "the place of the bay." This city of more than 3.5 million people is less polished and earthier—some say grittier—than Cape Town. Yet Durban is renowned for its steamy tropical climate and magnificent bathing and surfing beaches. It has been a beach vacation destination since the first sugarcane farmers built their holiday cottages on the coast in the 19th century.
Plan to walk along the Golden Mile promenade to see—among other attractions—uShaka Marine World, the famous Zulu rickshaws and the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium. Or, take a trip out to sea with the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board to watch crews service shark nets and, hopefully, get to spot some dolphins and whales. If these options don't suit you, there's hiking, sailing and scuba diving, or spend your time leisurely soaking up the sun on the golden sands.
The city also has a rich and interesting cultural diversity, which gives it a vibrancy enjoyed by few other South African cities. Durban is home to South Africa's largest Indian population, reflected in the tasty curries and colorful shopping bazaars and festivals. Evidence of Zulu culture is on the streets, where vendors sell crafts and curios, and in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, which is dotted with rural villages. Colonial influences are exhibited by the facades of grand buildings in the central business district and Victoria Embankment, and in the attractive Victorian and Edwardian houses and lovely parks in the Berea suburbs, which were developed by the city's early European settlers.
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