Durban is one of the largest cities in South Africa, second only to Johannesburg as an industrial center, and one of the most popular tourist spots. The metropolis has approximately 3.5 million inhabitants. The city is famous for its beautiful sandy beaches and excellent conditions for surfing. However, for tourists, more importantly, it provides an opportunity to learn about indigenous peoples, namely the Zulu. All of this lies ahead of us…
The plane is scheduled to land in Durban on Thursday, 26th February at 18:20. At King Shaka International Airport, everything runs smoothly. We pick up our luggage, go through a security check and a heat scanner (to exclude individuals with a fever, such as Ebola). We also exchange some money.
We purchased a transfer to the city at the travel agency along with our flight. When we arrive at our hotel, we disembark from the bus, and now we must manage on our own. I check the plan I made at home and find that there should be a bus stop near our hotel, along the beaches, which should take us there. Luckily, we find a bus stop. To confirm if it’s the right one, we ask a woman nearby. She seems surprised that two white tourists are asking for public transport. After a moment, she smiles and says, “Since it’s nearby, I’ll take you there!”
We look at each other in amazement. “That’s a good start!” There’s nothing better than encountering a helpful local at the beginning of a trip. After a few minutes, we drive into total darkness. “Well, well, welcome to Africa!” I murmur to myself. Our temporary driver explains, “The power is out again. It happens.” “It happens?” we look at each other. We were so surprised by her kindness that we didn’t even ask her name. Just at that moment, the lights come back on, and our optimism returns. (Throughout our stay, we didn’t experience any further issues with electricity, so perhaps it doesn’t happen so often.)
We head up to the seventh floor. The room is exactly as described on the website, and the pictures match (which rarely happens). It’s clean and equipped with all the appliances needed for the “self-catering” option. Finally, we can relax. We quickly go to the grocery store on the ground floor to buy something to eat. Fortunately, there is an immensely popular store called “Kwik Spar” in the same building, open daily from 6 am to 9 pm, including Sundays.
Now it’s time for our first cup of coffee in this new place…
Hotels with a “self-catering” option are extremely popular in South Africa. It suits us perfectly since we don’t necessarily need to spend money on breakfast at a cafe or restaurant, and besides, we drink copious amounts of coffee, which we can make ourselves.
10 South Hotel offers a decent standard. It’s clean, and the rooms are meticulously cleaned every day. There’s a place for a braai (barbecue), which is extremely popular in South Africa, a children’s area, a small swimming pool, a sauna, a gym, and more.
However, there are two things that need improvement: the Wi-Fi speed, which is theoretically available but awfully slow and almost useless, and the elevators. The building has 15 floors, and during our week-long stay, only one elevator was in operation. The others worked only half a day for one day. This caused annoyance among visitors and, in my case, a minor problem with the transfer to the airport. When the bus arrived to pick me up, the receptionist called my room, but I didn’t answer because I had just left. I waited for a few minutes for the elevator, and by the time I reached the lobby, the bus had already left. Fortunately, I managed to convince the driver to return…
Public transport in Durban is non-existent, except for the so-called People Mover. It has two lines: the City Loop, which runs a circuitous route in the city center, passing through the most interesting tourist places, and the Beach Line, which runs along the northern and southern beaches. A single ticket costs R5.50. I didn’t need to use it, so I can’t provide any further information.
Locals rely on their cars or taxis, which are minibuses that ply a few designated routes with no fixed schedule, but often enough.
For longer trips, such as shopping centers in the suburbs or neighboring towns, locals recommend renting a car or taking a regular taxi, but not a minibus. The reason is that minibus drivers tend to disregard traffic regulations and speed limits, leading to collisions and accidents.
We took several long walks in Durban, lasting more than an hour, to places like the Musgrave shopping center in the suburbs. When I mentioned this to one of my friends, he tapped his forehead and said, “And you went there on foot? It’s such a dangerous neighborhood.” Really? Well, nothing seemed to indicate that, except for the barbed wire fences around some houses…
Generally, at least during the day, the city doesn’t differ much from European metropolises, except for the fact that Durban is predominantly inhabited by black people, with a large Indian diaspora. I got the impression that the only white people I saw were either homeless or beggars… It’s probably an unfair judgment, but that’s what I observed.
In general, I have the impression that people in Durban are open, friendly, and always willing to help. They smile and are eager to show you the way, recommend a store, or a bank. There are no hustlers trying to pull you into their store or stall. Many goods have set prices, which makes things significantly easier for tourists, especially when compared to the tedious haggling often encountered in places like India, Morocco, or Egypt, where vendors try to extract every penny from you.
Tourists usually stay within the hotels located along the coastline. That was my impression. Although there are several hotels, you rarely see their guests on the promenade. Where are all the tourists? Let them regret it! The so-called Golden Mile is a beautiful and well-maintained promenade that stretches for several kilometers along the beaches, from South Beach in the south to Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World in the north. It’s a popular place for walking, but mostly frequented by locals. It comes alive in the evenings when groups of young people gather here to meet up and listen to music played by the audio systems in their cars. Many people jog along the promenade, and couples spend romantic evenings strolling along the piers.
However, although the promenade is nice and well-maintained, there are few places where you can sit in the evening for a coffee or a beer. That’s why there aren’t as many crowds here as on the promenades in European cities.
Everywhere, you can see public security staff. Many times, I walked along the Golden Mile until midnight without fearing that something bad would happen. I must admit that at least this part of the city feels relatively safe.
Sightseeing and Water Park
The Tourist Information Office for the KwaZulu-Natal region is located in the center of Durban, at 160 Monty Naicker Rd. The staff there is very nice and, above all, competent. They patiently answer all questions, even those about shopping centers. You can book tours, arrange airport transfers, and they have a wide selection of maps, brochures, and flyers to assist you.
- uShaka Sea World: the fifth largest aquarium in the world, open from Monday to Sunday, 9:00 to 17:00.
- uShaka Wet’n’Wild: a water park, open during high season from Monday to Sunday, 10:00 to 17:00, and during low season on Wednesdays to Fridays, 10:00 to 17:00, and Saturdays to Sundays, 9:00 to 17:00.
- uShaka Beach: a free admission beach area.
- uShaka Village Walk: a shopping center and restaurant area designed to resemble a traditional Zulu village.
The entry fee for Sea World and Wet’n’Wild is R149 each, but it’s more cost-effective to purchase a combo ticket for R199 if you plan to visit both attractions.
We spend several hours at uShaka Marine World, and there’s so much to do here. First, we explore the aquarium, which is housed in the wreck of an old ship, making it an attraction itself. The aquarium highlights various species found in the surrounding waters of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, ranging from small orange clownfish (familiar from the movie “Finding Nemo”) to sea turtles, sharks, sea anemones, shellfish, and coral reefs. Everything is well-described, including educational elements.
The marine park also features seals, penguins, and a dolphinarium. We attend a show with the dolphins, which is included in the ticket price, and it turns out to be an amazing experience that makes our morning unforgettable.
Valley of 1000 Hills
A trip to the Valley of 1000 Hills is a must-do. You can find more information at www.1000hillstourism.co.za. If you’re an individual traveler, you’ll need to rent a car or take a taxi, which can be expensive as it’s approximately 20 km from the city. Since we didn’t want to rent a car, we purchased a tour package from a local agency. At the kwaZulu-Natal info point, they recommended Kude Travel & Tours and a guide named Bheki, who helped us book the trip. We paid R750 per person, which was a bit pricey, but it included a personalized tour for just the two of us. Considering the round trip, a visit to a Zulu village, a traditional dance show, stops at crocodile and snake farms, dinner, and a two-hour tour around the valley, we felt it was worth the price.
A theoretically cheaper option is the Phezulu ticket, which includes a dance show, crocodile and snake farms, and costs R140. However, you would still need to pay for transportation, food, and a separate tour of the valley. Despite being slightly overpriced, we believe this trip was worth the money.
Phezulu Safari Park: www.phezulusafaripark.co.za, is located on Botha’s Hill in the Valley of 1000 Hills, in the village of Phezulu. A visit to Phezulu may not perfectly represent the realities of Zulu life, but it’s better than nothing. Overall, we think the trip was worth the price, thanks to our guide Bheki, who made sure we had a satisfying experience. The visit to the Zulu village was particularly interesting. We witnessed a “traditional” household, a dance show celebrating betrothal and marriage, and heard many stories about local life, traditions, and ceremonies.
The visit to the crocodile farm was an unforgettable experience. They had several of these giant reptiles, and I even had the opportunity to touch a tiny crocodile that was just a few weeks old. Later, at the snake farm, I had the chance to hold a boa snake for a while. It was definitely a thrilling experience, especially hearing the farm supervisor’s stories about deadly snake venoms, particularly that of the green mamba.
After these exhilarating experiences, Bheki took us on a long drive through the villages in the valley, sharing fascinating stories about everyday life. We stopped for lunch at a small place that served traditional Zulu cuisine.
We returned to the hotel in the afternoon, a bit tired but content with the exotic and unique experiences we had in Durban.
Swimming means surfing
Durban is famous for its beaches, which stretch for several kilometers. The beaches are wide, and the sand is incredibly soft. However, swimming can be challenging due to the shallow water and strong waves caused by the intense winds. While it may not be ideal for swimming, these conditions create perfect opportunities for surfing. The beaches are well-marked, and some of them are guarded, but there are limited places to sit and enjoy a coffee or snack. It’s best to come prepared with croissants and beverages when heading to the beach.
Durban offers a wide range of shopping options, catering to various tastes and preferences. You can find everything from traditional souvenirs and decorations to global brand goods. There are many department stores in the city, but for a more upscale shopping experience, you’ll need to travel a few kilometers outside the city. The most famous and popular malls are:
- Musgrave Centre: Located in the suburbs of Durban.
- Pavilion Shopping Centre: Located in Westville, approximately 15 km from the city.
- Gateway: Located in Umhlanga, approximately 20 km from the city.
Additionally, the Victoria Street Market is worth mentioning. It is a market hall where you can find a wide variety of items. This place is dominated by Indian immigrants, so you can find authentic spices from India there.
Time to move on
As our stay in Durban ends, we follow the recommendation from the tourist information office to take the Airport Bus Transportation shuttle bus (www.airportbustransport.co.za) to King Shaka International Airport. The minibuses depart from the city center at 4:30 and from 6:00 to 20:00, every hour on the hour. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes, a ticket costs R80, which you pay directly to the driver. Remember to book the transfer in advance by phone or email.
At the airport, everything goes smoothly. Our Mango Airlines flight takes off on time, and in two hours, we will land in Cape Town.