Located on the E coast of South Africa, Durban is the largest city of the Kwa-Zulu Natal province and 3rd largest city of South Africa. A coastal port with wide golden beaches, Durban is a tourist hotspot and gateway to the dozens of seaside resort towns of the coast to the N and S of the city.
Durban is a lively (and slightly tacky) prepackaged seaside destination. The beachfront features a variety of high-rise hotels and snack bars stretching a distance of four miles (6km) and is fronted by promenades and entertainment facilities with many things to see and do, such as a skatepark, flea markets and colourful traditionally clad Zulu rickshaw pullers. Whilst this is the city’s trademark, the city centre featuring some grandiose colonial buildings and fascinating Art Deco architecture, is also a feature of the city.
While the beachfront is still a favourite spot, many visitors, wary of the city’s increasing reputation for crime, base themselves in the suburbs, which are chock-a-block with accommodation, shopping malls, funky bars and stylish eateries.
Durban is the gateway not only to the coastal beach resorts of the province, but also to the rolling hills and plains of the Natal Midlands and their backdrop, the majestic, jagged peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains, which border the province in the west.
Durban is located on the E coast of South Africa, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It is 1,050 mls NE of Cape Town; 575 mls NE of Port Elizabeth; 370 mls SE of Johannesburg and its international airport. 12 mls N of Durban International Airport. It is positioned on fairly flat land facing E onto the Indian Ocean and S onto the Bay of Natal, one of the world’s largest natural harbours.
Durban is often billed as South Africa’s premier holiday destination and, for the national population, it probably is so. However, mass-market appeal has created a fairly tacky seaside resort similar to many of the larger Spanish ones at their worst. Unless visiting friends or relatives, there are better places to spend valuable time in the country. If a seaside break is essential between safaris and Cape Town, Umhlanga Rocks, 11 mls N, is a more attractive option.
Accommodation consists of one 5-star, one 4-star and a whole raft of beachfront tower blocks in the 3-star category, which says something about the type of market attracted here. Many of the older hotels have upgraded and refurbished in anticipation of the expected tourist boom. Several more, mainly modern, hotels at Umhlanga Rocks.
Beachwise there is a huge, broad stretch of golden sand running the whole length of the Golden Mile and beyond. Separated by piers and variously called North Beach, Dairy Beach and South Beach. Umhlanga Rocks has slightly narrower but equally sandy beaches separated by rocky promontories. The Indian Ocean can be rough and there are sharks off this coast, so it is advisable to swim only where it is recommended and within view of lifeguards. Shark netting exists along the whole of the Golden Mile.
Shoppers are greated with a wide selection of options, from large stores to boutiques, markets and Zulu women street hawkers all along the beach front. The “Tourist Junction” building has plenty of small tourist shops, housed in old railway workshops. Indian market for curry spices, teak chests, brass etc. Various upmarket suburban malls, such as Pavilion near Westville and Gateway at Umhlanga (which even has cinemas and a theatre).
Entertainment and activities include: various Victorian buildings, including City Hall (which has a library, art gallery and natural history museum). Da Gama Clock. Amphitheatre Gardens. Botanical gardens, several parks and sports stadiums. Minitown, with models of many Durban buildings. Beachfront funfair. Sea World aquarium and dolphinarium. Snake park. Jumah Mosque. Plenty more things to pass the time if not on the beach. By night there is some culture with concerts and shows, but mainly devoted to bars, discos and nightclubs operating till late.
Durban offer plenty of restaurants (both in and out of hotels) reflecting the city’s cosmopolitan nature. Lots of cheaper options at steakhouses, pizzerias, burger bars and other fast-food eateries.
Public transport is not advised. Taxis are best ordered through your hotel, which will normally have a fixed contract. Car hire will give greater freedom. Rickshaw rides pulled by Zulu “warriors” along Golden Mile.
Local excursions include a tour of Durban by Night, Oriental drive/Indian market, various harbour cruises, various tours to the N and S coasts, inland, game reserves, Zulu villages, battlefields and Drakensberg Mountains.