Located on South Africa’s northeast coast, Durban is the largest city in the KwaZulu-Natal province and a favorite destination for travelers in search of sun, sea and surf. Imbued with an irresistible vacation atmosphere, Durban is known for the idyllic beaches of the Golden Mile, its world-class surf spots and active Indian community. The latter is responsible for the city’s reputation as the curry capital of South Africa, making this a fine destination for foodies as well.
Hit the Beach
Durban is famous for its beaches, both in the city center and the suburbs. Grab a good book and a towel and spend the day working on your tan; or kick things up a notch with an early morning kitesurfing session. uShaka Beach is famous for its sandcastle artists, who create photo-worthy masterpieces for passing tourists. Northern Umdloti Beach is a good bet for families in search of safe swimming; or nature-lovers hoping to catch sight of migrating humpback whales in winter. North Beach is a bodyboarding hotspot. Durban is also convenient for exploring the more secluded beaches of the South Coast.
At almost any time of day or night, you’ll see surfers of all abilities paddling out to backline on Durban’s beaches. This is one of South Africa’s top surf spots - whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned pro. For entry-level waves, head to uShaka Beach and Vetch’s Pier. For the more experienced, the best waves are found north of the Golden Mile at North Beach, Bay of Plenty and Dairy Beach. South of the city center, top surf spots include Ansteys Beach and Cove Rock. Be respectful of other surfers and wait your turn, though - Durban locals are notoriously intolerant of visitors dropping in on their waves.
Learn to Scuba Dive
If you’d rather be under the waves than on them, pay a visit to Calypso Dive & Adventure Centre on the beachfront. Here, a team of PADI professionals offer try dives at uShaka aquarium or in the ocean as well as full beginner courses. If you’re already certified, continue your education with an Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver or specialty course. Calypso is also known for its tec diving and professional courses. Nearby dive sites include reefs teeming with aquatic life and a number of interesting shipwrecks. The most notable of these is Coopers, a large wreck of unknown origins named after a nearby lighthouse.
Catch a Sharks Game
You can’t spend time in KwaZulu-Natal without seeing the symbol of a shark wearing a black-and-white rugby strip. This is Sharkie, the official mascot of the Sharks rugby union team. Based in Durban, the Sharks represent KwaZulu-Natal in the annual Currie Cup tournament. Their supporters are devoted, and matches are attended by locals from all walks of life. Get tickets to a game at Kings Park Stadium, the Sharks’ home ground, to experience their passion for yourself. Several iconic Springbok players have played for the Sharks either now or in the past, including JP Pietersen, Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira and Patrick Lambie.
Try a Bunny Chow
In the 1800s, British colonialists bought thousands of migrant workers over from India to work on KwaZulu-Natal’s sugarcane plantations. Many chose to build a home in South Africa, and their descendants still live in Durban today. In fact, the city’s Indian community is so large that Durban is known throughout the country for its curry restaurants. A unique trademark of Indian food in South Africa is the bunny chow, a half loaf of bread that has been hollowed out and filled with curry. You can order bunny chows at countless eateries throughout the city, from top-rated restaurant Mali’s to favorite hole-in-the-wall spot Sunrise Chip n’ Ranch.
Explore the Moses Mabhida Stadium
An icon of the Durban waterfront, Moses Mabhida Stadium is the city’s main venue for athletic and music events. It’s also a thrill-seeker’s paradise offering several adrenalin-fuelled activities - including the Big Rush swing. Mounted 262 feet/80 meters above the ground on the stadium’s graceful arch, the swing is the tallest in the world. You can also climb the arch, admiring magnificent panoramic views of the coast and the city spread out below en route; or you can skip the workout and ride the SkyCar to the top instead. Moses Mabhida also offers stadium tours, either on foot or by Segway.
Indulge in Retail Therapy
Durban is a dream destination for shopaholics, whether you’re looking for authentic craft markets, sprawling malls or upmarket boutiques. Take care of your souvenir shopping at Amphitheatre Flea Market, held every Sunday on the Golden Mile beachfront. Here you’ll find traditional African arts and crafts, ranging from beaded jewelry to wooden sculptures. Of Durban’s many malls, Gateway Theatre of Shopping is probably the most rewarding, with over 400 stores. If your tastes lean more towards boutique art and fashion, plan a day trip to the Valley of a Thousand Hills, an inland region littered with upmarket shopping streets and markets.
Visit uShaka Marine World
Located at the southern end of Durban’s Golden Mile, uShaka Marine World is the city’s top-rated tourist attraction. The vast complex incorporates several different zones, including a reptile house, a rope adventure park and the Village Walk, an open-air shopping and dining destination. The two main attractions, however, are the aquarium and the water park. The former gives you the opportunity to admire South Africa’s diverse marine life up close - including ragged-tooth sharks, African penguins and green turtles. The water park is the ideal choice for a fun family day out, with water slides, splash pools and supertubes.
Have Dinner Overlooking the Bay
Durban is full of excellent restaurants and bars, but if you’re looking for the ultimate romantic date night destination, pick one that overlooks the vast expanse of Durban Bay. Moyo and the Cargo Hold are both sure to impress. Located at the end of uShaka Pier, Moyo offers panoramic views of the glittering nighttime waterfront. Sip craft cocktails while dining on African-inspired cuisine, accompanied by soft music and the sound of the surf crashing against the pier below. Ship-shaped fine dining restaurant the Cargo Hold boasts stunning ocean vistas on one side, and a floor-to-ceiling view into the uShaka shark tank on the other.
Go Swimming With Sharks
For an even closer shark encounter, consider taking a 40-minute drive south of Durban to the tiny coastal town of Umkomaas. Umkomaas is the gateway to Aliwal Shoal, an offshore reef system known as one of the best places in the world to dive with sharks. Several scuba diving centers offer baited shark dives, using chum to attract oceanic blacktip sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks (in season). Sightings are almost guaranteed, and if you don’t have your scuba license, don’t worry - operators like Aliwal Shoal Scuba offer shark snorkeling and even shark cage diving for those that require a little extra peace of mind.