Mthatha
Close to the ground.

GPS: S 31 35.307 E 028 47.405 | pop. 400,000 | elevation 693 m/2,274 ft

Mthatha is a scraggly and somewhat scrappy city that has not flourished since its days as the capital of the Transkei homeland from 1976 to 1994. While the city itself is not a tourist attraction, it is the largest city in the Wild Coast region and a main stopping point along the East London to Durban route. One site that is worth the drive is the Nelson Mandela Museum, which tells the story of Mandela's rise to become the country's first freely elected president, from his beginnings in the nearby town of Qunu. Mthatha is not excessively dangerous but it is worth mentioning that it is not a good idea to walk around with anything valuable or flashy during the day and exploring the city by night isn’t advised.

Nelson Mandela Museum

Nelson Mandela Museum is a polished and inspiring tribute to Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president and original resident of the Eastern Cape. Striking murals, video and audio exhibits follow Mandela's life and give insight to both Xhosa culture and the development of the nation.


Lubobeni Tours

Lubobeni Tours offers a Nelson Mandela tour covering Mvezo, Qunu and Mqekezweni Village where Mandela was born, grew up and shaped his democratic beliefs. The company also offers tours to the Nelson Mandela Museum as well as game viewing and cultural tours in the surrounding area.


Qunu

Qunu is the childhood home of Nelson Mandela. The village is composed of 18 small communities, where women still wear traditional dress and modernity hasn't overpowered the daily rituals of villagers. You can easily wander around Qunu by yourself to get an impression of what the life of young Nelson Mandela was like. Sights to look out for as you meander are Nelson Mandela's original home, the old stone church where Nelson Mandela was christened, the Qunu Primary School where he attended and was given the name of Nelson and the Nelson Mandela Youth and Heritage Centre. While sites are marked, locals are familiar with visitors passing through and will have no problem directing you.

From Mthatha, take the N2 32 kilometers southwest and turn right at the Qunu turnoff (S 31 47.406 E 028 36.883).


Circus Triangle Shopping Centre

Circus Triangle Shopping Centre is a well-stocked mall with upmarket clothing and shoe stores, pharmacies, a Shoprite as well as FNB and Standard Bank ATMs.


Savoy Shopping Centre

Savoy Shopping Centre has a few restaurants and an Internet café.


Southernwood Shopping Center

Southernwood Shopping Center has a Pick 'n Pay, Internet café, restaurant and Standard Bank and FNB ATMs.


Budget

Mthatha Backpackers

Mthatha Backpackers has six-bed dorms in two large permanent safari tents and a few rooms inside the main house. There is a comfortable outdoor lapa with a pool table located beside the swimming pool. The backpackers isn't within walking distance from much but perfect for those with their own transport. Angus, the personable host, can also provide pickup and drop offs. He also offers tours into the surrounding area.


Blues Ally B&B

Blues Ally B&B is a converted home and cottage addition that offers clean and homey rooms at a fair rate. Outside, a swimming pool, braai area and porch are equally simple but pleasant. There is one room in the house that is en suite, the rest have a shared bathroom.


Mid-range

Brats Guest House

Brats Guest House offers a warm welcome and a mix of room styles and sizes. The main guesthouse is located in the residential suburb of Southernwood but there is also a more upmarket Brats II nearby.


Herrington House

Herrington House has 12 clean en suite rooms with original paintings, TV, fridge and a large bathroom. There is a
central dining room that serves breakfast and dinner upon request.


Top-end

Ekhaya Guesthouse

Ekhaya Guesthouse is a set of three guesthouses just next to the Mthatha Country Club that are some of the best accommodations in town. Two of the guesthouses are directly across the street from each other and have similarly neat and cozily decorated rooms that will make you feel at home for at least a night or two. One of the guesthouses is far swankier, with Jacuzzi tubs and showers, dramatically draped beds, a pool and DVD players in every room.


Hotel Savoy

Hotel Savoy is a clean but rather characterless hotel frequented by business people and travelers passing through. All rooms are en suite with air-conditioning and a TV. Located just off the main road and N2, it's a convenient place if you want a good night sleep but other options would offer more flavor to your visit. Internet is available at the Internet café next door.


Mike's Kitchen

Mike's Kitchen is a franchise steak joint and family restaurant that serves up fried, meaty and cheesy things in every form imaginable - the kind of food that is best used to pave a stomach for a night of drinking or cure a hangover the next morning.


Ayakhula Pub & Restaurant

Ayakhula Pub & Restaurant is a smart looking restaurant with personable staff. The kitchen serves humongous portions of traditional food. There isn't a set menu but there is generally chicken, beef, mutton or fish served with steamed bread and samp on hand. The attached bar is well stocked.


La Piazza

La Piazza, also called The Country Club Restaurant, overlooks Mthatha's golf course and manages to pull off a long and diverse list of meals without sacrificing quality or flavor. Locals will tell you this is the best place to eat in town, but it's more the homemade goodness than the dining room's modish glow that makes this place worth a trip.


Gee-String

Gee-String is a place to rub shoulders with some of the friendly locals and get a representative introduction to Mthatha's nightlife.