Port St Johns
Close to the ground.

GPS: S 31 37.391 E 029 32.749 | pop. 2,000 | elevation 9 m/30 ft

In the heart of the Eastern Cape and former Transkei, Port St Johns is a gorgeous, peaceful destination for backpackers and families alike - although its reputation has long been as a Mecca for cannabis connoisseurs.

Here the Umzimvubu River, flanked by mountains, flows into the Indian Ocean. The river mouth creates a natural port with multiple bays and strings of pristine sand. In addition to its beautiful beaches, Port St Johns is also known for good fishing, waterfalls and hiking trails that wind through thick jungle. The area is home to the Xhosa speaking Pondo people who have inhabited this region for hundreds of years, but the town’s name is said to come from the Portuguese ship, Sao Joao, which wrecked off the coast in 1552.

Port St Johns Museum

Port St Johns Museum is a quaint museum of local artwork, crafts and sculpture. Attached to the museum is the local library.


Silaka Nature Reserve

Silaka Nature Reserve is roughly 400 hectares of untouched coastal forest along the Wild Coast, just 6 kilometers west of Port St Johns. The lush green landscape opens up onto the rugged Third Beach, a perfect spot for swimming, fishing, hiking and taking in the pristine surroundings. Private chalets are also available if you want to stay overnight. To get there, take the road towards Second Beach. Turn right after the bridge and continue following the road up the hill until you reach the entrance gate.


Airstrip

Airstrip is part of the old Transkei Military Base and is now used for private aircraft. The cliff at the end of the airstrip has a breathtaking aerial view of town and the surrounding landscape. It's also a great spot for a sundowner.

To get there from Bridge St, turn right on North St and take your first right onto Mountain Dr. Continue 2.4 km past Wettham Hill until you reach the old security gate. Immediately after the gate, turn right on a dirt road. Follow the road 2.6 km until you see a sign for a right turn towards the airstrip. Take that for 3 km and drive to the far end of the airstrip for the best view in town. Jungle Monkey also arranges sundowner shuttles.


Beaches

First Beach, Second Beach and Third Beach are - predictably - Port St Johns' three beaches. First Beach is in the main town and due to numerous shark sightings, is not recommended for swimming. Second Beach is the best swimming beach, often has lifeguards on duty and is close to some of the more rustic accommodations and funky eateries. Local sunbathing cows frequent its west end. Third Beach is within the Silaka Nature Reserve (R25) and its pristine setting is good for both more secluded swimming and scenic picnics.


Hiking

There are numerous hikes you can take from Port St Johns through the region's forest to nearby waterfalls or along the scenic coastline. Operation Footprint is a booklet that details different routes and trails you can follow and is available both at the Tourism Information Office and online. It's advisable to take a guide for some of the longer and more difficult treks, especially if you are alone or in a small group.

Port St Johns to Coffee Bay Hiking Trail is a beautifully rugged path skirting the coast through untouched nature and traditional coastal homelands. The hike is roughly 100 kilometers and takes about five days to complete, with accommodation available in
simple hikers huts. The trip can be done independently or with a guide.


Jimmy Mbuyi Faces & Places

Jimmy Mbuyi Faces & Places can outfit you with a guide that knows the route and the villages along the way.


Krafty Khameleon

Krafty Khameleon has an eclectic array of crafts and gifts available, ranging from t-shirts to crystals to coffee.


Budget

Jungle Monkey

Jungle Monkey recently bought out Island Backpackers next door and the new combined compound is a one-stop party place for backpackers in Port St Johns. The complex boasts a stacked bar, a stage and the liveliest night scene in town. The staff is also charged with arranging a wide spectrum of area activities and whether you want guided hikes, cultural tours, volunteer opportunities, surf lessons or a booze cruise they can hook you up. A shuttle service is also available from Mthatha Shell Ultracity, a Baz Bus stop.


Amapondo Backpackers

Amapondo Backpackers is a peaceful backpackers overlooking the beautiful Second Beach. The pace here is slow and community oriented. They offer free guided hikes through the dense forests, and can set you up with area activities and tours or arrange guides for the five-day hike to Coffee Bay. The backpackers is also home to the Amapondo Children's Project, a nonprofit organization involved in local initiatives geared toward child protection, education, employment and sustainability. Volunteers are welcome.


Ikaya Guesthouse

Ikaya Guesthouse is a little piece of paradise carved out next to Second Beach. A few dated cottages scattered around a lush and unkempt garden aren't anything fancy but a perfect spot if you're interested in a little privacy and getting away from the town's minimal hustle and bustle. The place is run by a few old school beach bums who, if nothing else, add character to the secluded spot.


Mid-range

Wettham Hill

Wettham Hill offers affordable unpretentious luxury and one of the best views in town. Each of its eight en suite rooms looks out onto the Indian Ocean and the town below. Their stylish dining room and open-air balcony is a great place for a sundowner.


Glass House Guest Lodge

Glass House Guest Lodge is just meters from the water and offers excellent, unobstructed views of the river mouth and First Beach. The basic en suite bungalows have private balconies and views of the ocean. The self-catering flat has no view, but is a decent budget option for groups and comfortably sleeps three to four people. The Lodge has a restaurant and full bar for guests as well as a large deck to soak in the vista.


Silaka Nature Reserve

Silaka Nature Reserve has 18 private, self-catering thatched roof chalets in the heart of a tranquil nature reserve. Each spacious chalet is outfitted with a separate living room, kitchen and braai area. Ask for a chalet with a beach view, but even if those are booked, the park is pristine and Third Beach is no more than a 500-meter stroll away. To get there, take the road towards Second Beach. Turn right after the bridge and continue following the road up the hill until you reach the entrance gate.


Cremorne Holiday Resort

Cremorne Holiday Resort is a peaceful, family-friendly lodge situated on the banks of the Umzimvubu River just north of the center of town. It has log cabins, self-catering cottages and fully serviced camping sites on well-maintained grounds. The main chalet has a restaurant, full bar and swimming pool as well as multiple braai areas scattered throughout the resort. There also is a helipad for those who want to arrive in style.


The Delicious Monster

The Delicious Monster is a slightly hidden Second Beach restaurant run by a very friendly couple who can whip you up mouthwatering seafood or the best burgers in town. The restaurant also has a small gift shop of local crafts, many of which are made out of recycled goods.


Wood 'n Spoon

Wood 'n Spoon is a simple chef-owned restaurant located right on the beach. Meals are prepared inside a trailer and include specials such as traditional Xhosa Umngqusho (beans, maize, potatoes, onion and garlic) appler macaroni as well as vegetarian and vegan options.


Fish Eagle Restaurant

Fish Eagle Restaurant offers the best wood-fired clay oven pizza in town as well as a selection of grills and pasta. Dining under the thatched lapa or on the deck overlooking the Umzimvubu River couldn't be lovelier.


Wettham Hill Restaurant

Wettham Hill Restaurant is part of the guesthouse, but worth a visit for its spectacular food and view. Perched high above the town and Port St Johns Bay, it serves hearty local dishes and a good selection of seafood. No other dinner in town comes with a panorama like this.


Jesters Coffee Shop

Jesters Coffee Shop is good for a quick bite. Choose from the selection of sandwiches, tramezzinis, and homemade pies.


Jungle Monkey

Jungle Monkey is the local backpackers and party central almost every night of the week. It has a stocked bar and stage for frequent local live music or the inspired jams of tourists passing through.


N.E.W.S. Cafe

N.E.W.S. Cafe has a quaint covered terrace in the center of town, perfect for sipping an afternoon tea or a sundowner. While it has a full menu, mixed reviews of the food leave us to caution you to order light, if at all.