I was both excited and nervous stepping off the plane in Durban, South Africa. On one hand, I was eager to experience the culture and warmth of the region. Still, just weeks before Durban was all over the news for xenophobic attacks.
There was an unmistakable awareness and recognition of the attacks, but, still, Durban was eager to show me one of South Africa’s most lively and eclectic cities.
Eat + Drink
Durban cuisine is among some of the most vibrant in all of southern Africa, thanks largely to a strong Indian influence. The city has the largest population of people of Indian descent living outside of India.
The African and Indian cultures collide with Durban specialty, bunny chow, a hollowed out bread bowl filled with curry, and often using local meats like lamb and chicken. While bunny chow is served at a number of Indian restaurants, it’s Johnny’s, a hole-in-the-wall in the Overport neighborhood, which brings people from all over the city for the dish.
But bunny chow isn’t not the only Asian influence in Durban. Located on the famous Golden Mile, Daruma was one of the first authentic Japanese restaurants in South Africa. Daruma specializes in teppanyaki, but also features a full sushi menu with a wide-variety of hand rolls, nigiri, and sashimi.
Durban is also seeing a growing movement toward handcrafted, local food and drinks, like the menu offered at RepubliK, a build-your-own burger restaurant with an emphasis on South African products, from local beef to craft wine, beer, and spirits.
Continuing with the trend toward a vibrant, craft culture is The Chairman, a sophisticated lounge that transports guests to prohibition-era New Orleans, where bartenders mix craft cocktails to the tune of live jazz music.
See + Do
Durban’s Golden Mile is your typical waterfront promenade, that is, until you see a vervet monkey or rickshaw (dubbed, “Zulu rikshas”) whiz past you. “The Mile,” as it’s often called, is central for tourism, lined with skate parks, restaurants, coffee shops, and uShaka Marine World, a theme park that’s also home to one of the largest aquariums in the world.
Unlike in Cape Town, Durban’s water is largely warm year-round. The waters along the Golden Mile are often lined with surfers on a good day of swell, and there are numerous surf shops just off the promenade, like Safari Surf and Ocean Ventures, which offers kayaks and stand-up paddleboards in addition to surfing gear.
Nearby is Moses Mabhida Stadium, known originally for being one of the host stadiums of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It remains a major tourist attraction today, where guests can ride the SkyCar up to the observation platform for panoramic views of Durban. Extreme adventurer can also opt to try out the Big Rush Big Swing from the top. It’s the world’s tallest swing, and features a 720-foot arc over the field.
The emphasis of craft and culture seen in the city’s culinary scene extends to Durban’s many markets. No site demonstrates this more than Durban’s Zulu Muthi Market, which emphasizes the importance of traditional healing in Zulu culture, and is lined with displays of animal and plant parts for natural—and supernatural—medicinal purposes. While the vibe has been tense following the recent xenophobic crimes that took place near the market, it absolutely deserves a spot on your itinerary.
Photographer Dane Forman, also recommends Victoria Street Market, “one of Durban’s best street markets, and [it’s] designed around tourists.” Here, African and Asian influences collide, with stalls ranging from traditional spice and incense merchants to fresh seafood sellers to oriental ceramicists.
Towering above Durban’s Golden Mile are Southern Sun’s Elangeni and Maharani towers, featuring 734 rooms just a few minutes walk from the ocean. They are home to several restaurants, including Daruma (mentioned above), and no fewer than three swimming pools. Book a waterfront room for beautiful sunrises over the Indian Ocean.
Located just north of Durban’s center is the resort area of Umhlanga, home to the Beverly Hills Hotel and The Oyster Box, both located beachfront. A mainstay since 1964, the Beverly Hills is a more boutique-style luxury hotel with 88 rooms and suites, an on-property spa, and ocean-facing pool.
Nearby, The Oyster Box, overlooks the Indian Ocean and Umhlanga Lighthouse and is one of the highest-rated hotels in South Africa. The exterior speaks to colonial architecture while inside is modernly equipped with 86 luxurious rooms, two swimming pools, and even a 24-seat movie theater. Belly up to the charming, old world Chukka Bar, full of five decades of stories, and enjoy a whiskey and cigar for a nightcap.