Guide to Port Elizabeth: Safety, What to Do, and How to Get there

port elizabeth

One of South Africa’s main seaports, Port Elizabeth is experiencing a rise in tourist arrivals, both domestic and international. The renewed interest in the “windy city” is due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Some of the best beaches in the country and moderate climate
  • Historically significant landmarks
  • A buzzing nightlife rich with music
  • Accessible game reserves and parks to observe South African wildlife
  • One of South Africa’s safest areas
  • A vibrant art scene and plenty of outdoor activities.

Port Elizabeth and the country in general welcome tourism for the positive impact it has on its culture and economy. In fact, South Africa is currently piloting a new electronic visa system that will allow foreign citizens to obtain a visa entirely online in minutes.

Those who are planning their next trip to South Africa should consider Port Elizabeth as an unmissable stop in their itinerary. This page is intended as a short guide to the city for international tourists and includes information relating to attractions, transports, required documents, and safety in Port Elizabeth.

How to Get to Port Elizabeth

Located in the Eastern Cape in South Africa, Port Elizabeth is served by the Port Elizabeth International Airport (formerly known as H.F. Verwoerd Airport). The airport is only 2 miles south of Port Elizabeth’s central business district.

Commercial flights mostly operate domestic routes to and from the following South African cities:

This means that international travelers will likely need to fly to another South African city and then take a domestic flight to Port Elizabeth.

Port Elizabeth’s train station serves routes to and from several cities including Johannesburg and Cape Town. Companies like Translux, Greyhound, and Intercape offer coach and bus rides to and from major South African centers.

Once in Port Elizabeth, it will be very easy to rent a car. Holders of driver’s licenses printed in languages other than English will need to provide an official translation. Moreover, remember that South Africans drive on the left side of the road.

Do I Need a Visa to Go to Port Elizabeth?

The vast majority of foreign tourists will need to successfully apply for a South African visa in order to reach Port Elizabeth since only a limited number of nationalities can enter South Africa visa-free.

The fact that you specifically intend to visit Port Elizabeth does not affect the type of visa you need to apply for nor the visa requirements that you need to comply with. Those depend on factors such as your nationality, the intended length of your stay, and the reason(s) for your visit.

What Can I Do in Port Elizabeth?

Port Elizabeth (or PE) is a city of over 300,000 people. Locals are known for being welcoming and laid-back but also young, active, and creative. There is plenty to do in PE.

Relax on World-Class Beaches

Port Elizabeth is part of Algoa Bay, an area that includes over 40 km of sandy beaches. You’ll be pleased to read that these are some of the tidiest and safest in the country and most have earned the international Blue Flag status.

Depending on where you go, you can find lively spots with kiosks and skating parks or more intimate rock pools. There are also beaches that are part of marine reserves — ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling — and others that are considered a surfer’s paradise.

Find below some of the most popular beaches in Port Elizabeth:

  • Wells Estate Beach
  • Humewood Beach
  • Kings Beach
  • Hobie Beach
  • Pollock Beach
  • Sardinia Bay
  • New Brighton Beach
  • Bluewater Bay.

Follow the Path of History on Route 67

The unique Route 67 is a historic and artistic trail that honors the life of Nelson Mandela. Along the path, you will find 67 monuments and artworks realized by Eastern Cape’s creatives — one for every year that Nelson Mandela spent in public service.

Start the walk at the Donkin Reserve and admire some iconic works like the Voting Line by Anthony Harris and ‘76 Youth Piece. The trail ends at Campanile, erected in 1922 to commemorate the landing of the first settlers.

Port Elizabeth also presents a great number of war memorials honoring the victims of the Anglo-Boer War. The Horse Memorial and the Prince Alfred’s Guards Memorial are among the most visited.

Discover the Unique South African Flora and Fauna

South Africa is famous for its savannah and wildlife and is a popular safari destination. Fortunately, tourists in Port Elizabeth are able to admire the unique South African animals and vegetation thanks to several reserves and parks in the area.

Some of the most famous ones are:

  • Addo Elephant National Park. The third-largest South African park, Addo Elephant National Park is a space of over 444,000 where 600 elephants roam free. You will also be able to spot Cape buffalos, black rhinos, lions, leopards, zebras, spotted hyenas, numerous antelope, and more than 185 species of birds.
  • Kragga Kama Game Park. Perfect for those who can’t spend much time on a safari, this park offers open Land Rover guided tours and can be visited in under 3 hours. Kragga Kama Game Park is located 30’ away from Port Elizabeth and hosts white rhinos, buffalos, giraffes, zebras, cheetas, and monkeys.
  • Cape Recife Nature Reserve. This 366-hectares coast reserve is ideal for hiking and spending the day on pristine and deserted beaches. Penguin lovers can’t miss out on visiting the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. Feeding time and beach penguin releases are the most fun events for the whole family.
  • Van Staden Wildflower Reserve. This is the ideal park for a walk and a picnic. Bring your camera along as the blooming flowers are picture-perfect.
  • Shamwari Private Game Reserve. This private game reserve is famous in South African and abroad. The luxury lodges and excellent food make it worth it to book a few nights here. But Shamwari is also popular because of its conservational and educational programs: the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary hosts rescued big cats from around the world. Make sure to contact the sanctuary before visiting.

Take in the Local Atmosphere

Port Elizabeth is lively and buzzing with activities. Tourists passionate about modern and contemporary art will find plenty to visit, from formal venues like ArtEC and the Gutsche Family Investment Art Gallery to the Underculture Contemporary pop-up gallery and art-meets-music gigs at Chapel Street Studios.

The PE food scene is evolving rapidly and foodies should head over hip Stanley Street for the latest culinary concepts. It’s also a great place for mingling with the locals, especially at night when the trees glow with fairy lights. Don’t forget to try the delicious street food at the many pop-up restaurants and local markets.

Port Elizabeth is a relatively old town as it was built on the place of the very first arrival of the British settlers in 1820. This is reflected in a number of beautiful old buildings in late-Victorian style like the post office. Go to No 7 Castle Hill for an example of early settler house.

Is Port Elizabeth Safe for Tourists?

South Africa is a generally safe country. Most of the serious crimes committed in the country do not affect foreigners.

There are no particular risks associated with traveling to Port Elizabeth and general safety advice applies:

  • Don’t leave your luggage or belongings unattended
  • Be aware of pickpoketers, especially in crowded areas. Keep your valuables close and don’t flash expensive items
  • Use registered tour guides
  • Try to avoid hiking in reserves or mountain trails alone
  • Always have water and sunblock with you (temperatures can get high during the summer)
  • Swim at beach supervised by a swim guard whenever possible
  • When driving, keep the car doors locked and the windows up at all times

The Emergency Phone Number in South Africa is 112.

What Is the Best Time to Visit Port Elizabeth?

Located in the Southern Hemisphere, Port Elizabeth’s summer months run from late November to the end of February. This is the best time to visit the port city and enjoy its many beaches thanks to the warm temperatures (between 16 and 27 degrees Celsius).

However, summer is also the peak season when crowds are to be expected. If you want to avoid the high season and don’t mind cooler temperatures, winter is also a pleasant time to visit.