Unexpected Adventures: What to Explore in Southern Africa When Your Cruise Gets Rerouted

Since Houthi militia in Yemen began attacking cargo ships in the Red Sea early this year, cruise lines have been redirecting their itineraries to avoid the area.

Given how convenient it is to go between Asia and Europe through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, this route is exceptionally common on World Cruises or repositioning itineraries.

As a result of the ongoing unrest, cruise ships have been forced to drastically reroute these cruises all the way around the continent of Africa, and cruise ports in Southern Africa have experienced an unexpected and welcome boom in cruise traffic.

Ships from MSC Cruises, Princess Cruises, Cunard Line, P&O Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Fred. Olsen Cruises, Costa Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Oceania, and TUI Cruises are among the cruise lines that have brought guests to these shores on previously unplanned visits this year alone.

While itinerary changes can be disappointing for those with their hearts set on specific ports of call, they can also provide cruisers with an opportunity to explore parts of the world they may not otherwise have considered – like countries in Southern Africa.

If your cruise is redirected around the southern tip of Africa, here are some of the highlights you may be able to look forward to:

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Walvis Bay, Namibia

Walvis Bay is a town situated on the dramatic Namibian coast, where the cold Atlantic Ocean meets the Namib Desert with its massive towering dunes, resulting in one of the most dramatic landscapes you are likely to experience on a cruise.

Sheltered by the Pelican Point sand spit, flamingos and other birdlife collect in the Walvis Bay Lagoon, making it a popular destination for bird lovers.

The nearby town of Swakopmund references Namibia’s history as a colony of Germany and is known for its picturesque German architecture. Visits to this unusual Bavarian village in the middle of a desert in Africa make for a popular excursion.

Adventure seekers can scale some of the world’s highest sand dunes and explore the desert terrain of the Namib-Naukluft National Park overlooking the ocean. A variety of quad bike, 4×4 and wildlife safari tours are available in this fascinating and breathtaking landscape.

Luderitz, Namibia

Lüderitz is a town shrouded in both history and sand. It is known for its well-preserved German architecture from the early 20th century when the country was a German colony. The town offers a glimpse into its past as a diamond mining hub with architectural highlights such as the Felsenkirche (a Lutheran church) and the prestigious art nouveau residence the Goerke Haus.

The highlight of this port, however, is Kolmanskop, a ghost town in the desert a short distance from Luderitz. The town was both established and abandoned in the first half of the 20th century when the diamond resources it was built on (and with) dwindled. Opulent buildings, including many lavish homes, a hospital, and a sports hall lie slowly being reclaimed by sand in one of the eeriest and most picturesque places on earth.

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is a vibrant city and easily one of the best cruise ports in the world with its close proximity to so many world-class tourist attractions. Located at the foot of Table Mountain, it is home to a vast amount of natural beauty (much of it protected as part of the Table Mountain National Park).

South Africa is known as the Rainbow Nation for being a very multicultural country, and Cape Town is reflective of that with a rich cultural heritage shaped by colonialism, apartheid, and Nelson Mandela’s legacy of peace and reconciliation.

The V&A Waterfront, one of the most visited tourist attractions on the continent of Africa is within walking distance from the Cruise Port. It is not only a shopping and entertainment hub but also a gateway to a vast plethora of tours and experiences. It is also from here that boat tours take visitors to Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela spent much of his 27 years in prison.

With such a variety of things to do, it is common for cruise ships to overnight here. Popular excursions include day trips to the scenic winelands surrounding the city. Culturally immersive tours take people into neighbourhoods such as Bo-Kaap with its brightly coloured buildings and rich Cape Malay history, or townships such as Langa and Khayelitsha.

A visit to the African penguin colony at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town enables visitors to get up close to endangered African penguins. For those looking for incredible views of the ocean from a scenic cliffside and encounters with baboons, zebra, ostriches, buck, and other wildlife, Cape Point is a popular attraction.

Alternatively, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway taking visitors up Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain is always a hit (weather dependent) for incredible views of the city, the ocean, and nature.

Gqeberha, South Africa

Gqeberha, formerly “Port Elizabeth” and known to locals as “The Friendly City”, is an ideal port for those looking for wildlife encounters or safari experiences. There are a number of game parks within travelling distance from the port that are home to the “Big Five”; African elephants, rhinoceros, leopards, Cape buffalo, and lions.

However, the sprawling Addo Elephant National Park is possibly the most popular game reserve in the region. Originally established as a reserve for 11 remaining elephants in the area, it is now home to about 600, as well as various buck species, hyenas, and the rest of the Big Five.

The province of the Eastern Cape where this city is located, is the home of the Xhosa people, the tribe that gave us Nelson Mandela. A popular excursion offered on select cruises involves journeying into rural parts of this region for a culturally immersive experience where the Xhosa people teach visitors about their language, culture, and customs.

There are a number of other experiences that honour the life of Nelson Mandela such as Route 67, an arts trail that commemorates Mandela’s 67 years of public service.

Durban, South Africa

Durban is a bustling city that enjoys a pleasant subtropical climate all year round.

Kwazulu Natal, the area surrounding Durban, is the homeland of the Zulu people. The region has also been shaped by colonialism which brought indentured labourers from British India to this part of the world resulting in a unique mix of Eastern, Western, and African influences. Local bus tours provide an overview of how these influences have shaped local art, architecture, fashion, cuisine, and culture. There are a number of vibrant markets selling everything from curios to Indian spices and African traditional medicine, but safety can be a concern so should you choose to visit, it’s best to be accompanied by a local guide.

For those looking to experience Zulu culture, a trip to PheZulu Safari Park in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, will give you a glimpse into South Africa’s largest ethnic group and their traditions, customs, history, and beliefs.

Another highlight of this port is the uShaka Marine World. Designed to look like a wrecked 1920s cargo ship, this marine theme park is an aquarium and a water park in one and includes the highest water slide in Africa, The Drop Zone. Alternatively, if you would like a beach day, Ballito, an area just north of Durban is a popular holiday destination with beautiful tourist-friendly beaches.

Port Louis, Mauritius

Nestled between the harbor and lush mountains, Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, offers a variety of attractions for visitors.

The lively Le Caudan Waterfront is a hub of activity with its array of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. The nearby Place d’Armes is an area lined with palm trees that stretches from the central waterfront of Port Louis to the French Colonial Government House.

The almost 250-year-old Pamplemousses Botanical Garden is also a highlight. Established by the French horticulturalist, Pierre Poivre, it showcases the island’s rich biodiversity and is renowned for its natural beauty and giant water lilies. For those more interested in fauna than flora, Casela Nature Parks is a collection of parks that make up a beautiful reserve and amusement park. Here people get up close to wildlife and birds and also participate in various adventure activities such as zip lining and quad biking.

Day trips to islets like the Île aux Aigrettes, the Île des Deux Cocos, or Île aux Cerfs are a beach lover’s dream with their white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. The Chamarel Seven Coloured Earth is another popular natural attraction. This is an area that is home to sand dunes comprising of seven distinct colors and the natural phenomenon caused by the fact that they settle into layers on their own. A visit to the nearby rum distillery, Rhumerie de Chamarel, is also very popular.

There are also opportunities for catamaran trips, snorkelling adventures, kayaking, and various other water activities.

Other Gems of Southern Africa Await

While the ports mentioned above seem to be the most commonly visited by rerouted cruise ships, other ports you may visit include Mossel Bay and Richards Bay in South Africa, Maputo in Mozambique, Réunion Island, and the ports of Madagascar. It is advisable to research the destination prior to your cruise. Crime is a factor in many ports.

While it is easy to go ashore independently in ports such as Cape Town and Port Louis, in other ports such as Gqeberha and Durban, it is strongly recommended that you take excursions with the cruise line or other reputable companies who will collect you from and return you to the port.

Though some of the Southern African ports are safer, better equipped, and more experienced in accommodating cruise ship visits than others, all of these destinations have a lot to offer. They do not suffer from over-tourism and welcome cruise ships to their shores. The positive impact of each ship visit on the local economy can be profound.

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