Durban, South Africa: Get This Gem On Your Radar.
The best bad idea I’ve ever had: visiting Durban during the Christmas season. Durban is a coastal city in South Africa, about a 5 hour drive/50 minute flight from Johannesburg. I have friends who have previously visited Durban repeatedly and speak highly of it, so when I looked for a side-trip from Jozi, Durban seemed like the perfect choice. Before I visited Durban, I expected to see a quaint beach town when I arrived. Um...no. Durban is the 3rd largest city in South Africa. To add a little extra on, I also didn’t realize the population of Durban swells massively during the holiday period. And apparently South Africans take their holidays veeeeeery seriously.
I heard from some South Africans they usually stop working around December 16th (The Day of Reconciliation) and don’t start work again until after the New Year. Now of course, some people are still out their grinding (those Uber drivers are getting all the work) - but the whole vibe of South Africa was really chill. Even in Johannesburg, in the two weeks before Christmas, shops were closed, scheduled weekly fairs were non-existent, and regular day parties went MIA. A big part of the Joburg population leaves town to go to their home villages, or it seems, they descend on Durban.
Fortunately, there’s enough to do in Durban to keep everyone occupied. Durban’s like a lot of other other large beach cities. You can hang out on the beach all day, walk the boardwalk, stay poolside at your hotel, or go inland looking for more traditional things to do. I went to a giant mall about a 30 minute Uber ride away. I went to the movies at the shopping center on the Boardwalk (SunCoast). I also stopped by the casino in the shopping center. Fun was being had all around. Bodies pack the beach every day from dawn till dusk. The day I left the city hosted a huge festival in a park headlined by a DJ (Black Coffee) and the Durban Jazz Festival started. According to the locals I spoke to when you come to Durban for the holidays, you mustn’t leave until after New Years Eve or you’re doing it all wrong. Alas, I did it wrong. All wrong.
So here’s where things get tricky - your girl prides herself on being able to navigate most cities, while carefully and cautiously avoiding danger, but I’ve gotta admit - Durban overwhelmed me. One of the other things someone told me about vacationing in Durban, is Durban is the coastal vacation destination for people who cannot afford to vacation in Cape Town. And when the legit vacationers arrive, so does a less legit element. I have never visited a city in which I have been so frequently told to exercise caution by well meaning strangers. Every waitress, and Uber driver gave me a safety tip and wanted to help me out, without request.
If you leave the main beach stretch, and head into the city, the few close downtown blocks are teeming with people. People left me alone for the most part, but while looking for a particular location, I assessed a block as not being in my best interest to walk down, and turned around. Very rarely do I choose not to walk a certain path (especially when I’m already on it). I usually just pay attention to what’s going on, determine the best way to avoid any potential danger, and push through to the other side. But there are just so many people in the Durban streets, so many different languages being spoken, and so many unknown variables, my spidey senses told me to take my ass back where I came from, or find another way to get where I wanted to go.
I’d love to see Durban outside of this crush of people, because I’m not sure I have a good sense of what the city is really like, but still, I loved being there during the holiday rush. Durban was nothing but kids living their best lives, parties, and good vibes. Overall, I had a black ass good time in Durban, and spending the holidays in the Southern Hemisphere may be my new favorite thing.
R E C O M M E N D A T I O N S:
Try the food at Ocean Basket
Rent a bike and see how much of the boardwalk you can see. It stretches for miles. (Or if you’re there on a Saturday, join the beach run).
Find a reason to leave the beach and see more of what the larger Durban area has to offer. You can ‘t go wrong with a drive to the Gateway Theater of Shopping, the scenery is truly picturesque.
Visit the bars on Florida Road for some night time fun.
Find the monkeys that hang out in the trees by Suncoast. They are absolutely adorable (said by someone terrified of monkeys so you know it must be true).
The province Durban sits in was originally named “Natal” which means Christmas in Portuguese.