Durban is a beachside city in South Africa that boasts the busiest port in Africa. The Indian Ocean fringes the city limits, and the port has a Golden Mile of beachfront. Yet Durban remains more dynamic than your average beachside town.
Durban is renowned for being one of the most cosmopolitan cities in South Africa, and the term melting pot is not used lightly. Zulu, Indian and European Africans merge in this subtropical city; 60 percent of Durbanites are Zulu, the largest ethnic group in South Africa. Along the main precinct of Victoria Road, a mosque minaret meets a Catholic church spire above the bustling auspice of an Indian market.
The Zulu people originate from this province and changed the course of South African colonialism at the end of the 19th century under the reign of famed warrior King Shaka.
Durban feels like a more African city than any other in South Africa, particularly if cruise passengers have been to the more European city of Cape Town. It is also the gateway to some of South Africa's scenic wonders, from the Drakensberg mountain range to the Valley of 1,000 Hills and the safari drives of Phinda Game Reserve.
The Bay of Natal is a natural harbor just behind the beachfront. The passenger terminal facility is in N Shed at T-Jetty. There are craft stalls at the terminal when ships are docked. A five-minute walk will see you reach the Golden Mile of beaches, as well as uShaka Marine World, a popular tourist attraction. It's a fifteen-minute walk into the city center of Victoria Street, but take a taxi and you'll be there within five minutes.
The cruise ship terminal is found in a commercial container ship port so the leisure facilities are limited. The closest tourist facility to the port terminal is uShaka Marine World, which has an open-air mall called Village Walk that contains souvenir and surf shops, restaurants, fast food restaurants and toilets. The ship staff will give you a map, and it's an easy walk to the beaches of Durban.
Be conscious of pickpockets. While walking is reasonably safe when vigilant in the daytime, steer clear of walking at nighttime. Keep valuable possessions out of sight or preferably on the ship. If you rent a car, lock the doors, and keep windows closed in high-density areas.
On Foot: Durban's beaches and city center are within a 15-minute walking radius of the cruise terminal, but for safety, the cruise ships will often advocate taxis as a mode of transport.
By Taxi: The best way to get around is by taxi. They are safe, cheap and run metered fares. To travel from the terminal to the city will cost about 30 to 50 rand.
By Bus: Most cruises will run a bus to uShaka Marine World. From there, a shuttle bus operates to the Victoria Street market, which is the heart of Durban's city center.
South Africa uses the rand (ZAR). For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. There are no ATMs at the cruise port, but five minutes in a taxi to the city center will see you reach many bank outlets and withdrawal facilities.
English is the language spoken by Durban locals, but you might hear it peppered with Afrikaans, Zulu and Hindu. The most commonly used Afrikaans words are:
Braii for a barbecue
Eish for a drawn out response to shock or surprise
Ja for yes
Just now is not quite now but could be never
Lekker is for all that is good and great
Robot is a traffic light
Durban has the highest expat population of Indians in the world, and their food is a testament to this. Durban's signature dish is the bunny chow, a hollowed out white bread loaf filled with spicy curry. If you can't handle the heat, ask for a mild version, and restaurants will be happy to adjust the chili.
House of Curries, a local institution, is found on Florida Road, a wide street lined with bars and restaurants. It's a casual eatery that belies the quality of its mini-Bunny Chows, served with three sides. There is also a Chip Chow, which are fries smothered in curry and cheese. (275 Florida Road, Berea, 4001, South Africa; +27 31 303 6076; open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight)
The Grill Room at the Oyster Box hotel is a fine dining restaurant. The food is rich but high quality. Before or after your meal, be sure to spend time on the balcony of the bar in sunken cane chairs that overlook the beach and bright red lighthouse. Also try the oysters, sourced daily from their own oyster farm. (2 Lighthouse Road, Umhlanga, 4320; +27 31 514 5000; dinner served daily from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.)
The Pot and Kettle is the place to go if you're heading to the Valley of 1,000 Hills. There you'll find comfort fare that's uniquely South African -- which includes a penchant for combining banana and bacon in toasted sandwiches and even salads. (168 Old Main Road, Hillcrest, 3660, South Africa;
+27 31 777 1312; open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
Durban is the best place to buy Zulu handicrafts. Head to the Victoria Street Market to find locally made curios, such as drums, tribal masks, cane woven baskets and beaded jewelry.
Sundowners -- alcoholic drinks imbibed as the sun sets -- are a religion in South Africa. While there is no specific South African cocktail per se, anything that contains the creamy liquor Amarula offers an authentic taste of the country.