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Nelson Mandela Tour of South Africa

Tour South Africa in Nelson Mandela's Footsteps

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Nelson Mandela Tour, South Africa

Nelson Mandela Tour, South Africa

Getty Images/Gareth Cattermole
A Nelson Mandela tour of South Africa will introduce the traveler to some of the highlights of the great man's life as well as some of the most interesting sights in South Africa.

Mandela's Birthplace - The Wild Coast

South Africa's Wild Coast region of the Eastern Cape is known for its unspoilt beauty, rolling green hills and pristine beaches. Waterfalls drop straight into the warm Indian Ocean, and the coast is dotted with exciting shipwrecks. It is wild indeed.

Now Umtata is getting a tourism boost from its ultimate attraction - the name of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president and the Eastern Cape's favorite son. To further promote this legendary man's birthplace and life, The Nelson Mandela Museum was officially opened on the 11 February 2000, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Mandela's release from prison. It is considered one of South Africa's most significant heritage institutions. The birthplace/museum is situated at Qunu, south of Umtata, near the actual spot where Mandela was born.

There's a Nelson Mandela Route which will take you from Mandela's birthplace, to where he spent his youth, as well as where he currently lives. The tour naturally includes the Museum. Steve Biko is also buried in this area.

Other highlights of the Eastern Cape include Hogsback, a fairytale land of waterfalls and lush mountains. The Eastern Cape is also home to some of South Africa's best (malaria-free) safari parks.

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Soweto - Mandela the Political Activist

Soweto is a sprawling township outside of Johannesburg, where Mandela made his mark as a political activist and leader. Soweto is the largest of South Africa's "townships". This vibrant city is home to some 3.5 million people and a number of historical sights. A typical visit to Soweto includes a stop at a traditional shebeen (drinking hall), where you can savor local beer, as well as a visit to the homes where Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu once lived. Mandela's house is now a museum called The Mandela Family Museum.

Soweto is also the site of the 1976 uprising that shocked the world and which is now officially recognized every June 16 as Youth Day. Nowhere can the story of South Africa's turbulent past and its extraordinary transition to democracy be told as it is at Constitution Hill, which served as a backdrop for the crux of the Soweto Uprising.

Soweto Tours

  • Bus Tour of Soweto, 6-7 hours. Includes a visit to a hostel, traditonal shabeen and a church.

  • Vhupo Tours offer several different tours of Soweto including an overnight stay at a B&B.

  • Rhubuluza Soweto Township Tours include educational tours as well as a pub-crawl to really get to the heart the Soweto experience.

  • Africa Explore offers several tours of different lengths, some of which can be combined with other Johannesburg tours.

Mandela's Prison Years - Robben Island, Cape Town

A Robben Island tour is a must when you're visiting Cape Town. It's a fascinating half-day trip to the former penal colony where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life. Many leading members of South African political parties like the PAC and ANC were incarcerated alongside him.

One of your guides on the tour will likely be an ex-political prisoner. This gives you the opportunity to hear a first-hand account of prison life on Robben Island that makes it a truly priceless experience.

Tours to Robben Island should be booked in advance either through a travel agent or directly at the Nelson Mandela Gateway (near the clock tower) on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront where the ferries depart from. Tours last around 4 hours and include the ferry ride to Robben Island, a tour of the prison buildings, and a bus tour of the island itself. You will get to see the lime quarry that the prisoners spent years of their lives hacking away at. You also get a very interesting historical perspective of the island's history as a penal colony, leper colony and pantry for early settlers (penguins and their eggs are very nutritious).

Victor Verster Prison - Now Groot Drakenstein
Nelson Mandela spent his final months of imprisonment in (what was then known as) the Victor Verster maximum security prison. The prison is now called the Groot Drakenstein correctional facility. It's situated in the lovely Winelands region in the Western Cape. You can follow a sobering tour of the prison with a little wine-tasting and gourmet food, to cheer yourself up. A statue of Mandela is one of the main attractions of a visit here. The location has been deliberately chosen to stand in the very place where Mandela took his first steps outside of the prison as a free man.

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