East London’s greatest appeal lies in the beauty of the coastline upon which it sits, and the wildly impressive beaches and game safaris to be enjoyed beyond the city limits.
Cruise terminal: There is no cruise terminal in East London, cruise ships dock in the commercial port and passengers are shuttled to the port entrance or on various shore excursions.
Shore excursions: Shore excursions in East London are varied, running from traditional and cultural experiences to encounters with the ‘big five’ in world-class game reserves.
Language: English primarily, but there are 11 official languages in South Africa
Staying safe: East London is a major industrial city with a high crime rate. Caution should be exercised – don’t leave valuables unattended, and avoid walking alone or in small groups at night.
Currency: The South African rand
East London is an industrial port city on South Africa’s Wild Coast. It isn’t a very pretty city, even though it’s the only South African city built on the banks of the Buffalo River, but cruising to and from East London provides epic views of one of the most rugged and dangerous coastlines in the world.
In the port itself, which is an important export hub for citrus fruits, mineral ores and wool, passengers can take a short stroll into the city centre, where they’ll find the East London Aquarium and the East London Museum, which is small, but home to the world’s only surviving dodo egg.
The British established East London as a military post in 1836, and used it as a base during the Xhosa wars. The arrival of German settlers, who had been serving as mercenaries in the British-German Legion, gave the place at the mouth of the Buffalo River an economic boost – and in 1873 East London was given town rights.
This colonial history is still seen today in the design of the 1921-built museum, and the East London City Hall on Oxford Street, built in 1897, in the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign. Today, the City Hall is graced with a statue of the martyred activist, Stephen Biko.
Outside the city limits, East London has some of the most impressive, unspoiled beaches on the continent, as well as several game reserves within a short drive. Mpongo Game Reserve and Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve are both featured as shore excursions by all cruise ships calling in East London.
Mpongo is the more expensive option. Home to elephants, lions, rhinos, buffalo, hippos, giraffes, numerous antelope and many bird species, Mpongo Private Game Reserve offers a unique blend of luxury and gaming experiences on over 8,600 acres of conservation land. Inkwenkwezi is smaller, but home to the South African ‘big five’ animals (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo).
Cruise tourists to East London looking for something more traditional and culturally-focused can also explore the Khaya La Bantu, open-air Xhosa cultural museum to experience Xhosa culture. They can visit the community centre, observe Xhosa customs, songs and dances, walk through the village, browse handicrafts and clothing, and sample local specialities.
The cruise terminal in East London
There is no cruise terminal in East London, cruise ships dock at a commercial quay within the port, where shuttle busses ferry passengers to the port gates, or on various booked shore excursions.
There is nowhere within easy walking distance of the ship to buy sundry items or souvenirs or exchange money.
Currency and language in East London
East London is part of South Africa and as such the South African rand is the primary currency. Dollars, euros and pounds may be accepted by some shops and street sellers, but it is advisable to exchange money for such purchases on the high street. All shops and restaurants will accept major international cards.
English is the most widely spoken language in South Africa, and East London is no exception, but the majority of the city’s population are Xhosa, while a large percentage of the white population are Afrikaans.
Staying safe on a cruise to East London
East London is one of the safer South African cities, with few incidents of violent crime ever committed against tourists, but it does have a reputation for pickpocketing. Don’t flash any cash around when you shop, try to be discreet at cash machines, don’t leave valuables unattended at the beach or in restaurants and refrain from exploring the city on foot at night.
Is East London good for shopping?
East London has a vibrant handcrafts and shopping scene. At the Khaya La Bantu, open-air Xhosa cultural museum a variety of handicrafts including beadwork and clothing will be on display and are available for purchase. There are also a number of handmade goods available for purchase from street sellers in the city centre, while those looking for something more upmarket can head to Latimer’s Landing, a residential and retail development on the Buffalo River with trendy eateries and boutiques.
Who cruises to East London?
East London is an emergent cruise destination in South Africa, as such only 15 cruises are scheduled to visit the city in 2019.
At least half of all the cruise ships calling in East London during 2019 are doing so on cruises that depart Cape Town.