48 Hours in Baku, Azerbaijan

This contemporary city criss - crossed with history is a “ must do “ on anyones bucket list. The landscape features modern elegance like the Flame Towers to the old medieval city that is full of life. Baku is the architectural love child of Paris , albeit with plenty of Soviet genes floating half - hidden in the back ground. 

Here East and West blend seamlessly or maybe chaotically, in the heart of the city, is the Unesco - Listed Old City that lies within an arc of the fortress wall.

The second oil boom for the country started around 2006, and turned the city into an architectural experiment of some of the finest, jaw dropping masterpieces one could see when looking at the new buildings. 

 

These are some of my recommendations on where to stay, what to do and what to look out for.

Hyatt hotel

Comfort, luxury and location, the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Baku has it all covered. Located on Izmir street this 5 star premium hotel is strategically located close to the city’s shopping malls, and business district. It has an indoor and outdoor pool and free , unlimited wifi. Not far from all tourist attractions like the carpet museum and boardwalk its ideal for any traveller.

The Hyatt Hotel in Baku
Hotel room view from the Hyatt Hotel in Baku

Flame Towers

Day or night the trio of iconic buildings completed in 2012 is spectacular. Looking up at them during the day I had that queasy feeling that they were swaying because of their sheer height. These towers are the WOW factor of Baku, having transformed the skyline of Azerbaijan’s capital. Designed to symbolise the element of fire, they are a reference to Azerbaijans nickname “ The land of fire “, historically rooted in a region where natural gas flares emit from the ground.

Flame Towers Baku
Flame Towers Baku

Martyrs lane

Also known as Alley of Martyrs this area was formally Kirov Park, now a cemetery and memorial dedicated to those killed by the Soviet Army during Black January 1990 and the first Nagorno - Karabakh war from 1988 to 1994. Just a 3 minute walk from the Flame Towers it over looks the Caspian Sea. The Eternal Flame monument situated at the end of Central avenue is massive, you can feel the heat a few metres away. From the location one gets the best views of the bay curving to the horizon to the east. 

Martyrs Lane, Baku
Martyrs Lane, Baku

The Caspian Front Promenade 

As with any modern boulevard in the world there is a ferris wheel that lights up the night sky on the coastline of the Caspian sea. “ can you smell the wealth ? “ was the first question I was asked as I got close to the calm waters, the answer was ‘ yes “ . Azerbaijan is known for its wealth emanating from the oil below the ground. Strolling along the water front there is something for everyone from carousels and parks for children, shopping malls , cafes , cycling and more. The biggest park in Azerbaijan, it is 26 km long and starts from the Port of Baku on one side and ends at the National Flag Square where there his the biggest flag of the world.

View of the Promenade , Baku
The promenade, Baku
Promenade in Baku

Pomegranates 

Known as the king of fruits, the distinct bright, juicy fruit from Azerbajian is recognised as one of the best in the world due to the country’s unique microclimate and fertile soil. The only country in the world where all varieties grow, because of the diverse climate the tasty pomegranate is enjoyed as a drink or in an edible form.There is even an annual festival celebrated in Goychay that cerebrates the fruit and its traditional uses and symbolic meaning.

Maidens tower

This 12th century monument located in the Old City forms part of a group of historic monuments. A much loved symbol of the old city it looks dark and enigmatic, looking out onto the sea. Climbing the stairs is well worth the view from the roof where one can take in the alleys and minarets of the Old City and a wide vista of Baku Bay. In 2011, the tower participated in the “ Earth Hour “ campaign against climate change when large buildings go dark for an hour.

Maidens' Tower in Baku

The old city 

Referred to as Icherisheher this is the historical core of Baku, the humble heart of the capital it is one of the most important historical places and must do’s when visiting the city. An oval shaped pocket of curving roads, one can imagine the trading of carpets, silks and wares over the centuries.  Sunken ruins and restaurants add to the bustle and vibe,  while walking I found a delightful little art shop where the artist took great pride in showing me her art. Cats laze in the sun while people go about their daily rituals. This is not a visit that should be rushed, the enjoyment lies in the relaxed atmosphere.

Old City, Baku
Old City, Baku
Old City , Baku
Old City , Baku

Nizami lane 

The largest pedestrian and shopping centre street in downtown Baku it is named after classical Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. Locals love to shop here in the glamorous brand shops and enjoy dinner in a local or international restaurant. Others just enjoy the walk while taking pictures . There is something here for everyone be it the random statues, fountains or the night life like the Hard Rock Cafe. 

Nizami Lane, Baku
Nzami Lane, Baku
Nzami Lane, Baku

Burning mountain 

Burning for 4000 years non stop, through all types of weather be it rain, snow or wind. This incredible phenomena is worth the drive out of Baku city centre. The flames jump as high as 3 metres into the air from a thin, porous sandstone layer. There is also a small museum that is worth the walk through where ancient pots are on display as well as other interesting sties to visit in the country.

Burning Mountain, Baku
Burning Mountain, Baku

Kose kahve

Cute and cozy coffee shops have a special type of appeal to them. Kose coffee is just that. Maybe it was the whiff of coffee as we walked past or the country style decor that pulled us in. Whatever it was, this coffee shop is well worth the find for a morning cup as one wonders the city’s streets and alley ways soaking in the rich culture and admiring the magnificent architecture of the buildings. 

Kose Kahve, Baku

Cotton 

Leaving the city and heading towards the country side, one sees fields and fields of cotton. Referred to as the “ White gold “ of Azerbaijan, cotton has a long history of production in the country. In 2020, the county exported $132 million in raw cotton, making it the 13th largest exporter of raw cotton in the world. 

Cotton farming Azerbaijan

Need to know :

South African passport holders require a visa. The application is done online and costs 25 USD

Health certificate proving vaccination for COVID is required when arriving in Baku

Qatar airlines is a good option, flying from Johannesburg to Doha then connecting to Baku

Most people speak English so communication is not difficult

There are taxi cabs, Uber and Bolt all reasonably priced and accessible

The plug points are European so best to carry an adaptor 

There is no difference in dress code, stylish and modern clothing is worn with all major luxury brands and known brands available.

WIFI is easy to access and getting a sim card for a phone valid for 30 days is another suggestion.

Retailers accept bank cards for payments and cash ( local currency only called the Manat ) 


Keiskamma Project

The opening of the Keiskamma Art Project exhibition took place on Heritage Day, the 24 September 2022 at Constitutional Hill. Many people joined in on the day with numerous  international visitors participating in the free tours offered by the museum as well as performances and exhibitions. The day celebrates the cultural wealth of South Africa and its people, where everyone comes together and remembers the various cultures that make up the rainbow nation.

Keiskamma Altarpiece

Tapestries were on display throughout the women and mens prison. Sitting with Eunice Nombulelo Mangwane a mother and grandmother in-front of the magnificent tapestry, she shared her story of her daughter and grandchildren who are HIV positive.

Keiskamma Altarpiece

The tapestry was created by more than 130 people, both men and women in the area of Hamburg Bodium and Ntilini, rural villages in the Eastern Cape in honour of those who have passe don from HIV related illnesses. The Altar piece comprises of three separate panels that open like cupboard doors. It incorporates various textile art techniques , including embroidery, beading, appliqué, simple stump/ raised work and photography. The altar piece tells a story of faith and hope. 

Keiskamma Altarpiece

Measuring four meters by seven meters it made its debut in Canada at the 16th International AIDS Conference in 2006. Each of the 10 panels tells a modern story of life today with images depicting loneliness , hardship and confusion to a promise of of friendship , hope and restored pride. The first opened panels reveal scenes of the never - ending circle of life, village festivals , church congregations and ever evolving spiral of animals and sea creatures. 

Keiskamma Altarpiece
Keiskamma Altarpiece

Making the altar piece provided many local Xhosa people with work, in turn this helped with alleviating poverty. It also eased the stress and anxiety of people striving to regain self esteem and provide for their families. 

Keiskamma Altarpiece

Poignantly the sections of blanket stitched into the piece are taken from the blankets under which members of the community had suffered and died, this process was away of dealing with the grief and acknowledging and honouring those who had passed on. it brought about a new sense of pride and dignity in the Hamburg community.

Keiskamma Altarpiece

Most of the success of the Altarpiece has been made possible by the sale of Keiskamma embroidered items and monetary donations over the years with Anglo American being a main sponsor.

Keiskamma Altarpiece

The day was a resounding success where everyone enjoyed and appreciated the immense diversity of the country and its culture.


The Mpondo Festival 

 

The Pondo Heritage and Cultural Festival of 2022 was held in Matshona Village, Ntabankulu in the Eastern Cape over the weekend.

Her Majesty Acting Queen Nobandla Sigcau and the Royal family as well as the Turkish Ambassador and a variety of cultures from South Africa and beyond which included Pedi, Venda, Tswana, Sotho, Ndebele, Xhosa, Bhaca, Tsonga Kingdoms and Chieftainships were present.

The Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival has taken place annually since 2006 , Princess Stella Sigcau II ensured that this years event was full of entertainment including the Reed dance, horse parade and sightseeing of the Kingdom. 

Mpondo Festival

The Mpondo kingdom was established as far back as the year 1280, Njanya fathered twins , Mpondo and Mpondomise. Mpondo went on to establish the amaMpondo while Mpondomise established the amaMpondomise. People of the Pondo nation speak a Nguni called isiMpondo, one of the 12 Xhosa speaking tribes. The kingdom which has approximately 10 million people who occupy the land between the Mtata and Mtamvuna rivers is currently under the rule of His Majesty King Nkosi Jongilanga Sigcau after the passing of His Majesty King Zanozuko Sigcau at the end of May 2022 aged 47 years.

The King of Mpondo

The amaMpondo are currently calling for their language to be recognised as the 12th official language of South Africa.

The amaPondo proudly celebrate their culture , traditions and heritage. The vibrant coloured houses dot the rolling hills, interestingly the Pondo Palm is only found on the north bank of 2 specific rivers in Mpondoland. This magnificent landscape is filled with waterfalls that cascade over high rocks , deep river gorges that curve between the mountains and the horse shoe bend where the river changes direction. Not to be forgotten are the unspoilt beaches that make up the Wild Coast where for centuries many shipwrecks have taken place due to the rough seas. The first recored shipwreck in the area was in 1552.

The weekends festivities included performances from musicians, dancers, school choirs and presentations from the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Healers, the local municipality and the royal families. 

My favourite food was the dombolo bread, a traditional South African steamed bread . The bread is prepared in a container in a pot of boiling water as opposed to being baked. It is prepared using yeast instead of baking powder. Everyone who attended went home  with a full stomach and a happy heart. Immersing oneself in to the traditional ways of South Africas’ people reminds us what a beautiful and diverse country we live in.

Dombolo Bread

Nairobi in a nutshell

I have waited my entire life for this moment.From as far back as I can remember I always wanted to go to Kenya to see the Maasai people and to travel to Mombasa. My interest was sparked when I watched the movie Out of Africa, its funny how something can have an impact on us and stay wedged in our brains for ever.

I planned a trip back in 2011, it didn't work out and I landed up going to another country. So when the opportunity came around again I couldn't refuse. There was only time for Nairobi so I didn't get to Mombassa but its definitely on the “ to do list “ for next time.

Nairobi , Kenya

While in Nairobi these are some places I recommend visiting. I hired a driver who came to fetch me each morning and took me to my desired places. He also recommend some which I really appreciated. Traffic is crazy in Nairobi, so getting a driver who knows the way around is a must.

Nairobi

Stay at Orchid Homes 

Very close to the united Nations complex and some embassies. It is in a quiet neighbourhood with good security. What was also useful was the Village Market shopping mall was not to far away. The lovely pool area with outdoor seating is perfect for a sundowner. The rooms vary so best to check which room you get. Beautiful hand carved four poster beds with mosquito nets are found in each room. The staff arranged my driver for me and my transfer from the airport that was 17km away.

Orchid Homes , Nairobi

Thorn tree cafe 

The Stanleys Hotels legendary pavement cafe is still a favourite for travellers. The original thorn tree notice board in the courtyard was my reason for visiting. It was inspired by Lonely Planets own online Thorn Tree Forum. The cafe is now using it third acacia tree and the board is no longer the paper fest it once was, its still nostalgic and worth a visit. COVID has also played a part in people no longer leaving their hand written notes. I ordered my first proper Kenyan coffee at the cafe, sadly I was not very impressed but still glad that I got to sit momentarily in a spot that many travellers have passed through some even doing a Cape to Cairo trip.

Thorn Tree Cafe Nairobi
Thorn Tree Cafe Nairobi

Sarovaa Stanley hotel 

Rated as one of the best 5 star hotels in Nairobi it offers 212 stylish rooms. The thorn tree cafe is only one part of this historic hotel. The luxury of the heritage hotel delivers a wonderous old world charm whilst offering modern facilities. The roof top pool is a hidden gem with greenery and high walls, perfect to escape the summer heat.The story of the hotel begins with Mayence Bent as the original founder in 1902 when the first hotel come guest house opened its doors in Nairobi. In 1904 there was The Great fire of Victoria Street which destroyed the hotel , Mayence moved her guests to a temporary spot and set up the new hotel that we see today. There have been many influential guests over the years at this iconic hotel including Baroness Karen von Blixen ( author of Out of Africa ) Ernst Hemingway, Grace Kelly, Eva Gardner, Sidney Poitier and Sean Connery to name but a few. 

Sarovaa Stanley hotel
Sarovaa Stanley hotel
Sarovaa Stanley hotel

 All Saints Cathedral

The Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Kenya is one of the largest and oldest churches in Nairobi. Founded in 1917 and consecrated as a cathedral in 1952 it was designed in the British Gothic style and built from Kenyan stone. Congregation on Sunday is around 4500 people with a total of 13 services held throughout the day. When I visited a wedding was about to take place so I didn't get to spend to much time inside however the young girl dressed up for the ceremony caught my eye as she sat alone in silence with her mask on bopping to the music being rehearsed. A magnificent building its well worth the visit.

All Saints Cathedral Nairobi
All Saints Cathedral Nairobi
All Saints Cathedral Nairobi

Jomo Kenyatta Conference centre and monument

For a small fee ( paid by card only ) one can take the elevator up 28 floors to get a panoramic view of the city. Located in the city square , the venue is a crucial address for government offices and has a strong military presence. The internationally renowned venue is used for conferences , meetings and exhibitions. 

Jomo Kenyatta Conference centre
View Of Nairobi from Jomo Kenyatta Conference centre

Maasai market

You can’t avoid stopping in one of the hundreds of markets. I went to the one close to the conference centre as it was in easy walking distance. WOW was I spoilt for choice. The quality of products made, friendliness of people and not over pushy was like a shopping heaven for me. I left having very over shopped but was so happy with each and every purchase from beaded shoes to jewellery , a statement piece handbag and much more. The ladies were also very happy to allow me to take photos with no strings attached.

Maasai Market
Maasai Market
Maasai Market

Karen Blixen museum

The moment I had been waiting for. Quite a drive out from where I was staying so the excitement was mounting. On arrival we parked under the big shady trees, I paid my entrance fee and went inside. There are quite a few guides offering their service at the entrance.The museum was once the centre piece of a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills owned by Danish author Karen and her Swedish husband Baron von Blixen Fincke. Walking through the house it has maintained a serene environment that still seems to belong in the past, many pieces of furniture that Karen sold to Lady McMillian on her departure where acquired back and constitute part of the exhibition.

Karen Blixen Museum
Karen Blixen Museum
Karen Blixen museum

Karen Blixen cafe 

Just down the road is the cafe set in the midst of one of the oldest formal gardens in Kenya with huge jacaranda trees. The historic Swedo house at the cafe and cottages was the original hunting lodge which was built around 1906. With an extensive menu it was difficult to choose, I loved the bread sticks that arrived with a pot of butter to snack on. The food was delicious and the setting tranquil with pieces of art on display in the garden.

Karen Blixen Cafe
Karen Blixen Cafe
Karen Blixen Cafe

The Bomas 

It was a public holiday in the country on the day I decided to go and see the Bomas, so entrance was free. The touristic village opened in 1971 , there are displays of replicas of traditional villages belonging to several Kenyan tribes. Talented resident artists perform traditional dances and songs, seeing the Maasai dance and the African waltz where highlights of the afternoon.

My awesome driver at the Bomas village
African Waltz at the Bomas

The Matatus

These brightly coloured buses are privately owned and feature portraits of famous people or slogans and sayings. They zigzag through streets blaring out music taking commuters to and from work.

Matatu in Nairobi
Matatu in Nairobi
Matatu in Nairobi

Out of Africa chocolate / local coffee 

While out and about I discovered this delicious chocolate, coupled with some renowned Kenyan coffee I was in my happy zone . My two favourite addictions in one great city.

Out of Africa chocolate
Karen Blixen

This was without a doubt one of my favourite African experiences. Ending off with a quote from Karen who honours the Ngong hills with the phrase “ I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills ” 


Go C Mauritius

Often described as a lost dot in the immensity of the Indian Ocean , this Island is an explosion of tastes, flavours and beautiful blue waters. I was so excited when Mauritius finally opened up to international tourists again. They had been under lock down for a long period of time due to COVID so the island holidays were put on hold for South Africans. I was lucky enough to get a flight on their opening day but on Kenya airlines, so didn't fly direct. As I always say the journey is just as much fun as the destination, check in was not easy, it took an hour and even flying business class there was none of the “ special treatment “ finally aboard I was eternally grateful for my reclining and comfy seat next to the window. Interestingly the food for business class and economy was the same, but we did receive the inflight toiletry bag. I loved flying Kenya airlines, I found the crew friendly and warm with a smile on their face.

Art by Evan in Trou d'Eau Douce , Mauritius
Mauritius

Arrival in Mauritius was another story, we required a vaccination card and a PCR test, on arrival all passengers had to do another free PCR test at the airport and then they came around to our hotel and did blood tests. More time was spent questioning us about our health than anything else. Once I had my luggage I was then taken aside by the police and questioned for over half an hour, basically as a women flying alone this raises questions. They emptied my bag, searched everything, scanned it again, took notes on my documents and then finally deiced they should let me go as they couldn't find anything wrong.

Lux Grand Gaube, Mauritius
Mauritius

Based on this welcome to Mauritius I will never again return. I have traveled to more than 50 countries and never once been treated this way. It left a bitter taste in my mouth and quite frankly there are far more beautiful islands to visit. That said I will share some of the places I experienced as they were beautiful and I loved seeing them.

Mauritius

Stay at lux Hotel

If its 5 star luxury you want then this hotel has it all. Located on the magnificent beach front, it has an enormous pool, perfect to lounge around all day and sip cocktails or enjoy one of their yummy ice creams.The tranquil waters and soft breeze give way to a totally reimagined retro-chic tropical resort in Grand Gaube, on the north coast of Mauritius. It is enveloped by undulating coves, the calmest of lagoons and is blessed with two tranquil beaches.

Lux Grand Gaube, Mauritius
Lux Grand Gaube, Mauritius
Lux Grand Gaube, Mauritius
Lux Grand Gaube, Mauritius

Botanical Gardens

The oldest botanic gardens in the southern hemisphere with over 650 varieties of plants, the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden, commonly known as the Pamplemousses Botanic Garden, is a 60 acre site that owes its development to Pierre Poivre, the French Intendant of Mauritius. The garden was initially opened as a private garden by the French governor of Mauritius nearly 300 years ago, and later it became the national botanical garden of the island.

Mauritius

Ganga Talao Sacred site

Commonly known as Grand Bassin in Mauritius is a crater lake, about 550 metres above sea level. It is by far the most important Hindu site on the island. In 1972, the then Prime Minister of Mauritius, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, brought Ganga (Holy) water from Gomukh, India, and mixed it with the water of Pari Talao and renamed it as Ganga Talao. Mauritius is the only place where Maha Shivratri is a week-long festival. Maha Shivratri, the Grand Night of Shiva, is celebrated only on a single day around the rest of the world including India.

Grand Basin Mauritius
Grand Basin, Mauritius
Mauritius

Le Bois cheri tea farm

Tea is a favourite drink on the island. The Bois Cheri tea plantation started in 1892 and today is the largest tea producer of tea on the island. They offer tea tasting and have a restaurant with sweeping views.

Le Bois Cheri tea farm,Mauritius
Le Bois Cheri Tea farm, Mauritius

Pont Naturel

To take in the whole panorama, one must get to higher ground. At the natural bridge , a true labour of love

wrought into shape by the brute force of the elements, get up close and personal for some jaw dropping pictures and unforgettable views of the wild South. This was my favourite of all the locations, a very windy day it was rather hairy walking along the bridge with the surging sea crashing about me, I just wished that I had more time to spend here.

Pont Naturel, Mauritius
Pont Naturel, Mauritius
Port Naturel, Mauritius

Red roof church

The iconic red church is one of the most renowned churches on the island. The Roman Catholic Church, The Notre Dame Auxiliatrice Chapel is famous for its vivid red roof against the bright turquoise sea and azure sky. This simple chapel was founded in 1938 and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary
Located ten minutes from Grand Bay is the small fishing village of Cap Malheureux. It translates to “Unfortunate/Unhappy Cape”, due to the numerous ships, which floundered there in the past.

Red Roof Church , Mauritius
Red Roof Church , Mauritius
Red Roof Church , Mauritius

Port Louis

The capital of Mauritius. Known for its French colonial architecture and the 19th-century Champ de Mars horse-racing track, the oldest race course of the Southern hemisphere. The Caudan Waterfront is a lively dining and shopping precinct, the biggest attraction being the umbrella lined street. Nearby, vendors sell local produce and handicrafts at the huge Central Market. The Blue Penny Museum focuses on the island’s colonial and maritime history, along with its culture. China Town is in the centre of the city, with its impressive gateway , the Sino-Mauritian culture in all authenticity and flavours is waiting to be discovered. The countless restaurants make one dizzy with all the specialities from the Far East on offer.

Port Louis, Maritius
Le Suffren Hotel and Marina, Mauritius
Le Suffren Hotel and Marina, Mauritius
Port Louis, Mauritius

Salt Pans

The Tamarin Salt Pans are amongst the oldest salt farms in Mauritius dating back to the 18th century.This is sadly the last place in Mauritius that salt is produced using traditional methods that have not changed in over 200 years.Sea water is pumped directly from the lagoon into large black cobblestone ‘pans’ and simply left to evaporate. I was so excited to see the pans and lucky enough to be able to go inside

Salt Pans Tamarina, Mauritius
Mauritius

Chamarel

In the South of Mauritius , the Vallee des Couleurs is set on an authentic natural site. The 7 coloured earths are a geographical formation found in the Chamarel plain. Even if one were to mix the colours together they will still settle into separate layers again. The undulating surface, which is totally unique and several millennia old, results from chemical interaction between the air and volcanic ash produced by the eruption of the Bassin Blanc volcano. While there make sure you go and see the Chamarel Waterfall which is 272ft high, the highest waterfall in Mauritius.

Chamarel Waterfall, Mauritius
Chamarel 7 colours, Mauritius
Chamarel rum distillery , Mauritius
Chamarel rum, Mauritius

Panoramic restaurant

When you leave the Chamarel rum estate pop into the Varangue Sur Morne restaurant down the road. The gift shop had me rather excited and I found some lovely hand crafts here including a beautiful shopping basket that I couldn't resist buying. The restaurant offers breath taking panoramic views of the edge of the Black River Gorge National Park with seating on a covered porch. It sits at a 600m altitude.

Restaurant Varangue Sur Morne , Mauritius
Restaurant Varangue Sur Morne , Mauritius
Restaurant Varangue Sur Morne , Mauritius
Mauritius

Old sugar mills

Driving around the island one will see old sugar mill chimneys peeking out of long grass and amongst old buildings. The first sugar mill was at Grande Rosalie, also known as Villebague. It is the oldest commercial sugar mill in Mauritius, started in 1744 but operated some years later. The site is now a National Heritage. There were more than 250 around the island at one point. However, with time, due to economic and war issues in mainly European countries, the price of sugar has been constantly decreasing since the end of the 1880s. The total number of sugar mills' chimneys now in Mauritius is 110, including those which are still active.

Sugar Mill, Mauritius

Fruit and veg market

Market day happens twice a week , you can buy everything from fresh fruit and veggies to textiles and my favourite the freshly cut coconuts ready to drink. A few metres from the Northern Bus station , this historic place is loaded with local culture. Its vibrant and full of energy.

The market, Mauritius
The market, Mauritius
The market, Mauritius
The market, Mauritius

Mauritius, a volcanic island is only a 4 hour flight from Johannesburg , the vibrant island with its silky soft beach sand, turquoise bays , sparkling lagoons is what island holidays are made of.

Mauritius

Must do's in Maputo and Ponte de Ouro

 

With its wide tree-lined avenue and charming old buildings , the city clearly has a Portuguese influence which is fused with the language, food and architecture.

There are a feast of activities and places to see in this city, and after a busy day out relaxing on one of the sandy beaches and enjoying the warm Indian Ocean you will know that this is an African paradise.

Maputo, Mozambique

Stay at the Southern Sun Maputo

The only on- the- beach front hotel in Maputo, staying here is undoubtably the perfect decision whether its for work or to recharge. With close proximity to top city attractions, this 4 star hotel offers exceptional hospitality. The rich Portuguese heritage is visible in the decor and finer details. My favourite colour is blue, so I can immediately appreciate the blue tiles used in the dinning area as well as the mosaic pattern on the floor of my tasteful Ambassadors Suite. The hotel offers ideal accommodation for both business and leisure travellers. The outdoor terrace which over looks the beachfront as well as the pool is the the ideal spot for sundowners. During the day sitting here and soaking up the sun while watching the fisherman out on their dhows is just as relaxing.
I highly recommend that you work up an appetite, the seafood platter is by far the tastiest and freshest I have had, paired with a bottle of white wine there is no better way to enjoy a hot summers evening.
With 269 rooms and suites, there is something suitable for every guest. Of course the ocean view rooms with a balcony take first prize for me. The Nespresso machine in the room gave me the morning boost I needed to get my day started, climbing out of bed was no easy task in the morning, I dare say its one of the most comfortable hotel beds I have ever slept on.

Personal tips : sit under the 200 year old fig tree and enjoy the sounds of the birds, ocean and resident cats. At breakfast indulge in the delicious Portuguese tarts, you won’t regret it.

www.tsogosun.com

Southern Sun Maputo
Southern Sun, Maputo
Southern Sun, Maputo
Southern Sun, Maputo

Eat sea food , don't be shy eat it 2 or 3 or even 4 times

The shellfish like the prawns and crayfish is considered to be the best in the world. Dishes are packed with sizzle and spice, the piri-piri is synonymous with Mozambican cooking and is used to baste almost everything. If you don't like spicey food remember to mention that to your waiter. The seafood is not only healthy, but fresh and affordable. Its literally finger licking good, getting that last bit of flavour off ones fingers is a sign of contentment and enjoyment - in my opinion.

Delicious seafood platter

City tour with Dana Tours

If its vibrant city colours that call your name, this one-stop shop for travel in Mozambique is a number you should keep in your phone. Their professionalism, efficiency and friendly staff complete the experience for any traveler or corporate entity. We were able tot soak in the attractions ranging from colonial splendour to modern street art both from the air conditioned vehicle and walking on foot with our tour guide. Mingling with the locals at the food market and then the arts and crafts market is always a favourite of mine.

www.danatours.com

The market in Maputo
Arts and Crafts
Maputo
With my guide from Dana Tours

Best chocolate dessert at the Turkish restaurant

Sugar overload, hot and oozing with chocolate there is no better sweet treat for a chocoholic. Of course the Turkish food on the menu doesn't go unmentioned, however the dessert had me grinning from ear to ear.

Chocolate dessert

South Beach for sun downers

Great live music and within walking distance from the Southern Sun Hotel. With an extensive menu choosing is not easy. The cozy cabana seating is the best, boasting views of the Indian Ocean while the wind gently blows

https://m.facebook.com/southbeachmaputo/

South Beach, Maputo
South beach, Maputo


Drive to Ponte do Oura over the new bridge

Lying on the Mozambique Channel, south of Maputo and on the border of South Africa . The name is Portuguese for “ tip of Gold “. Leaving Maputo we drove on the amazing new suspension bridge , The Maputo - Katembe Bridge. This is Africa’s largest suspension bridge and makes the drive to Ponte do Oura sheer bliss, the newly tarred road took us all the way to the popular destination for divers and surfers. We opted for a chapa back to Maputo and didn’t need to wait long for it to full up. Getting around once there is generally done on foot and we used a quad bike taxi on our final day because of luggage. Its laid back and so much fun here. Two coffee shops we recommend are Love cafe with their bright and spacious setting and Magenta Moon boutique and gifts for their cozy coffee corner and shopping heaven.

Elephant park on the way to Ponta do Oura
Ponta do Oura
Ponta do Oura
Ponta do Oura , local staff
Ponta do Oura

Swim with the dolphins

Once settled, besides beautiful walks on the beach, kite surfing and diving a bucket list experience is to swim with the dolphins. Angie from Dolphins Encounters research centre started the organisation in 1996. Working with skipper Mitchel Niemeyer they offer daily sea trips for people to interact in the water with the pods of dolphins. This is weather permitting and no touching of the dolphins is allowed. They do come right up to the swimmers because they are inquisitive by nature. The cherry on top for us was to also see the whales up close as it was migration season for them. You don't want to leave Ponta without this experience, Angies knowledge and love for the dolphins is evident in her work.

https://www.dolphinencountours.org

Dolphin Encounters research centre
Dolphin Encounters Research centre
Dolphin Encounters Research Centre

Buy fabric at the oldest fabric store in Maputo

Casa Elefante has a rich array of patterns ranging from pretty cottons for children,African batik print capalanas to political prints. The prices are extremely reasonable and I can never leave empty handed when I go here.

Casa Elefante
Casa Elefante
Casa Elefante

Mundos restaurant

Mundos was born on the back of a hamburger stand over fifteen years ago, and through the years has become one of the most vibrant restaurants in Maputo. Right across from the South African Embassy it is easy to find. A pizza place, sports bar and what I would call a taco joint ( because l they are just so good ) I loved their menu lay out which is just like reading a newspaper, it can keep one entertained for quite a while.

Mundo's menu
Mundo's

Vila Algarve

Once an example of residential colonial architecture,Vila Algarve served as the seat of the secret police, the PIDE/DGS during the Portuguese colonial period.A residential house it is now premaritally closed and nobody may go onto the property. Built in 1934 and later protected as a listed building. Incredible architecture and fabulously detailed blue and white tile murals are visible from the road and still in great condition. A real pity about its ugly past.

Vila Algarve
Vila Algarve

Buy a coconut or sugar cane drink from the vendors

On a hot day stop at one of the many street vendors, Maputo has an estimated 4000 street vendors, one of the reasons there is so little begging in the city. These drinks are not only fun to watch being made but they taste incredibly good and are refreshing.

Ponta do Oura

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With its colonial heritage, its vibrant residents, bustling markets and its delicious cuisine there are plenty of tourist attractions in this city. Each time I return I am so happy to see the rapid progress that is being made.

Street art is slowly covering drab, morbid walls of the past and contributing to the city’s new energy.

South African's in Mozambique

Picking Pomegranates

From as far back as I can remember I have always had a love for pomegranates. Growing up we had an ornamental pomegranate tree in our courtyard, during its fruit bearing season I would spend many a Saturday using mental telepathy on the tree explaining to the pretty little flowers that this year they should bear the apple size fruit for me. Of course it never happened because unbeknown to me this tree was there to look pretty with its striking ruffled petals, not produce fruit.

Ganico Organic Pomegranate Farm

Pomegranates were seen as an exotic fruit especially in the shops of Johannesburg so this fruit retained its mystic and what I perceived as a royal beauty. The ruby skin of this luscious fruit not only makes for an attractive ornamental fruit in the centre of the table, it also takes ones mind back to ancient Persia where it was first discovered. One can picture the caravans of camels moving along the silk road with weary travellers cracking open the brittle skin and digging out the pips to suck on the juicy flesh.

Ganico Organic Pomegranate Farm

Over the years I have made countless trips to Turkey, one of my favourite street drinks is a cup of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. Cut in half and beautifully displayed the colours and designs entice even the busiest passer by. These jewel filled fruits are hugely symbolic and believed to bring luck and prosperity. Pomegranates are high in antioxidants and vitamin C, they are said to fight viruses, boost the immune system, stall the progress of Alzheimer disease, protect memory and it is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

Ganico Organic Pomegranate Farm

With pomegranates randomly popping up in my life I was supper excited to learn about Ganico Organic Farm. The 5 hectare family run organic farm has been in the family for over 30 years. Laiken and her husband Jason had no farming background, however they did know that this is what they wanted to do. Following the Israeli set up they have planted some 3000 trees. With no expert in South Africa they were unsure about the yields of these slow growing and slow producing trees. A mature tree ( approximately 10 years old ) produces about 50kg of fruit, if the fruits receive too much water they crack open, so harvesting them at the correct moment is crucial. Every part of the farm has been utilised, there are lemon trees, gooseberries, granadillas and so much more. The farm offers a soil to fork experience, for those wanting to embrace the fresh farm life.

Ganico Organic Pomegranate Farm

The rich history of the fruit, steeped in myth and romance, can probably be attributed to its uniqueness. The pomegranate, Punica granatum belongs to a family of plants that has only one genus and two species - the other is only found on the island of Socotra, an island in the Indian Ocean.

Ganico Organic Pomegranate Farm

Did you know ?

The Romans declared it an Apple
This fruit is actually a berry
A tree has male and female flowers, they are self pollinating
The female flower becomes the fruit
It takes at least 4 years for a tree to start yielding fruit

Ganico Organic Pomegranate Farm - Laiken

Farming pomegranates just made sense for Laiken and Jason. A labour of love that is also a lifestyle investment.

www.ganico.co.za


The Colosseum Hotel

Standing on the balcony on a chilly autumn morning, holding a cup of steaming hot coffee admiring Table Mountain for all her splendour in the distance is what a Cape Town staycation is all about.

The luxury of the 4 star Colosseum Hotel with its sophisticated suites is home away from home for travellers, in essence giving guests a distinctive getaway experience.

The Colosseum Hotel

On arrival one is met with an immediate sense of warmth, light and comfort. The lobby area is wide, bright and spacious with large revolving doors that lead in from the front entrance and a majestic chandelier that adorns the centre of the room.
The staff at the front desk are efficient, having my room key and wifi code ready and waiting for me.
Complimentary drinks and the weeks weather in the elevator add to the finer details.

The Colosseum Hotel

Why stay here?

Genuine friendliness
Sheer luxury and comfort
Great location to Century City and Canal Walk
Spacious rooms with modern decor.
View of Table Mountain from some rooms

View from the balcony at The Colosseum

Accommodation at The Colosseum

Our room was located on the 3rd floor with a spacious balcony that offered a view of Table Mountain , a truly breath taking sight to admire. The large bed was of high quality and so comfortable, made up with crisp white linen and plump pillows. There was more than enough cupboard space throughout and no shortage of hangers.
The bath is located in the open plan room, in the deluxe suite. There is also a work station equipped with international plug points, telephone and WIFI.
For those who are at the hotel to relax, the separate living area boasts a comfy couch in front of a flat screen TV where one can kick off your shoes and enjoy a sports match or a favourite movie.
Additional extras included toiletries, bottled water in Colosseum Logo bottles, complimentary espresso coffee, tea and sugar.
On opening the room door it felt like we had arrived home and could move in. This was the perfect base for us while exploring Cape Town. Coming back at the end of a busy day and finding our beds freshly made up and a clean room was another indication of their superb service.
There are 68 generously sized suites and presidential penthouses: 34 Deluxe Suites, 26 Executive Suites, and 8 Presidential penthouses each consisting of two and three bedrooms and bathrooms.

Spacious room at The Colosseum Hotel
Free standing bath at The Colosseum

Meals at The Colosseum

Mozambik restaurant is the in-house restaurant. The friendly family restaurant with its vibrant colours offers a relaxed Mozambique Baracca vibe serving up the most delectable Portuguese food and seafood. Encapsulating the heartbeat of Mozambique, its perfect for breakfast, lunch or diner and there is also a children’s menu.
For those loving the comfort of their room, meals can delivered to your private space.

Mozambik at The Colosseum Hotel
Mozambik at The Colosseum Hotel
The Colosseum Hotel

The Colosseum ticked all the boxes for us, perfect location, friendly staff, clean, modern, professional and luxury. There were no “snags” that we could find and would most definitely return.It is suitable for couples, families and business clients.

Additional Info

Email : reservations@colosseum.co.za
Website: www.colosseum.co.za
Parking : Undergound and free
Call : (021 ) 526 - 4000
WhatsApp : 081 054 1753


Welcome to the Wild Coast

Traditional home of the Xhosa people, the vast and astoundingly diverse Eastern Cape province with its rolling hills and sparkling coastline and Wild Coast is also the birth place of Nelson Mandela. He was born and raised in the village of Qunu.

Coffee Bay

Formerly known as the Transkei, the Wild Coast was one of the four independent territories during apartheid until it merged with the Eastern Cape in 1994. The second largest of South Africa’s 9 provinces it's one of the countries most undiscovered tourist attractions.

Lusikisiki

The name of this town comes from the rustling sound of wind as it moves through the grass, named by the local AmaMpondo people. Roughly 45km inland from Port St Johns this town has changed very little over the years. Remote and untamed, time stands still. The AmaMpondo people are friendly and welcoming, the main road of the town bustles, as people move around conducting business.

Lusikisiki

Flag Staff

Driving down the main road was a true rural experience. Hundreds of people line the streets going about their daily affairs, with no rush, cars and trucks make their way slowly, giving way to almost impossible driving situations. The town’s name was derived from the practise of running a white flag up a flagstaff every Sunday as a signal to prospective customers that on this day the shop was closed. The shop was for Zachariah Bowles and his partner, Mr Owen. Established in 1877 as a trading store in the business centre of town.

Flagstaff

Xhosa Tribe

The rich and colourful cultural of the Xhosa people is evident in their clothes and their “ click “ language. In Xhosa culture women are easily recognised by their heavy dress, matching turban and colourful dots decorating their faces. Beadwork similar to the Ndebele is an integral aspect of Xhosa tradition. I was fortunate to meet this beautiful lady sitting behind a burnt out church. Although shy, she was very proud of her appearance. I wished i had more time to sit and speak to her.

Xhosa lady
Burnt down church outside Lusikisiki

Port St Johns

An incredible and unassuming combination of breath- taking views and craggy sea cliffs and idyllic unspoilt beaches. Situated at the mouth of the Umzimvubu River this is one of the top destinations along the Eastern Cape Wild Coast. If your vehicle allows for it take the road up the mountain alongside the river for a magnificent view of the jagged coastline below. The town centre itself is fairly run down but the natural scenery makes up for it ten fold.

Umzimvubu River at Port st Johns
Port St Johns
Port St Johns

Beach 2

Seeing the Nguni cows on the beach was one of the highlights of our trip. The cows come down to beach each day to cool off. Nobody really knows why, but the placid animals seem to enjoy the attention they receive and pose for photos in one of the most romantic settings in the country.

Nguni cows on beach 2
Nguni cows on beach 2

The lodge on the beach

The breathtaking sunset I awoke to was from the balcony of this cozy lodge. Originally a farmhouse built in 1929 it’s one of Port St Johns oldest, quaintest buildings set in a lush subtropical garden.

The Lodge over looking the river
Sunrise over Port St Johns

Steve’s Pub and Restaurant

An inviting spot on the main road through town. Sitting outside on the covered veranda we had difficulty choosing from the extensive menu. This is the most valuable location if you are planning the dirt road route to Coffee Bay, the question Why ? quite simply if it wasn't for Steve and his map we would probably still be roaming the hills of the Eastern Cape. He has a hand drawn map that he has put together with co ordinates, distances to travel and locations. There is no such map on Google and without it you will get lost. Besides the delicious and affordable meals , Steve is a life saver.

Steve's Pub and Restaurant
The map from Steve's Pub and Restaurant

The dirt road

Villages dapple the landscape and hills cloaked in golden grass are characteristic of this area. Thatched turquoise rondavel huts dot the hills in this unspoiled land. Don’t be fooled by the beauty through, this road is not for the feint hearted, one can expect no less than 7 hours of driving with no petrol stations, restaurants and shops ( only the odd spaza shop ) for rugged, untamed beauty and with no need to be rushed by time one couldn't find a better journey. Driving in the dark is not recommended as in some areas the road is in very bad condition. Also only suitable for 4WD vehicles with a strong, solid suspension.

The dirt road from Port st Johns to Coffee Bay
Turquoise rondavel huts

Coffee Bay

Just 8km down the road from the Hole in the Wall, with rustic accommodation (there is no petrol station in this town ) this is the only other coastal town, besides Port St Johns to have a tar road entering it from the N2. The town was named after a ship that lost its cargo of coffee beans in a wreck off the Wild Coast and the beans were supposedly washed up on the beach to germinate there.The laid back peaceful vibe will have you begrudgingly leave when your holiday is up.

Bead ladies at Coffee Bay
Coffee Bay

Coffee Shack Backpackers

The most fun backpackers and accommodation in the area, located right on the beach at the Bomvu River. From private rooms to dormitories and camping they have it all.Waking up in the morning and going for a stroll to the beach, buying beads from the local women was like being in a tropical paradise.

Coffee Shack Backpackers
Coffee Bay

Local “ man of all connections “

Zuko was our life saver in Coffee Bay . After having an issue with our vehicle he found us mechanic and spoke fluent English. Next day he brought me some local bead sellers and offered to show us around. And if we needed a good smoke he could assist with this also :) Every town needs a man like this, friendly and well connected.

Zuko

Hole in the wall

A geographical marvel, the extraordinary natural arch with the thrashing surf, is particularly jaw dropping during high tide. The hole is directly in the path of the Mpako River and it is this, that has eroded the hole. The local Xhosa people called it “ izi Khaleni” which means “ place of thunder “ legend says a young maiden fell in love with the mythical “ sea people “ such was the love of this sea person for the maiden that he and his people rammed a hole in the side of a lagoon wall with the help of a huge fish so they could reach her. She was never heard from again.

Hole in the Wall
Hole in the Wall

Mthatha

Found in 1879 and declared the capital of the Transkei . This is the lively and colourful centre of the region. One of the greatest attractions is the Nelson Mandela Museum in the Bhunga Building in Owen Street. Here one will find the closest airport if planning to fly into the area to travel around.

The scenery of the Eastern Cape is spectacular and the best way to explore this rugged and remote region is with a 4WD vehicle, but that said most roads are in good condition even if they are gravel. I loved it and will be back to see more.


KZN Weekend Roadtrip

As all travellers know, the journey is just as important as the destination. So an impromptu weekend trip with a girlfriend over Easter was bound to be fun. Traveling by car is exhilarating, with windows down and wind blowing through our hair , the open road was full of possibility.

Near Villiers

We left Joburg early, hoping to miss the masses that converge on the KZN beaches each holiday season. Cruising down the N1 through the sun-drenched strips of cosmos the riotous explosion of colour of these attractive flowers adds cheer to the otherwise flat and drab landscape.

Cosmos Fields

Meandering through the magnificent countryside, these are some of the spots that we recommend stopping at.

Warden

Situated on the Cornelis River, the town was laid out on the farm Rietvlei in 1912. I have always loved the particularly large Dutch Reformed Church here that can seat around 1750 people. This time we stopped and took a stroll down to the river, clean and flowing strong it was refreshing and a good spot to stretch our legs.

Warden

Sterkfontein Dam

Just outside Harrismith on the alternate route to Durban is the third largest dam in South Africa. The town of Harrismith was founded in 1849 and has the 3rd oldest golf course in the country. The dam is not only beautiful but also unusual , as almost all of the water is pumped up the escarpment from KZN. Be sure to stop at the look out and buy some clay crafted animals from a local artist.

Sterkfontein dam
Sterkfontein Dam

The Border Post

The 85 year old stone farm house borders the provinces of the Free state and KZN. Perched at the top of the pass its an ideal location to stop for a scrumptious farm meal or even stay over in the guest house. Take a walk over the road to appreciate the sweeping views below.

The Border Post
The Border Post

Oliviershoek pass

Used as an alternate route to Van Reenen’s Pass, the winding pass overlooks the Northern Drakensberg. My memories from childhood have never left me on this section of the Drakensberg route. One winter we were the last car allowed through when the road was closed due to heavy snowfall. On many other occasions we would see the baboons playfully running along the rocks or even sitting on the roadside. History says that Piet Retief and his trek party climbed this pass on 19 October 1837.

Oliviershoek pass
Oliviershoek pass

Cathedral Peak

This 1930’s mountain resort is surrounded by some of the world’s most stunning scenery. With an abundance of wildlife , plants and rock art there is something here for everyone. A popular spot for guided daily hiking trails which includes seeing the Bushman paintings, there are also horse - rides, fly fishing and every imaginable outdoor sport. Drinking a hot cup of coffee at the base of the misty mountain range was sheer bliss.

Heading towards Cathedral Peak
Cathedral Peak Hotel

Escort

A rather unattractive town established in 1848, the main economic activity is farming with a large bacon and processed food factory situated on the edge of the town. Some beautiful old sandstone buildings are scattered around and worth looking at. The green Alice bridge on the outskirts of town is rather ugly at first sight but while driving through it one suddenly appreciates its design and strength.

Church in Escort
Alice Green Bridge

Umdloti beach

A tiny resort town on the Dolphin Coast only 25kms north of Durban, it is well known for the dolphins that swim in the shallow waters. Ideal for families with children because of the large natural rock pool and it’s comforting to know that there are shark nets in place and well trained life guards on duty. The 5km of of sandy beaches are enticing and as we soon found out, difficult to pull yourself away from. Even if we looked like a well cooked tomatoe.

Umdloti beach
Umdloti Beach

Howick falls

These mesmerising falls are known to the locals as KwaNogqaza, the “ place of the tall one “ the 95 metre cascade falls into a pool of water, regarded by the Zulus with superstition and said to be the place of the spirits ancestors. According to legend a serpent - like creature lives at the bottom of the falls.I was interested to learn that Mark Twain visited the Hawick Falls hotel in 1896. The main attraction of this town one can also enjoy a Gorge Walk if you have time.

Howick Falls

Anew Hilton hotel

The elegant and upmarket hotel is perfectly located on the doorstep of the Midlands Meander. We decided to spend our second night here experiencing old world charm in the 4 star building with its imposing Tudor lines.Established in 1936 , it has 97 spacious rooms and a gorgeous outdoor pool for those hot summer days.

Anew Hilton Hotel

Nelson Mandela Capture sight

While meandering one will see the large steel sculpture and visitor centre marking the arrest site of Nelson Mandela on the 5 August 1962. He went on to spend the next 27 years of his life in prison. This cultural and historical exhibition is the largest artwork using laser - cut metal beams in South Africa, affected by the sun changing its position above the monument. The effect of the tall beams on the ground also changes. The monument is located at the end of a winding path, which represents the long walk to freedom that he took towards his goal.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site

Lions river station

The old goods shed has been preserved and is now the spot to go if you want to buy some Nguni cow hides, amble amongst the gallery of sculptures and fine art or enjoy a steaming hot cup of Terbodore coffee. The name of the town , Lions River originates from the last lion shot in the area in 1856.

Lions River
Lions River

Piggly Wiggly

Situated on the beautiful property of Highgate Wine Estate , this distinctive outdoor shopping centre is the ideal breakfast stop. After a hearty meal we strolled around and couldn't resist a nougat flavoured ice cream from Wedgwood ( undoubtedly the best ice-cream I have ever tasted ) With activities for young and old, we recommend fitting this into your travel agenda.

Piggly Wiggly

Nottingham road junction

Also known as Notties Junction, is a shopping and leisure centre in the heart of Nottingham road. Serving delicious country meals in a relaxed setting with a variety of shops like Chocolate heaven you won’t go home empty handed. Just down the road is the St John’s Gowrie Church, in April 1884 John King donated the grounds where the small wood and iron church would be built and opened in February 1885. A beautiful church ground to walk around and pay homage to those who lost their life during the World Wars.

Heavenly chocolate at Nottingham Road Junction

The Pig & Plough
As a savvy road tripper I have learnt to savour the road side stalls, and quaint eating spots along the way. Just outside Winterton is this delightful restaurant. Sitting outside on the stoep I noticed the miniature train track above us that winds through the top of the building. Smelling the berg air this was our final tourist stop before heading home.

Pig and Plough
Pig and Plough

A fun filled weekend, we only touched on some of the beautiful places. What a beautiful country we have, so much to appreciate and such glorious weather
Go and hit the open road and see where your car will take you.