Located in the KwaZulu-Natal region and founded in 1839, Pietermaritzburg maintains much of its historic architecture and is surrounded by stunning nature. The city is often overlooked by tourists who prioritize larger cities like Johannesburg and Durban, but those who visit the area find plenty to do like visiting world-class museums and exciting venues. If you’re heading that way or thinking about it, here are 6 fun things to do in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Butterflies for Africa
Did you know that Pietermaritzburg is home to one of the best butterfly gardens on the continent? At Butterflies for Africa, guests will walk through an enclosed garden where hundreds of colorful butterflies live peacefully and inspect visitors by landing on them. Visitors will enjoy the picturesque Butterfly House outfitted with an artificial waterfall, lush plants and a gorgeous arrangement of flowers for the butterflies. But the winged insects aren’t the only stars of the show, there is a Monkey Enclosure where families can meet Cotton-top Tamarin that’s known for its tiny stature (slightly bigger than your hand). Come hungry, there is a coffee shop on the premises for you to enjoy a cup of java and a slice of cheesecake in between visiting the enclosures.
Tatham Art Gallery
It’s easy to do a double take once you step inside and realize you’re not at the MET in New York. Tatham Art Gallery is a prestigious art museum with its own impressive collection of paintings and art pieces of many eras. Most of the art pieces on display are made from European and South African artists from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Monitor the museum’s website for upcoming temporary exhibits you may want to catch, that way you’ll get a glimpse of both historic paintings and contemporary art that rotates frequently at the gallery.
KwaZulu-Natal Botanical Garden
There’s no season to avoid when it comes to the KwaZulu-Natal Botanical Garden. Something is always in bloom year-round at this idyllic garden organized by South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Expect to spend the whole day at this botanical garden since there’s a restaurant, children’s playground and comfortable outdoor seating to lounge in the sun and take in the full splendor of the flowers. SANBI runs several botanical gardens throughout the country, but what’s so unique about the Pietermaritzburg’s location is that it’s one of the oldest known continuously running gardens of the world (established in 1874). Once inside, you’ll love the long walkway of plane trees that are more than a century old. It’s common to spot a large variety of birds, monkeys and butterflies during your visit.
Don’t leave Pietermaritzburg without learning some of its history at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. The museum is loaded with exhibits including eight exhibitions on its history and 10 on its culture. Expect to find a collection of taxidermy animals native to the area, a life-sized T-Rex model, a re-creation of Drakensberg Cave with rock art, and rotating temporary exhibits (usually covering political unrest, children’s art or xenophobic violence).
Cumberland Nature Reserve
Get your nature fix without venturing far away from the city at Cumberland Nature Reserve. It is a private reserve but for a small fee, you can enter the 300 hectare wide area in the Table Mountain region (not to be confused with the one in Cape Town) where a wealth of plants and animals thrive. Locals from Pietermaritzburg love to hike the area and explore the multiple trails passing through waterfalls, river gorges, and acacia trees. Visitors can see up to 80 species of mammals and over 200 varieties of birds during their visit to the reserve. If you need a break, there is a restroom and a designated picnic area with tables for visitors to use.
Golden Horse Casino
Join a long tradition of Pietermaritzburg’s at Golden Horse Casino, dubbed as the city’s playground. Owned by Tsogo Sun Hotels, the casino is a favorite venue full of exciting activities including it’s most popular gaming event, horse-racing at the Scottsville Racecourse. The casino has (of course) endless amounts of casino games where visitors get a shot at winning money and prizes while taking advantage of its high-end restaurants, bar lounge and live music. In addition to the casino and horse-racing, there is a full black-light bowling alley that’s perfect for making the atmosphere more family-friendly. For convenient access to the casino, stay at Tsogo Sun’s Southern Sun, a four-star rated hotel with all the luxury touches to make your stay in Pietermaritzburg a more extravagant one.
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