Journeying Through Nelson Mandela's Roots Tour

A 11 day trip to South Africa 
4.93 out of 5 stars
413 reviews

Few world politicians have been as respected or revered as Nelson Mandela, peaceful dismantler of apartheid and creator of the Rainbow Nation. This unique journey follows in his footsteps, from rural tribal upbringing in the Transkei to the vibrant townships where the ANC fought the regime. Then onwards to 27 years of incarceration and a colorful celebration of the future. It's a trip through a legend's lifetime, yet also a kaleidoscopic journey into modern South Africa.

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General Information

Murals on industrial towers in Soweto.
Young Nelson Mandela
Entrance to Robben Island prison.
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Johannesburg, Apartheid Museum, Maboneng, Alexandra, Lilisleaf Farm, Soweto, Hector Pieterson Museum, Velekazi Street, Qunu, Mthatha, Transkei, Wild Coast, Coffee Bay, Cape Town, Table Mountain, Robben Island, Drakenstein Correctional Facility, Stellenbosch, Bo Kaap, Woodstock, Khayelitsha

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Johannesburg – Understanding Context at the Apartheid Museum

Johannesburg is a juxtaposition of ideas, a sprawling city that epitomizes the diversity of the Rainbow Nation. Anything is possible here, and the suburbs always counter the city's often negative media portrayal. You'll be greeted at the airport and transferred to a luxury hotel in Sandton, the city's business district and a central hub for exploration. Relax and recuperate before heading out to the nearby Apartheid Museum, an ideal place to garner an overview of the country's history. This is not a museum that seeks to anger; it's one that preaches respect and reconciliation, the messages that Mandela incorporated into a nation.

The precinct of Maboneng then provides a wonderful example of the country's modern, youthful feel. Mural-dominated food shacks send wafts of the gourmet through the streets; locals skillfully beat drums in converted warehouses, inviting strangers to listen and play; pop-up boutiques and cafes reflect the city's creative edge. It's a place for immersing yourself in the colorful tones of South Africa's present, complete with craft beer, funky restaurants, and the remembrance of tradition. To complete a busy day, you can use the spa at the hotel, a chance to settle in silence and reflect on so many first impressions.

What's Included: airport meet and greet, private guided tour, accommodation

Day 2: Johannesburg – Exploring Alexandra and Lilisleaf Farm

Alexandra is not always pretty. Makeshift shacks tumble into each other as they fill narrow streets while street signs or names don't exist. You need a guide to explore and seek out Mandela's first township home. It stands untouched, complete with its scrap metal roof, a relic of when Madiba moved from his Transkei home to the city in search of work. While not pretty, it's very poignant in understanding the icon's roots of poverty.

Nearby, you'll find more scents of history. The ANC leaders secretly met at Lilisleaf Farm, until their meeting was raided and 18 leaders were tried for treason. It's a place that celebrates liberation and the early apartheid fight, with a prize attraction being the original signed copy of the 1955 Freedom Charter; essentially the equivalent of seeing an original copy of the US constitution. Finding Mandela's signature beneath the core principles is not difficult. Return to Sandton in the mid afternoon and the rest of the day is yours to relax and soak up the city. Your guide will provide dinner recommendations and organize transport.

What's Included: breakfast, private guided tour, lunch, accommodation

Day 3: Johannesburg – An Intimate Tour of Mandela's Soweto Township

Soweto is a place of color, a vast township of murals and painted houses where Mandela lived before and after his incarceration (until two assassination attempts meant he had to seek a more secluded accommodation). Even the public urinals and industrial steam towers have been painted rainbow colors. Enthusiastic locals always welcome visitors with a smile, showcasing the optimism and cohesiveness of a 2-million plus community. Technically this is the world's second largest slum. But such a description woefully misrepresents the richness of culture and society that is found on every street corner. With or without a guide, this is a very safe place to visit.

Your guide is a Mandela expert and grew up in Soweto. You will start your tour at the Hector Pieterson Museum, an ode to the 70s student uprisings in Soweto that helped shift international opinion away from the apartheid government. Then wander down Velekazi Street, the only street in the world that's home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners. Mandela used to live at 8115, a single red brick house that's been converted into a family museum. Desmond Tutu's house is less than 50 meters away and the archbishop still lives in it. Away from the historic sights, you then explore the communities of Soweto on a bicycle. Stop to try the local home-brewed beer, meet the faces that define the township, and explore a place that is always dominated by smiles and enthusiasm.

What's Included: breakfast, private guided tour including two-hour cycle tour of Soweto, lunch, accommodation

Day 4: Mthatha to Qunu to Coffee Bay – Discovering Mandela's Birthplace on the Wild Coast

Away from the city, you arrive on the rolling plains of the Transkei, an area of tribal traditions and the unmistakable scent of heritage. During apartheid, this region was semi-independent, and almost all the ANC leaders that were incarcerated came from here. Circular huts dot the horizon, women in colorful dresses carry baskets on their heads while cows roam freely across the highway. It's a version of Africa that many people imagine; peaceful, traditional, and still governed via a chiefdom system.

A flight takes you from Johannesburg to Mthatha where you're picked up and taken to Qunu village, Mandela's birthplace. His family home has been rebuilt as a replica of the Pollsmoor Prison warder's house. Just down the road, an excellent museum recreates the days when Mandela earned the nickname rolihlahla, or trouble maker. He was a rebel, yet one that always stood up for his principles, something that's wonderfully portrayed through the museum's exhibits. From here it's a two-hour drive along weaving rural roads to Coffee Bay, a piece of Indian Ocean bliss that's immersed in local Xhosa culture. Dolphin pods swim past, witch doctors perform ceremonies on the beach, and wild horses cross the verdant green hills. Ask a South African to choose the most beautiful part of the country and they will probably say the Wild Coast, this stretch of rugged coastline that's your base for the next three nights.

What's Included: breakfast, domestic flight, private guided tour of Qunu, transfer to Coffee Bay, lunch, accommodation

Days 5 – 6: Coffee Bay – The Xhosa Heritage of the Transkei

Relax and indulge in the uninterrupted coastal views. Wander along the dramatic cliffs that divide deserted beaches. Wave hello to the cows that walk across the sand and fill your lungs with the untouched air of the Indian Ocean. Your hotel stands on the sand and for the next two days there's little but the sound of splashing dolphins to interrupt the serenity. A series of famous coastal hikes lead out from here, celebrated in many South African guidebooks: you'll probably have the entire trail to yourself. In Coffee Bay you're immersed in the tranquility of traditional Africa.

If you want to explore further, you can journey to small local villages where life continues as it has done for centuries. This is the Transkei, as laid back as it comes and always home to a surprise. Like when a surfer drops in a wave at the same time a witch doctor is throwing goat knuckles into the ocean.

What's Included: breakfast, accommodation

Day 7: Johannesburg to Cape Town – First Impressions of the Mother City

Today is the only day of significant travel on the itinerary. From Coffee Bay you return to Mthatha Airport for a flight to Cape Town via Johannesburg. In total it's a six-hour journey, so there's a one-hour spa treatment waiting for you upon arrival at your Cape Town hotel.

After an airport transfer, enjoy the salubrious downtime in the spa before a relaxing evening in the Mother City. Table Mountain rises overhead; the Atlantic Ocean glistens beneath the sunset, and the streets are imbued with an upbeat atmosphere. Cape Town feels like a city that's on a holiday, every day of the week. And while it might not be the fastest place for restaurant service, settling into the easygoing rhythm is a highlight of South African travel.

What's Included: breakfast, airport transfers, domestic flight, one-hour spa treatment, accommodation

Day 8: Cape Town – A Tour Through Robben Island With an Ex-Inmate

The still early-morning air is the ideal time to stand on Table Mountain. Tourists are yet to overtake the summit and there's no 40 mph gusts to blow you off balance. A revolving cable car ascends to over 1,000 meters, revealing staggering views of the city. Suburbs are nestled beneath the mountain, a chain of peaks spirals to Africa's southern tip, and Robben Island stands desolate in the Atlantic. After descending from Table Mountain, you're transferred to the V & A Waterfront for a boat journey to the island and a tour that evokes the solitude of Mandela's incarceration.

Modern South Africa's father spent 18 years in the maximum security prison, mostly confined to a tiny cell and being allowed a half-hour visit once a year. An ex-inmate shows you around, telling tales of when Mandela and other ANC members were locked up for almost two decades. Visit Mandela's cell, tour the island in a small bus, and discover just how lonely it can be when you're cast adrift in the Atlantic. Perhaps more than anywhere else on this Mandela tour, Robben Island inspires even greater recognition and respect for what he achieved. Imagining spending a single night here could make you insane. So imagine 18 years here, confined to the tiny cell and spending the days doing hard labor.

What's Included: breakfast, Table Mountain and Robben Island tour including transfers, accommodation

Day 9: Cape Town – Recreating the First Steps of Freedom in Drakenstein

While Robben Island is internationally known, Mandela didn't take his first steps of freedom from this maximum security prison. By the time of his release he was staying at the Drakenstein Correctional Facility, intriguingly situated amongst the oldest settlements of South Africa. The prison is specially opened for your visit and you can recreate those first steps of Mandela as a free man.

After the tour, the day is free to discover the wine estates and 18th-century towns dotted across the area. Dependent on your tastes, the guide will customize a route through the hundreds of wine farms and restaurants of this Cape Winelands area. Pinotage is the local grape, a deep red that's full on the nose yet soft on the palate. Estates cascade down from jagged mountains, ranging from internationally-acclaimed favorites to boutique cellars where owners conduct tasting sessions. During the wine tour you can also stop in Stellenbosch, South Africa's second oldest town and a great portrayal of early colonial life in the Cape.

What's Included: breakfast, special guided Drakenstein tour, Cape Winelands tour, all transfers, accommodation

Day 10: Cape Town – A Microcosm of the Rainbow Nation

On the final day of following Mandela's footsteps, you don't look backwards. Instead, you journey into the present and tour the enchanting suburbs and townships of Cape Town. There's color everywhere, from murals on former slave houses to quirky cafe balconies overlooking the streets. Spend the morning in Khayelitsha, South Africa's second largest township (after Soweto), and a place filled with welcoming faces. Tour the pastel-toned slave houses of Bo Kaap, a district that reflects the harmonious religious mix of modern South Africa. Head out to Woodstock to see the creative, youthful side to the city, filled with boutique shops and restaurants. Then wind away the afternoon around Long Street, Cape Town's central hub and a place to hear accents from all over the continent.

What's Included: breakfast, guided city tour including Khayelitsha, lunch, accommodation

Day 11: Cape Town – Departure

An evening flight gives you time to spend a few hours completing your tour of Cape Town. Shop at the Waterfront, dine at the cafes along Bree Street or relax on the beach at Camps Bay. In the late-afternoon you're picked up from the hotel and transferred to Cape Town International Airport for your return flight.

What's Included: breakfast, airport transfer


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.