With a nickname like “The Friendly City,” Port Elizabeth lives up to the title. Vibrant, laid-back and full of modern amenities, Port Elizabeth, South Africa is a spectacular choice for a gap year destination.

Situated in the Eastern Cape, the “wild province, the area outside Port Elizabeth is filled with untamed forests, bush, and beaches. Spectacular coastlines skirt the Windy City making it an ideal location for those who love the outdoors.

Whether you’re interested in volunteering with animals, working with children or learning to sail, this metropolitan city has a cozy-feel and everything you’re looking for. So get packing and head over for your great South African adventure!

Photo credit: South African Tourism

What you do with your gap year depends wholly on your interests. The good news is Port Elizabeth has so many options you won’t have any trouble finding what’s right for you. Volunteers of all kinds are always needed in Port Elizabeth from teachers at summer camps to animal lovers at wildlife reserves. Entwined with the wind and the sea, Port Elizabeth is a great place to join a sailing school and get out on the water!

Volunteer with Animals

Donating your time to help animals is a beautiful and fulfilling way to spend a gap year. Port Elizabeth has several wildlife reserves nearby. It’s a great base if you have a soft spot for animals and want to find a meaningful volunteer opportunity.

Addo Elephant National Park started with only 11 elephants back in 1931 and now boasts over 450 elephants. It is home to elephants, black rhinos, lions, zebras, buffalo and penguins. Addo needs volunteers to perform a number of tasks that help maintain the protective environment.

Kwantu Game Reserve is passionate about re-wilding predators that have been threatened, mistreated and wounded. Volunteers consider themselves “assistant conservation managers” while working at the park, as data collected and duties performed by them benefit the animals on the reserve. Daily tasks include patrolling fences and making repairs, rehabilitating erosion, caring for the predators and elephants as well as taking game counts.

Work with Children

Children are everything people say: our future and our greatest resource. Take time during your gap year in Port Elizabeth to work with kids.

If you’re interested in being an integral part of a child’s life, consider becoming an au pair. This position gives you the opportunity to integrate into the South African culture and provides the added support of a second family during your gap year. Depending on the family, you may live in their home or just come in to care for the children during designated hours. Sites worth searching include Gumtree, Au Pair SA, and Great Au Pair.

Alternatively, you could teach or join in on a summer camp as a counselor.

Learn to Sail

In addition to being considered the "Friendly City," Port Elizabeth is also known as the “Windy City.” The conditions in Algoa Bay are perfect for sailing and numerous regattas are held year round.

Redhouse Yacht Club has classes for beginners to advanced sailors alike. The renowned Algoa Bay Yacht Club is known for its fantastic weekend races and newbie-friendly sailing events every Wednesday. No matter the club, Port Elizabeth has the ideal wind and weather to spend your gap year learning to sail.

How much should you expect to spend?

Compared to European and North American prices, South Africa is affordable -- especially outside major cities like Johannesburg and Pretoria.

For a high quality meal, probably of freshly caught seafood, you can expect to pay around $8 USD. A liter of water is $0.80, a beer $1.70 and a coffee $1.50.

Rent in Port Elizabeth, like everywhere, depends on where you live. An apartment inside the city center is $270 a month while locations farther outside run at $230.

Do you need a visa?

To enter South Africa you will need a valid passport with one blank page, a return ticket, sufficient funds for day-to-day expenses and a yellow fever vaccination certificate if you have visited a high-risk country. Several nationalities do not require a visa to stay in South Africa for 90 days or less including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Those wishing to stay longer than three months will need to apply for a visa that matches your type of stay. Be sure to check the official South Africa visa requirements while planning your gap year.

If you follow basic precautions you will have a safe and healthy gap year in Port Elizabeth. The area is free of malaria and yellow fever is not a concern. Mosquitos are found throughout South Africa though, so be sure to stock up on mosquito repellant. Be sure to eat only fully cooked meats and fish and only drink sealed, bottled water.

Avoid animals you don’t know, especially dogs, monkeys, bats, snakes and jellyfish. Before any travel it’s recommended to be up to date on routine vaccinations like Tetanus, Hepatitis A, and Typhoid Fever.

Being a metropolitan city, there are a few safety measures to take when living in Port Elizabeth. If you plan to drive a car, be sure to keep your windows rolled up and your doors locked at all times. When parking your car, take all items out of the vehicle to make it less desirable to thieves.

Avoid visiting the townships alone and make sure to have a knowledgeable guide if you are going. Walking around alone at night is not advised. When using ATMs be aware of your surroundings and don’t take out excessive amounts of cash at one time. Credit card fraud is on the rise in all of South Africa so don’t let your credit card out of your site and periodically check your statements for any unusual activity.

Contributed by Alecia Weaver

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