763km (473 miles) E of Cape Town; 1,050km (651 miles) SW of Johannesburg

The approach to Port Elizabeth, referred to by locals as P.E. and now part of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality, is somewhat depressing. Factories alternate with brown brick houses on the freeway into town, the ocean breeze is colored by the stench of smokestacks, and a network of elevated highways has effectively cut the center of the city off from the sea.

For most, Port Elizabeth is simply an entry or departure point -- usually for a trip up or down the Garden Route, or to visit one of the nearby malaria-free game reserves. Thanks to a growing number of quality accommodation options and restaurants, plus some seriously appealing beaches, it can make a relaxed and unexpectedly stylish pit stop for a night or so. If you have a day to kill, take a township tour that covers some of the capital's political history, hang out on Humewood Beach, or amble along the Donkin Heritage Trail to take in P.E.'s settler history. If you're not spending the night in a game reserve, you can still take a number of good day trips, though none are as satisfying as spending a few nights in the bush under a star-spangled sky.