Dan and I began our trip to Southern Africa in Cape Town, South Africa! Cape Town is a gorgeous, historical city with so much to offer! Literally, it has beaches, mountains, great food, even better wine, craft beer, so much history, a mix of people and an evolving political climate. Cape Town makes for such an interesting place to visit. Main picture from the top of Table Mountain and below are some more favorites!
Since Cape Town has so much going for it, planning a trip can be somewhat confusing and stressful! To help you out, Cape Town covers a very large physical area! The main “down town,” called City Bowl, is small, but other neighborhoods and “towns” stretch all the way down to Cape Point (a slooow 70 km). In addition, there are a number of areas just outside of Cape Town that are popular destinations, such as Stellenbosch and towns along the Garden Route. In any case, definitely consult a map and think about what you want to do in Cape Town and how you plan to get around before booking a hotel.
Since we did not rent a car, we decided to stay in City Bowl near Kloof Street – a popular and walkable street. This allowed us to walk to some shops, restaurants and bars and put us in a prime location to visit some of the main sites by taxi, including Table Mountain (5 minute cab ride), V&S Waterfront (7 minute cab ride) and Camps Bay Beach (10 minute cab ride).
We also had a tough time determining how long to stay in Cape Town! We heard such great things about the city and there seemed like so many activities to do! We ended up staying six nights and had a relaxed and leisurely experience. With less time you could squeeze the main sites into a couple days. Alternatively, you could split a week between Cape Town city center and one of the wine towns, a town along the Garden Route or a beach-front property closer to Cape Point!
On our first full day, we hit the big sites and went to Table Mountain and Robben Island. I thought this might be too ambitious, but it worked out really well! For those unfamiliar, Table Mountain is the large, flat mountain that makes up the gorgeous backdrop of Cape Town (see below, left picture taken from ferry to Robben Island, right taken from cable car going up!).
You have to take a cable car up and down (or hike…).
To save time, get there early and buy your cable car ticket before you arrive here. That’s what we did, and we got on the first cable car – which is so cool and spins 360 degrees! At the top, there is a main tourist area with great views, a gift shop and restaurant, bathrooms and the possibility to abseil (which we did not do!). This area is easy and no hiking is required. You can leave this area and hike around the entire mountain, but if you do so, dress appropriately. We wore hiking shoes and took layers. This mountain is rougher than it looks – seriously! Also, take a camera. It’s absolutely gorgeous and they views are phenomenal!
There are also these adorable little animals called dassies at the top, and their closest relative is the elephant. WHAT?!
After lunch on Table Mountain, we cabbed to V&S Waterfront, ferried out to Robben Island and saw the infamous island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The ferry leaves about four times a day and only a certain number of tickets are sold – so buy them in advance online! The ticket includes the ferry ride to Robben Island, which provides gorgeous views of Table Mountain, and a mandatory tour of Robben Island. The first part of the mandatory tour consists of a packed bus ride around the island, of which the only point of interest is the quarries where Mandela worked.
While the bus ride is not the most interesting, stick around after for a tour of the actual island prison lead by a former inmate. This was really interesting and truly made the entire tour worthwhile. The former inmate took us into the room where he stayed, showed us the menu served to the different “classes” of prisoners and answered any questions. This definitely left an impression of everyone in the room and put a lot of history into perspective.
Oh, and keep your eyes open, there is a colony of penguins that live on Robben Island!!
Coming back from Robben Island, we strolled around V&S Waterfront, but in my opinion that was just a big tourist trap. It has some restaurants, shops, the Two Oceans Aquarium and some really cute seals, but I wouldn’t allot much time for it. We ended our first day eating zebra at an upscale, non-touristy game restaurant, Savoy Cabbage. Fabulous restaurant (review coming)!!
On our second day, we took it easy and cabbed to one of the closest beaches to City Bowl, Camps Bay. This area is beautiful and really fun The water is a gorgeous blue (but very cold) and the stunning Twelve Apostles mountains make up the back drop. There are a lot of hotels, shops and touristy restaurants here.
Day three was spent on a full-day wine tour to Stellenbosch with Wine Flies, touring five different wineries and stopping for a braai (South African BBQ) lunch. Whether you take a tour or not, South Africa has some awesome wines and wine tasting/touring is a necessary way to spend a day. We LOVED our tour with Wine Flies and a full post will follow! Definitely book them and book them early via email, as they do sell out. Here are some shots from our day:
On our next to last day, we spent the entire day touring the area between City Bowl and Cape Point, including Hout Bay, Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope!! This area of Cape Town is so beautiful!!!!! (yes, 5 exclamation points are necessary) Definitely a must-do. I will be doing on full post on this area because it was just that great, but in short we went on a small group tour that included a stop at Hout Bay and ferry to Seal Island, a stop at Boulder’s Beach to see the penguins, a picnic lunch and a bike ride through Cape Point to the Cape of Good Hope, which is a nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park (its a crazy big park!). As you will see, I really liked the ease of the small group tour, but this could easily be done with a rental car…not so much on public transpo.
Boulder’s Beach (penguins!):
Cape of Good Hope:
On our final day, we took a local craft beer tour called the Super Cool Beer Tour! This was a great way to spend a half day and gave a surprising amount of insight into the history of Cape Town and the local craft beer scene! If you are into craft beer, this is a good tour because a number of the craft breweries are not in touristy areas and could be difficult to find.
Parting Thoughts and Tips
As you can probably tell, we really loved our time in Cape Town and the city has a lot to offer! I could go on forever, but instead I will leave you with some final thoughts on planning your trip:
1. You shouldn’t really walk more than a block or so in Cape Town;it can be quite dangerous. Cabs are extremely cheap and willing to take you only a few blocks.
2. There is a popular restaurant culture and trendy ones book up weeks in advance. Make those reservations early and confirm them!
3. Defintely get your tickets to Robben Island and Table Mountain here before you go – especially Robben Island. There are only so many seats a day and these definitely sell out in the high season. Webtickets (the linked website) sells tickets to most major attractions in Cape Town and Johannesburg and lets you pull your ticket up on your smart phone rather than requiring a printed ticket.
4. Sun-screen. Sun-screen. Sun-screen.
5. Table mountain is weather dependent. If there is bad weather or heavy wind, the mountain closes down. Keep this in mind. The ferry to Robben Island can also be weather dependent.
Steal Our Trip
We stayed in a private double with private bath. It was very nice for a hostel. Here’s the room:
Savoy Cabbage – Non-touristy restaurants specizliaing in game
101 Hout Street, Cape Town, tel: +27 21 424 2626
Wine Flies Tours, firstname.lastname@example.org or tel +27 (0) 21 462 8011
Super Cool Beer Tour, Mobile: +27 (0)7 66 55 88 58, Office: +27 (0)21 426 29 25, Email: email@example.com
Daytrippers (tour to Cape Point), Tel: +27- (0)21-511 4766, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org