Cape Town is fondly known as the “Mother City”, it’s my hometown and place of birth…so I’ll try to be unbiased and objective. But with its natural beauty and diverse activities, this might prove difficult.
WOW, where to start? I suppose as a tourist you would land at Cape Town International airport and head straight for the CBD. In recent years the CBD has become a little unsafe, so consider staying in the surrounding suburbs like Camps Bay, Ronderbosch, Newlands or on the other side of the bay in Bloubergstrand. I would avoid the V&A Waterfront…unless you’re into malls and overpriced brand name merchandise. It’s a tourist trap which locals tend to avoid. There are however many good restaurants and there is always a great vibe around the satellite stores and at the amphitheatre. Walking along the promenade of the V&A Waterfront there are many tour companies offering helicopter rides and group boat tours.
Top attractions to consider in Cape Town….
Table Mountain (of course) – Arriving in Cape Town you can’t miss it and if you’re lucky you will get to see it with the tablecloth. This happens when a south easterly wind blows causing a layer of cloud to cover the top.
There are different ways to get up the mountain including various walking paths with different difficulty levels for novice to expert hikers. The cable car is the best option for the more laid back traveler. One could even walk up and take the cable car down. I would also advise doing this early evening (weather permitting). This way you get to marvel at the spectacular views during daylight. After a magical African sunset, you’ll also get to see Cape Town all lit up at night. There is a restaurant/bar at the top, but you can also take a backpack with your favorite snacks and a bottle of fizz.
Lion’s Head & Signal Hill – The best excursions are the free ones! If you have hired a car, take a drive up to Signal Hill. If you are there at midday, you will be lucky to hear to noon day cannon go off. This happens every day and you can set your watch to it. If you like a short hike, there are many paths to explore, but the main attraction is the sunset, so again, pack some fizz and snacks and enjoy a magnificent sunset over the water. For the adventurous, there is parasailing off the hill. Something I have always wanted to try.
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus – Departing from the V&A Waterfront, this is probably the best way to see the CBD and surrounds and get a historical perspective. The Constantia Wine route is a must and I think ticket holders also have access to the river boat cruise around the V&A. If you going to be in the CBD for a few days then get the three day pass to fit everything in. The one day pass is not enough and will have you rushing around like a headless chicken.
Robben Island – Where is infamous ex-president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. There is not much to see on the islands other than the prison. We were not that impressed with what we saw, but if you’re a history buff and things like this interest you then by all means go take a look. The ferry departs from the foreshore in the V&A Waterfront.
Game Farms – If you’re looking to see some wildlife there are not many places in the Western Cape. Aquila is probably your best bet. I have been and can say it was an amazing experience. Meals are included, rooms are luxurious and the tour guides were very knowledgeable. Alternatively, you can head inland and visit the Kruger National Park in the north east of South Africa.
Eat, drink, shop and be merry!
Wine Tours – OMG…some the best and most affordable wines in the world come from the Western Cape. Do yourself a favour and grab a wine tour brochure from any of the tourism offices. There is literally a wine route on any road you take. Some of the popular wine estates are found in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl and Constantia, see our article entitled “Western Cape Wine Farms” for more details. Your Hop On/Off Bus ticket includes some of these routes.
If you have more time in South Africa and a car, head to the Elgin Valley regions for a day. Wines from this region are “Cool Climate Wines” which is evident in the crisp fresh taste. If you’re doing the Paarl wine route, consider heading a little further to Robertson which also has many well-known wine farms producing excellent wines.
Eating out – Coming to South Africa and spending Euros, Dollars or Pounds means you are going to eat like a KING! South Africa is a melting pot of cultures, so you’ll be able to get any type of cuisine. Seafood and venison is cheap and plentiful compared to the rest of the world, but also be on the lookout for some traditional dishes like milk tart, malva pudding, koeksisters, bobotie, boerewors (sausage), potjiekos (stew prepared in a back cast iron pot) and of course you can’t go to South Africa and not have a braai (BBQ). A popular braai snack is biltong (dried/cured beef) and droewors (similar to boerewors but just dried). So be sure to buy some, you will see it everywhere.
If it’s something traditionally African you are after then try Mama Africa. Located in CPT CBD they serve wild game meat and mopani worms but don’t worry they also serve normal proteins. Entertainment includes traditional drummers and face painting.
Markets – eating, drinking and market shopping is definitely a South African tradition and there are many outdoor markets which offer a large variety of foods, wine, locally made goods and entertainment. Some to consider are the Libertas and Route 44 Markets in Stellenbosch, the Lourensford Market in Somerset West, The Biscuit Mill in Woodstock and the Elgin Railway market.
The Western Cape is undoubtedly the jewel of South Africa, a country offering eight UNESCO World heritage sites, blue flag beaches and the eighth natural wonder of the world (Table Mountain).
No matter where I live in the world, I will always be proudly Capetonian!