At the very bottom of the African continent, in the shadow of the awe-inspiring Table Mountain, you’ll find Cape Town. Beautiful, eclectic, and with a complex history, there are many reasons to visit the Mother City; here are 7 excellent ones to get you started.
1. Surfing Safari
Cape Town is squeezed between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, which meet at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of the African continent. The biggest waves are found between July and September, but there’s decent surfing year-round here. The key is to check the weather forecast before choosing your ocean. A simple rule to remember: if the wind is blowing from the south-east, head to the Atlantic side – like Hout Bay (best for advanced surfers). If the wind if blowing north-west, the Indian Ocean side will have better waves, like the famed Muizenberg beach (great for beginners).
2. Flower Power
After the rainy months of winter, the desert landscapes of the Western Cape turn into carpets of beautiful color in Spring. There are over 8,000 species of plants here, and the variety is truly astonishing. Known as the Garden Route, the drive begins a couple of hours outside the city at Mossel Bay, but even if you’re short on time you can still get a wonderful taste of spring flowers at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. On the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, the gardens are packed with examples of the region’s unique indigenous plants, including the Protea, South Africa’s national flower.
3. Penguins and Whales and Zebras, Oh My!
You needn’t go all the way to Antarctica to see penguins – Boulder’s Beach on the Cape Peninsula is one of the few places in the world where you can see these fascinating creatures up close. The beach is home to a colony of some 2,000 African penguins, which, although used to humans, are still quite prone to sharp nips, so don’t get too close! South of Boulder’s Beach, you’ll find the Cape of Good Hope – long considered to be the southern tip of Africa – a protected national park where you’ll find zebra, baboons and even ostriches running wild. The Cape is also a fantastic spot for whale watching in season (June-November), with humpback whales giving unforgettable displays of their strength and beauty.
4. Wine O’Clock
Only an hour’s drive outside the city, the vineyards of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek have been producing wine for over 300 years. The region is famous for its Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, but in recent years, winemakers have been exploring new varieties, including shiraz and even sparkling wine. Start your day in Stellenbosch at Tokara, one of the most well known producers, then wend your way through the picturesque region with its rolling hills and sweeping views, stopping wherever takes your fancy.
5. Climb the Table
Spring is a great time for hiking – the flowers are in bloom (see #2!) and the winter winds have dropped. Table Mountain is the spiritual heart of Cape Town, watching over you everywhere you go, challenging you to make the hike to the top, or at least part of the way. There are many different routes to follow, but whichever you choose you’ll be guaranteed incredible views. If you’re not a seasoned hiker it’s a good idea to use a guide, they’ll make sure you’re following safe paths and share their in-depth knowledge of the mountain as you go.
6. Living History
The story of South Africa has been one of great change over the past 25 years – Nelson Mandela was freed from 27 years in prison in 1990, Apartheid ended in 1994, and Mandela went on to become the country’s president the same year. A visit to Cape Town is a great opportunity to learn more about these important moments in world history. For much of his incarceration, Mandela (along with thousands of others) was kept at Robben Island, which is now a moving museum dedicated to “the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.” Tour boats for the island leave several times a day from the V&A Waterfront. All of the guides are former political prisoners, which makes the experience incredibly powerful. Tours culminate with a visit to the cell where Mandela spent 18 years of his life.
7. Flavor Explosion
A major trading post for hundreds of years on the spice route, the cuisine in Cape Town is a wild mix of influences, from indigenous flavors to Malaysian spices and English traditions like Afternoon Tea. The city’s markets are a great place to start on any foodie tour – the Bay Harbour market at Hout Bay is one of the best. Back downtown, the Mount Nelson hotel is considered by many to serve up one the best Afternoon Teas in the world, while Bo-Kaap Kombuis is a great spot for dinner to try those authentic, spicy Cape Malay dishes. Whatever you do, don’t forget to order a Klippies and Coke while you’re in town – Cape Town’s favorite tipple, made with a generous amount of Klipdrift brandy.
Where to stay in Cape Town