Cape Town’s Best Bets

As I mentioned in my last post on Table Mountain National Park, no visit to South Africa is complete without a stay in Cape Town. Before you embark on a Kruger safari adventure, set aside a few days for some urban exploration. This coastal city overflows with natural wonders and historic sites so make sure to take time to cover it all:

Table Mountain National Park: Stretching across the Cape Peninsula from city-centered Table Mountain in the north to Cape Point in the south, this national park is exceptionally biodiverse. For more insight, please read my recent article.

V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Photo-op at the V&A Waterfront

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden: Take a stroll on the Tree Canopy Walkway a curved, timber and steel bridge that hovers over the garden’s canopy of trees offering great views of the peninsula. Or, pack a picnic, and head for a hike up Table Mountain, which is easily accessible from here.

Robben Island, Cape Town

Robben Island

Robben Island: Required reading (or viewing) prior to a trip to South Africa is Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom,” the autobiographical work that chronicles the former president’s life and 27 years imprisoned on Robben Island. This UNESCO Site is accessed by way of ferry originating from the Nelson Mandela Gateway Museum at the V&A Waterfront. The 3.5 hour tour includes the ferry crossing, guided bus tour around the island, and visit to the maximum-security prison and the cell that housed Mandela, the global icon of bravery and freedom. Most memorable part of the tour? Meeting with a former political prison who recounts his own story of imprisonment and life under Apartheid.

Robben Island, Cape Town

Our tour of Robben Island was led by a former political prisoner

Robben Island, Cape Town

We met with prison guard (and author), Christo Brand, who formed a “friendship behind bars” with Mandela

Hooked on history? Try a Tunnel Tour and get an up close view of the underground canals that date back to 1652 and once served passing ships with fresh water. The District 6 Museum tells the story of citizens forcibly removed from this neighborhood by the Apartheid government. The Heart of Cape Town Museum celebrates the world’s first heart transplant. And, a tour through the Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town’s star-shaped, oldest surviving colonial building, will give you a perspective on the hardships of the city’s earliest days.

V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Shop, eat, play, and step back in history at V&A Waterfront

V&A Waterfront: Perched on the Atlantic side of the Cape Peninsula, this historic dockland is a busy commercial harbor set in the midst of a bustling entertainment mecca. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront boasts 450 shops (both local and international brands), 80 eateries, theatres, movies, and more. Visit The Watershed for an eclectic mix of indigenous crafts and the Market on the Wharf for artisanal food, fresh produce, and baked goods. Get out on the water with a boat charter, or catch a helicopter charter for a bird’s eye view of the city. Spend an afternoon at the Two Oceans Aquarium and dip a hand into marine tanks and touch pools, or stop at the predator tank to watch the sharks feed.

Nobel Square: Adjacent to the V&A Market, this square and its statues pay tribute to South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Nikosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and former state presidents FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

Nobel Square Cape Town

Nobel Square

Cape Town Diamond Museum: Located near the V&A Harbor Clock Tower, this “hidden gem” recounts the 1867 Diamond Rush in South Africa and the path a diamond takes from “in the rough” to ring-worthy final product.

Camps Bay: This trendy yet casual seaside resort at the foot of the Twelve Apostles Mountains (just ten minutes from downtown Cape Town) is known as the city’s Riviera and is fringed by a palm tree lined promenade with a thriving mix of sidewalk cafes and boutiques. The long stretch of beach has a tidal pool at the southern end, surfing at the northern end, and in between, a calm spot for swimming.

Stellenbosch: Surrounded by the Cape Winelands, this university town is known for its distinct Cape Dutch architecture, oak-shaded streets, and charming shops, patisseries, and artisanal bakeries. Spend the day exploring the never ending vineyard choices that rival California’s Napa Valley. Most notable is exclusive lodge Delaire Graff Winery with its gorgeous mountain views from its patio restaurants. Prefer a chocolate and Brandy tasting? Stop at Waterford Estate or Van Ryn. Continue your wine tasting tour in the vineyards near the village of Franschoek, also regarded for its galleries and antique shops.

Delaire Graff Estate, Cape Town

A gorgeous view from Delaire Graff Estate

Stellenbosch, Cape Town

The vivid mountain vistas of Stellenbosch

Delaire Graff Estate

Visit at sunset to catch those burnt sienna hues

Foodies: Restaurants in Cape Town boast exceptional chefs, locally sourced ingredients, and traditional South African game (including kudu, ostrich, and springbok). Enjoy seafood with a view at Harbor House at the V&A Waterfront. Kloof Street House takes its name from the hip street it resides on. Set in a Victorian building, it features a kitschy interior and brasserie-style menu. The Old Biscuit Mill, located in a formerly industrial area known as Woodstock, is actually a little village with an eclectic mix of farm stalls, artists’ workshops , restaurants, and seasonal festivals. Test Kitchen, is well-known for its inventive menu and creative flavors and ingredients. It’s tough to score a reservation at The Pot Luck Club dubbed “the coolest place in Cape Town,” but it’s worth a try to sample its innovative cuisine. Noordhoek’s Food Barn charms with its laid back, rustic atmosphere and truly farm to table menu. Visit the One & Only hotel for dinner at Reuben’s (in nice weather ask for an outside table overlooking the harbor) and make a stop in the lovely lobby lounge before or after your meal. Visiting Camp’s Bay? Take time for sushi at Paranga on the restaurant’s beach-view terrace.

Stay overnite: One & Only Cape Town (in the harbor area), Cape Grace Hotel (waterfront view), Camps Bay Retreat Hotel (set on a four-acre reserve), Twelve Apostles Hotel (borders Table Mountain National Park), and Tinstwalo Atlantic (a chic remote lodge on the shores of the Atlantic).

“Safari Adventures in South Africa”


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