Cape Town’s Best Bets

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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Best of Cape Town’s Table Mountain National Park

Best of Cape Town’s Table Mountain National Park

Planning your “bucket list” safari to South Africa? Make sure to include a stay in Cape Town, the country’s coastal capital, where African, European, and Asian cultures meet. This city, positioned on the Cape Peninsula, is also (allegedly) where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. This dubious distinction actually goes to Cape Agulhas, which lies further along the coast to the east.  But, despite this cartographical clash, Cape Town and its peninsula remain a “can’t miss” destination, not just for its cultural offerings, but for its abundance of natural attractions.IMG_3892

Table Mountain National Park stretches across the Cape Peninsula from city-centered Table Mountain in the north, to Cape Point in the south. A string of white sand beaches line its 40 kilometer coastline, which meanders along the Atlantic Ocean on the western side to False Bay on the eastern shore.

IMG_3857This 7750-hectare preserve is exceptionally biodiverse – mountain zebras, buck, baboons, ostrich and 250 species of birds all call it home. There are more plant species than in the entire U.K., (including the beautiful and otherworldly national flower, King Protea).  At the southernmost point of the peninsula are three promontories: Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point, and Cape Maclear.

Table Mountain National

Table Mountain National Park South Africa


Table Mountain Aerial Cableway: Travel by cable car to the summit of this flat-topped mountain that stands like a beacon high above the city. The five minute ascent takes 65 people along a 1200 meter route in an enclosed capsule that revolves 360 degrees offering everyone a panoramic view.  (But, check the weather– it can be closed from 60-90 days a year due to strong winds. And, even on a sunny day, it will be a few degrees colder at the peak).  You can also take a guided trek by foot – pick from a variety of routes involving walking, hiking, or rope work.  Up top are a café, gift shop, and handy telescopes.

Cape Point Cape Town South AfricaCape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (Cape Point):  At the tip of Cape Peninsula lies Cape Point, a nature reserve and Natural World Heritage Site that lies within Table Mountain National Park.  A navigational landmark, (Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias rounded this tip in 1488) the first lighthouse was completed in 1859. Take the three minute ride in the “Flying Dutchman” funicular (an inclined railway) from the lower station to the upper station – more robust visitors can choose to walk. At the top, if you make the climb up the steep steps to reach the lighthouse, you may catch a glimpse of migrating whales.

Later, continue a drive down along the main road to Cape of Good Hope to snap a photo with the famous sign positioned at this rocky headland.  And, stop for a bite to eat with a view at the aptly named Two Oceans Restaurant.Cape of Good Hope South Africa

Boulders Beach, Table Mountain National ParkBoulders Penguin Colony: Penguin lovers (like me!) must make a pilgrimage to Boulders Penguin Colony located in Simon’s Town on the eastern side of the peninsula.  Descend down to the waterline along the boardwalk to this sheltered cove ringed by granite boulders and observe the endangered African Penguin in its natural environment. These little tuxedo-clad chaps put on quite a show, diving in the chilly waters and nesting in the dunes.  If the timing is right, you can catch a glimpse of adorable molting chicks. Afterwards, make a stop for tea at Café Penguino – next door is a gift shop with plenty of penguin-themed paraphernalia. Boulders Penguin Colony Cape Town South AfricaBoulders Penguin Colony, Table Mountain National Park

Boulders Penguin Colony, Table Mountain National ParkLion’s Head & Signal Hill: Lion’s Head, the prominent peak just to the right of Table Mountain, has well-marked trails and is a good option when Table Mountain is covered by clouds.  Signal Hill is the smaller flat-topped hill that extends from the lower slopes of Lion’s head.  Both are accessed by Signal Hill Road.

Food Barn, South AfricaA good place to stop for lunch before heading back into Cape Town is Noordhoek, a charming farm village with funky shops, quaint restaurants, and children’s playground.  Make a reservation at Food Barn, which boasts a laid back, rustic atmosphere with a high quality and truly farm to table menu.

Stay tuned for my next post on Cape Town “Best Bets” — sightseeing, shopping, dining, and cultural highlights.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.Herricks Travel American Express

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