Destination Guide South Africa: Cape Town (Part 1)
Increasingly, Cape Town is the first destination of visitors to South Africa. As the country’s oldest city (1652), and with one of the world’s most iconic and spectacular physical settings at the foot of Table Mountain and the northern end of the beautiful Cape Peninsula, this multicultural, cosmopolitan “Mother City” of 4,6 million is at the centre of the nation’s rich, multi-stranded history and heritage, offering a wealth of culinary experiences, unique shopping and – not least – a palette of activities and adventures second to none.
It is renowned for its vast tracts of nature parks and reserves, where its Mediterranean climate nurtures the Cape Floral kingdom – the smallest but richest, most diverse of all the earth’s botanical biomes – as well as one of the world’s most beautiful (and some say one of the best) wine producing areas anywhere. There are over 200 different vineyards and cellars centered around Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl – literally within a stone’s-throw of the city.
The city’s suburbs include many unique, often stunning attractions; Groot and Klein Constantia, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the world) Hout Bay and Chapman’s Peak Drive. The suburbs line both the cold Atlantic and warm Indian Ocean coasts which terminate at the end of the African Continent at the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point – the merging point of the two mighty oceans.
For extreme sport fans there are few cities that offer such a variety and mix of attractions within the city limits, and so close to each other; from mountain hiking, climbing and abseiling to surfing the wild Atlantic rollers, or swimming with the sharks.
The city prides itself as being the fashion and culinary leader of the country, with a wealth of restaurants catering to all budgets and tastes, and a trepidant nightlife – from the somewhat ‘touristy’ Waterfront, to Green Point, Long and Kloof Streets in the city centre, student-life enclaves like Rondebosch, or the bohemian tinged Waterkant Village. Further afield Camps Bay offers a more laid-back approach to wining and dining . (Most everything the city and region has to offer can be found at: http://www.capetownmagazine.com/
Savannah and Karoo semi-deserts further inland offer natural reserves with all the African Game and animals one could ever wish to see, including the “Big Five”, and all within easy reach of the city.
Essential Must Do’s:
– The Cape’s attractions are widely known and promoted, but before doing anything, take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. It is a fascinating introduction and orientation to the city and its somewhat complicated layout. http://www.citysightseeing.co.za/
– A promenade through the city centre, the Gardens (where the National Library, several museums as well as the Houses of Parliament are located); visit the Castle and the Waterfront.
– Table Mountain – a cable car trip to the top – and a hike once there. You can even hike down. More here.
– Cape Point – leave along the False Bay coast, return along the Atlantic coast (or vise versa). More here.
– Hike (it’s actually more of a walk) up Lion’s Head. More here.
– Robben Island – the notorious and infamous prison (since the late 1600s) in Table Bay. More here.
– The Winelands – with obligatory stops in Stellenbosch, Franschoek and some of their vineyards. More here.
– A visit to the colorful Bo Kaap neighborhood in the downtown core. More here.
– Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. More here.
– The Clifton Beaches on the cold Atlantic Ocean side, for the beautiful people, if not the swimming. More here.
Off the Beaten Path sights and activities;
– Take the beautiful drive through Somerset West to Gordon’s Bay and along the coast the 120 kms to Hermanus – especially during the winter months when it is the Whale Capital of the world – or anytime, to dive with the sharks at nearby Gansbaai! http://www.sharkcagediving.co.za/ Diving with the sharks or not, it’s an easy days outing along an incredibly beautiful coastline.
– Hike up Table Mountain – there are several routes of differing difficulty – or Lion’s Head where the last section to the top is with the use of chains! Stupendous views and adrenalin rushes guaranteed. If a hike up Table Mountain or Lion’s Head seems a bit of a chore, explore the mountain walking and contour trails – a lot easier, with still fantastic views. Table Mountain National Park stretches from Signal Hill in the city to Cape Point in the south (60 odd kilometers) with numerous access points for walks at Tokai, Cecilia Forest, Constantia Nek, Rhodes Memorial and Silvermine. Be sure to bring along a map, good walking shoes and lots of water. See here and here for a couple of options.
– Paraglide from Lions Head – or abseil (rappel) from the top of Table Mountain after a trip up in the cable car. Weather permitting there is a crew offering the service at both places. Preferably reserve ahead. http://www.paraglide.co.za/ and http://www.abseilafrica.co.za/adventures.php?catid=36
– For probably the most beautiful mountain walk (not hike!) drive to the top of Ou Kaapse Weg (also a great drive) above Tokai and Constantia suburbs, entering the nature reserve through the gate just beyond the view-site. The area is a wonderland of forest, fynbos, spectacular views over the entire peninsula – with caves and even waterfalls. There is a network of walks, which especially in Spring (August to October) are ablaze with indigenous flowers and bushes including the famous proteas.
– a visit to Kalk Bay, one of the prettiest, funkiest, eclectic and quirky suburbs on the Peninsula. Easily reached by train it offers a wonderful range of markets, boutiques and shops, terrific restaurants and bistros, good surfing – and not least a fishing harbour where freshly caught fish can be purchased right off the boats. Nearby is the very small but popular St James beach with its antique, colourful changing cabins on the beach.
– the charming end-of-the-line town and South Africa’s main naval base of Simonstown is home to dozens of historical buildings, an array of cafés and hundreds of the small fluffy African Jackass penguins at Boulders Beach. Take the train to Simonstown on one of the most scenic rail trips around. As you leave the city, you are whisked through a succession of coastal suburbs, along beautiful beaches, fishing boats and even the odd whale before arriving in Simonstown. Tours of the naval base can be arranged on site and the SA Naval Museum is well worth a visit .
– In the summer months take in a weekend concert at Kirstenbosch (the botanical gardens). The offerings are varied, different and superb – a wonderful and magic place to have a picnic dinner and ‘sundowners’ as the sun sets behind Table Mountain. Very romantic!
THE TOP TOURS TO EXPERIENCE IN CAPE TOWN
Getting Around Cape Town
General info on getting around town: http://www.simonseeks.com/getting-around/africa/south-africa/western-cape/cape-town__169204
TRAIN: Use the excellent suburban service (http://www.capemetrorail.co.za/) to get out to the winelands in Stellenbosch and Paarl, or take the beautiful trip down to Simonstown where the train runs along the rocky seafront from Muizenberg on.
BUS: for information on bus routes and schedules http://www.capetownmagazine.com/city-news/the-bus-for-us/172_22_18046
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