300 feet below the road that circles the little ‘burgs around Cape Town, a steep slope leads to prime beachfront upon which a score of vacation homes lie abandoned. The way I heard it, they were built when an Englishman came to town and decided to build, unaware of the dangers of the area.
To get to the homes, you’d have to park your car in the middle of baboon territory. Baboons are intelligent, incredibly strong, and have huge teeth. They’ve been seen chasing down and killing full-grown zebra’s, as though they were lions. They also have lots of fun destroying people’s cars.
After leaving the baboons behind, you have to walk down the slope, through Cape Cobra habitat, to finally arrive at the cool blue waters of the Atlantic ocean. Unfortunately, those cool waters are also the life blood of the Great White Shark, feasting on seals drawn to the nutrient-dense currents coming up from Antarctica.
That story has stuck with me as a sort of hallmark of Cape Town. Incredible beauty, tempered with the ruggedness of a continent known for its unstoppable life. In a way, it reminds me of the tropics. Yes, it is beautiful, but it’s also full of danger and intrigue, and I’m not so sure those two dynamics aren’t interrelated. Every day in Cape Town is a 24-hour skydive – you’ll never have felt so alive before.
Here’s a list of some of the best reasons to head to Cape Town and make it your gateway to an African adventure.
One of the most iconic features of Cape Town – it’ll be the first and last thing you see from your airplane window – is Table Mountain. Most of Cape Town is sandwiched between it’s bulk and the ocean. You can hike up it with popular trails starting from the Kirstenbosch Gardens, but be careful – people have been known to be blown off when the wind kicks up. Abseiling (rappelling) is the way down for any thrill-seekers.
You can also take a gondola up the mountain, which is what I did since I was by myself. Amazing views of the area abound, and if you’re lucky you’ll even get to spy the incredibly cute Rock Dassie.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
I’m kind of hit-and-miss with botanical gardens, but I have to say, Kirstenbosch was amazing! You can seriously spend hours looking at the variety of plants they have, and seeing some of the beautiful native species – like the prehistoric cycad – lets you know what the world looked like when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
I have to be honest – I didn’t go on a Township Tour when I was in Cape Town. I was there by myself, and many of the sources I found online recommended not going unless you went with a group. So I played it safe, and never did go to one.
However, Peter did drive me around one and gave me a quick tour of the area and recent happenings. The government of Cape Town had extended utilities to the Township at no cost – electricity and plumbing can go a long way for people living in abject poverty so this was a great step forward, however since the people of Cape Town put them in abject poverty in the first place, the gesture was only nice in hindsight.
It’s a tough thing to do, to be put in front of something that makes you so uncomfortable and puts you at odds with your very sense of self. But I think it’s important as well, because you have to face yourself and how you fit in with the rest of humanity. As an American, it’s very difficult to remember that we have it so much better than almost all of the rest of the world.
V & A Waterfront
When you look around online to find some information about Cape Town, lots of people will tell you to avoid the V & A Waterfront because it’s a tourist trap.
Do not listen to these people.
Yeah sure, it’s a little pricey and full of street performers, but the bottom line is it’s fun. There’s an aquarium, tons of awesome restaurants, and things you can only see in Cape Town – such as the end of a Round-The-World yacht race.
I’ve been places that are WAY bigger tourist traps than the V & A Waterfront, so don’t worry about it – just go and enjoy it.
Boulders Beach – Simon’s Town
Hand’s up – who around here likes penguins? Yeah, I thought so ;) I mean, how can you not like those adorable, plump little birds?
Boulders Beach is in Simon’s Town, one of the many little towns that makes up Cape Town and its suburbs. It’s full of otherworldly looking chunks of granite, and as part of Table Mountain National Park, is a nature reserve for African Penguins.
It’s a great stop for families, and the beach is less about strutting your stuff and more about having fun watching kids, or acting like a kid yourself and trying to search out the shy birds.
Stellenbosch Wine Route
Stellenbosch is home to the oldest wine area in South Africa, with some vineyards being founded in 1695. It’s a bit of a day-trip from Cape Town itself, so if you don’t have a car it might be best to book with a guide.
A fun way to sample wines, see the rolling countryside, and get a little exercise, is to go on a biking tour of the wine trail. Just make sure you have a ride back to Cape Town!
Robben Island Museum
For a little more culture during your time in South Africa, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Robben Island. It has primarily been used as a prison for various indigenous African leaders, soldiers, Muslim leaders, and anti-apartheid activists – most notably South Africa’s first elected President, Nelson Mandela.
This cultural UNESCO World-Heritage site is accessible by ferry boat, and is a poignant must-stop for anyone interested in the narrative of human rights centered in South Africa.
Back Home in South Africa
I’ve heard other people say it, but I wasn’t sure if I believed it. I’ve heard so many people say, “When you go to Africa, you’ll feel like you’ve come home“. I didn’t think it would affect me like that, but I was wrong. When I flew in to South Africa, after being crammed into a plane for 18 long hours, I was instantly rejuvenated. I did indeed feel like I was finally home.
Would you put Cape Town on your bucket list? Would you ever go to Africa on your own?