Intriguing Cape Town
As I mentioned in my previous post, Cape Town blew me away with is natural beauty and its authenticity. I wish I had a month to travel around the city and learn its nuances, but if you only have a couple of days like I did, here are some tips to make the most out of your visit.
When to Go: Like many destinations, summer is the most popular time in Cape Town, but I found spring to be an ideal time to visit. High tourism season had not picked up yet, and we never experienced crowds or lines in our four days there. The weather is mild, sunny and very comfortable for sightseeing.
Where to Stay: Located near the V&A Waterfront, the One & Only is an ideal location for a first time visitor. It allows close proximity to restaurants and shops and is one of safest places in Cape Town to walk at night. Everything is 5-star at the One & Only – the rooms, the service, the food, the facilities and of course, the views. While we were not sitting still long enough to utilize the Spa, it consistently gets voted one of the best in Cape Town for those looking to relax.
While I can only personally recommend the One & Only, Cape Cadogan was a boutique hotel recommended by our travel agent as one of her favorite places to stay. It is a little further outside the city and we were looking to be closer to downtown since we had limited time in the city, but those looking for a smaller, more personal hotel should check out Cape Cadogan.
What to Do: Like most big cities, there is plenty to keep you occupied in Cape Town for months, but in the event you only have a couple of days, here are some of the highlights. At a minimum, make sure you can stay in Cape Town for five days. We really needed one more day to do everything we wanted to do!
The most obvious top attraction in Cape Town is its beautiful backdrop of Table Mountain. Boasting the best views of the city (when it is not foggy), the gondola ride to the top is not to be missed. There are also trails to top, but these are not for amateur hikers or the faint of heart. However, keep in mind that the weather can drastically alter your experience at the top. The infamous “tablecloth” and dangerous winds prevented us from experiencing the clear views of the Mother City. Keep an eye on the weather before you plan on heading up!
Perched next to Table Mountain is the smaller, but no less important, Lion’s Head. Our big plans to climb the 1.5 hour trail to the top were thwarted by high winds, and is one of my biggest regrets of the trip. If the weather cooperates and you enjoy hiking, locals and visitors alike recommend the hike as it is significantly easier than Table Mountain, but still affords beautiful views from the top.
Avid travelers know that when things do not go according to plan you need to have a backup plan, so keep in mind you can drive up to the top of Signal Hill to catch the sunset over the city if Table Mountain and Lion’s Head are closed. OR you can find the next best way to get a view of Cape Town…by air. We did both Signal Hill and a helicopter ride and recommend them both!
Cape Town Helicopters gladly accommodated our last minute change to move our flight earlier in the day so we could take off before the wind accelerated. A half hour later, we were flying high above the Mother City with only minimal choppiness.
More natural beauty abounds in Cape Town besides Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. If you have access to a car or are brave enough to rent one, there are a couple places worth stopping. Start at Chapman’s Peak, where you will wind around crystal blue waters for gorgeous photo ops. Next via the historic naval Simon’s Town, head to Boulder’s Beach for a visit with the infamous and plentiful penguins of Cape Town. Lastly, head to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope to stand in the southwestern most point of the African peninsula.
Another good trip to take when you still have the car is to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Bert and Rusha Sams over at Oh, The Places We See recommended them to me when I had solicited information from Cape Town travelers and I understand why. These expansive gardens offer a view into the fauna and flora abundant throughout South Africa with the backdrop of Table Mountain. The treetop canopy walk was one of the highlights of our visit.
Robben Island also comes highly recommended, but we could not find time for the 3.5 hour roundtrip tour. Make sure you block off the time, we did not realize it would take so long and were disappointed that we did not have enough time allocated. The island houses the former prison where Nelson Mandela spent his 27-year prison sentence and is now home to a museum documenting his stay there. As a history enthusiast, I was sad to have missed this.
- Check the weather forecast in advance & make your plans flexible
- The weather is constantly changing in Cape Town and high velocity winds are very common. When this happens, Table Mountain closes its gondola, Lion’s Head does not recommend making the trek to the top, and Cape Point is too windy to visit. Watch the weather closely, be amenable to changing your plans and having the ability to adapt.
- Rent a car
- There is so much of Cape Town to see and it is very spread out. It is not a big walking city like many cities in Europe. Renting a car will give you the flexibility to explore some of Cape Town’s highlights. This mode of transportation is not for everyone as it involves driving on the other side of the road and the other side of the car for those of us from North America.
- Give yourself enough time
- Like many big cities, there is never enough time to see it all! Cape Town is no exception and I recommend leaving yourself at least 5 days to explore the city. We only had 4, which did not give us enough time to visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Five days also allows for more flexibility if the weather does not cooperate, gives you time to get over your jet lag and allows a day to explore the Cape Winelands area (more to come on that!).
- Pay attention to your safety
- While this advice can be applied broadly to any new destination where you are a tourist, this especially rings true in Cape Town. It is not a secret that Cape Town is often voted one of the most dangerous cities to visit in the world. The city has gone through some tumultuous times and still suffers from social unrest. There is also still a large poverty issue. This does not mean that you should not visit! It means you need to pay attention to your surroundings, take cabs at night, never walk alone, lock the door of your rental car (at all times!) and stay out of the more dangerous parts of the city. It is also a good idea to either leave your fancy jewelry and camera equipment behind or keep it as tucked away as possible.
There is a reason why Cape Town keeps finding its way on the best cities to visit right now. It’s beautiful, incredible and diverse and should be on every traveler’s short list.
It may seem like I forgot one of the most important tips – where to eat! More to come on that in a following post as there are too many good recommendations to share!
Have you ever been to Cape Town? Do you have any interest in visiting? I would love to hear about it in the comments!
*Per usual, many of the photos were graciously shared with me by my talented husband