I have recently returned from a fantastic break in Cape Town and was so pleased with what is on offer to see and do in an amazing city. I have posted a few short blog posts whilst away but this post will include all my top places of interest, photos of my adventures and links to the places I stayed and areas I stopped off at - for food places and more of my adventures be sure to check the blog posts.
I found the weather in February was absolutely perfect, lots of sunshine, a cool breeze and clear skies to capture some beautiful sunsets throughout our 10 days.
If your thinking of heading to Cape Town or South Africa in the future I hope this guide helps give some ideas of what to see and where to go. I will definitely be returning and already have a list of places or experiences I want to try next time.
Cape point nature reserve and park.
A truly stunning day out to be had, the cape nature park is definitely a real tourist draw for people and there is a lot of places in the park to stop, take in the scenery and walks to be had along the rocks and the beaches within the park. The park covers the most southern area of the Cape Peninsula , from cape point and the cape of good hope at the south heading up to Scarborough (beautiful beach and popular with surfers) in the north. It is around 300 rand entry fee which supports to upkeep the area.
First stop was at the Cape of good hope - be sure to consider the walk/hike up the nature trail as the stunning views are breathtakingly beautiful.
Very busy at the base as everyone wants a picture taken in front of the Cape Point sign but the views at the top are so much better in my opinion.
Stop along the beaches along around the park to see surfers, relax on the sandy beaches and enjoy the calmness around. It’s also great to stop and take in the scenery as it is a really peaceful place away from the main spots.
Cape point is also another hilly walk that is worth the trek up to the lighthouse with views across the seas and down across the landscape. Watch out for the baboons and the area is quiet busy as it is the only place within the park that has a restaurant area. It was great to look across the Atlantic and see wildlife, mountains and nature as far as the eye can see.
For more information and opening hours check the website (http://capepoint.co.za/)
A bit of a strange pick for a hot spot was definitely heading to Muizenberg beach to see the rows of brightly coloured beach huts that line the beach (only 25mins from Cape Town). It is Popular on instagram and also used as a background for photo shoots and commercials. The beach is also popular with surfers as there is a surf school and children’s play park in the locality make it a busy area. The area has a number of cafes and restaurants as well so it is a great place to take in a beach day, swim or a sun bathe if a relaxing day is needed.
There are two rows of beach huts along the shoreline. One row opposite the children’s play-park at Surfer’s Corner and the other closer to the elevated walkway not quite visible from the roadside but plenty of parking in the area and a nice spot to have a walk.
The soft white sands behind the huts offer some shelter from the wind and in the height of summer the beach is manned by lifesavers in and as there are a few surf schools along this stretch so it was in full swing during the day.
Bright, vibrant and very photogenic, the Muizenberg beach huts are definitely a tourist draw and they appeared to be in okay condition, allegedly looked after by locals who had been concerned that they would be destroyed if they fell into a poor condition as they are seen as a local landmark for all to enjoy. The locals are rightly proud of the brightly coloured beach huts and they are here to stay—Muizenberg beach would not be the same without them and found the beach was clean and well maintained for all to enjoy.
Boulders Beach and the Penguin Colony
Penguins are possibly not the first thing you think of when talking about Cape Town but I love them and getting the chance to see them in the natural world and be up close was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. So we set of on a drive from Cape Town over to Simon’s town (about 30mins) where you will find Boulders Beach, home to an African penguin colony and one of the few places in the world where you can swim in the sea with these wonderful birds if you wish to do so.
The colony falls under the protection of Parks in South Africa and so requires a conservation fee to gain access. There is a choice of a viewing area and a beach to observe the penguins. (see website for entry times and fees https://www.bouldersbeachlodge.com/ ). Well worth the fee as once there, you can watch the penguins playing in the waves and relaxing on the rocks.... posing for pictures it seems. You can even approach them as they waddle about on the beach and sit next to them on the rocks...they seem to find it easier to climb them than the humans and seem to be comfortable around us if we don’t invade personal space.
Important to note: They may seem like cuddly creatures(and they are very cute) , but do not feed or touch them is the warning that is given although you can get up close to them it is best to keep a bit of distance as they will defend themselves and the little ones if feel threatened so a selfie for your instagram is probably best with a little space between you. Also the area is there home and getting too close and being invasive of space would be seen as possibly a violation of conservation efforts.
Boulders Beach is a great swimming area, as the boulders shelter it from winds and strong currents. You can picnic on the beach, and there are restaurants in nearby Simon’s Town and the beach wasn’t too busy as a lot of people seemed to watch the penguins from the viewing platform so it was nice to sit and relax. Enjoy the penguins and respect the area.
Inverdoon Game Reserve
A safari has always been on my bucket list and one of the first things I planned to do on my trip over to Cape Town ( after flights and accommodation). After hunting around we decided on the Inverdoorn game reserve. It is around 2 hours from Cape Town and the journey takes you through the wine lands so there are plenty of places to stop off for lunch or a drink on the way. ( We stopped at Babylonstoren- see full details and pictures here - https://thethoughtfultraveller.uk/thoughtful-traveller-blog/f/babylonstoren-estate---hidden-beauty).
Inverdoorn is a Big five safari destination after the introduction of 2 beautiful elephants a few years ago in the reserve, joining the rescued lion pride , a family of rhino, a large herd of African buffalo and the mysterious leopard ( which lives in the mountains and is rarely seen and was not spotted on my tour).
Along with the park they also have the Cheetah rescue and rehabilitation centre, which was started in 2001 and is home to a number cheetah‘s that the team are hoping to be able to reintroduce them within the rest of the park to allow them to mix with the other wildlife in a more natural habitat and the centre give examples of the rehabilitation training they do with the animals which was wonderful to experience. They give details of how the program works and the past successes of the centre.
Together with the big 5 the other wildlife we spotted includes zebras, hippos, giraffes, wildebeest, ostrich, kudu and springbok so there is plenty to look out for and to see how they interact together was beautiful.
We opted for the overnight stay and took part in 2 drives one at dusk and the other was early morning. Meals at the game reserve were good quality and they offer plenty of places to sit and relax whilst you are staying. The pool area is a great place to unwind after the drive out the Inverdoon and before the animal spotting started. Both trips lasted a few hours and the guide we had was knowledgable and made sure that all guests had the time to take pictures and ask questions as needed.
The only extras to pay once you are there would be for additional drinks and gratuities for the staff and tour guides and the whole experience was well organised and I really recommend it as an authentic experience that was about the welfare of the animals and the land without any over the top “theme park” or luxury spa style that I found was perfect for me!
More details and booking information here : https://www.inverdoorn.com/
Some one asked why I would you choose to visit Robben Island when in Cape Town, my answer was why not....it is part of the history of South Africa and the now heritage sight offers tours of the island which are guided by one of the former prisoners that have served time in confinement on the island so has real life stories to share.
It is important in any trip to take in the true history of a place, the truth of the conditions and the stories that made a place what it is today. The story is told from this perspective and gives a frank and honest account of what life in the prison was like and how the island has been used throughout the years.
It is most famously a prison..... many of the inmates had been political activists and convicted criminals. Famously Nelson Mandela spent 27years on Robben Island but 2 other presidents also served time on the island (Kgalema Motlanthe, and Jacob Zuma.)
The island has its own history prior to being the prison it is know for. The island has always been a place to keep people away from the mainland and it was used as a place to house “unwanted” people – prisoners of war, criminals, leprosy sufferers, mentally ill patients and opponents of the apartheid government, were all packed off to Robben Island.
I found the tour to be of great interest and the stories of the guide, he spoke with clarity and honesty about the conditions, the daily routine and his time in the prison.
More details and ticket prices and information can be found here: http://www.robben-island.org.za/tours
While the vineyards and mountain views have been amazing I always like to get a bit of a history lesson when on my travels.
The Bo-Kaap houses appealed to me from a photography point of view and when reading up on the history of the area decided that this was somewhere worth exploring. Unsure of the best routes and how to get the most of the morning we decided to look at finding a tour guide.
The Bo-Kaap is famous for its brightly coloured rainbow homes, found just up from the green market square ( a fabulous market to sit and people watch with a coffee or cool drink after looking around the stalls). It was and to a large extent is still home to the Muslim community of Cape Town, the first mosque is in the Bo-Kaap area built around 1793.
Visitors can follow the guided tours through Bo-Kaap’s major sites whilst also having the chance to delve into the history of the area from the knowledge that is shared. Cobblestone streets wind through this area, up the hills leading away from the business district and bustling markets and past Long street ( the haven for backpacker) to allow for the history of when and how the freed slaves and Muslim immigrants settled in the city.
Bo-Kaap area is at the base of Signal hill and you will see a great view of the city whilst walking around. I won’t give too much of the history of the area as I feel that seeing and hearing it from a guide gives a real chance to get a feel for the area. I will say bring a camera to capture the colours up homes and amazing surroundings.
In regards to the colours it is said that the owners painted the houses as a symbol to how they had been feeling and will change the colour every few years, the colour is said to reflect the personal mood and is individual to the owners and completely free choice to the colour chosen.
We booked our guide via AirBnB and was not disappointed ( https://abnb.me/sRRnvUASTM?s=23 ). Our host was Makaziwe who is a qualified guide, born, raised and passionate about Cape Town. From the moment she greeted us in Green Market Square to our goodbyes back at the old Dutch Town house she was friendly, smiling and happy to share her knowledge of the area.
I could not recommend Makaziwe enough and would be happy to try her other tours on my return trip. Please go for one of these smaller group trips, it gives you the opportunity to ask questions and take your time in each of the stops to take photos and see all that is on offer. Plus Makaziwe knew the shops and people that we met along the way so we also gained an insight into their experiences as well.
We walked around the area being given an insight into the history of the area as well as recommended places to try now as well as spots for a return visit later in the trip if we wished. We spoke to local entrepreneurs who had cooking classes and coffee shops as well as those selling art both on the street as well as at a local gallery. We had time to look around, we sampled some local samosa and sweet treats and explored the Honest chocolate cafe ( head back at 5pm for the Gin bar.... http://honestchocolate.co.za/ ) and the local church come social centre and coffee stop which welcomes all through its doors.
Makaziwe also spoke about the struggles that women in Cape Town face and told us about local charities and community hubs that had been set up, she was articulate and passionate about her city and was able to tell us about the help that is offered to help empower all groups. Here are details of some of the organisations she spoke off in the area :
Please look at the history of the Bo-Kaap when in Cape Town along with the township and district 6 tours that are available also. A good guide and a walk around this area will add great memories to your Cape Town adventure. The Bo-Kaap Tour will examine and bring to life the contributions made by Muslim settlers, whilst seeing the homes as they are today with nods to the past still visible.
Botanical gardens - Kirstenbosch.
Kirstenbosch botanical gardens were only 10minutes from where we stayed in Constantia and they were a great place to get back to nature and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. It has been around for over 100 years and has been awarded garden of the year in the past.
There is a tree canopy walk inside the park that gives stunning views across the gardens and views of the mountains as a magical back drop.
Kirstenbosch has a selection of stone sculptures in the gardens, a variety of birds and many indigenous plants throughout the walks and many use the park as the start of the trail up table mountain so you get to incorporate 2 sites if your a hiking fan. (http://www.ridgwayramblers.co.za/blog/hiking-up-table-mountain-from-kirstenbosch-gardens)
In summer, a popular series of outdoor concerts are held in the gardens on Sunday evenings and these are popular with local residents and tourists. Local and international artists have appeared at the gardens and best to check the schedule before you visit. Pre booking tickets is also advised. (https://www.sanbi.org/event/kirstenbosch-summer-sunset-concerts-2018/19)
I possibly picked one of the warmest mornings to take a walk around the botanical gardens and there is limited shade so don’t forget a hat and sun screen, it has a cheap entry price and relaxing way place to walk, have lunch and see some wonderful plants and views of Cape Town.
For me when I think of Cape Town, a visit to table mountain had to be included in my plans.
The last time I went up was on a brief trip here whilst in South Africa exactly 11 years ago ( 14th February 2008)
I remember from the first visit how busy it was and also very hot in the daytime sun. The view however was everything you imagine and more. This time I went up for sunset, parking up around 630pm and getting the cable car ( the cable car completes 360 degree turn whilst moving so you get the panoramic experience that photos cannot do justice) up to one of the best views in the city and is one of the 7 wonders of nature.(https://nature.new7wonders.com/wonders/table-mountain-south-africa/)
Once at the top you can take advantage of the guided walks during the day or there are signposted walks that’s can be completed ( 3 in total depending on ability and what you wish to explore). If that’s not your thing, grab a bite to eat or a glass of wine and sit , relax and enjoy the views. There’s definitely something for everyone to do and take your camera to capture the experience. Landmarks to look out for include: Devils peak, Lion’s head, Camps bay, the football stadium, Robbin island as well as spectacular city views.
Picnics are allowed and as it was Valentine’s day a lot of people had that idea but just as a heads up the last car down is 8pm so a leisurely meal isn’t really possible and tonight with the sunset at 740 so it was sun down and pack up and queue for the cars down...but if you have the opportunity then why not and add it to your bucket list...enjoy the experience and it will be a great memory to have.
The wind had been strong for the past few days which had meant that the cable car wasn’t running so I was pleased to be able to make the trip up. I feel that the late afternoon trip was perfect and would advise to go for that if possible and I felt that the views of the sunset is on par with Santorini and well worth the trip. ( I seem to write about sunsets a lot .... perhaps a new project idea..)
You can hike table mountain, I haven’t and not sure I would but check the website for details and follow safety advice. (https://hiketablemountain.co.za/)
Information for cable cars and times can be found here (https://www.tablemountain.net/)
Enjoy Table Mountain and it’s natural beauty on your trip to South Africa.
So that was Cape Town, more than a mountain and the wine lands , steeped in history and providing great food, hospitality and services wherever we went. I hope that your time in Cape Town is as magical as mine was and that the trip gives you memories that last a life time.
If you want any other advice or tips from any of my trips please get in touch.
For more pictures and posts on my travels be sure to check out my social media platforms and happy travelling.
Nick - The Thoughtful Traveller
Constantia wine area - Green Vines