Cape Town, for me the most beautifully located capital I have ever visited. In for some great views, emotionally catching history, windy beaches, winding coastal routes, superb wildlife, the magnificent Table Mountain and the so-called ‘most southern’ point of Africa? Then come along and explore Cape Town and its surroundings with me.
#1 Hike on Table Mountain
No visit to Cape Town without a trip to or on the magnificent Table Mountain, one of the new7Wonders of Nature. And to be honest, I understand. It’s not only South Africa’s most iconic landmark, it simply offers stunning views of Cape Town, its houses nested against the mountain and enclosed by the Atlantic Ocean. Whether on top of the mountain itself, from the waterside or the middle of the city, it’s spectacular, in particular in clear blue skies.
There are several hiking trails up to Table Mountain but we went for the easy way. We simply took the famous Table Moutain Arial Cableway. To arrive on top in bright sunlight and strong winds. Even so strong we had to stand firmly not to fall over.
Up the mountain, we took a short walk guided by one of the local rangers. He explained us everything about the rich bio-diversity. There are about 2,200 species of plants found on Table Mountain and 1470 floral species. Many of these plants and flowers are endemic to this mountain. The national park’s most unique feature is its fynbos vegetation: you find it all over the mountain!
After this explanation, we walked around ourselves. There are several hiking paths. We did the Platteklip Gorge Hike but in the end seemed to have combined several routes. We indeed had splendid views on the surrounding beaches from the edge of the plateau but also admired Cape Town itself laying underneath. We also explored the plateau itself, with its peculiar vegetation, rocky paths and even some small lakes. The interplay of the wind, the clouds and the sun shining through it all led to a majestic scenery.
This is a must see so plan ahead. You can book tickets online. Be aware that, each year end of July, the cable car is closed due to maintenance. And make sure you check the weather forecast before you go up. The weather conditions can be pretty different up there.
You can easily combine a visit to Table Mountain with a walk through the city itself. If you do so, don’t forget to visit the colorful houses of Bo-kaap, one of Cape Town’s most distinct neighborhoods and situated at the foot of Capital Hill. These houses, a mix of Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture, are set in multi-colored rows on steeply cobbled streets.
The choice of color is said to be attributed to the fact that while on lease by slaves in the early days, all the houses had to be white. When this rule was eventually lifted and the slaves were allowed to buy the properties, all the houses were painted bright colors by their owners as an expression of their freedom. A walk through Bo-Kaap is a feast for your eyes and senses.
#2 Visit moving Robben Island
Also on top of our list is a visit to the captivating Robben Island. From the 17th to the 20th centuries, Robben Island served as a place of banishment, isolation and imprisonment. Today it is a World Heritage Site and museum, a poignant reminder of the road that had to be walked to the newly democratic South Africa, and the price so many people paid for freedom.
The guided tour includes the ferry trip from Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V& A Waterfront to Murray’s Bay Harbour situated on the east coast of the Island, a guided tour to the historic buildings and a short tour on the island itself, showing the buildings used for family and lawyers to visit the prisoners. And providing a magnificent view on the Atlantic Ocean, the city and Table Mountain.
The prison tour itself is conducted by a Robben Island Tour Guide, mainly former prisoners. We visited the Ieper graveyard of people who died from leprosy, the Lime Quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the Bluestone lime quarry where political prisoners endured lengthy hours of physical labour, the army and navy bunkers and the Maximum Security Prison with former showers where thousands of South Africa’s freedom fighters were incarcerated for years. The highlight of the tour is viewing Nelson Mandela’s cell, a small cell of barely a few square meters …
The original bunkbeds, the quotes on the wall, the stories of the guide who himself was a former prisoner all contributed to the solemn and peculiar atmosphere on the entire site. A must see to get a better understanding of South Africa’s Apartheid and the fight of Nelson Mandela’s and thousands of others for their freedom.
The visit to Robben Island is in stark contrast with the lively V & A Waterfront where the ferry departs. This area of Cape Town is very pleasant to walk around with lots of (art) shops, restaurants, music, museums and historic buildings. You can easily combine both in one day.
And oh, yes, throughout the V& A Waterfront and even at Robben Island, look for gigantic photo frames. These photo frames are located with the perfect background, such as Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean. Climb into the frame and push your camera button for the perfect holiday picture !
#3 Explore Cape Town’s superb beaches
In for some beach pleasure? Don’t look too far. In and around Cape Town there are plenty of great beaches to enjoy. We went in July, so the African winter. No swimming for us but a pleasant walk at one of Cape Town’s best beaches, Muizenberg, in False Bay.
We choose this beach because of it’s distinctive colonial atmosphere and its broad, white sandy beach. The water is pretty calm and flat but we also saw quite some surfers when we visited. Also, this beach is characterized by its colorful beach cabins, which you find in travel guides. I wanted to see it with my own eyes. The perfect setting for some great pictures.
You can easily combine a visit to this beach when returning from Cape of Good Hope of when visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach.
#4 Marvel at Africa’s most South Western Point: Cape of Good Hope & Cape Point
Definitely worth a visit is the so called most southern point of Africa. So called indeed, since this title is reserved for Cape Agulhas, about 150 kilometers to the southeast. At Cape Agulhas also, the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Nonetheless, as the most South Western point of Africa, Cape of Good Hope with Cape Point are a must see when visiting Cape Town.
Cape of Good Hope is a magnificent craggy strip of land with rugged rocks and sheer cliffs towering more than 200 meters above the sea and cutting deep into the ocean while a lighthouse keeps watch. On top, there’s a rich bio-diversity, with fynbos taking the lead. Between June and October, you may also spot some migrating whales, so keep an eye open for them.
We visited this marvelous place for one day and had a great time, exploring the site by making two great walks.
We started with a visit to the iconic old lighthouse (we walked up but if you want, you can also take the Flying Dutchmen Funicular) and a short trail that runs below it, the The Lighthouse Keeper’s Trail. It’s a one hour walk leading you through a narrow path along cliffs towards the lesser-known new lighthouse. It offers a fascinating perspective of the old Cape Point lighthouse which towers many meters above. At the end of the path, you feel like standing on the very tip of Africa.
We took some splendid photos here with stunning views over the ocean. The strong winds and the sun reflecting in the ocean were the ideal combination to fully experience this peculiar place.
Next, we walked to the legendary Cape of Good Hope itself, an easy walk over well-maintained and marked boardwalk towards the famous Cape of Good Hope sign, located on the rocky shoreline far below. This point offers great views over the Diaz Beach and the shoreline. Make your way all the way to the very end of the trail and you’ll have reached the most southern point of the Cape Peninsula – again a perfect spot for photos.
The whole area offers splendid 360° views over the ocean and the cliffs, already starting when you enter the reserve itself. There is a main road from the the Cape Point entrance all the way to Cape Point. Along the way, there are several viewing points and beaches. There is so much to see, so plan ahead.
By the way, the drive from Cape Town to Cape Point itself is a real treat. There are two ways to get there and I recommend to go there by one way and return by the other. This way, you did the full loop with some great views of the areas.
We drove to Cape Point by following the directions to Sea Point arriving in Hout Bay (via M6) and then taking Chapman’s Peak Drive taking us to Noordhoek, followed by the magnificent coastline to to Kommetjie, Soetwater, Witsand, Misty Cliffs and Scarborough. Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of the world’s most scenic drives with magnificent views on the Atlantic Coast.
We stopped several times to enjoy the breathtaking views, in particular these on the beautiful Hout Bay, enclosed by mountains. Just be aware you need to pay toll to use this drive and also, don’t forget to check upfront whether the drive is open for traffic.
In the evening, we returned via the Eastern Boulevard, passing the historic naval village of Simon’s town (with Boulders Beach), Muizenberg and Claremont.
#5 Spot penguins, dassies and whales
Go looking for Penguins, dassies and whales in and around Cape Town.
The easiest to find in South Africa is probably the dassie, or ‘klipdassie’, a short leg brown mammal which you can spot in several places and one of Africa’s typical animals. This mammal is, funny enough, considered the closest living relative of the largest mammal, the African elephant. We saw several of them on top of Table Mountain and further on our trip on many beaches, sunbathing on the rocks.
As for penguins, just drive up to Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, outside Cape Town, for a close encounter. Thousands of penguins find their shelter on the beach, shielded by the ancient granite boulders. You can walk around, take pictures and admire the cute birds up close, sleeping, swimming or waddling on the beaches. On top, by paying the entrance fee, you help supporting the penguin conservation efforts, since South Africa’s penguins are under threat from the loss of habitat.
And finally, the whales. Well, I have only one tip: drive up to the small coastal village of Hermanus, a 90 minute drive from Cape Town and located on the stunning South Coast of the Western Cape. This is the best place we ever spotted whales (even better than in Husavik, the whale capital of Iceland), and just from the shore! From early June to late November, these mysterious and beautiful creatures come to in large numbers to Hermanus to breed, give birth and play in the sea. You can see Southern Right Whales and Humpbacks and if you are lucky, also African Penguins and Cape Fur Seals as well.
During our visit, we saw several whales, right from the shore, mommies with their infants and a couple, moving side by side through the ocean. Just take your binoculars with you and walk on the famous Hermanus Cliff Path or, if you whish, book a tour with a company for a closer encounter, there are plenty possibilities. In any event, watching these magnificent mammals is, in short, impressive!
In Hermanus, we stayed at the beautiful Whale Rock Luxury Lodge, a small paradise. We stayed two nights and enjoyed a local ‘braai’ at the fireplace on the terrace near the pool. Comfortable and spacious rooms, a pleasant common lounge and very friendly staff!
Interested in more travel news on South Africa? Then read my other blogs on a great itinerary and useful tips and costs.