Stepping off the plane in Cape Town, South Africa at the Cape Town International Airport, I had no idea what to expect nor did I know by weeks end, I would have one the most transformational experiences I’ve had while traveling. Given I did my homework on the city, the sites, some of the dining choices and of course the history, I still was not ready for all that Cape Town offered, showed and exposed me to.
The city with Table Mountain as the consistent background and a gentle reminder of where you are are amazing, breathtaking and wondrous no matter where you were. My trip was a total of 7 days on the ground and I will be honest, it still was not enough time to soak in all there was. I hope this recap of 4 of those days gives you some ideas and more importantly some inspiration to visit. I certainly will be heading back.
Where to Stay in Cape Town
For the start of this trip, my homeboy Jaz and I flew into OT Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. A quick layover and a short flight from Jo-Burg [about 1 hour and 45 minutes] to Cape Town, we were in a cab and headed to our hotel which was centrally located in town and close to the V&A Waterfront. We stayed at the Protea Cape town Victoria Junction which offered all of the modern comforts, great breakfast in the mornings and a short walk to the Water Front.
Once we settled in and got our boots on the ground, the first stop was to the Aquila Game Reserve which was about 35 minutes outside of the central city. The drive to the reserve was through the mountains and the lush wine country. The scenery was spectacular and the colors just popped in all directions. The Aquila Reserve is one of the closest places you can see all kinds of animals [lions, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, elephants, zebras, etc.…] in a controlled environment. After lunch on the grounds, we jumped in our truck and took off through the African bush. The driver was quick to point out many of the animals, stop the truck so we could take pictures and gave us time to walk around if we chose. The entire junket took about 5 hours but it was well worth it. After heading back to Cape Town, it was time for dinner and we chose to hit the Waterfront.
With some amazing views at night, it was the perfect place to eat. I highly recommend Seelan. The food and the service were impeccable along with the prices. Since I am a fan of oysters, I had to try to the local variety which was briny, a bit meaty and simply delicious. I washed them down with the local red varietal pinotage. Pinotage is South Africa’s signature grape and like pinot noir with those hints of smoke and dark fruit. I suggest you drink plenty before you leave the city.
After some great rest at the hotel, day 2 began with a tour of Cape Town. I highly suggest using Viator when looking for activities or guided tours in any city. They are timely, pick you up from your hotel and have guides that are very familiar with the city layout. Our tour consisted of Cape Towns’ neighborhoods, the history behind them, The Castle of Good Hope, a trip to the Slave Lodge and then a stop off at Table Mountain. The Slave Lodge was eye-opening and very informative. You cannot do South Africa and not hear about the history of slavery and the importation of various people from around the continent.
Heading up to Table Mountain, there are not many words to adequately describe its majesty. Named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, the mountain and its subsequent views from the top are inspiring. The tram up costs about $12USD and if there is no line [normally there is], you can get to the top in about 20 minutes. There is also a café that serves great food and wine at the top plus free Wi-fi to post those amazing pictures.
At this juncture, it was decided to have an off day from excursions and see Cape Town by foot. The stop for the day was Long Street. And just as the name is suggested, the street is long but has a million places to eat, shop and drink. The shops have all kinds of vendors where you can pick up items for others or for yourself. Prices are relatively cheap here so it’s a good time to rack up. The food and bar selections are varied. You can do Beerhouse which has over 100 different types of beers along with great outside patio seating and food. Matter of fact, mostly all the bars on Long Street have an outdoor roof or second level patio overlooking the street.
Day four of the trip was probably the highlight given we were going to do the Robben Island Tour. As many of us know, Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held during the time of apartheid. Before heading out to the island, we received a history lesson on and about District Six. The District Six Museum sits in the same neighborhood that the largest number of Africans were forcibly removed from their homes and then sent to townships outside of Cape Town. The museum discusses this historical juncture and documents the families and governments responses over the years. The next stop was to Langa Township which is one of the largest townships in South Africa. It was heart-wrenching to see the state of the people living there but they displayed such optimism and hope for the future. You cannot do Cape Town and not do a township tour.
Finally, it was off to Robben Island via the ferry. After about 35 minutes on the water we arrived and were guided around by a former prisoner. While the history is still relevant, it was just surreal to touch the prison bars that Nelson Mandela gripped for 18 years. My hands still reverberate from the experience. Take the tour. You will not be disappointed.
Even though we had more days in Cape Town, it would be impossible to sum it all up in just a few paragraphs. If you have the time, Jaz certainly recommends riding the Hop On/Hop Off Red Bus. You will see parts of Cape Town, including the coastline you won’t see doing the normal tours. Additionally, if you want authentic cuisine to stop off at Marco’s African Place and try the local delicacy of sheep’s face. After you eat, walk over to Cubano’s, one of the hottest clubs in Cape Town. Admission is free and they party all night. And I mean all night!
I had a ball with my first trip to Cape Town and given the time we had, I will certainly need to go back. There is still so much to see and do. Once again, one of the most scenic cities I have been to in my life. I hope this short guide helps. Here’s to your journey. Cheers.
Want to see where else Keith has been? Check out more of his stories here.