The scenes and sounds from my Cape Town trip have not fizzled out yet.
The word ‘gorgeous’ is cliché and “beautiful” stands insufficient. This is one of the most blissful, carved out with perfection and blessed with natural diversity, kind of place. With its iconic Table Mountain, enthralling flora & fauna, windy Cape of Good Hope and historic Robben Island, the city weaves fabulous tales of history and geography. Even before, I landed at the Cape Town International Airport, the views from the sky were enough to grip me with awe and amazement. Unbelievable it may sound but the natural grandeur of Cape Town is such that it exerts a powerful grip on the imagination. Husband and I were in Johannesburg for few months and thus this gave us a chance to go for road-tripping in Cape Town. We rented a car right at the airport and wheeled around the mother city. Right at the outset, I must confess that four days were too less but I realized that only when I reached the city. We had a plethora of “must see” things and to actualize them, we literally had to rework out itinerary and drive for 10-14 hours, every day. Despite being hectic, it turned out to be one fantabulous trip.
I only knew about the Table Mountain and I was under-prepared, like other tourists. There are some more unmissable hiking points like Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, Devils Peak and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Strategically placed, they embrace the city bowl and make for a wholesome geological marvel. The city is overwhelmingly natural, picturesque, wild, carefree, colourful and home to one of the world’s most spectacular coastline. And not far from reality, there are endless surprises on its scenic routes, more than you can imagine.
Last we all heard that the city did deal with a severe water crisis but it handled it well. It may feel a little less luxurious with a check on water usage but there is never a bad timing to know more about this affectionate and oldest “Mother City”.
One can never have enough of this eclectic city for its countryside escapes, crashing waves, exciting coastal views, adorable penguins, amazing braai and great wine.
What is Cape Town famous for?
- Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill
- Bo Kaap Neighborhood
- Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
- Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
- Peninsula Drive
- Boulder beach
- Robben Island and the museum
- Cuisine and Culture
Views from the Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill
Well, this should be the first of the many things to do and make sure you carry a camera. You may prepare for a hike if you have time in hand but we used the rotating cable car to rise to 3,500 feet above sea level. It was almost like a dream come true to be on the top of the massive Table Mountain and see the breathtaking city that had stood through the test of time and age. Within fifteen minutes, it was covered by the “table cloth”, a natural phenomenon where huge clouds appear mysteriously, faze out every trace of visibility and then vanish gradually. Soon, everything was back to normal and yet again, it felt surreal. If you plan to go hiking, don’t forget to walk to the 1088m summit at Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain.
Lion’s Head is like a little, much-loved and protected sibling in the neighborhood. The good news is that this hike takes much lesser time (approximately 45 minutes), and still promises unspoilt views of the Bay, City Bowl, Sea and the Table Mountain. Signal Hill is another flat-topped hill that is situated next to the Lion’s Head. This is also popular for its uninterrupted views, access to nature, paragliding activities and age-old noon gun practice. The activity of noon day gun at Signal Hill is about an old fashioned gun releasing canon and declaring lunch time, every day. Some people do plan their visit around that time of the day.
Bo Kaap Neighborhood
I was very keen to see Bo-Kaap, one of the most photogenic (Instagrammable) neighborhood in the heart of the city and we rushed there on the very first day. Situated in the shadow of Signal hill, it made for a small bunch of Muslim quarters, which are painted in vibrant blue, red, yellow, pink and more. This historic area gave us a peek into the history of the early Muslim settlers and the Cape Malay culture. There is a mosque, a museum (the oldest and original house), as well as some shops which stand for the skilled tribes- tailors, carpenters, shoe makers and builders, who added to the cultural diversity of the city.
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
The ocean breeze that hugs you here is mysterious as well as adulating. As you get closer to the water, you feel itchy to ditch the land and take a ride on the charter boats. You got to pick because there are enough attractions on both the side. This is one of the most happening harbor areas, with unending food & drinks, shopping and entertainment options. We were time-pressed and yet we visited the Two Oceans Aquarium and The Cape Giant Wheel. However, you shouldn’t miss the five resident museums, especially, Chavonnes Battery Museum which along with the Clock Tower of V&A Waterfront, strokes the historic past of the city.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Did you know that 22,000 plant species are found in South Africa? Well more than 7000 can be found in here. This is another very historic and spectacular aspect of Cape Town. The indigenous spread of around 1,300 acres makes for South African National Biodiversity and makes for a large expanse. The Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden are part of it and they glorify the eastern foothills of the Table Mountain. I absolutely loved the conservatory, the tree top canopy walkway, Kirstenbosch Mountains and the sweeping views. These botanical gardens are located 13 kilometer away from the city center and thus, if you don’t have your own mode of transport, hopping on the city sightseeing bus is the most convenient way to be there.
I bet my husband had this on his bucket list. He had planned a whole day, dedicated to the mind blowing landscapes and gorgeous vistas around this route. And I do not even remember, how many times I stepped out of the car for capturing the stunning views of the coastline, deep oceans, fierce cliffs, and sandy beaches. Everything about this route is Instagrammable but you got to be extra careful while driving.
Chapman’s peak is an engineering feat and the serpentine route has amazing curves.
While Chapman’s Peak Drive, the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point and Boulder Beach are the highlights of this road trip, we also visited Kalk Bay, Simon’s town, Kommetjie lighthouse and one of the ostrich farms in the Cape floral region. There are times when you feel that you are actually driving inside the mountains. The Cape of Good Hope is the place where the Indian Ocean hits upon the Atlantic Ocean. When it has been controversial whether they meet here or at another point down below, but this point has always been of utmost importance to sailors.
This is definitely one of the most unique beaches that I have visited. This protected colony of penguins is a very-very happy place where you can actually see jackass penguins enjoy the warm Indian Ocean waters. Tears of joy rolled down when I saw hundreds of Africans penguins flap, dance and waddle on the boardwalk and the white, sandy beach. They looked super cute and I wanted to play with them but its best to maintain some distance. And when you are at Boulder beach, don’t forget to touch upon the sub-urban, coastal villages like Falk’s Bay, Fish Hoek and Muizenberg. They make a great stop-over for antique shops, handicraft stalls, fishing and local food.
Robben Island and the museum
Since 1999, Robben Island is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this is the place which is associated with South Africa’s first black president, apartheid, exile and imprisonment. Along with Mr. Nelson Mandela, the other important people who were in jail here are Tokyo Sexwale, Jacob Zuma, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki. While others may turn it down for its sad history, I liked it for symbolizing celebration and victory of human spirit. And as recent as on 2 April 2019, the island has officially been declared a Marine Protected Area by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
We drove down to South Africa’s wine and gourmet capital to learn about some of the world-class wines. When it comes to vineyards and world-renowned wine regions, Stellenbosch is the place to be in Cape Town. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Western Cape and is usually the talk of the town for its vibrant culture, wine, events and local food. The atmosphere of the vineyards is relaxing and best of “local is lekker”.
Another very popular route in South Africa is Garden route. You name it and the locals will swoon over it. We were time pressed and thus we couldn’t really make the most of it. But I always suggest to keep an extra day for this one. It is a very picturesque route and offers a lot of exciting outdoor activities and first-hand experience with wilderness. Hermanus, Mossel Bay, Plettenberg bay, Storms River National Park are some of the defining points of the route.
Cuisine and Culture
Within the Cape Town city, there are a number of boutiques, shops, eateries and bars to explore. My personal favorite is Long Street, a place to get friendly with the locals and indulge in some art and craft shopping. Eating out is also a very rewarding experience in Cape Town. Having attended the Good Food & Wine Show, Africa’s largest culinary event in Johannesburg, I can vouch for the creativity of the Capetonian chefs. You must splurge on food, if you savor it. I’m often drawn back, time and again, to the evening date on the top-floor of ON19 restaurant which I had planned for my husband.
The trip to Cape Town was nothing less than a spiritual experience for me. Even though we ran through a speed plan to touch upon its best, the city offers a lot more to calm the soul and eyes. I was totally smitten by Cape Town and I must confess that I did not want to return. If I could have my way, I would love to fly in there with only one-way ticket.