Last week, Tyler and I packed our bags and took a 12-hour flight south to a new country, continent, and hemisphere. We were so excited to explore all that Cape Town had to offer!
Even before we left on our trip, Airbnb notified us of an ongoing drought in the city. I thought Toto blessed the rains down in Africa, but it seems like they forgot Cape Town. Upon arrival, there were notices everywhere – use hand sanitizer, take 1 minute showers, and flush the toilets less. Yikes! However, it’s these restrictions that prevented Cape Town from reaching “Day Zero,” in which their taps would be turned off. But not to worry, the drought didn’t put a damper on our trip (ironic dad joke intended)! You’ll find 8 activities from our South African adventure below:
“Kiff” is South African slang for cool and a kombi is a type of van. We cruised around in one of these cool vans for an 8 hour “Urban Safari” through Cape Town. Along the way, we learned about the history of the area, tasted local wines, and stopped at some scenic spots. We had an amazing guide (Wilson) and I would highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Cape Town for the first time.
1st stop: Bo Kaap – A distinct neighborhood, characterized by clusters of colorful homes. These residences were originally built and leased to slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, and the rest of Africa. Many families have been living in this area for generations, and the neighborhood is still steeped in Cape Malay culture. It makes this area ideal to take a Cape Malay cooking course (if only we had more time)!
2nd stop: District Six – We drove through District Six and stopped to view street art in the area. Over 60,000 residents were forcibly removed from this community during the apartheid regime in the 70s. The area is currently home to the District Six Museum, which was at the top of our tourism list, but we didn’t quite have time to make a visit.
3rd stop: Woodstock – We strolled through an area of Woodstock that is covered in beautiful street art. According to our guide, the suburb has evolved significantly over the past few years. The signs of gentrification were palpable as we drove from one block with dilapidated buildings and small corner shops to the next block containing new apartment buildings and a weekend farmers market surrounded by noteworthy restaurants.
4th stop: Brewery lunch – Devil’s Peak Tap Room hit the spot for lunch. I had the Kaapse Fried Chicken Burger (2 words: Miso Mayo) with a cider. If you’re interested, they put on a popular pub quiz every Wednesday night.
5th stop: Cape Point Vineyard – This vineyard was beautiful! They have lots of outdoor seating (bring sunscreen) overlooking the mountains, a lovely pond, and views all the way to the ocean. We tasted 5 wines, mostly sauvignon blanc, which they specialize in.
6th stop: Chapman’s Peak – Filled to the brim with wine, we headed up a windy road. Probably not the best combo, but it was worth it for the view! Chapman’s peak is the perfect point to take in Hout bay and Devil’s Peak.
As we drove down through Hout Bay, our guide made a detour into a township called Imizamo Yethu. Our tour group had many questions throughout the day about townships, so we were glad that our guide gave us an opportunity to learn more about them. In South Africa, townships are underdeveloped communities usually on the edge of cities. Most of the homes are self-made shacks with tin roofs and many of the communities don’t have sewer systems or running water. It’s not uncommon to see a significant wealth disparity in urban areas, but the difference between Imizamo Yethu and the neighboring community of Tierbosklook was truly shocking. It was a very humbling experience to gain a better understanding of the lingering socio-economic impact of apartheid on certain communities. Kiff Kombi also offers half-day tours of a township that allows you to learn more about the art, food, music, and history of the community.
7th stop: Secret sunset vista – I can’t actually pinpoint our last stop. We drove through the beautiful Camps Bay homes, in and around the affluent suburb of Clifton, parked at the end of a street, and walked along a short dirt path on the hillside to our view point. We shared a few beers overlooking the ocean before calling it a day.
2. Table Mountain
If we started our day earlier, we would have considered hiking up or down Table Mountain. Instead, we took the easy way out. We went online and purchased round trip tickets on the cable car. Once I realized how windy it was at the top – I was relieved we didn’t hike. Despite the wind, it was a gorgeous, clear day! The walking trails at the top of the mountain seemed to be endless and so were the views. This is a must when visiting Cape Town!
Did I die and go to kitty heaven??? Maybe. But there were also dogs there, so probably not. We spent the morning at Cheetah Outreach in Sommerset West, an organization that promotes the conservation of free ranging cheetahs in South Africa. Currently, they offer tickets for cheetah cub, adult cheetah, and other small animal encounters (i.e. foxes, meerkats, etc.), as well as educational tours. All proceeds go to the conservation efforts. We had limited time, so we chose the 15-minute cub encounter, where we spent time with two 10-month old cheetah cubs. Kibwe and Kiara were super relaxed as we pet them, while the volunteers educated us further on the organization’s conservation efforts. One of the interesting ways that they protect the wild cheetah population is by raising Anatolian Shepherds and placing them with farmers to provide a non-lethal means of predator control. Many farmers set poisonous traps for cheetahs because they believe they are a threat to their livestock. Since cheetahs are quite timid, the dogs can scare them off and protect the livestock.
4. Franschoek Wine Tour
Wine Desk Tours is one of the few companies I could find that hosts half-day wine tasting tours. The owner, Ligia, was our guide for the day. She was very knowledgeable on South African wine, as well as wine from many other regions around the world. We tasted 7 wines at La Motte, a beautiful estate that also houses a lavender field, a restaurant, and a shop with lots of local goodies. Our second tasting was at Moreson Wine Farm, where we tried 5 wines and relaxed in the small garden tasting area. I was excited to try some bubbly at this location! Fun Fact: We learned that South African sparkling wines made in the same method as champagne have a special designation called “méthode cap classique” or MCC.
5. Cape Point Tour
During our wine tour, we told Ligia that we really wanted to make it out to Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope on our last day in South Africa. However, it would be a long and expensive Uber trip, and we weren’t sure if we’d be able to get a ride back. We didn’t want to rent a car because we’re a bunch of scaredy cats afraid to drive on the other side of the road. Lucky for us, she offered to give us a half-day tour!
Ligia picked us up from our hotel in the afternoon, made a quick pit stop at Marianne’s for a Gatsby (I will detail this in another post about Cape Town food), and hit the road to Boulders Beach. She continued to chat with us about the history of the area, educated us on the indigenous plants of the region, and pointed out various landmarks and towns.
We were so giddy arriving in Boulders Beach. There are several colonies of jackass penguins along the South African coast and we were about to see one! As we pulled into the dirt parking lot, a group of penguins waddled past in a straight line along the fence…they were clearly lost. We made our way to the conservation center, where we paid a small fee to get into the beach ($6 USD). The conservation center is on Foxy Beach, where there are boardwalks around the penguins’ nests. Your ticket also gets you access to Boulders Beach, which can be found just down the street. At Boulders Beach, you are able to get up close and personal with the penguins – you can even dip your toes in the water with them! We opted not to dive in since we had to catch a flight at midnight. In retrospect, going to Boulders Beach and Cape Point on the last day of our trip when we were checked out of our hotel and didn’t have access to a shower before our 12 hour flight was not our best idea. It was extremely windy at Foxy Beach, and sand was flying EVERYWHERE. I was still covered in it by the time we boarded our plane!
After visiting these cuties in tuxedos, we headed to the cape. If you’re ever doing this drive, keep your eyes peeled for animals. Along the way, we saw ostriches, elands, baboons, and a zebra! We first stopped at the Cape of Good Hope and then on to the Cape Point lighthouse. The rugged cliffs dropping into the ocean had a Cliffs of Moher-esque appeal. We arrived around 5pm on a Friday and there were no crowds. Tyler and I took the funicular up to the lighthouse and hiked down (not really a hike – it took about 10 minutes). While waiting for the funicular to leave, baboons climbed on top of the cart, while another nearly jumped in with us! I was terrified. I hid in the corner as the operator slammed the door shut and another employee scared the baboon off by banging a large stick. Don’t blame me – some of these guys have 3-inch-long canines! Enough said. I lived to see another day. The view from the top was incredible, but with winds of 50 mph, I could barely walk. Grown men were stumbling around, losing their hats off their heads and iPhones from their hands. No wonder the Portuguese explorers called it the Cape of Storms. I would definitely check the weather forecast before making the trip!
Robben Island is home to a maximum-security prison that housed many political prisoners, including 3 men that have gone on to become the President of South Africa. Most notably: Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Nelson Mandela. If you plan to go on this tour, try to schedule it on a clear day. Our original booking was cancelled due to windy conditions. The day we actually went on the tour didn’t seem much better. The ferry was incredibly rocky! If you need it, take your Dramamine! I would also allow yourself extra time for the tour because ours started and ended late. The tour includes the prison, island graveyard, the limestone quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the bluestone quarry, military bunkers, and the lighthouse. The most powerful part of this tour is that former political prisoners lead it.
The gardens sit at the foot of Table Mountain, and only showcases indigenous South African plants. During the summer, the gardens hold concerts every Sunday from 5:30 to 7:00pm. It’s the perfect spot for an evening picnic. Tyler and I parked our blanket on the hillside and listened to the sounds of Mafikizolo – a South African duo. You can check out a brief clip on my “South Africa” Instagram highlights.
8. Camps Bay Beach
We couldn’t leave South Africa without getting in some time at the beach. We spent an afternoon lounging in the sun – and applying sunscreen every few minutes. Camps Bay has a large beach with a backdrop of Lions Head. Several restaurants and bars are scattered along the beachside street. However, it was crowded and people were pacing the beach trying to sell us water and trinkets every few minutes. Not the most relaxing. I would probably recommend checking out one of the four Clifton beaches next door, Milnerton beach, or one of the areas tidal pools as an alternative.
Cape Town surprised me with its beauty! I learned so much and can’t wait to plan our next trip to Africa.