Cape Town, South Africa
If you visit only one place in South Africa, make it Cape Town. Cape Town is not only the most popular international tourist destination in South Africa, but Africa as a whole. This is due to its good climate, natural setting, and well-developed infrastructure. It is located in the south-west corner of the country near the Cape of Good Hope, and is the most southern city in Africa. It is a stone’s throw from South Africa’s world-famous Cape Winelands around Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek.
Today Cape Town is a world-class cosmopolitan city with numerous sites of historical significance, and a lively nightlife.
Almost everything is possible in Cape Town, from a nice guided city tour through an adrenaline kick in an old fighter jet. The easiest way to get an overview on things to do, nice restaurants, clubs, tours etc is to walk into one of the visitors centres which are in several areas. (V&A Waterfront, City Bowl, Green Point etc). As a starting point, have a quick look at our popular list of top things to do in Cape Town.
Things to do in Cape Town
The city has several well-known natural features that attract tourists, most notably
– Township Tour. The townships are the places where people were forced to live (based on race) under the apartheid regime. To some extent townships continue to retain their apartheid-era racial makeup, for a variety of reasons. Townships have also grown to cover far larger areas of land than in the apartheid days. This is a result of urbanisation, especially over the past 10-15 years. Touring a township may seem strange, even inappropriate, but it is a good way to learn about South Africa’s history, and the poverty that many people continue to live in. People in the townships are friendly and the children love visitors. Some townships however can be dangerous (see the warning on the South Africa page) so don’t go alone unless you know what you’re doing. The townships tours are safe. If you want to bring sweets or gifts for the children, it is best not to give it directly to them, but to give it to the tour guide who will distribute them later. Tours can be booked directly or through one of Cape Town’s many booking agencies.
– Cape Peninsula. Go from Cape Town down to the Cape of Good Hope (stunning views and for sure you will meet one of the local baboons or ostriches) via Simon’s Town and the penguin colony at Boulders. Visit Cape Point and maybe have lunch there. Go back along the west coast through the exclusive suburbs of Camps Bay and Llandudno.
– Surfing. Cape Town is one of the best places to surf. Muizenberg is a good place for beginners to learn to surf. If you’re an experienced surfer, try the reef break at Kalk Bay, Outer Kom near Kommetjie or Misty Cliffs on the coast road near Scarborough. You could head up the west coast and sample Milnerton, Table View or Big Bay, although Big Bay is often crowded with people Kite Surfing due to the windy conditions.
– Kayaking in False Bay. Rent a kayak in Simon’s Town and see the False Bay from another point of view. Make sure to stop at the penguin colony at Boulders, where you can see the African Penguin (formerly called Jackass Penguin). September is the breeding season and you can see penguins hatching out of their eggs.
– Shark diving. Fancy a swim with the sharks? If you possess a valid diving license (PADI, CMAS, BASC et al) you can go to the two oceans aquarium and plunge in the 2.2 million liter aquarium along with the five ragged tooth sharks, several yellow tails, bull rays and a lonely turtle. The dive master Iain, a barrel shaped bearded little man with a distinct scottish accent, is both nice and knowledgable and accompanies you into the aquarium ready to fend off the sharks with his broomstick should they become cuddly.
– Winelands. Cape Town has some of the worlds best wine producing vineyards and arguably the worlds most scenically stunning on it’s doorstep. The wine regions of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl are all with in an easy hours drive, these historic and lush regions offer stunning views and world class wine tastings. There are more than 250 wine farms within 30 minutes’ drive of Stellenbosch – you can comfortably visit 3 or 4 in day.
– Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. View the hugely diverse and beautiful plants and flowers of the Cape flora in one of the most stunning botanical gardens in the world. Plants from all of the regions of South Africa are on display, including rare succulents from the Richtersveld, a giant baobob tree, and interesting medicinal plants. Numerous paths wander through the grounds situated on the back side of Table Mountain. Several restaurants, a gift shop and indigenous nursery are also available. At various times of the year concerts are performed in the open air amphitheater. Art is frequently on display, including large Shona stone sculptures from Zimbabwe. The gardens are also home to the National Biodiversity Institute.
In 2004 this Region, including Kirstenbosch, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
– Visit Ratanga Junction in summer and enjoy a day with your kids at this theme park. The park has over 30 attractions, including 23 rides, and offers thrill and adventure seekers a range of exhilarating options perfect for the entire family. Twenty hectares of huge trees, dense subtropical vegetation, and waterways takes you in to another world entirely, one in which merry-go-rounds, rollercoasters and screams of pleasure and excitement are par for the course. The park is not open all year round, but over December and January Ratanga pumps it is so busy, and there is something for everyone to enjoy.
– Visit Melkbos to surf, windsurf, kitesurf and sunbathe on its wide sandy beach. This beautiful seaside village is well known for its tranquility, wide white beach, water-sports and west-coast hospitality. It is an easy getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The world-famous Garden Route ranges from about Mossel Bay, via George and Knysna to the Tsitsikamma National Park on the south coast. This road will take you further on to Port Elizabeth, Durban and eventually Swaziland. Do not forget to visit the Karoo semi-desert and do an ostrich ride in Oudtshoorn.
Only two hours from Cape Town, along the south coast, are the Bontebok National Park and the De Hoop Nature Reserve, perfect for spotting bontebok and whales. The southern tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas is not far away and the Overberg region offers whale spotting and quiet towns to relax.
Many tourists also visit Cape Town’s beaches, which are popular with local residents. Due to the city’s unique geography, it is possible to visit several different beaches in the same day, each with a different setting and atmosphere. Though the Cape’s water ranges from cold to mild, the difference between the two sides of the city is dramatic. While the Atlantic Seaboard averages annual water temperatures barely above that of coastal California around 13°C (55°F), the False Bay coast is very much warmer, averaging between 16 and 17°C (61 and 63°F) annually. This is similar to water temperatures in much of the Northern Mediterranean (for example Nice). In summer, False Bay water averages slightly over 20°C (68°F), with 22°C (72°F) a common high. Beaches located on the Atlantic Coast tend to have very cold water, whilst the water at False Bay beaches may be warmer by up to 10°C (18°F) at the same moment, and the surface warming effects of the South Easter wind.
Both coasts are equally popular, although the beaches in affluent Clifton and elsewhere on the Atlantic Coast are better developed with restaurants and cafés, with a strip of restaurants and bars accessible to the beach at Camps Bay. Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town is known for its colony of African Penguins.
The city has several notable cultural attractions. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, built on top of part of the docks of the Port of Cape Town, is the city’s most visited tourist attraction. It is also one of the city’s most popular shopping venues, with several hundred shops and the Two Oceans Aquarium. The V&A also hosts the Nelson Mandela Gateway, through which ferries depart for Robben Island. It is possible to take a ferry from the V&A to Hout Bay, Simon’s Town and the Cape Fur Seal colonies on Seal and Duiker Islands. Several companies offer tours of the Cape Flats, a mostly Coloured township, and Khayelitsha, a mostly black township.
Best times to visit Cape Town are:
– October and November: The weather is getting good. Spring is in the air, but it is not as hot as mid-Summer yet. These months can be windy months. The South-Easter is known as the Cape Doctor as it blows away a great deal of pollution!
– December to March: These are the prime summer months, of long hot days. The sun sets late in the evening (it stays light up until about 20h30 in December) and there is generally a lot going on. February is the most reliable month for weather, with week after week of hot days and very little wind.
– April and May: This can change from year to year, but generally speaking although it starts raining, it is still warm. There are much fewer visitors around, and you can get excellent deals on accommodation, food and most tourism services.
Be sure to visit its famous landmarks Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope.