Picture a beauty pageant. The finalists are San Francisco, Sydney, Hong Kong and Cape Town. So who is the winner?
Certainly, all of the contestants have physical appeal in spades. But Cape Town is so much more than a pretty face. Cape Town has stepped out of the shadow of apartheid with an irrepressible sense of enterprise, creativity and openness. South Africa’s Mother City is respectful of the past, but remarkably unburdened by it.
Stunning landscapes, impactful history, and genuine hospitality give Cape Town an edge, but favorable exchange rates make the case for visiting downright compelling. Here’s how to make the most of your moments in Cape Town:
The trip to the top of Cape Town’s legendary Table Mountain is on every visitor’s checklist. But active travelers should forgo the outbound cable car ride in favor of a guided 3.5 mile hike up the peak. You are in excellent hands with Warren Mayers of Table Mountain Day Trips. A professional guide who has climbed the famous flat-topped landmark over 4,000 times on 400 different routes, Mayers is an expert on the mountain’s diverse botany, and mighty fine company
The best way to take in the natural beauty surrounding Cape Town is a daylong drive around the Cape Peninsula. Car rentals are inexpensive, and South Africa’s highways are excellent. But you need to allow for some unusual hazards, like baboons crossing the road.
Heading counterclockwise from the city center on Victoria Road, you soon come to beautiful Camp’s Bay Beach. Pause to stroll along the picture perfect strand of sand framed by Lion’s Head, Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles. Next, a video game comes to life, as you tackle the curvaceous Chapman Peak Drive. One of the world’s most famous coastal roads, that feeling of déjà vu comes from the fact that the Chapman Peak Drive has served as the setting for many sports car commercials. Take a road break to explore the glorious Cape Point Nature Reserve on foot. The craggy ocean vistas are so pristine; it is easy to feel connected to the intrepid sailors who plied these waters hundreds of years ago. Just a little further down the road, is Boulders Beach, home to a resident colony of penguins. Far from a zoo-like encounter, it is not unusual to find yourself within a foot or two of the funny, flightless fellows.
Time your Cape Peninsula drive to spend the end of the day in the bohemian seaside town of Kalk Bay. Cheap drinks and eclectic company await at the spirited Che Bar, followed by fresh ocean fare and crashing surf views at the seaside bistro, Live Bait.
It seems almost incomprehensible that the injustice of apartheid continued in South Africa until the early 90’s. The story of the country’s largely non-violent transition away from institutionalized racism is very inspirational.
The trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held, takes half a day, but leaves you with impressions that last forever. Prison tours are led by former Robben Island inmates, making the experience both personal and poignant. You learn how the prisoners, alone in their cells, would study, dance and sing in an effort to keep their minds, bodies and spirits strong. The separate menus posted on the wall for ‘Anglos’ and ‘Coloreds’ are silent reminders that the relentless reach of racism was not thwarted by prison walls.
Book ahead for your Robben Island outing, preferably for a morning tour. Tours frequently sell out, and early ferry crossings are less likely to be cancelled due to adverse wind conditions.
Cape Town’s city bowl is relatively compact and flat, so a walkabout is a good way to explore the urban scene. Begin your ambulatory tour in the Company’s Gardens, Cape Town’s equivalent of Central Park. You’ll be in the company of idlers of all ages and ethnicities, as well as some freakishly assertive pigeons and squirrels.
Stop for a light bite or some heavy starch at I Love My Laundry, a quirky combination of Dim Sum Bar and functioning laundry, before heading over to the colorful Bo Kapp neighborhood. Sure, there are plenty of tourists snapping pictures of the photogenic facades, but it is refreshing to discover that Bo Kapp is still a living, breathing community, with school children playing in the cobblestone streets.
Celebrate the end your Cape Town stroll with a craft brew at Weinhaus + Biergarten, on up-and-coming Bree Street. Alternatively, raise a toast at the funky rooftop skybar/Airstream trailer park atop the Grand Daddy Hotel.
GO TO MARKET
Snag the ultimate South African souvenir from among the many treasures at the Neighbourgoods Market. Held every Saturday morning in the gentrifying community of Woodstock, the Neighbourgoods Market is basic commerce meets street party. It is fun, whether or not you make a purchase, but Indy shops like Clementina Ceramics and Quirky Me make for rewarding retail therapy.
SNAG A TABLE
Book ahead, to witness culinary theatre in the round at the Pot Luck Club, the plucky little sister of the wildly popular Test Kitchen. The ambiance is playful, with designer tapas served in paper-lined baskets.
Peruse the display case to pick your catch, then name your own portion size, at the comically-monikered Codfather in Camps Bay. If the seafood was any fresher, it would still be wiggling.
Join the counter-culture crowd at the Royale Eatery on Long Street, a burger joint extraordinaire, with over fifty gourmet options. The vibe is hipster, the food is filling and the gentle tab leaves you feeling like you got away with something.
NEST IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
A restful retreat makes the perfect counterpoint to your full-tilt days in Cape Town. Enter Four Rosmead Boutique Hotel, a lavish, leafy, haven located in the upscale Oranjezicht suburb.
At Four Rosmead, the South African art on the walls competes for attention with the garden-framed mountain views out the windows. The proactive staff is perpetually one step ahead of your thoughts, suggesting activities, arranging transportation, and proffering blissful services in the on site spa. Everything about the guest experience at Four Rosmead speaks of indulgence, sophistication and attention to detail. An excellent value, Four Rosmead is the clever choice for nomads-in-the-know.