Last month I spent a week in Cape Town and it just re-confirmed that this is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. With Table Mountain hugging the city on one side and the Atlantic on the other, it’s never short of a beautiful view. Then between that is a city full of life, culture, history and delicious food. There’s so much to do in Cape Town (and if the weather is good) I’d find it hard to ever get tired of being there.
I was travelling in Africa with my friend Bianca and this was our second time in Cape Town. The main reason we came back was because during our first trip (which was in August) the weather was so bad, most of the things we wanted to do got cancelled, including climbing Table Mountain and visiting Robben Island. So we knew visiting in sunny March we’d have an even better time.
This trip we wanted our accomodation to have a more local feel and booked an Airbnb apartment instead of a hotel. We had a two bed room apartment on Harrington Street in the city centre and this was very reasonably priced. This was in a great area and I always felt very safe and comfortable. I loved having our own little ‘home’ in the city.
The local currency is South African Rand & 100R is worth approximately 10USD.
The things I love most about Cape Town: (in no particular order, except Table Mountain really is number 1)
With Table Mountain right at the city’s doorstep and offering some of the world’s most beautiful hikes, it’s hard to resist hiking while in Cape Town. We did two hikes and I would highly recommend them both.
Table Mountain – Climbing Table Mountain was by far the best thing I did in Cape Town, I felt like making it to the top was such an achievement and there was no other way we could have experienced such incredible views of the city and the sea.
There are a number of different routes that can be taken to reach the top of the mountain. Some are full day hikes and some are for people with climbing experience. The two half day routes we were looking at were Indian Venster & Platteklip Gorge! We decided to go with the Indian Venster route, although this way is said to be much more challenging than Platteklip, it offers better views from both sides of the table. If we were going to do it, why not got the best way possible.
Do you need a guide? It would all depend on your experience and skill level! Along the way there are a few signs and yellow footprints painted on rocks to lead the way. I don’t think the path was overly clear in a lot of places so if you were on your own you would have to concentrate on where you were going.
We had a guide and loved it; it made the experience more enjoyable and relaxing. We never had to worry about where we were going and it was great having a local to answer any questions we had.
Our guides name was Pete and he was fantastic. He had so much experience and knowledge of the mountain and Cape Town and was more than happy to stop along the way, a million times, while we took photos.
Guides generally start from 750R per person, depending on the route. It can be quite an expensive day, but to explore one of the the ‘7 wonders of nature’, I think it was well worth the money.
I think we were lucky enough to have one of the best guides around so if you’d like to contact Pete to take you up the mountain his phone number is +27 (0) 822 234 822.
Our day started at 05:30 when Pete picked us up from our apartment, along the way we discussed some of the different routes and that’s when we decided on Indian Venster. Pete said this was the ‘hard’ route and not suitable for anyone who had a fear of heights. We were excited and up for the challenge. Along the way there are 4 phases of climbing (without ropes), there are staples and chains and also the natural rocks for you to use to pull yourself up with. This rout is about 7km long and at some points it can be difficult. It was great having Pete there as we’d pass him our bags over the climbing sections. I’m no athlete and I managed fine but if you’re considering this route you definitely need some upper body strength and not be at all afraid of heights.
The things I would recommend having when climbing Table Mountain are, plenty of food and water, hat, a warm jacket because to begin with it’ll be very cold and long pants to avoid getting scratched by blister bush.
After our hours of walking we were ready to get the cable car down the mountain. You should always prepare yourself to possibly have to walk back down because the weather in Cape Town is very unpredictable and the cable car closes if the weather turns bad. A one way trip on the cable car cost 150R per person.
Lion’s Head – This wasn’t originally in our plan but after having such a great time with Pete climbing Table Mountain, we thought we needed to squeeze Lion’s Head in as well. So on our last morning in Cape Town we saw the most amazing sunrise from the peak of Lion’s Head.
This hike is approximately 5.5km round trip and is much easier than Table Mountain. There’s a lot of walking up steps and uneven ground and only has one climbing (using chains) section. Pete picked us up this morning at 4am which gave us plenty of time to reach the top before sunrise at 06:40. Although we were tired it was great starting early as the dark paths weren’t full of other hikers and we were the first to reach the top (it was packed by the time the sun came up). I underestimated how cold it would be up there though so I was freezing waiting for the sun to come up, I could only imagine how cold it would be in winter.
We spent a couple of hours at the peak, enjoying the sunrise and the 360 degrees views of Cape Town. It was amazing seeing Table Mountain from that point as well. It was breathtaking and the perfect way to end our trip. We’d taken plenty of food but the only thing that was missing was hot coffee!!
The way down was pretty easy but full of people (and a few dogs) so we just took our time and enjoyed the views.
#2 V&A Waterfront:
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is one of the most visited destinations in South Africa. A working harbour surrounded by shops and restaurants. It’s a beautiful area to spend the day and there’s always live local music being performed somewhere. This is definitely tourist central, it’s always busy and one of the only places in the city I’d comfortably walk around late at night. This is one of the main stops for the Hop On & Hop Off bus and it’s always very easy to get a taxi or Uber in the area.
There are some beautiful shops throughout Cape Town but I wouldn’t say the shopping is at all cheap. These are my two favourite places to shop in Cape Town –
- The Watershed at the V & A Waterfront. This is a massive shed filled with store selling local designed homewares, jewellery and clothing. You can find the most beautiful things in here that aren’t sold everywhere. The Watershed is opened daily.
- Greenmarket Square. This is an outdoor market set up in an historical square in the city centre. I did most of my shopping here, there are so many paintings and local craft items. A lot of the stalls sell the same thing so barter with them until you’re both happy with the price. The market is open daily from 8am-4pm.
I’m just obsessed with the food in Cape Town, there’s such a variety and it’s all so cheap (compared with Australia). With so many cultures influencing the menus all over the city, it really is a food lover’s paradise. I think the main reason the food is so good though is all the fresh ingredients. Everything I ate was delicious, including the pre-made meals from Woolworths. Sometimes I wasn’t even hungry, I just knew it would taste so good and didn’t know if I’d get this opportunity again!
Some of the best places I ate at where –
- Food Lovers Market. There’s one next to Greenmarket Square, this is an inside food hall selling everything from sweet, savoury to healthy. This was awesome if you didn’t want to spend much time getting food or wanted something to go. Everything is so fresh and you can build your own salads and then its charged on weight.
- V&A Food Market. Walk around and look at all your options before you make a decision, there is so much good food to choose from. They even have a fudge store selling every flavour you can think of.
- Nourish’d Café & Juicery. I found this little cafe on Instagram before I arrived in Cape Town and was super keen to pay them a visit. They’re environmentally friendly and have an organic, plant based menu and also sell unicorn lattes… So I had to go!
- Woolworths Supermarkets. Now I’m sure this will sound ridiculous to some, but supermarkets in Australia are so shit compared to here. The food is so good, especially the pre-made salads and pastas. There is also a wide variety of “hiking” snacks you can get too.
- New York Bagels. We stopped here after our hike up Lion’s Head for a coffee and bagel. It was super busy, so I knew it would be good. My bagel was amazing and just as good as NYC.
#5 Camps Bay Beach:
Camps Bay is about a 15minute drive from the city centre. The setting is so beautiful, with the Atlantic Ocean in front of you and Table Mountain behind, towering over. The water was rough but really blue and clear. Our Uber dropped us off at one end and we planned on walking to the other, until the wind came and the sand blowing against us felt like tiny little needles stabbing our bodies…. Apparently March is generally very windy and as expected even on a hot day the ocean was still freezing.
Across the road from the beach is a line of shops, markets, bars and restaurants. We walked along the street, stopping at a number of places for food and cocktails. Everything we ate was beautiful but the best place was Cafe Caprice, great cocktails, food and music.
This is also the perfect place to watch the sunset on the beach.
#6 Road Trips
With the Cape Peninsula right at your door step, hiring a car for at least one day is a must. We had the best day; it’s such a beautiful and easy drive. We started by passing through Camps Bay area towards Chapman’s Peak drive, which is a beautiful scenic drive along the coast. Before you leave check online if the Chapman’s Peak drive is open, they often close when weather conditions are poor. There’s a toll to use this road but it’s only about R30. Going this way you’ll pass through Hout Bay, apart from stinking of fish it was a really pretty area and worth stopping at.
The main reason we hired a car was to visit Boulders beach and the penguins. This was about an hour’s drive from the city. Close by boulders is Simons Town, which is the biggest town in the area so if you plan on continuing south I recommend eating here first. It’s a cute little town with plenty of restaurants and shops.
Right at the end of the peninsula is a lighthouse and if you wanted to drive down, the road toll is R145 per person. We didn’t bother going down.
On the way back we took the coast road along False Bay, I was really hoping to see a shark in the water but no luck! Driving north of Simone’s town towards Muizenberg, there are a number of beaches and little towns to stop at. This area really didn’t feel like Africa, the Dutch influence was very clear around there. If I was to go back I’d love to stop in Kalk Bay Harbour, it looked awesome with heaps of cool shops and restaurants. By this point it was late afternoon and the traffic was terrible, so stopping was too hard.
There’s plenty of car hire companies around Cape Town, so just shop around for a price you’re happy with. We were after an automatic car but noticed there was a massive price difference between that and a manual car. Be careful of hidden fees as well, we found there to be more extra fees than anywhere else in the world we’d hired a car before!
There’s so many beautiful places to see and the drive is very easy to navigate, so well worth it.
#7 Boulders Beach:
Cutest day ever…. I love these penguins! Boulders Beach is part of Table Mountain national park and is famous for its colony of African penguins. It’s hard to believe these penguins are endangered because there’s so many of them. They are also the only breed of penguins found on the African continent.
Entry to the national park cost R75 and it’s worth checking the tide times before you go. Visiting at low tide will allow you to see a lot more penguins. Entry is through the visitors centre and just behind is two wooden viewing platforms overlooking Foxy’s beach, the beach was covered in penguins. Then you can walk about 5-10 minute along the path to actual Boulders Beach. You’ll have to do a bit of rock climbing on the beach to get to the best areas but it’s not difficult. Here you can swim and sit with penguins on the sand. There are signs advising it’s a R500 fine if you feed or touch the penguins but we never saw any rangers. I never worried about anyone trying to touch or pick them up, because they have such sass about them, if you got too close they’ll definitely try and bite you.
With South Africa having such a heartbreaking history I think it’s important to visit at least one museum to learn about what happened (not so long ago) and how the city has bounced back from such oppression.
District 6 was once a lively inner-city residential area, until the apartheid regime took over and residents were forcibly removed from their homes to make way for the white community.
The museum opened in 1994 by the District Six Foundation, the doors open everyday (except Sunday) and it cost R40 to enter or R55 with a guide. I highly recommend getting a guide, it makes the information much easier to follow and understand. All the guides are ex residents, who all have stories to share. Our guides name was Ruth and she happily answered any questions we had. I had to hold back my tears when Ruth was telling the story of how her family was removed from their home. It’s hard to believe it all really happened.
Bo-Kaap is Cape Towns most colourful area so you’ll want to visit during the day to appreciate the beauty of the houses. Sitting below signal hill are the homes of former slaves and was one of Cape Town’s most multicultural areas. It was also formerly known as the Malay Quarter and when we were there I was lucky enough to get some Malay street food. There is a museum there but it’s worth passing through even if it’s just to see the houses.
#9 Robben Island:
This is the home of the infamous prison, that held Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 year jail term. Nelson Mandela is someone I will always admire and believe that he is one of history’s great hero’s.
I was really interested in doing this tour and learning more about this great man. We attempted to do it on our first trip to Cape Town but with the bad weather, all the ferries were cancelled so we never made it over. This time we purchased our tickets early and planned to go on our second day in the city. The tour departs 3 times a day, you can buy your tickets online and one adult cost R340.
We arrived at the Nelson Mandela Gateway, at the V & A Waterfront just a bit before 9am. It was a beautiful day, sunny, no wind, so had no doubt we’d be going. Then I walked in and the lady behind the desk said “No, no ferries today. Bad weather” huh? Bianca didn’t believe me when I walked out to tell her!
So we rescheduled for Thursday and I figured if it didn’t happen then it just wasn’t meant to be. They give you the option to reschedule or get a full refund.
Anyway so Thursday came along and thankfully we went. Robben Island is a 30 minute ferry ride from the V & A Waterfront, it was a beautiful day but still the boat was rocking… I was starting to see why these tours get cancelled so often. Along the way we saw seals and whales swimming around. Once on the island we hoped on a bus for a 45 minute guided tour of the Island. The we visited the prison, guided around by a former political prisoner and finished the tour in Nelson Mandela’s cell.
Before we went on this tour I had heard some negative reviews and now I can see why, the tour wasn’t terrible but I feel I didn’t take much away from it apart from saying I’ve been in Mandela’s cell. Both of our guides never really gave much history, didn’t get into why the political prisoners were there, how long for etc. More so just what they ate in prison and how they spent their days. A lot of the information we received in the prison we had already been told on the bus. From a former prisoner I was hoping for a more personal experience, like what Ruth shared at the District 6 museum.
If this is something you plan on doing, I suggest booking the 9am tour, as the later ones cancel more often.
The first time we were in Cape Town we did the cage dive with the Great White Sharks, it was an incredible experience. We had booked through Sharklady cage diving and I remember them being really good. Most of these trips leave from Gansbaai but our tour included pick up from Cape Town. If I did this again though I’d look for a company that offered more than just a snorkel mask, I wish we had actual oxygen tanks so we could stay under the water. The cage was knocking about with the waves and it was difficult at times to get under before the shark swam away. Also we did this tour in August and it was bloody freezing, even with a full wetsuit, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to go in winter.
When planning your trip to Cape Town, don’t expect much to be happening on Sundays. To our surprise the city was dead, the streets were quiet and nearly everything was closed – even most supermarkets. The only area we found to be busy was the V & A Waterfront.
I absolutely love Cape Town and could easily spend so much more time there, the food, the culture, the history and the hiking, I just love everything it has to offer. I’ve been asked a few times if I found it safe, I don’t exactly know what the crime rate is in Cape Town, but personally I never felt unsafe. I did choose to very rarely walk the streets after dark, there’s a lot of homelessness in the city and I noticed at night time there was often people just hanging around, so that made me slightly uneasy. But avoiding walking was easy enough, there are so many Ubers in the city and it’s such a cheap way to get around.
Feel free to email me if you have any other questions on Cape Town! I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do.
All up we spent nearly a month in Africa, click below if you want to read about the other destinations we explored: