When our travel agent told us we would be spending five days in Cape Town before our safaris began, I thought it would be too long. Turns out, it wasn’t enough. There was a tremendous amount to see and do in this beautiful city. Before I lay it all out for you let me say this: this was not a budget trip. We planned this as a once-in-a-lifetime 50th birthday celebration for my husband, saved for it, and went all out. So if you look into where we stayed/what we did, don’t be shocked, or even annoyed at the prices: I’m telling you: this wasn’t a cheap way to go. What is was….was fabulous.
Where we Stayed:
We stayed in off of fashionable Kloof Street at The More Quarters, offered a lot of value for the (admittedly high-budget) price. The hotel is made up of several individual, chic apartments, all within a few yards of a detached building with front-desk service, and full staff. We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an completely private outdoor patio with shower, a small but well equipped kitchen (microwave, French Press coffee maker, full-sized fridge, microwave, stove-top) and a nice-sized living room with an eating area and large, flat panel TV.
Traveling with kids, this was amazing. We kept water and snacks in the fridge. Made popcorn at night, and kept fruit, and cheese and crackers in the refrigerator (and, OK, ice cream in the freezer) for snack time.
Plus, a full breakfast, beautifully laid out in the dining room of the reception area was included. So yes, it was expensive, but for a family, it was significantly better than a similarly priced luxury hotel suite and I think we got more, and more personalized service.
The kids even got little welcome packs with crayons, coloring pages, and a small stuffed animal to take home.
The staff, headed by the charming Andy, was warm, friendly, and knowledgeable, and the overall feeling of the hotel was family-friendly, chic, and casual yet sophisticated.
What we did:
I’m embarrassed to say, we didn’t do much in Cape Town. Sure, we hit the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, but to me, it was a big shopping mall. Pretty, yes, and on the water. But a shopping mall nonetheless. I live in NY – I didn’t need to go to South Africa to shop at Jimmy Choo or the Nike Store. Go for a meal, but not much more.
Table Mountain, on the other hand, is a must. The natural landmark that anchors this city by the sea, it is a spectacular thing to see in an of itself, and a great place to go to get a view of the city. Most people advised us to go early. Don’t listen to them. We went mid afternoon, and walked right into the funicular that takes you to to the top. (or it’s a three hour hike – all uphill.) As we were leaving I noticed a long line of benches with water misters in front of them. Looooong. That’s for the visitors who come in the morning, and have to wait in the heat for up to 90 minutes for a seat on the funicular. Go in the afternoon. No wait. No heat. No mister to frizz out your hair.
Tip: You don’t need a guide for this. If you are hiring a private guide, or joining a group, don’t include this. It takes a while, and your money for a guide would be better served on something you really need the guide for. (like the Pennisula tour, or the Wine Country visit, below.)
Kristenbosch Gardens: The botanical gardens are spectacular, and surrounded by scenery just as impressive. The plant-life is different enough from what you’re used to that even your kids will be amazed.
Pennisula Tour: We had private tour guide for this one. (There’s no way we were driving on the left-side of the road!) Check out the beautiful Camps Bay Beach, the penguins at Boulder’s Beach, and the Cape of Good Hope. (a nice easy, hike for kids – all on a well-manicured path.)
Stellenbosch – The Wine Country – We weren’t sure we could take the kids to this one. But most of the wineries know that they can’t make money without catering to families…so there was plenty for them to do. Plus, we took this tour with the lovely and charming Jamie Greatorex of Cape Heritage Tours. A father himself, he knew just where to take us to keep the kids entertained, and let the adults taste some seriously good wine.
Jamie was a great guide, and a lovely companion, and one of the benefits of having a private guide, is that he goes at your pace, and does what you want to do. What did we want? To pet a cheetah, see the white lions, check out the birds of prey, see some beautiful scenery, and NOT spend a lot of time in touristy (though picturesque) towns buying souvenirs. (though I did buy a souvenir…a lovely ostrich egg bowl, which I think I left at the airport!). He engaged the kids, taught them about South Africa and its history without seeming teacher-y, and was worth every penny. (and Ok, I admit, a former pro-soccer player and avid surfer, he was easy on the eyes, too!)
Robben Island: I cannot tell a lie: we opted not to visit this historic heritage site where Nelson Mandela and many other dissidents were imprisoned during apartheid. The visit takes 3.5 hours, and includes a tour conducted by a former inmate. I was worried it would be too much for the kids. Too long, too hard, too scary. (and because it’s an island, you cannot leave, or cut the visit short) Maybe I was wrong. And I certainly would have liked to see it for myself and my husband, but you can’t do everything.
The District Six Museum, however, is small, manageable, and moving – and also very informative about South Africa’s troubled, race history.
The Townships: you can read more about my trip to the townships by clicking here, and watch a video of the dancers we saw here, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to take your kids to see the townships. Racial strife and poverty are easy to ignore in Cape Town, a sophisticated, Europeanized country. But it is still there, and not just in museums. Several reputable agencies offer tours. Take one. Take your kids. It’s important.
There was a lot more to see that we didn’t. We could have gone swimming with the sharks, at a different time of the year we would have gone whale watching. We only saw the Houses of Parliament and the Natural History museum from the outside, walking by. We skipped the Two Oceans Aquarium all together.
Guess we’ll have to go back again some day.