Visit Cape Town for stunning beaches, mountains, panoramic views, and tragic but inspiring political history in the post-apartheid era. You’ll need a car or a guide to reach many of these destinations, but all contribute to making a visit to Cape Town, South Africa, memorable. In Cape Town, you can enjoy delicious food at restaurants and cafes. The strong dollar means all of it is 30% cheaper than last year.
Cape Town in South Africa will stun you with its gorgeous beaches, mountains, and inspiring history. The strong dollar (now about 16 rand) makes visiting in 2016 cheaper than it was last year. Five days in Cape Town felt like skimming the surface, and we’d love to return.
Cape of Good Hope in Cape Town
The Cape of Good Hope is a stunning cliff and beach, with views that will knock your socks off, if the constant wind doesn’t knock you off the side of the hill first. The drive to the Cape of Good Hope is lovely, and once there, you can hike to the top of the cliff, or take a three minute funicular to the top. If you brave the winds, like my son did but I did not, you can climb to the tippy top of the cliff, where a bright red and white lighthouse is. You can eat at the cafeteria at the Cape of Good Hope, which looks like a slice of the Mediterranean (but it is windy!) or at the slightly fancier restaurant.
Botanical Garden in Cape Town
The rich colors of the flowers and trees, the dramatic mountain setting, and the sculptural treetop walkway with spectacular views of Cape Town, all make the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden a don’t miss destination. If you get to visit Cape Town, try to schedule a whole day to visit its gardens, ponds, fields, and take in the views of the mountains above and the city below.
Our two hours at the botanical garden was just a taste. There’s a restaurant and souvenir shop.
Boulder Beach has Penguins – Yes, Penguins!
Who knew penguins lived outside of freezing snowy terrain? Not me, but there they are in Cape Town, on the warm lovely Boulder Beach. These cute penguins let us walk right up to them. They sun themselves on the rocks or pose, when they aren’t frolicking in the green water. To wrap up your visit to Boulder Beach, stop by one of the restaurants, gift shops, or the outdoor market stands selling South African carvings, bowls, art, and jewelry, all just beyond the beach.
Wine Tasting in Stellenbosch Region Outside of Cape Town
If you can, carve out a day to explore the beautiful vineyards near Cape Town. At the Boschendal Vineyard, you can taste both white and red wines, each paired with a different chocolate. Winetasting takes place in the dappled sunlight beneath the tree canopy of this giant oak. If you want, get a picnic lunch to spread out on the spacious lawn. And the drive to the vineyard is itself gorgeous.
Langa Township in Cape Town
You’ll need a guide to visit the Langa Township, an impoverished section of Cape Town that arose spontaneously when new arrivals to the city could not find housing and instead built shacks out of scrap metal. Only undertake this visit if you are prepared to see desperate poverty, and make some connection with the people who live there beyond gawking. Our guide, arranged by the travel company Tribal Meetings, was a longterm resident of Langa Township and brought us to his own house. One of our group brought a Polaroid camera and gave kids we met photos of themselves to keep. For another visitor’s take on a township, see here.
Table Mountain is the flat-topped mountain that hovers over the city of Cape Town. You can climb to the top of Table Mountain, if you’re physically fit enough for a 4-hour steep vertical climb. Start near dawn to avoid the heat. We didn’t chance the climb and instead took the cable car, which is available unless the weather is windy. Whether it is worth the climb, you’ll want to go to the top to catch the great views from Table Mountain.
Robben Island Off the Coast of Cape Town
Before he was the South African President and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Nelson Mandela spent decades as a political prisoner of the apartheid government. Mandela spent most of those 27 years in a prison cell on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town. It is a physically beautiful setting you reach by motorboat.
Visiting the tiny cell where Nelson Mandela served years is an emotional experience. Being guided through the prison by a former political prisoner makes it all the more moving. As the former prisoner guided us through the grounds of the former prison, now a museum, he told us that apartheid prison authorities had cut up his personal letters, ripped out his fingernails and teeth, denied visits from family, and required meaningless backbreaking work at a lime quarry where bright white rock blinded the prisoners’ eyes. It was gut-wrenching experience I am glad I got to share with my teenaged son. My son asked him whether it was painful to be in the prison and speak about his experience. He said, “I have to do this.” Touring Robben Island prison is a harrowing, educational experience that is not for everyone.
Memorial to Cecil Rhodes
Perched at the top of a hill overlooking Cape Town is a formal monument to Cecil Rhodes, a controversial figure in South African history. It has a giant staircase lined by enormous statues of lions, worth visiting for the panoramic view of Cape Town below.
Camps Bay Beach
For a relaxing day on the beach, visit Camps Bay Beach in Cape Town. Camps Bay lets you enjoy views of sea and mountains, with your choice of plenty of upscale restaurants for gourmet food. Or just an ice cream. We visited in March, when the bright hot sun heated the beach to about 80, but there was no going into the chilly water above the ankles. Not for me anyway, though my teenaged son swam, at least for two minutes.
Strong Dollar, Great Food
Cape Town has a lot of funky, fun cafes and restaurants. With the favorable exchange rate against, South Africa is about 30% cheaper in 2016 than in 2015. Vegetables in Cape Town taste like they’re straight from a farmer’s market and eating at cafes and fancy restaurants is surprisingly cheap for Americans. Here’s an example: a huge goat cheese salad with pomegranates, pecans, and fresh arugula and basil was just $6. Delicious and cheap.
Do you hope to visit Cape Town one day, or have you visited? Tell us about it in the comments below.