Cape Town. (Nights 3-6)
Approximate driving distance: 7 hours
Location: Western Cape
Accommodation: The Backpack
Accommodation Review: This place has over 15 years under its belt. The staff is great and the rooms and facilities are kept very nice. It does have a backpacker’s vibe meaning it can get a little loud, but if you stay tucked into a corner of the hostel it really doesn’t matter. A private room will get you that; I think the dorms are a free for all.
Cape Town is a shock to the system after being in the middle of nowhere in Botswana. With its shiny buildings and 1st world infrastructure, you feel right at home, except you’re not. This place is very dangerous at night and the staff at the Backpack told us to never walk in the dark. Always take a taxi or travel in large numbers for safety. Now being in the big city and being hindered by crime kind of puts a damper on things, but it’s better to stay safe than put yourself out there.
Now that that’s out of the way let’s talk about what to do.
Table Mountain, as it looms, above you, is an obvious. We unfortunately missed our opportunity to hike up it as ‘the blanket’ as they call it was in full effect almost everyday we were there. There are a few ways to the top with the most popular being Platteklip Gorge. Even though it’s the most popular route, it isn’t the easiest and with a steep ascent it can give you a run for your money. Definitely bring some hiking shoes for Cape Town. Another option is hiking Lion’s Head which is supposed to be a better view from the top. If you’re feeling super adventurous you can hike the multi-day Hoerikwaggo Trail which would be a great way to see the coast. You’d definitely have to plan ahead for that, though.
Playing with the African Penguins at Boulder Beach is a must. It is very touristy so I invite you to ditch the tourist boardwalks and go find your own penguins. We found them under the stairs leading to the beach and if you go bouldering around Boulder’s beach you can get an up close view of their tuxedos.
On your way to see the penguins you can detour into a few towns depending on which way you go. You can either go the way of Hout Bay (M6) or shoot across to the eastern side of the peninsula (M4) and check out Muizenberg for its swimming beach, or Kalk Bay for some shopping and some lunch. We had some fish n chips at Lucky Fish in the harbor at Kalk Bay and were able to catch the tail end of some fishermen selling their day’s catch followed by a lot of fish chucking into the beds of pick up trucks. It was pretty cool to watch. We were there are 1:30 in the afternoon so maybe plan on a later lunch if you want to catch some action.
Finding a good place for sundowners is a thing here. Find a place to watch the sunset and grab a drink. We went to Camps Bay on the Western side of the peninsula. While it was a nice place to watch the sunset, I’d recommend paragliding from the top of Lion’s Head while the sun goes down. I don’t think anything can beat that. While paragliding requires very specific weather conditions, it’s recommended to contact a paragliding company the first day you’re in Cape Town so you for sure get a chance fly.
Another thing I really wish we could have done but did not have enough time to do was a Township Tour. During apartheid black people were evicted from their land that was designated as white-only and forced to designated non-white areas. Because apartheid ended only in 1994, these areas are still quite underdeveloped. Township tours are a safe way to explore the other side of the tracks to understand more about the history of South Africa and about the culture of the people who still live in the townships. There are several tour companies to go through but from my research it’s best to go with a tour where the tour guides are people who grew up in the townships. If you miss it in Cape Town there is also a township tour in Knysna. As a substitute for the tour I picked up the book, Khayelitsha, by Steven Otter to learn more about life in the townships. An easy read for anyone interested.
If you want to do the complete opposite head to the V & A Waterfront, a huge upscale shopping center in Cape Town’s harbor. Here you’ll find all your first world comforts. We stumbled upon the Market on the Wharf which is a high quality food market that looks/feels/tastes like it belongs in Chicago. Here you can pick up some lunch, a beer, some snacks, and even cooking utensils. Definitely a fun place to mosey around at the waterfront.
And, we’re out.