Cape Town, or the Mother City, is South Africa’s oldest and arguably most stunning city. It lies in a basin at the southern tip of Africa, surrounded by dramatic mountains that rise regally from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean with the legendary Table Mountain standing at its center. This cosmopolitan city has earned the honor of South Africa’s number one tourist destination, and for good reason. The city’s unrivaled beauty, temperate climate, stunning sunsets and historical significance offer something for everyone and ensures that no one leaves disappointed.
Table Mountain, the center of Cape Town’s city’s scenic landscape, is the most photographed and visited tourist sight in Cape Town. This majestic mountain, long believed to be a powerful world energy center, lies at the foot of The Cape Peninsula’s mountain range which comprises Table Mountain National Park. The Park itself is a scenic drive down Cape Town’s stunning coastline. After taking a cable car to the top of Table Mountain for a 720 degree view of Cape Town and the peninsula, head south, to explore some of the city’s most famous and beautiful attractions en route to Cape Point, home of the Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern most point of the African continent.
The coastal drive is a treat for the senses. After rounding Hout Bay, with its magnificent cliff roads built into the mountain with plunging seas below, you will encounter Boulder Island, home to the African penguin colony. Spend time watching the penguins frolic with their human onlookers, and don’t miss the photo ops as the penguins seem to pose for the camera. Back on the road, keep a look out for ostriches, zebras and chacma baboons which populate the landscape and make for spectacular game viewing without leaving your automobile. Once you arrive at Cape Point, take the cable car or walk up to the lighthouse for spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. On the drive back, stop into the Twelve Apostle’s Hotel and catch the spectacular sunset from their Leopard Bar.
Cape Town’s 3,500,000 inhabitants are a varied lot. Marked by Dutch, British and Malaysian influences, this city is a multicultural melting pot. Not far from Table Mountain you will find Bo-Kaap, home to many of the Cape Muslim population (or Cape Malay as they are sometimes referred) who are chiefly descendants of African, Indian and Malaysian slaves. This neighborhood, buttressed by Signal Hill, is a unique and vibrant area identified by its colorful houses dating back to the 1700s and home to many of the city’s mosques, including Auwal Mosque, Africa’s oldest mosque built in 1794. As you wander through the neighborhood, stop and sample traditional Cape Muslim cuisine, which has heavily influenced traditional South African fare. As an added treat, arrange a driving tour of the Cape Town and Cape Peninsula with Escape to the Cape and ask Shaheed, the owner, to arrange a private cooking class at the home of Latiefa Larney, a celebrated long time Bo-Kaap resident whose cuisine and dinners are legendary.
V&A WATERFRONT, ROBBEN ISLAND
The next morning, head down to V&A Waterfront and take a 30 minute ferry ride across the Atlantic to Robben Island, the political prison that housed Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years. When you first land on Robben Island, you are sheparded to waiting buses and taken on a tour of the island’s famous landmarks. After the bus tour, you are greeted by a former inmate and embark on a guided walk to Nelson Mandela’s former cellblock by way of a tour of Mandela’s garden. It was here, in this small strip of flora amidst concrete, that Mandela secretly stashed his manuscript, “A Long Walk To Freedom”, penned during his imprisonment.
Upon your return from Robben Island, quickly explore the V&A Waterfront and its touristy shops, then head north, about an hour’s drive outside of Cape Town to the Winelands. Here, in Stellenbach, the first town established on the Cape’s wine route, you will find an abundance of wineries and vineyards nestled in the valley, complimented by Dutch architecture. Don’t miss Tokara (www.tokara.com), a winery as renowned for its famous art collection as it is for its sumptuous wines. Have lunch at Tokara’s restaurant, surrounded by magnificent views of their vineyards. Indulge in a uniquely South African lunch of King Klip, a meaty white fish indigenous to South African waters, and sip a glass of Pinotage, a wine produced only in South Africa.
There are many specialty tours in Cape Town that cater to the interest of every traveler. Choose from jazz tours, which visit famous jazz clubs for the jazz lover, to township tours for those who want to get up close with Cape Town’s historical segregated shanty towns and their residents. If your visit is on a Sunday, you can arrange a Gospel Tour, which includes a church service in the township and lunch at a local restaurant. If shopping is on your agenda, head to Canal Walk ( www.canalwalk.co.za/home.html), a mall comprised of local and international chain stores and an Afri-Bazaar, featuring clothing and crafts from local vendors. For nightlife, don’t miss Long Street, in Cape Town’s downtown area, for bustling clubs, pubs and pop in to browse at some of Long Street’s local art galleries.
As a testament to Cape Town’s popularity, the number of visitors has steadily increased over the last few years, yet Cape Town effortlessly retains its quiet charm and sophistication. The added bonus of the strong dollar to rand exchange rate and fewer crowds in their fall season, means Cape Town should be on everybody’s bucket list this summer.
How to get there: South African Airways offers daily non-stop flights from New York’s JFK and Washington, Dulles airports to Johannesburg. Cape Town is a 90 minute flight from Johannesburg.
Where to stay: The Twelve Apostles Hotel
Tour operators: Escape to the Cape
Lisa Bonner is an entertainment lawyer with offices in New York City. Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisabonner