Known as the most European city in South Africa, Cape Town is a magical melagne of art, history, culture, and striking topography
Many talk about quitting the city life for the beauty and tranquility of the mountains, but very few end up taking the plunge. With a paradise like Cape Town in existence, you may want to change your plans. When you visit the city, you come to the realisation that you can savour the best of both worlds without having to give up on either. Yes, Cape Town is a jewel in South Africa’s crown that’s endlessly fascinating. While its beaches and mountains burst with flora and fauna, the harbour and streets are buzzing with contemporary coffee joints and nightlife destinations. This is where age-old architecture blends seamlessly with minimalist avant-garde designs.
Jaw-dropping scenery, immaculate beaches, delicious food, untouched wildlife, rich history, diverse culture, gorgeous hiking trails, world-class wine – Cape Town has it all and a lot more.
And in spite of this, life seems to move at a slightly slower pace in the Cape. You see the locals enjoying the city’s laid-back vibe, and you want to go with the flow. To sum it up, Captonians live a life that most individuals envy. There is little reason to wonder if you are already plotting your return to Cape Town even before you’ve left.
GET AROUND THE TABLE
Cape Town, often referred to as Mother City, is set against the backdrop of the iconic Table Mountain plateau and sapphire Table Bay. At about 3,500 feet above sea level and around 360 million years old, Table Mountain offers spectacular vistas of the city below, Robben Island and the Peninsula.
Apart from being a pretty picture, it is also home to exotic wildlife and vegetation. Look out for rock hyrax, lizards, butterflies, mongoose, tortoise, porcupine, eagles and sunbirds flying around patches of fynbos, the Cape’s indigenous flora. Take the rotating, state-of-the-art cable car up the flat-topped mountain or hike up for some exercise. There are a number of routes to reach the mountain, with the shortest trail taking about two hours to climb from the cableway station. Locals often opt for Platteklip Gorge – a rigorous scramble to the table top. The route offers incredible views of Camps Bay, but can take as much as four hours! Whether you’re welcomed with a blanket of moody clouds or crisp, clear blue sky, you’re sure to be dazzled by the natural beauty here.
If you have some spare time, grab a cup of coffee from the mountain cafe and spend some quiet time soaking up the views from a secluded corner.
On other side of Table Bay are the small beaches of Sea Point, ideal for private sun tanning sessions. Travel a little further and you come across the famous four beaches of Clifton, renowned for being the most sheltered from the wind in summer. This is the millionaire’s mile and the most expensive suburb in Cape Town, a far cry from the original wooden bungalows built here for soldiers who were returning after the World War. A hop, skip and jump away is Camps Bay, a vast stretch of soft sand, excellent for sunbathing. Rent lounge chairs and umbrellas by the hour or for the whole day, indulge in a scoop of ice-cream, play a game of volleyball or frisbee with the locals. Post sunset, head across the road to one of the trendy bars for a cocktail and seafood dinner. Being on the atlantic side, the temperature of the water is around 12 to 16 degrees Celsius; only the the brave can attempt a swim here.
TOUR THE CITY IN A VINTAGE SIDECAR
With its rolling hills and breathtaking landscapes, the city and its surrounds are heaven for a biker.
If you don’t wish to ride a bike yourself, discover the secrets of the city from the comfort of a chauffered motorbike sidecar. What’s interesting is the fact that these sidecars are decommissioned military bikes originally used by the Peoples Liberation Army of China between the early 1950’s and mid-1970’s. They are known as CJ750s and are based on the old German BMW R71 used extensively during World War II. While the temperate climate makes the ride pleasant, all the retro biking gear provided with the sidecars add a dose of fun. Yes, you get to sport dapper leather jackets, biker helmets, sunglasses and bandana for a true-blue biking experience. You can choose among a variety of routes, depending on the duration of the ride. The beginning of Chapman’s Peak drive – the Hout Bay – is one of the most scenic routes. The winding road deposits you in Noordhoek which has a wide expanse of white sand bordering the wetlands.
The coastline becomes more rugged as you move towards Cape Pointwhere two oceans meet – witness the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the warmer Indian Ocean waters on the east splash together. If you’re a nature enthusiast looking for tranquility without moving away from other amenities, Cape Point’s villages of Scarborough, Kommetjie and Misty Cliffs are your haven.
On weekends, artisans and vendors from around the city gather at the Bay Harbour Market in Hout Bay. At this buzzing place, you can find everything art and jewellery to fish, mojitos and live bands. The market is open on Friday evenings, as well as Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 am to 4 pm.
A RIOT OF COLOURS AT BO KAAP
Perhaps, the most striking of Cape Town’s neighborhoods, Bo Kaap is belt of rainbow-bright houses at the foot of Signal Hill. Bright green, baby pink, butter yellow, lavender, fuchsia, black – you can find a facade in every possible colour here, and it instantly uplifts your mood. You can never have a dull day in Bo Kaap, literally. While you may enjoy photographing its lively one and two storey homes, dainty coffee shops and steep, cobblestone streets, this colourful area is much more than just a photo opp.
Wander around on your own or take a guided tour to delve deeper into the history, culture, traditions and architecture of Bo Kaap. Don’t be surprised to hear the adhan (the Islamic call to prayer) from the minaret of one of the seven mosques in this district. The stretch has long been home to Cape Town’s Muslim community, the Cape Malays. Though, in recent years, many young professionals and gay couples looking for affordable homes have been moving into this close-knit enclave. While most of its residents now speak English instead of their distinctive version of Afrikaans, you’re still likely to be greeted with “assalaamu alaykum”. A must visit is the Bo-Kaap Museum, where you can see age-old, handwritten Qurans, traditional costumes, ceramics and more. The former home of Abu Bakr Effendi, the museum also houses photographs of Cape Town in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Bo-Kaap’s multifaceted heritage is reflected in its food and festivals. When here, be sure to pop in at Biesmiellah, a family-run joint that dishes out everything from traditional bobotie and denningvleis (lamb stew cooked in tamarind) to samoosas, falooda and fresh koeksisters (coconut-dusted doughnuts infused with cardamom and cinnamon).
To enjoy tremendous views of the city along with authentic Cape Malay cuisine, head to Bo Kaap Kombuis. Their recipes are a heady mix of spices and date back centuries.
Even better, you can visit one of the vibrant homes for a cooking lesson. Learn to make fragrantly aromatic curries and rotis before indulging in a sit-down meal with the family.
TIP: The Cape Malay Food Market offers tasty halal snacks, meals and spice mixes to bring back home and try in your kitchen.
THE HISTORY BEHIND BO KAAP’S TECHNICOLOUR HOMES
After the end of forced racial segregation under apartheid, Bo-Kaapers managed to buy their own homes from the city council. As per the locals, painting them in bright colours became an expression of long-subdued individualism and a celebration of new-found freedom and identity. Also, since the owners had to maintain their houses on a budget, they would often pick the cheapest paint. Muslim people in Bo-Kaap painted their houses in preparation for Eid, and the neighbours would come together to decide on what colour each one would use so as to avoid to a clash of shades.
Tip: Make sure to bring along a camera. After all, it’s one of the most photogenic spots in Cape Town.
MUST-DO IN CAPE TOWN
> TRY YOUR HAND AT DJEMBE DRUMMING
Embrace the rhythm of South Africa with a night of Djembe drumming followed by a 14-course, authentic Cape Malay and South Afrcian feast. According to the Bamana people in Mali, the word Djembe comes from the saying “Anke dje, anke be” which means “everyone gather together”. And that’s exactly what you do at Gold Restaurant at 15 Bennett Street. No, it isn’t another tourist trap.
You’re in for a big party as you master the art of playing African drums while being surrounded by stunning African artifacts and contemporary artwork. Learn the basics, such as how to cup your hands, and play a rhythm. The elaborate menu draws inspiration from varied parts of South Africa.
From hot and spicy meat dishes to organic and healthy vegetarian items, there’s something for every kind of foodie. Try the Zanzibar soup, Cape Malay spicy lamb, ostrich samoosas, Zambian sweet potatoes, Moroccan grilled vegetable cous cous and more. And the celebration doesn’t end here. Tall Mali puppets in flowing robes dance gracefully between tables as you gorge on the sumptuous food.
VISIT GREENMARKET SQUARE – A HUB FOR AFRICAN ARTISTS
Located in the heart of Cape Town, Greenmarket Square is a place where you can happily spend a couple of hours browsing through the open-air market before walking towards the city centre. The cobble-stoned flea market has a vivid history. At different times, it has served as a slave market, a fruit and vegetable market, a trading area for passing ships and even a parking lot. Today, it depicts the cosmopolitan nature and vibrancy of Africa in various ways. Looking for some souvenirs to remind you of your African adventure?
Pick from a wide range of fabrics, cushion covers, wooden masks, sculptures, beaded accessories, batiks, zulu paintings and eccentric items – all made by artists from different corners of the African continent. All you need to know is the skill of haggling.
Don’t want to spend your precious time shopping? Grab a table at one of the nearby coffee shops or mingle with the friendly vendors and know more about their way of living. Or be entertained by buskers, drummers, jugglers and mime artists who perform at the square and enliven the atmosphere.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
HOW TO GET THERE
The easiest and best way to reach Cape Town is by flight. The Cape Town International Airport is served well by domestic as well as international flights. It is well connected to Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein and all major South African destinations.
The MyCiti bus network connects wide stretches of Cape Town. It is a convenient and cost effective way of getting around while soaking in the vistas. Check for offers on weakly and monthly passes depending on the duration of your stay. Uber cabs can be your other reliable and economical means of transportation.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
February is the hottest month in Cape Town and July is the coolest. But when in Cape Town, beware of torrential winter rains and quick weather changes. Prices skyrocket around Christmas and New Year’s eve. If you’re looking for affordable hotel rates and flight tickets, plan your trip during the winter months of June to August.
The unit of currency in South Africa is the Rand. 1 South African rand equals 4.96 Indian rupees.