Have you ever researched things to do before visiting a new place, only to find out that there really isn’t all that much to see? Okay, now imagine the polar opposite of that.
Cape Town is incredible.
The word “literally” is overused, but you could live in Cape Town for 10 years and literally never run out of new things to do and places to see. The day I arrived, I was completely overwhelmed and knew immediately I wouldn’t be able to do everything in one short month.
That didn’t mean I couldn’t try!
Over the course of three weeks on my own and one week with my family (visiting from the US), I checked off many of the stereotypical tourist activities that attract travelers from all over the world to this beautiful city. Here are some highlights (in no particular order):
Okay, this is probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. While my family was visiting, we got in touch with Parapax Paragliding and booked 6 spots. I was determined to fit this in and see Cape Town from above, and I’m so glad we did.
The weather was not ideal on the first day we had booked, so we rescheduled and ended up with super clear skies for our flights. We met the Parapax team at the top of Signal Hill (where the view was already gorgeous), and they got all our paperwork and set-up done in under five minutes. They even took a good read of our family dynamic, quickly realizing that my stepmom was very nervous — so they had her go first.
This was tandem paragliding, so we were each paired up with a pilot who got all of our gear ready to go, told us to run, and boom — we were flying!
I was absolutely amazed at how not scary this was. The whole experience is very smooth and relaxing, so you just sit back and enjoy the views (and get some cool GoPro pictures) while your pilot does all the work.
At the end, the pilots usually simulate a rollercoaster (if you want them to), aka lots of turns/ flips/ adrenaline right before the (surprisingly simple) landing.
Paragliding is one of the only things my family has ever done where everyone absolutely loved it — from my parents down to my youngest brother. If you are ever in CT and want to try it out, Parapax is the way to go.
If you’ve ever looked up pictures of Cape Town, you have no doubt seen the views from the top of Lion’s Head. It is easily my favorite spot in the city, and at sunset it left me absolutely speechless — and that doesn’t happen often!
Hiking Lions Head at sunset tends to be pretty safe because there are so many people that do it, so even though the hike down ends up being mostly in the dark (bring a flashlight!) you’ll never really be alone. I went with my friend Steph (She blogs too! Check it out!), and after getting stuck in traffic we got up right as the sun was setting. I’d recommend going earlier if you can, and maybe even take food for a sunset picnic.
Even though Table Mountain is far higher, there is just something about Lion’s Head’s placement that makes it the best view in the city. You can stand in one spot on the top and see some of the most famous CT bays, Table Mountain, the Twelve Apostles, the city bowl, and more. Sunset (or sunrise) just makes it all the more beautiful.
Snorkeling with seals
I have mixed reviews on this one, not because of the seals (which are adorable) but because my personal experience was… less than ideal. Do you get seasick easily? No? Great! You’ll be absolutely fine. Unfortunately I do, and the Hout Bay wind was creating some crazy waves the day we went so I was not feeling so hot. For the first half of the trip, though, you better believe my face did not leave the water.
Those seals were AWESOME.
The best way I can describe it is that they’re just playful. They have huge eyes and they’re not afraid to swim close to you. They were even cute enough to make me forget how freezing I was in the ice cold Atlantic Ocean.
The Bo Kaap
Have you ever seen photos of the neighborhood in Cape Town that looks like the inside of a Skittles bag? That’s the Bo Kaap! Also known as the Malay Quarter, the Bo Kaap was subject to the Group Areas Act of 1950 during Apartheid, and was declared a Muslims-only area in the mid-twentieth century. This was a very unique case because, during this time, most working class (and non-white) people in South Africa were being moved away from the cities.
The Bo Kaap now attracts people from all over for the history, culture, and aesthetics — I mean, look at those houses. As cute as can be.
If you ask a few locals why the houses are painted different colors, you’ll probably get a variety of answers:
Some say they used to indicate the profession of the person who lived there.
Some say the government painted them to keep track of people.
Some say it doesn’t mean anything, and stop asking so many questions you annoying tourist.
Whatever the reason, Bo Kaap is full of history and great spots for the photographer in you. I recommend taking the free walking tour of Bo Kaap, and stopping for a coffee or juice afterward at the trendy Harvest Cafe.
I don’t know about you, but penguins and Africa don’t seem to be the most obvious combination — well, they’re here!
Just 45 minutes from the CT city center, Boulders Beach sits at the edge of Simon’s Town, and it’s the only place in the world where you can get close to African Penguins. They’re cute, they’re fluffy, and they’re ready to pose. Note: I would not recommend setting your baby down right next to a penguin, as we saw one woman do. They are wild animals. They bite when they’re pissed. Don’t be dumb.
Now, apparently there is a conservation fee of R65 to visit Boulders Beach, so I think my family and I actually visited a smaller beach a little further down the coast — but it was free and there were penguins, so who cares?
Stellenbosch wine tasting
One of my favorite days during my month in CT was actually spent an hour north of the city, in the wine region of Stellenbosch. This was the number one thing recommended to me by friends who had visited before, and it’s easy to see why.
Steph and I chose to forego a formal tour, and instead created our own using Uber to get between wineries. We were able to visit three over the course of one day, and the scenery at each was unbelievable:
Someday, I will go back to Stellenbosch and give it the time it deserves. I’m thinking three months should suffice?
While my family was visiting, it was very important to both my stepmom (who studied abroad in Côte d’Ivoire) and I that my little brothers get a true taste of Africa, specifically an impoverished area that could give them some perspective. (Cape Town, at least within the city itself, feels very developed — almost European.)
On our last day, we took a tour through the township of Langa, one of the smallest townships in South Africa. It was very meaningful for all of us, and I was proud of my younger brothers for how they handled themselves. Afterward, we sat down to lunch to talk about what we had seen, and it was very clear that this had a lasting impact on them. As always, there is so much to be thankful for.
One thing I noticed in the township that reminded me a lot of Tanzania was how happy people were. Even though many of the residents we met had almost nothing, they were making a life for themselves and finding happiness in each day. We can all learn something from that.
Recently named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, Table Mountain offers two ways to get to the top: the lazy way and the hard way. Okay, just kidding, but apparently the hike is very difficult — it’s on my bucket list for the next time I’m in CT.
The lazy way, aka the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, offers panoramic views the entire way up. There are two cars running at any given time, and each one holds 65 people, so they rotate to give everyone a chance to see every angle.
Once you’re at the top, you can spend as long as you want exploring the many paths and viewpoints (as long as you leave before the last car of the night). There’s even a restaurant and bar at the top if you want to enjoy some brews with your views!
Things I learned on Table Mountain:
- You’re never too old to enjoy climbing on stuff.
- Parents still get scared when you stand on cliffs, even if you’re 23 years old.
- Just because someone has a camera of their own doesn’t mean they’re going to take a good family picture for you.
Bays and Beaches
As you may have guessed, there are beaches everywhere in Cape Town.
Some of my favorite places in the Mother City are the countless bays side-by-side, as opposed to one long continuous beach running along the coast. One of the most famous, Camps Bay, was where I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life.
There are many opinions on which CT beach is the best, but honestly you can’t go wrong. They’re all gorgeous. Can I go back yet?
Cape Town (and South Africa in general) has been at the top of my to-do list since I studied Nelson Mandela for a 5th grade report. My biggest disappointment of my time there was that I didn’t get to see Robben Island — where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his total 27 years behind bars. My family and I had tickets booked twice and our tour was canceled both times due to issues with the ferry.
Just one more reason to go back!
The Mother City truly has something for everyone: hikes and adventure sports, amazing food and great cafe culture, endless beaches, and a perfect blend of people from all over the world.
I don’t often feel an intense desire to visit places more than once, but with this one I need to return. See ya someday, CT.