Cape Town is a city filled with contrasts. The weather can change from brilliant sunshine to storm clouds without warning. The rugged granite of Table Mountain is in stark contrast to the soft white beaches, and a stone’s throw away from the mansions that line the hillside are the slums of Mitchell’s Plain. Having recently played host to the FIFA World Cup, Cape Town has a smorgasbord of attractions to keep tourists entertained. However, there are a few not-to-be-missed sights that every visitor must see when visiting “The Mother City”.
Climbing Table Mountain is the number one attraction in Cape Town for many visitors. After all, what better bragging rights than climbing one of Africa’s most recognizable mountains? It sounds impressive, and indeed, it is an impressive mountain. However, actually getting from the bottom of the enormous granite base to the windswept top is another matter.
There are several trails to choose from, each with varying degrees of difficulty, steepness and length. The trails are narrow, rocky staircases that have been built into the side of the mountain. Bring plenty of water and a jacket. The weather can change very quickly up the mountain, and while it may be sunny at the bottom, mist and clouds often lurk higher up.
There is a camaraderie climbing Table Mountain that people will be hard pressed to find anywhere else. With a continuous stream of hikers passing each other, going up or down, the climb feels almost like a social gathering. Descending hikers offer encouraging words to those who are still heading towards the top.
While the hike up is an experience in itself, the spectacular view from the top is an even greater reward. The city of Cape Town lies far below, nestled between the mountains and the ocean.
After reaching the top, there is the inevitable dilemma of how to get back down. There are two options: take the cable car, or hike back down the way you just came up. While taking the cable car is an inviting prospect, try to summon your remaining energy and climb back down. The route in reverse provides a different experience than climbing up. It’s a much faster trip going back down, but no less strenuous.
Located at Devil’s Peak near the base of Table Mountain, The Rhodes Memorial boasts stunning views of the city below. Carved from granite, it pays homage to South African politician, Cecil John Rhodes. Lines from Rudyard Kipling’s famous 1902 poem “Burial” which was written for Rhodes, are etched into the stone:
The immense and brooding spirit still
Shall quicken and control.
Living he was the land, and dead,
His soul shall be her soul.
After taking in the scenery, the nearby Rhodes Memorial Restaurant is a great place for a slice of homemade cake and a cup of tea.
Boulders Beach is one of the few places in the world to see penguins in their natural habitat. The beach is home to a colony of African penguins that are given free run of the sands and surrounding vegetation. A wooden walkway down to the beach takes birdwatchers into the habitat of the penguins. Keep an eye out for stray penguins on the way out of Boulders as they sometimes like to sit in the shade underneath cars.
Victoria & Albert Waterfront
For Cape Town’s premier shopping experience, most people head to the V&A Waterfront . Featuring more than 450 retail shops, discriminating shoppers will find almost everything they need. And for those that would rather skip the shopping, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, ranging from fast food joints, to cafes, to 5-star eateries. There is even a movie theater to keep the kids entertained.
The shopping center is built on Cape Town’s harbor, so when the shopping is done, take a walk along the waterfront and watch fisherman haul in the day’s catch.
Located just 13km’s from the city of Cape Town, the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is worth a visit. The garden boast almost 90 acres of plant life native to South Africa, and is awash with color. Rolling green lawns and perfectly manicured flowerbeds are backed by the slopes of Table Mountain.
Kirstenbosch is also home to a wide variety of animal and bird-life. Blue-headed Guinea Fowls and dazzling Sunbirds are common sights. Small antelope, foxes, and the occasional porcupine roam the lawns at night, and a host of frogs reside in the ponds and streams that run through the garden.
If you have more than a few days in Cape Town, here are some other suggestions on what to see:
* Wine tasting in Stellenbosch
* Cheetah experience at Spier Winery
* Visit the Robben Island Museum