Capturing the essence of the mother city in 72 hours - Cape Town, South Africa
Welcome to part one of our four part Southern African series.
This is the first part, let's call it the cityscape.
Not a lot of cities make it to my list... but Cape Town has been on there for the longest time. I have always heard about how stunning it is. I am a big believer of going and seeing, rather than hearing things about a place (good and the bad). After spending three exciting days in Cape Town, I can now confirm that this city was worth the hype.
For one, it didn't feel like Africa, at least not like any city we had ever been to on the continent. It was like driving in Dubai.. or somewhere in Europe. Two, clean roads, fancy modern restaurants and less chaos + less people on the road. We were pleasantly surprised.
The pristine beaches, the jaw dropping coastal drives and the wildlife, the mother city had it all. It exceeded our every expectation.
Day wise itinerary:
Day 1: land, check in and explore Bo Kaap area
Day 2: Table Mountain hikes and cable car
Day 3: Boulder Penguin Beach, Cape of Good Hope, Chapman Peak Drive
At the time of writing this, there are no more COVID protocols in place. You maybe asked a vaccine certificate, but we weren't. Keep it on hand anyway.
Flights, Visa and Immigration (if traveling with an Indian passport)
You will need to apply for a South African Visa. We applied for a multiple entry one, the process was as tedious as the ones for Europe but it was processed within 72 hours. Impressive.
Solo traveling in South Africa
This isn't the safest part of the world to travel solo or venture out on your own. Not because you are a lady but because of vandalism. If you are traveling solo, avoid driving at night, use common sense, join group tours.
Best time to visit
I specifically chose winter to avoid crowds and it was just great timing. There was hardly any crowd even at the most popular locations.
Language and People
English is widely spoken. as is the case in many parts of Africa, which has always impressed me.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is highly recommended - we have our own, but if you are looking for one try World Nomad. Carry local currency for small purchases and tipping.
Renting a car
This is an absolute must if you want to experience the city in all it's glory. We went with Hertz. I had booked it online ahead of time - you can pick it up right outside the airport. It was very reasonably priced at around $120 for three days with insurance.
How expensive is South Africa?
We were pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive it was. From food to gas to hotels, most of the things are cheap. You can expect to spend less than $100 for your daily food + stay. Keep in mind though that the activities inside Table Mountain National Park are a little on the higher side, ranging from $30-$50 per person.
How long to spend in Cape Town?
There is no shortage of things to do here. You can spend a month and will still have places to go to. An absolute minimum would be 4-5 days if you are only doing Cape Town highlights.
We had no issue for vegetarian food. The food was actually also of excellent quality with a lot of known British brands everywhere.
Where we stayed
For this short leg, we stayed at the highly rated and recommended Cape Heritage Hotel. The room was a little on the smaller side but good enough for 3 nights.
We loved the breakfast spread too. Freshly made grilled cheese, coffee, fruits and juice. Just a shirt 20 minute drive from the airport. Most popular locations are also just a 15 minute drive from here. There are also plenty of fantastic restaurants just below the hotel. So good after a long day out.
We checked-in to our hotel by mid day, after freshening up, we wanted to spend some time at the resort. A lot of great corners with artsy elements throughout this property. So great for the art-lovers out there.
After a sound afternoon nap, we went out to explore the insta-famous Bo Kapp area was only a 15 minutes walk from our neighborhood. Located on the foothill of the signal hill, we were welcomed by bright neon-colored houses with cobblestone streets.
The Bo Kapp area is said to be one of the oldest areas in the region, dating back to 1760. Now of course, it is known for it's bright colored houses.
No trip to the Mother city is complete without a trip to it's most iconic calling card - Table Mountain. It was an overcast windy day but the timing couldn’t have been better. We had all the hike trails to ourselves and by sunset, it got so much better.
Did you know that the Table Mountain is actually one of the seven new wonders of the world?
I always knew parts of Cape Town will be picturesque but nothing could have prepared for us how visually striking it would be. The best way to experience the city, is to go here the first chance you get. How much time you want to spend here depends on the experience you want to have. You can keep it simple and take the cable car both ways OR if you are more adventurous, do what we did, and also do a hike.
After a hearty breakfast, we started our day early. There are multiple trails all along the park. You can park and walk to any of them - they are free. Some are longer than the others, plan accordingly. Since the fog started to roll in, we took our time hiking up.
We decided to hike through a tough one while we still had the energy.. it was a good 3 hour hike. Through the trail, we could see the lion's head peak. The whole scenery with the coast to one side and mountains on the other was arresting.
We packed a mini-picnic of juice and granola bars.. we decided to take the cable car but since it was so cold, we were the only ones on the trail. One of the coolest things to experience when on the cable car is seeing the massive boulders up close. The perspective will make you giddy, but in a good way.
You can take different trails and walk for as long as you need to. By mid-afternoon there was no one anywhere. What could be more ideal?
We stayed until sunset, and were treated to an absolute beaut of a sky;
My top tips for visiting Table Mountain in Cape Town:
- if you want to do the cable car, buy your tickets online to skip the long lines.
- check the weather; you cannot always hike if the weather isn’t favorable!
- the best option would be to hike up and take the cable car down.
- if you are looking to spend a whole day here like us, plan to do one big hike plus the cable car both ways!
- pack a light picnic from your hotel to eat on top with view like this!
After a long second day, we started our day a little later than usual. Our first stop for the day was the colorful Muizenburg beach. The beach was so packed with surfers and families alike. The vibe was uber-cool.
Top food tip: if looking for great veggie food, cross the road for bomb falafel sandwich and hot chocolate for $5. FINGER LICKIN' good.
Our next stop was the one I was most excited for. Visiting Boulder Beach in Cape town should be on top of any animal lovers list when visiting South Africa. We did as a part of our road trip along the Cape Peninsula.
I will be the first to admit that there are only two reasons I went to South Africa. One, it was the connection for Lesotho and two, for these penguins.
It was quite fascinating to watch them all over again but this time it was on sandy beaches instead of massive glaciers. Still an enthralling experience? Oh hell yeah. Animals over everything else any day. There are two ways to visit the beach - paid or free. If you visit the paid boulder beach park, there is a boardwalk where you can still get a very close view and watch them for hours.. this is the safest way for humans and the animals. Cost is R152 per adult.
These penguins are similar in character to the ones we saw in Antarctica BUT these guys are called Jackass penguins and can only be found in this part of Africa all the way until Namibia.
I don't need to explain very much about what it feels like when you watch penguins in the wild.. you just have to experience it.
Now for the second way while paying will give you access to a whole lot of penguins.. just on the other side there is a FREE beach you can visit.. but you would need to be very patient (and hope to get lucky) to watch the penguins there. We did both, of course. If you happen to visit the beach, DO NOT touch the animals or attempt to get close to them. Visit early morning or mid-afternoon to catch the penguins at their playful best.
Last stop.... we continued our road trip and drove further down to the Cape of good hope, yet another iconic location in Cape Town. This place is located on the tip of the Cape Peninsula.
Fun fact: the Cape of Good Hope was initially called the Cape of Storms & was thought to be the southernmost point of Africa, when in fact that title goes to Cape Agulhas, 150km to the East. It was a mind blowing drive with the most magical views on every turn (no filters on any of these shots!), we also saw ostrich on the way.
Just be prepared for strong winds. You have to add this one to your Cape Town road trip itinerary.
P.S. there is an entrance fee, worth every penny!
Our road trip in Cape Town was filled with breathtaking moments but none more so than this awe-inspiring drive up in Chapman peak drive on our last evening. It is said to be one the most spectacular yet dangerous drives anywhere in the world. Fall or winter is also the best time, which is why we went here.
The sky turned a brilliant ombré with earthy hues as far as the eyes could see. So rent a car and take that road trip along Chapman Peak drive. The 9km road with 114 bends surrounded by the mountains and ocean on either side will leave you spellbound. Don't miss this one. A fitting finale to an incredible part one.
Like I said earlier, it is so unfortunate that this place often gets a bad rep. I can understand why but in all honesty, it wasn’t nearly as scary as few other places we have been to over the years.
It is possibly one of the most breathtaking cities we have ever been to. There are so many amazing things to do here for every kind of traveler. There is a lot to do here so my goal, as always was to prioritize things unique to this place - we did all of that and it was just perfect without being too rushed.
My top tips for traveling to Cape Town:
- start at Table Mountain, you will understand why Cape Town is known to be so stunning!
- renting a car is the best way to experience this city but if you plan to go solo or don’t drive, day trips are easily available as well!
- always get theft protection for the car!
- get a local MTN sim for emergencies!
- if traveling in the Fall or winter, it gets COLD. Pack layers!
- try the delicious Malva (bread) pudding
- start your day early and aim to be back to base by 6 p.m. or dark
- carry less cash while stepping out.
Follow these tips when you head there, I guarantee you will fall head over heels in love with this spectacular insanely gorgeous city. I know I did!
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