A friend who regularly spends time in Cape Town has nothing but good things to say about the city. His take is that it’s like a city in Europe except in Africa. This equally confounded and intrigued us and we swore to go there one day. That day has yet to come but we can still dream a little, so some research was in order. We wanted to discover what our friend had about Cape Town…
The reason Cape Town reminds our friend so much of Europe is partly down to its architecture and design, old and new that permeates the city. The very first settlement in the area came courtesy of the Dutch East India Company who founded an outpost there in 1652. From that point on, Dutch and French Huguenot settlers arrived in the area and put their stamp on this beautiful, wild place.
Presently descendants of those European populations and the enduring legacy of the East Dutch Company’s commercial practices including its effect on indigenous population, can be seen in in more than just Cape Town’s architecture. Its multiculturalism rooted in the past has created a mixed population of Afrikaners, European Jews, East Asians, and Xhosa.
Victors to the city remark on its lively laidbackness, as if the two can co-exist in one place and time, but like its inhabitants and geography, Cape Town is a unique mix of something wonderful. That is not to say there isn’t a humbling history of violence and repression, but its inhabitants seem to have thrown off the past, enjoy the present and commit to shaping a better future.
Really what is not to enjoy? There is a lot to do, see and experience in this city -starting with the inner city itself before venturing off into the surrounds.
For instance, the art scene in Cape Town is said to be burgeoning and along with galleries and museums devoted to local art there is one jewel in its crown. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa opened in 2017. The massive museum highlights contemporary African art and with over 100 galleries devoted to its subject, it is a leader in the continent’s artistic output.
There are other notable museums and such as the District Six Museum, a testimony to one neighborhood that vanished under apartheid. When visiting South Africa, it seems important to acknowledge the injustices done that have only been corrected within the last 50 years. A visit to this museum is a small way to do that.
One historical neighborhood still alive which harkens to the artistic tendencies of the city is Bo-Kaap. Once the home of Muslim slaves from South-East Asia its brightly painted houses and time-standing-still vibe make it a great place to spend an afternoon. Walking through the cobbled streets to find Auwal Mosque, South Africa’s first, snapping Instagram worthy photos and eating South East Asian cuisine are just some of the things you can get up to in Bo-Kaap.
In fact, if food is your thing Cape Town is will not disappoint. There are some distinct Cape Town dishes best found in a fast food joint or local cafe such as fish and chips and other more region fare. Along with more upscale restaurants that recreate the city’s street food to a high level. South Africans enjoy their barbeques so meat is a big thing. They even have biltong which the South African version of North America’s beef jerky. Game is a big thing too with a handful of restaurants devoted to its consumption. East Asian food is another big trend due to the Malay settlers and East Indian immigrants. Being by the sea means that seaside cafes and fine dining restaurants excel at preparing what its depths have to offer.
Of course, the landscape not only provides food, it also provides drink in the form of the well regarded South African wines produced in places such as Stellenbosch, Franschhoek or Paarl located less than an hour from Cape Town in the Cape Winelands. As is the case with most wine-making areas, tour operators offer tours of wineries which include samples of their wares.
Another place to enjoy a drink or two is on top Table Mountain. The 3,500 feet mountain is the backdrop of the city and many visitors chose to hike up it. There are a few different routes but the shortest starts at the cableway station and takers two hours. Thankfully, if you still want to reach the peak but are not interested in exerting yourself, the cableway will do the work for you. So you can still enjoys the views of Cape Town, the ocean, Robben Island and of course the sunset with bevvy in hand.
Speaking of Robben Island, like The District Six Museum, the former political prison on the island is now a museum where former inmates give tourists tours around the facility. Its most famous former inmate was of course, Nelson Mandela South Africa’s first black president and his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, was written within the walls of the prison. Tourists remark that it is a moving tour and special experience.
Outside the walls of the former prison is more of Cape Town’s wonderful sites and the southern suburbs of the city appear to be home to many of them. One notable place is Kirstenbosch Gardens. Just over 100 years ago a botanist named Harold Pearson started transforming the area into an indigenous botanic garden which now includes over 7000 species of southern African plants. This UNESCO World Heritage Site tucked up against Table Mountain is said to be one of the best botanical gardens in the world.
Another something special, south of Cape Town is Boulders Beach in Simon Town. The beach is a great place to swim and sunbathe, but that’s not really why folks visit it. The beach has some pretty incredible residents in the form of a colony of African penguins – thousands of them. For a reasonable entrance fee which goes towards conservation efforts, visitors have access to the entire beach and a huge photo op with these adorable creatures.
There is a lot to see in Cape Town but there is also a lot to do, including the aforementioned hiking. The surrounding area has many hiking trails for tourists who like some action in their holidays. From surfing at Muizenberg Beach which has some great reviews from avid surfers to paragliding off Lion’s Head mountain. Ballooning over the Winelands and even shark-cage diving off the southern Cape, extreme sport’s lovers will be in paradise.
From what we can tell Cape Town is an overall paradise. A place with a difficult past that strives to grow towards a better future. Meanwhile, its present looks pretty good and we cannot wait to visit it!