Cape Town, South Africa was the first independent trip of my adult life. Independent meaning making my own plans, spending my own money and taking charge of myself (yes, I had been freeloading on family trips).
I must admit that given my leisurely and unadventurous nature today, I might not have made the trip to Cape Town. But 15 years ago, I was much younger and so, I did not bat an eyelid when my friend suggested this exotic location halfway round the globe.
Of course, it helped that we had a contact in Cape Town to guide and drive us around. So happily, I went along with her adventure. And I did not regret it one bit. Let me show you why…
The mesmerising silhouette of Table Mountain captured from Robben Island.
Table Mountain, one of the “New Seven Wonders of Nature”
The number one must-see attraction in Cape Town is Table Mountain, a flat-topped ridge over 1,000 m high with steep cliffs and eroded gorges. Unique as it is already, it has a further wow factor with the “table cloth”. Yes, you read right. As its name suggests, it is a layer of cloud cover that drapes over the “table top”, just like the table cloth on your dinner table.
Even before ascending the summit of Table Mountain, the view from the base station was already worth the trip there.
But this spectacular sight also presents a problem. Because when you can see it from the bottom, it means the summit is likely closed. This happened to us on our first attempt to “scale” the mountain (via the cable car, of course). We only made it up there on our second try and only for a short while too before we were all shepherded back down due to strong winds. So, be sure to put this on your first-to-do list in case you need to make a return trip.
A bird’s eye view of Cape Town from the summit of Table Mountain.
Lots to see in the city too
Once we’ve gotten over the awe of Table Mountain, we visited other attractions in Cape Town, including the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, a central shopping area with food and beverage outlets and the awesome Two Oceans Aquarium.
There’s also the Castle of Good Hope, a fortress built by the Dutch between 1666 and 1679, and Robben Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Alcatraz of Cape Town, “home” to Nelson Mandela for nearly two decades.
The puffy cloud cover aka the “Table Cloth” serving as a backdrop to the Castle of Good Hope.
For some traditional African handicrafts and souvenirs, you’ll want to visit the Green Point Flea Market. This is one of the largest markets in Cape Town and springs up every Sunday in the car park outside Green Point Stadium.
If beachfront living is your thing, you’ll love Camps Bay, a vibrant beachfront lined with cafes and restaurants, 15 minutes’ drive from the city. But if you ask me, the real gems of Cape Town are found outside the city centre. Especially so for city folks like me.
Don’t skip the Cape of Good Hope for whatever reason
If you have only one precious day in Cape Town, be sure to drive out to the Cape of Good Hope (after you have tried your luck at Table Mountain, that is). Located in the Cape Peninsula, it is approximately 70 km south of Cape Town.
The road there is peppered with small towns and attractions, seemingly set up to whet your appetite for the main event. But you will soon realise that it is all part of the abundant wealth of nature that Cape Town has to offer.
The clear blue waters of Hout Bay.
The nature buffet started off in Hout Bay, where we boarded a boat to watch Cape fur seals bask in the sunlight on Duiker Island. Though captivating, the smell was overwhelming, to say the least.
Cape fur seals basking in the sun on Duiker Island.
Next, our eyes feasted on the spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean from Chapman’s Peak Drive, a scenic stretch of coastal road hugging the cliff edge of the Atlantic seaboard.
The spectacular view from Chapman’s Peak Drive.
Following that was lunch at the quaint seaside town of Simon’s Town and a quick stop at nearby Boulders Beach. Like the pebble beaches of Nice in France, one wonders where all the sand went and the rocks came from. Boulders Beach is one such wonder of the world (or maybe just “wonder of my world”).
Boulders Beach in the Cape Peninsula…
Apart from the large granite boulders millions of years old, the beach is also home to a colony of African Penguins, the only place in the world where you can get close to the adorable fellas. With our creature comforts satisfied, we headed into the Cape Peninsula for the main event.
And the adorable African penguins that call it home.
The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point are popular tourist spots, so be prepared for the crowds that inevitably come with it. Initially named “Cape of Storms” (no thanks to its casualty-ridden maritime history), it was later renamed the Cape of Good Hope for the potential opportunities that a new trade route round the cape offered. A strategically-placed sign announcing the location served as our first photo stop.
From the Cape of Good Hope, we then made our way to Cape Point, the tip of the Cape Peninsula, to see the lighthouses that provide a beacon of light to the many vessels that ply the seas off the South African coast. There, another strategically-placed sign completed our photo collection.
The old lighthouse at Cape Point, the tip of the Cape Peninsula.
There is a general misconception that Cape Point is the southern-most tip of Africa, probably because it is more well-known and easier to access. But really, that honour belongs to Cape Agulhas, which is approximately another 150 km southeast.
The old lighthouse (pictured above) is easily accessible by a ride up the funicular, named the Flying Dutchman. Or if you want to save some money, you could choose to walk up the steps like us. From there, if you follow the Lighthouse Keepers trail and walk 1.5 hours (gasp!), you will reach the new lighthouse. Needless to say, we did not attempt the trip there.
The gorgeous ocean view at Cape Point.
If time allows, you could also hike up the scenic walk for a different experience. Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope are part of the massive Table Mountain National Park and offer many activities such as hiking, surfing, bird-watching, fishing and an overnight trail.
Free guided walks are offered at Cape Point on selected Sunday mornings throughout the year. But if that sounds like too much of a workout, you could just hang around the shoreline and gawk at the scenery like we did.
With a newfound appreciation for Mother Nature, we bade farewell to the Cape of Good Hope as the sun set.
But this is not the end! Stay tuned for part 2 of my Cape Town adventures!