After spending one month in Cape Town, I wish I had more than one day to write about it. But, the date I finally got to sit down and write it was already 30th December, and I refuse to let this 2015 trip go undocumented into the new year. So, despite Cape Town deserving better, I will here mostly give a taster of what Cape Town has to offer.
Cape Town is striking. Few cities have a location like Cape Town, nestled in between the ocean and a mountain. Rio de Janeiro is the only other example I can think of, and the two have some similarities, like gorgeous weather in the ‘winter’ month of December. But, while Rio is all about the beaches, Cape Town is much more diverse, probably because the water is so cold that you can’t swim in it without a wetsuit.
I’ll cover the main attractions in their own sections, but I want to mention some general activities here.
Dining is a big part of Cape Town. There are lots of interesting restaurants, especially around the entertainment district of Waterkant. It is also affordable for most foreigners since the South African Rand has taken a beating in the last few years.
Gaming is a small but growing hobby in Cape Town. There is a small but dedicated community, and even a couple of board game cafes. Google your way to one of the café nights, and talk to people. Once you get invited to the WhatsApp, you know you’ve made it.
The gay night life is small but fun, with all the bars conveniently located in the same area. And South African men are sexy as hell, which helps! (Thanks btw to the bartender… you know who you are.)
Getting around in the city is done exclusively by car, and if you don’t have one, by Uber. Uber works amazingly well, and it is extremely cheap. But, you will need a phone with data. Your best option is to get a South African sim card, and from what I hear, as a tourist you can only get them from the airport.
Self-Imposed Racial Segregation
I thought that South Africa had an ugly and recent past of racial segregation in the form of the Apartheid years, but that the country had gone through a miraculous transformation since then and that those issues were mostly dealt with. I was naïve.
Sure, there is no legal discrimination in place today, if you don’t count the affirmative action laws that try to force some kind of racial balance in the work place etc. But the ‘White Only’ benches are long gone. Yet, it is extremely rare that you see mixed groups of people hanging out or eating together in restaurants. This distinction was never clearer than on a Saturday night by Camps Bay. On the beach-side of the beach road, there were only black kids, partying. On the other side, there were only white people, eating dinner. This was also where I was served the Cape Town Iced Tea pictured on the right, perhaps as a social commentary.
Speaking to locals, the racial topic was never far away. The whites pointed out the crime rates of the black community and the corrupt government, while the blacks… I don’t know. I never really spoke to any black people to be honest. There were none in the board game community or amongst the circle of friends I made there, and that is my whole point. The ghost of Apartheid and colonialism still hangs over Cape Town.
And before I get angry emails telling me I’m being unfair — yes, I know it takes time to change a society. Perhaps things are going in the right direction; I don’t really know. I’m not saying anything about the ‘why’, just the ‘what is’, or rather ‘what I saw’.
Table Mountain is ever-present in Cape Town, flanked on one side by Devil’s Peak and on the other by Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. A visit to the top is a must. Most people take the cable car to the top, but for those with time on their hands and good boots on their feet can walk up, or more likely down.
The flat top of Table Mountain is good for easy hiking, and offers spectacular views.
Cape Town is excellent for hiking. As a friendly cop told me, the mountains around the city are crisscrossed with hiking paths. (He also told me that where I was planning to hike was where he releases all the poisonous snakes he catches in the city, and then drove me to the Lion’s Head path.)
The very best of hiking I did was Lion’s Head, a two-hour hike up to the peak between the Signal Hill ridge and Table Mountain. The path climbs up and around the steep peak, and certain paths have to be climbed with ladders, chains and staples. Fun! (There are easier and longer paths, but the climb is fun!)
Since the path goes along the edge of this circular peak, your view is always changing, and always amazing. While the top of Table Mountain shows you the overview of the city, Lion’s Head is lower down and makes you feel connected to it. Well worth the effort! Probably my favourite thing in Cape Town.
During full moon, you can climb Lion’s Peak at night. I didn’t do this, but if you get the chance, do it!
Two Oceans Aquarium
The aquarium is a great place to see the local aquatic life. If you enjoy the beautiful, and often utter bizarre, world of the deep, the aquarium is a must. And, if you have a scuba license, you should definitely go diving in the shark tank. Seriously, you can go diving in the shark tank. No, there is no cage involved. Just you and the sharks.
Everything is made better by a mountain backdrop, including botanical gardens. Cape Town’s botanical garden is large, well laid out and beautiful. If you like nature, this is something you should check out. It offers easy access to the vast variety of plants local to the Cape.
One thing to look out for is the snake-like canopy walk, letting you enjoy a different perspective.
Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. Like Alcatraz, it is an island prison within view of the main city. Today, tourists may visit the prison where you are guided by an ex-prisoner. This direct connection to the history is touching, and it is an interesting piece of history. Yet… I didn’t feel I got much out of it. I it advertised as one of Cape Town’s must-see destination, but I disagree. It is worth it if you have time over.