It’s spring in Cape Town which means the best months of the year are ahead. There is no better time to plan your escape to the Cape, Demola Ojo reports…
Cape Town is one of the most picturesque cities in the world but it can be chilly and windy some months of the year. From September till March however, it is sunny and warm.
The ‘Mother City’ regularly ranks high on the Most Beautiful City in the World index. Statistics show it is the second most visited city in Africa after Johannesburg but South Africa’s top tourist hub featuring the country’s most visited attractions.
Cape Town has been in the news for the better part of the last 12 months because of a water crisis and the dreaded Day Zero, the day when it was projected to run out of water. In case you haven’t heard, this is in the past.
This was reiterated at the recently held Airbnb Africa Travel Summit in Cape Town by the CEO of South African Tourism Sisa Ntshona, and the CEO of WESGRO, Tim Harris. WESGRO is the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape province of South Africa. According to the duo, Cape Town dam levels are now at 70 per cent and there is no chance of the city running out of water.
It is obvious in the little details; compared to six months ago when there were signs in hotel bathrooms encouraging guests to save water, there was nothing of such this last visit, at least not overtly.
Of course, this means tourist numbers are back up with fun seekers returning in droves to what has traditionally been one of the world’s leisure hotspots.
It’s summer in December because South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, so while it is winter in most of the world’s other premier holiday spots, it is peak season during Christmas and the months closest to it. This means if you’re to get the best rates and deals, there’s no better time than now to start planning your vacation.
There is no shortage of activities to engage in when in Cape Town and by extension, the Western Cape region of South Africa. My weeklong trip took in the Airbnb Travel Summit before being hosted (along with other media personnel and tour operators from West Africa) by South Africa Tourism.
It goes without saying that every day was filled with exciting and memorable activities. As a repeat visitor to Cape Town, it’s safe to say a week is never enough and there’s always some place and something new to discover.
As a guide though, below is a firsthand account of the top places to see and things to do while in Cape Town. Along the line, you’re sure to discover lots more on your own.
A visit to Cape Town is incomplete without getting to the top of Table Mountain. One of the New 7 Wonders of the World, the Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town.The mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park.
The main feature of Table Mountain is the approximately three-kilometre level plateau edged by impressive cliffs. The plateau, flanked by Devil’s Peak to the east and by Lion’s Head to the west, forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town.
This broad sweep of mountainous heights, together with Signal Hill, forms the natural amphitheatre of the City Bowl and Table Bay harbour.
Good news is that while many do, you don’t have to hike it; you can go on the cable car and be at the summit in less than five minutes. The upper cable station offers views overlooking Cape Town, Table Bay and Robben Island to the north, and the Atlantic seaboard to the west and south.
Construction of the cableway was first started in 1926, and officially opened in 1929. With recent upgrades, new cars can carry up to 65 passengers. They rotate through 360 degrees during the ascent or descent, giving a panoramic view over the city. Very visible from the top of Table Mountain is another famous tourist attraction, Robben Island.
Robben Island is an island in Table Bay and is Dutch for ‘seal island’. It is roughly oval in shape, is flat and only a few metres above sea level. South Africa has a well-publicised history of segregation during the period of Apartheid which gave rise to political uprisings.
The Apartheid regime sent many political prisoners to the island including former President of South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid.
To date, three former inmates of Robben Island have gone on to become President of South Africa; Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, and Jacob Zuma.
A tour of Robben Island is a sobering one but also showcases the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity. It is even more touching as we were taken round the prison turned museum by a former inmate.
In a reversal of roles, Table Mountain is also visible from Robben Island. Mandela said that the view of Table Mountain was one of the things that gave him hope and belief that he would be free someday.
Robben Island is a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The boat ride from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront to the island takes between 20 and 45 minutes depending on the speed of the ferry. Our group went on the slower Mandela 2 craft but returned on the much faster and comfortable Mandela 1. This isn’t a function of price but of luck as it’s a flat rate to embark on the tour.
Further away from Cape Town’s Central Business District further out into the Western Cape Province are the Cape Winelands. The Winelands boast some of the most majestic scenery in the world with its beautiful wine valleys and mountains.
The 18 official wine routes and two brandy routes feature many historic wine estates that date back centuries, and are a premier Western Cape visitor attraction.
Wine tasting, winemaking tours, excellent cuisine and magnificent scenery collectively create an irresistible attraction for international and local travellers alike.
Most Cape wine estates are characterised by classic Cape Dutch-style buildings and massive vineyards with picturesque mountains as a backdrop. There is also a distinct European influence in number of regions, thanks to the arrival of French, Dutch and German settlers during the 18th century.
Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are two famous towns in the winelands. Despite visiting Stellenbosch on an earlier trip, I still wasn’t ready for the jaw-dropping natural beauty of Franschhoek.
The Franschhoek Wine Valley is also famous for its food and is acknowledged as the ‘gourmet capital of South Africa’.
Franschhoek is Dutch for ‘French Corner’ and is a town nestled between the mountains. Even though most people don’t speak French, many of the street names, restaurant names and wine farms in the ‘French Quarter’ have French names.
Franschhoek makes a serious attempt at being the food and wine capital of South Africa and there are many fine restaurants, like the Grande Provence Villa where we had a sumptuous three-course meal in a spectacular natural setting beautified by giant sculptures.
The Franschhoek Wine Tram hop-on hop-off tour is one of the best ways to discover the Franschhoek Valley. Passengers aboard the tour journey through rolling vineyards in an open-side tram and open-air tram-bus stopping by at some of South Africa’s oldest wine estates. Grande Provence for example, was established in 1694.
The tour includes a narration focusing on the history of Franschhoek and wine cultivation in the valley, complimentary wine tastings and unparalleled views of the valley and vineyards. Our tour also passed through the Rickety Bridge winery for – you guessed right – some more wine tasting.
Beaches, Dining, Shopping and Night Life…
Like earlier stated, there’s so much to do in Cape Town. The beach lovers have so many options of beautiful beaches, from the Clifton Beaches to Boulders Beach where you can get close to penguins to Camps Bay where the rich and famous congregate.
Dining is a great feature of Camps Bay with so many restaurants to choose from. For the many Nigerians who love to shop, the V&A Waterfront and the Canaan Walk shopping centre offer numerous options.
Cape Town also has a vibrant nightlife and with summer coming, there is no better time to party. A good choice among many options is Long Street. The popular strip has a range of restaurants, pubs and clubs that will, surely, take more than a week to explore.