My most recent trip to South Africa was incredible. I’ve heard many good and scary stories about Africa in general but at last I was able to finally experience it for myself- luckily all good, no bad. Cape Town was not how I imagined it to be. Frankly speaking, I had no expectations. But quickly I learned that this place was absolutely rich in beauty in the sense that one country could contrast so much in landscape and weather.
Before diving into the details of where my friend and I stayed and what we did, here’s some background info. We stayed in Cape Town for 4 days, 3 nights and were there during the “shoulder” season, the transition time from Autumn to Winter. If you ever plan on visiting Cape Town during this period, do expect the weather to be cooler, windier and slightly rainier. Don’t forget we’re talking about the Western Cape area only. It’s no wonder that these shoulder seasons are considered the best times to visit Cape Town as the weather is more desirable (over the scorching summer heat), crowds die down and prices are cheaper.
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We stayed at the Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel which was a great location as it was located next to a main intersection (which made it feel safe) but the traffic did not create any disturbances during our 3 nights there. The lobby was very spacious, had a tremendously high ceiling and beautiful wall aquarium. There were concierges and staff by the doors, elevators and lobby at all time, which helped to create a very welcoming and comfortable vibe. Breakfast was delicious with a wide selection of hot and cold food. Breakfast hours were busy with families, business and leisure travellers but we never had to worry about not getting a table. We loved that this hotel offered shuttle buses to and from the V&A Waterfront.
TIP: Be sure you check with the drivers or receptionists the shuttle bus schedules as they do not run overnight!
Things to see & do
- Hop on/off tour: It’s hard to get around Cape Town if you’re not driving so I’d highly recommending buying tickets for the Hop on/off tour. We purchased the 2 days ticket and toured the blue and red lines.
- choose when and where you want to hop on and off.. obviously 🙂
- learn about the city’s history and culture during the ride
- stop 1 is at V&A waterfront (which was perfect for us as our hotel shuttle bus took us here directly) but you can hop on from any stop at your convenience
- the bus route is ONE direction and so if you want to revisit a previous stop, you’ll have to go in a big circle or walk back
- there are walking tours at several specific stops and times but it is difficult to match the times especially if you are tight on time. For us, we had to try our luck hoping that an available guide will be at the stop when we arrive. We wanted to join a paid Township tour but when we reached the stop, the guide wasn’t there and due to safety reasons the driver couldn’t let us wait at the stop alone.
Here are some stops I’d recommend:
- Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden: considered one of Africa’s most famous and beautiful parks. Even if you’re not into nature and scenery, I think it’s worth a visit- besides, adult ticket was only R55. Hardly any flowers were in bloom during May but the remaining greenery was enough to wow me. The Tree Canopy Walkway is a must! Be prepared to do lots of walking! Oh and I could’ve spent an entire day there…
- World of Birds: a stop after Kirstenbosch. I read many mixed reviews about this park and wasn’t sure what to expect but I absolutely LOVED it! They had an incredible variety of birds and other small animals such as monkeys, guinea pigs and llamas. If you don’t mind having birds of all sizes flying over your head and stepping in poop, I think you’d enjoy this park! Literally Africa’s world of birds.
World of Birds
- Grab a quick lunch at Mariner’s Wharf or sit back and enjoy the sunset along Camps Bay or Sea Point. There are so many chic and trendy bars and restaurants along that breathtaking shore! Don’t forget to try the seafood too. What’s visiting Cape Town without trying their catch, right?
- Chapman’s Peak Drive: Whether you are driving or sitting on the top deck of the Hop on/off bus, TAKE IN ALL of the coastal beauty by cruising along one of Cape Town’s most scenic routes that winds along the ocean and connects the town to the Southern Peninsula. Cape Town is a lot more mountainous than I imagined and I’m not complaining. If it were summertime, hitting the beaches is not a question.
- Table Mountain: Be prepared to spend at least 1.5 hours (cable car time included). Table Mountain offers a panoramic view of Cape Town but only if you are willing to “hike” around the entire mountain. There are shorter trails too. Being flat like a table, this mountain wasn’t difficult to hike and we finished the entire circuit in approx. 45 minutes. Do note that we rushed the hike as we were pressed for time, however, we made frequent stops for picture taking as well. Again, due to time constraint we opted out on hiking UP the mountain. But if you have the time and are up for the challenge, I’d recommend the Platteklip Gorge hike. It is not for the faint-hearted but it is the most direct way to the top and considered one of the most popular and safer routes. Table Mountain is a MUST-DO especially if you want to experience Cape Town from another perspective 😉
TIP: If you plan to hike to the top of Table Mountain, no worries that you’d have to hike back down. There’s a one way ticket option. Just visit the ticket office/info centre and purchase then.
Top of Table Mountain
- Cape of Good Hope: Once you arrive at the parking lot, there are two ways to reach the top: R58 cable car (both ways) or a hiking trail. If I had more time, I would’ve taken the trail instead. It looked family-friendly with the paved paths, offered breathtaking views and is FREE. You can spend a few hours here at ease. There’s beaches to explore and trails to do! Next to the cape is Cape Point, often mistaken for being the most southern tip of Africa where Atlantic and Indian Ocean meets when actually it is the most south western tip of Africa. The two oceans do not meet here either as it meets at Cape Agulhas. There wasn’t much to see or do here. Another common tourist spot is Boulder’s Beach, which is usually on the way to Southern Peninsula. It’s home to a colony of cute and cuddly African penguins.
Cape of Good Hope
- Wineries and vineyard: There are so many vineyards here in Cape Town and all conveniently accessible. For the wine lovers, be sure to check out these spots. Wine here is ridiculously cheap as well!
- Pack layers: Again, because we visited Africa during its winter months, it was much chillier than expected. Mornings and evenings were no higher than 10° c with afternoons being around 17/18° c. Pack light and pack layers. Layers give you the flexibility to take off or add clothing when the weather changes.
- Windy days: Bringing a windbreaker is a smart idea. Having a lightweight, wind and water resistant outerwear makes a huge difference when visiting Cape of Good Hope or the waterfront.
- Pack for all seasons: Ever experienced all 4 seasons in one day? Pack the essentials: sunscreen, hat, windbreaker, rain coat and such.
- Stay hydrated: It’s important to have water with you while traveling. I find that when I drink enough water, I’m more awake and energized. Water can also be extremely useful in cases of emergency such as injuries.
- Hop on/off tour: The website states that the 2 day ticket includes a free canal cruise, wine bus tour, a night tour and a walking tour but it’s best to confirm with the staff at the ticket office. When we were there, all of these tours were either no longer running or closed due to it being winter. They did, however, offer us a complementary one hour boat tour around the V&A Waterfront.
- Gratuity: I had the same question but after doing some research and talking with locals, it seems that 10% is the standard amount for servers. Using your own judgment, 10% may just be a minimum based on the type of restaurant and quality of service.
+ Gratuity at the Safari is mentioned in my safari guide here.
- General safety: I’m very thankful that we were safe throughout the 4 days and met so many kind and helpful locals and tourists. Here are our safety tips:
- never go anywhere alone, stay together (even restroom)
- avoid walking alone after sun sets
- don’t be flashy and keep valuables hidden
- if dinner end late, ask the restaurant to arrange a cab to take you home
- research and save contact info of Canadian Embassy in South Africa
+ do the same for nearby police stations and hospitals
- save emergency numbers in our phones, e.g. nationwide emergency response (10111), cell phone emergency (112), ambulance response (10177)
- carry the essential numbers of travel and health documents
- wear travel money pouches underneath clothing and store cash in several different places e.g. wallet and pouch
- leave a copy of the itinerary and passport with friends and family at home
- lastly, just be sensible and use common sense
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World of Birds
View from Table Mountain