There’s a reason Cape Town tourism is growing in popularity – it’s an adventurous, trendy and welcoming city. Here are 8 of my favorite experiences from our November trip to South Africa.
I’ll never forget the way I planned my trip to Cape Town. It was a chilly February day when I realized I had five vacation days (perhaps more), a clear-ish fall schedule and an entirely open (cough, couch-filled, cough) Saturday ready to plan.
I pulled up good ol’ Google Flights – one of my favorite trip-planning resources! – and searched which international, non-Europe flights were cheapest and direct from New York City. (I say non-Europe because I was in the mood to go BIG – and being so close here in NYC, we go to Europe quite frequently!)
As the results trickled in, two trips rose to the top:
Mumbai and Cape Town (well, Johannesburg, but close enough).
I’ve dreamed of these destinations, and had yet to step foot in India or South Africa. I poured coffee number three for the day, and planned two 10 – 12 day itineraries for each destination.
Because I’m a crazy person.
And, apparently, because I love wasting time knowing I’d only go on one of these trips.
While true for both destinations, India in particular just didn’t lend itself to 12 days. I plan to go there in the future when I have closer to 12 weeks!
So we landed on South Africa, purchased our flights, booked a stay at An African Villa then waited until right before our November Cape Town trip to really nail the details down. (That’s how I like it!)
In the nailing of the details – and more so, the execution (e.g., living the experiences!!) – a handful of activities really rose to the top from our trip. Here are 8 of my favorite, and particularly unusual ways we spent our time in Cape Town to help you save (not waste, like me…!) time researching for your trip.
The vibe in this lesser-visited neighborhood of Cape Town was described by The Blonde Abroad as Brooklyn, but 20 years ago. And she couldn’t be more right. It’s a little rough, slightly gritty, but an incredibly authentic way to experience the city. We spent an afternoon at Woodstock Brewery and the Old Biscuit Mill, two places I’d definitely recommend for your to-do list!
2. Addis Ethiopian Restaurant
You guys, the food in Cape Town is soooo good! So good. They have cuisine from all over the world, including one of our favorite and more unusual meals at Addis, an Ethiopian restaurant on the highly popular Long Street. The food, served in a woven table basket, ranges from veggie curries to spiced meats – all served atop a long, flat pastry to help you scoop up all the food. And that steaming beverage right there? A special coffee … plus popcorn. Mmm mmm.
3. District Six Museum
Robben Island is an absolutely captivating tour that takes you deep into the history of apartheid in South Africa, but for an even more emotional portrayal, visit District Six Museum. This museum tells the tales of the 60,000 inhabitants of various races who were forced from their homes during the ’70s. It’s a small museum with a enormous message.
4. Boulders Beach
This is hardly off the beaten path, but absolutely unusual – you can see penguins in South Africa! Penguins. In Africa. I know anyone who’s traveled there is giving me a “duh” right now, but the second I learned that I almost jumped out of my seat. Boulders Beach, about 50 minutes south of Cape Town, is home to hundreds of African penguins (also known as the jackass penguin, ha-ha).
These little guys reside on the beach; visitors can view them from a boardwalk, which protects them from annoying things like the ever-dreaded, horrible animal selfie. Visit here at low tide for the best chance to see these guys!
5. Snorkel with Seals
Perhaps one of the best experiences in my lifetime was – and remains – snorkeling with seals in South Africa. The 10-minute boat ride takes off from the shore of Hout Bay (about 15 to 20 minutes from Cape Town, which we got to via Uber) to an area sharks almost never visit (OK, probably never, but I don’t want to be the one who messes that up), and gives you 45 uninterrupted minutes to snorkel among the seals.
While they may seem sluggish (but so cute!) above land, these creatures are graceful and majestic underwater, darting all around us as we looked like idiots just trying to stay afloat. It’s a very nonintrusive experience, as the boat holds about 10 snorkelers only, and you can’t touch or swim after them per the company (Cape Town Bucket List) rules.
6. Kirstenbosch Gardens
When I first planned our trip to Cape Town, I had little desire to visit Kirstenbosch Gardens — not because I didn’t want to, but because we had so many other things to do. After a shark cage dive was canceled and things got moved around due to weather, we added this stop to a coastal road trip – and it was amazing.
With the mountain views in the back and vibrant South African flowers in the foreground, it was like a tropical spin on the Sound of Music scenes. We spent about 60 minutes exploring the grounds, but would’ve loved to had more time for a picnic in the fields! (Tip: Check out their summer music schedule if the timing’s right – we looked it up too late and missed a Cat Stevens performance, ugh!).
7. Climb Table Mountain – the hard way!
Table Mountain is wildly popular, particularly among tourists, and many choose to climb the safer route (Plattekilp Gorge) on their own. Or, for an even safer alternative, they take the cable car – which is obviously fine! But if you want a real, one-of-a-kind adventure (and you’re in shape), get a guide and try one of the harder routes that requires, say, rock climbing to make your way to the top.
We went with Hike Table Mountain up the India Venster route, and had a ton of fun taking the challenge – then rewarding ourselves with, well, cafeteria style pizza in the cable car lounge because the views were totally fogged up. (But that pizza was GOOD!) (Want something easier? Try Lion’s Head Mountain!)
8. Tamboerskloof neighborhood
I may be biased, but Tamboerskloof is by far my favorite neighborhood in Cape Town. It’s where our guesthouse, An Africa Villa, was located, and it was also home to some of our favorite neighborhood restaurants and bars like The Power & the Glory (a bar and coffeeshop) and Rick’s Café, the Moroccan restaurant I mentioned earlier. Tamboerskloof has a chill, artsy vibe and – while maybe not super touristy – is a great way to soak up the true feel of this incredible city.
Still have Africa on the brain? Stop by my Africa page for all my favorite trips through this continent!