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Cape Town, South Africa

The lure of a holiday in Cape Town lies in its spectacular setting and the beauty of its natural environment, as well as the rich cultural diversity of its people.

 

It has had a long and turbulent history, and the effects of Apartheid still linger in the minds and hearts of the people. Transformation, however, has led to a feeling of hope in this new 'Rainbow Nation', which can be experienced in the cosmopolitan city centre of Cape Town. Flower sellers, business executives, parking attendants, office workers and shoppers all rub shoulders in a setting of both historical and modern buildings, backed by the city's most famous landmark, Table Mountain. The colourful Malay Quarter, the remains of District Six, St George's Cathedral, Government Avenue and the old Castle are historically significant, while world-class African and international restaurants tempt travellers with their culinary delights. Although an African city, Cape Town has a marked European influence and visitors can experience the excitement of Africa from the comforts of First World surroundings.

 

Cape Town's unique setting means that it can be enjoyed from various vantage points: Table Mountain, Lion's Head, and Signal Hill provide breathtaking vistas over the city bowl and the Cape peninsula with its beautiful beaches; trips to Robben Island offer a dramatic sweep of scenery across to Table Bay; and harbour tours and old buildings await exploration at the cosmopolitan Waterfront. Many scenic routes meander along magnificent stretches of coastline and inland terrain leading to special places like Cape Point, the meeting place of the cold Benguela and warm Mozambique currents; and Chapman's Peak, which boasts one of the most picturesque drives in the country.

 

It is a city with four distinct seasons, each working its particular magic on Cape Town and bringing with it a flood of associations - summer and white sandy beaches, autumn's crisp colours, the ferocity of stormy seas in winter, and spring's show of Cape fynbosflowers.

 

This vast combination of culture, history and scenery leads to an unforgettable experience. This is a special place with much to contribute towards its growing reputation as a favoured travel destination.

 


Table Mountain

Cape Town's most popular tourist attraction is also its most famous physical feature is the flat-topped mountain that stands sentinel over the city. Table Mountain has been proclaimed a nature reserve, protecting its diverse floral species, some unique to its slopes. The views from the top of the mountain are quite spectacular. A Swiss-built rotating cable car carries visitors smoothly up the mountain and back. The mountaintop is equipped with a restaurant and small gift shop, as well as numerous pathways and vantage points. It is possible to climb the mountain via different routes, but inexperienced hikers should take care because Cape Town is prone to sudden weather changes. The walk up can take anything between one and four hours depending on the route and level of fitness. Route maps can be bought at the cable-car station. It is always best to check the website or call the weatherline to see if the cable car is in operation. Hikers should travel in groups, as there have been reports of robberies on the trails.


Tel:  021 424 8181 (weatherline) or 021 424 0015
 


Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront

This working harbour, historical site and shopping and entertainment development has become one of Cape Town's most visited tourist attractions. The waterfront offers everything from shopping malls, and arts and crafts markets, to live music, cinemas, buskers and a variety of festivals throughout the year. There are also more than 70 eateries ranging from pubs and fast food outlets to five star restaurants, luxury hotels, and a variety of boat trips, harbour cruises and helicopter charters. The Two Oceans Aquarium is the largest of its kind in Africa and is an impressive display of life in the oceans surrounding the Cape Coast ( www.aquarium.co.za).


Tel:  021 408 7600, or 021 418 3823 (aquarium)  Email:  aquarium@aquarium.co.za
 


Simonstown and Boulders Beach

A recommended day excursion from the city includes a trip through the southern suburbs and along the scenically beautiful False Bay coastline via Muizenberg to Simonstown, South Africa's principal naval base. Simonstown lies about 25 miles (40km) from the city and is a quaint town built around a naval dockyard, with well-preserved Victorian buildings, museums, sidewalk cafes and local legends to learn about. One such legend is about a dog called 'Just Nuisance' who 'joined' the British navy, becoming their mascot, when Simonstown was a British base. A short distance from the town is Boulder's beach, famous for its protected colony of African Penguins (formerly Jackass Penguin) that can be viewed from the boardwalks.


 


Cape Point

Most visitors to Cape Town are keen to make a day trip 40 miles (65km) from the city to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, not only to take in its floral diversity in what at first sight appears to be a bleak landscape, but to stand at the top of the towering promontory at the most southerly point of the Cape Peninsula (not of Africa, visitors must go further afield to Cape Agulhus for this). From the viewpoint and lighthouse at Cape Point, reached via a funicular, it is awesome to watch the thundering waves crashing at the base of the cliffs 686ft (209m) below. The reserve itself is worth exploring, particularly on foot, for those interested in birds and botany. The restaurant at Cape Point has a terrace offering spectacular views. Resident baboons here enjoy the spoils from tourists' snacks - particularly their ice-cream; they can be quite aggressive. Because feeding of the baboons carries a stiff penalty, it is worth ensuring there are no free lunches for these hirsute scavengers!


Tel:  021 780 9010/11  Email:  info@capepoint.co.za
 


Castle of Good Hope

South Africa's oldest building, the Castle was completed in 1679 (replacing an earlier mud and timber fort built by the first Dutch Governor, Jan van Riebeeck). Situated adjacent to a parking lot and bus station in Buitenkant Street, its walls mark the original boundary of the seashore where the waves washed up against the fortifications. Its outside aspect is somewhat foreboding, but inside are some interesting features and collections that have been restored, offering a good insight into the early days of the Cape when it was the centre of social and economic life. The castle is a pentagonal fortification with a moat and five bastions, each named for one of the titles of the Prince of Orange. The entrance is a good example of 17th century Dutch Classicism, and a bell, cast in 1679 by Claude Fremy in Amsterdam, still hangs from the original wood beams in the tower above the entrance. The castle contains a Military Museum depicting the conflicts that arose during the Cape's early settlement, and also houses the William Fehr Collection of decorative arts, including paintings, furniture and porcelain. Of interest are the dungeons, which bear the graffiti carved by prisoners incarcerated here centuries ago.


Tel:  021 787 1260
 


Beaches

Cape Town has some great beaches, but the most easily accessible are on the Atlantic Ocean where the water is unbelievably cold; the locals rarely venture in beyond knee-high depths. The most popular is Camps Bay beach; a long, wide stretch of golden sand packed with locals and tourists alike and backed by a strip of fashionable bars and restaurants. Just towards town is Clifton, whose four beaches, imaginatively called First, Second, Third and Fourth, are situated beneath exclusive houses and apartments set into the cliff that protect sunbathers from the harsh southwesterly wind. First Beach is the largest and most popular with families (the steps are shorter), Second Beach is preferred by the 'camp' and 'hip' crowd, and Third and Fourth are usually frequented by well-toned locals and, when the waves are up, surfers. The small suburb of Llandudno, 15 minutes south of Camps Bay, is home to another excellent beach and is popular with locals from the Southern Suburbs or those keen to avoid the crowds. There are no bars or restaurants here, the nearest being at Hout Bay, another 10 minutes south. Hout Bay's long beach is popular with families and walkers but is not as stunning as its neighbours. The most popular beach for surfers is Muizenberg.


 


St George's Cathedral

Cape Town's Victorian Gothic style Anglican Cathedral, founded in 1901, is situated in Wale Street and is historically significant for it is where the enthronement of South Africa's first black archbishop, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, took place. The Cathedral is unique in that it became a political powerhouse in the struggle against Apartheid, known as 'the people's cathedral', stating openly from the 1950s onwards that it was open to all people of all races at all times. This was a brave stand in the racially segregated society of the time. In subsequent years the cathedral became the venue for many protest gatherings and vigils and on occasions the building was surrounded by police, water cannons and barbed wire. Victims of forced removals were even accommodated in the cathedral at times. As far as architectural merit goes, the cathedral does feature some fine Gabriel Loire windows, including a magnificent Rose Window above the south transept.


Tel:  021 424 7360 (Cathedral office)  Email:  info@sgcathedral.co.za
 


Robben Island

South Africa's most widely known tourist attraction is probably Robben Island, seven miles (11km) from Cape Town in the centre of Table Bay. For nearly 400 years this tiny rocky island outcrop was utilised as a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment for numerous categories of people ostracised by society, ranging from political protestors to lepers. During the years of Apartheid, Robben Island became synonymous with institutional brutality as numerous freedom fighters, including the island's most famous resident Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned here for more than a quarter of a century. The island is now a museum, symbolising liberation and the triumph of the human spirit. Regular island tours are conducted, lasting three and a half hours. The tours, which are guided by former prisoners, include a visit to the maximum-security prison on the island where an estimated 3,000 freedom fighters were incarcerated between 1962 and 1991.


Tel:  Museum 021 413 4220; Bookings 021 413 4263  Email:  info@tourcapetown.com
 


Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap, or the old Malay Quarter, was declared an exclusive residential area for the Muslim Cape Malays under the Group Areas Act of 1950 during the Apartheid years, forcing people of other religions and ethnicity to leave, and today is still closely associated with the Muslim community. The houses have been restored and colourfully painted, and the steep cobbled streets, mosques, minarets and blend of Cape Dutch and Edwardian architecture make it one of the most interesting historical and cultural areas of the city. The Bo-Kaap Museum on Wale Street documents the history of the Cape Malays.


Tel:  Bo-Kaap Museum (021) 481 3939
 


Greenmarket Square

Situated in the Central Business District, near the main station, is Greenmarket Square, the perfect spot to observe South Africa's 'rainbow nation' in all its hues. Once the scene of slave markets, this is the site of one of the city's most vibrant flea markets, where clothing, jewellery, knick-knacks and souvenirs are on sale every day, and tourists and business people rub shoulders in the many sidewalk cafes that surround this busy cobbled square. Be prepared to haggle at the market to get the best prices and be warned, touts are prevalent. On the west side of the square is the Old Town House, dating from the mid-18th century, which is a wonderful example of Cape Dutch architecture and houses the Michaelis collection of Dutch and Flemish landscape paintings.


 


Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Five miles (eight km) south of the city centre lies the magnificent Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, covering a huge expanse of the rugged south-western slopes of the Table Mountain range. Kirstenbosch was bequeathed to the nation by mining magnate Cecil Rhodes in 1895, and today contains more than 22,000 plants, a research unit, botanical library and nursery. Numerous paths meander through the gardens, including a Braille route for the blind, which are full of lush shrubs and 'fynbos', the Cape's indigenous floral heritage. A tearoom, restaurant and coffee bar are on site. In summertime the delightful setting becomes the venue for Sunday evening open-air concerts, when picnickers relax on the lawns, sipping Cape wine, and enjoying the sunset entertainment.


Tel:  021 799 8783
 


South African Museum and Planetarium

The imposing South African Museum, dedicated to natural history and the human sciences, contains a huge variety of fascinating exhibits from entire chunks of caves bearing rock art, to traditional arts and crafts from several African tribes. The natural history galleries are full of mounted mammals, dioramas of prehistoric reptiles and a collection of whale skeletons, which can be viewed with the eerie sound of whale song echoing in the background. Alongside the museum is the Planetarium, which has a changing programme of thematic shows involving the southern constellations. Booking ahead is necessary for Planetarium shows.


Tel:  021 481 3800 (museum), 021 481 3900 (planetarium)  Email:  info@iziko.org.za
 


Township Tours

The N2 highway that connects Cape Town International Airport to the city is lined with townships, consisting of a mixture of shacks and solid buildings. During the days of apartheid, people of colour were not allowed to live in the white suburbs and were banished to areas away from the city. Township tours allow visitors to experience how the majority of Capetonians live in the townships that surround the city. Guides, often residents, take visitors around to meet the people, see community projects, have a drink in a 'shebeen' (township pub) and shop for local crafts. Each township has its own colourful character, and despite their difficult living conditions, residents are generally hospitable and delighted to receive visitors. Townships were once no-go areas for many people, but today a visit is becoming a popular experience for tourists to Cape Town. Visit Langa, the oldest of South Africa's black townships, established in 1923, or the newest and second largest in the country, Khayelitsha, which dates from the 1980s. Guguletu and Nyanga were set up in the 1950s. Visitors are advised not to visit the townships alone; there are many tour companies that offer tours, including transport to and from the township areas. Contact the Cape Town Tourism Visitor Information Centre or its satellite, the Sivuyile Tourism Centre in Guguletu for information about tours, accommodation and entertainment in the townships.


Tel:  Cape Town Tourism Visitor Information Centre: 021 487 6800, or Sivuyile Tourism Centre: 021 637 8449
 


Chapman's Peak

Chapman's Peak Drive is one of the most spectacular coastal roads in South Africa, linking the seaside community of Hout Bay to the Noordhoek Valley along the Atlantic Coast, with breathtaking views from along the narrow, winding road blasted into the cliffs. Constructed in 1915, the six-mile (9km) route took about seven years to complete and was built as a shorter, alternative route between Cape Town central and the South Peninsula. Many visitors use this scenic route to reach Cape Point Nature Reserve situated at the tip of the Peninsula.


Tel:  021 791 8222  Email:  info@chapmanspeakdrive.co.za
 


District Six Museum

Until the 1960s, District Six was a vibrant district of Cape Town, close to the city centre and the harbour. In 1966 the government declared District Six a 'whites only' area under the Group Areas Act and over 60,000 residents were forcibly moved to the outlying Cape Flats, a barren area several kilometres away, and their homes flattened by bulldozers. Communities and families were uprooted and torn apart, and this moving museum serves to safeguard the memories and the spirit that was District Six. The museum houses an impressive collection of historical materials, including photographs and relics such as street signs, much of which were donated by former residents. The museum also offers a guided tour of the area led by an ex resident, but these must be booked in advance.


Tel:  021 466 7200  Email:  info@districtsix.co.za
 


Two Oceans Aquarium

The Cape sits at the meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and over 3,000 sea animals from both oceans are showcased in the aquarium, highlighting the diversity of marine life found in the waters around Cape Town. The Two Oceans Aquarium is one of the city's top attractions and visitors of all ages will be fascinated by the variety of exhibits, such as the Predator Exhibit, featuring large sharks and rays, a kelp forest, and animals such as seals, penguins and turtles among thousands of different fish. It is also possible to dive with the ragged-tooth sharks, or in the kelp forest while feeding hundreds of fish, but advanced booking is required and divers must present dive qualifications.


Tel:  021 418 3823  Email:  aquarium@aquarium.co.za
 


West Coast Ostrich Ranch

The ostrich farm is home to over 220 ostrich species as well as other birds, including dwarf ostriches, black-necked ostriches, peacocks, emus, and rheas. Tour guides are informative, and a 45-minute tour (which can be conducted in English, Afrikaans, German or French) includes an opportunity to sit on a live ostrich, stand on an ostrich egg, and visit the breeding enclosures where newly hatched chicks can often be seen. There is also an Egg Factory, Leather Factory, curio shop and a restaurant specialising in ostrich dishes.


Tel:  021 972 1955  Email:  info@ostrichranch.co.za
 


Muizenberg

A historical beach-side suburb on the False Bay coast, Muizenberg is popular with families for its long, gentle-sloping beach, warm water, beautiful views, and activities such as mini-golf and waterslides. The beach is famous for its row of colourful changing houses and is a photo favourite from the mountain road far above. Muizenberg beach has also long been the preference of beginner surfers and several popular surf schools have been established at Surfers Corner, the closest side to the mountain. False Bay is known for its Great White Shark population, but a shark watch service is in operation to give warning to bathers and surfers. A scenic walkway below the railway line links Muizenberg to the next seaside village of St James with its tidal pool. The delightful fishing village of Kalk Bay is a few minutes drive away with its protected harbour, and its main street lined with fascinating antique and art shops, as well as cafes and restaurants.


 


Hermanus

Locals and international visitors alike make the pilgrimage south of Cape Town to Hermanus, just a few hours' drive down the coast. The town is known for its whale watching, as Southern Right Whales migrate through the area to nearby Walker Bay. There are also opportunities to view other wildlife, including dolphins, seals, penguins, and Great White Sharks. While its most popular attraction is offshore, the town itself offers much to do, from browsing shops and restaurants in the quaint downtown area to venturing further afield to wine farms and beaches and neighbouring towns like Stanford, Gansbaai, and Caledon. Active pursuits include horseback riding, quadbiking, hiking, sandboarding, mountain biking, kayaking and zip lines.


 


Ratanga Junction

Cape Town's most famous theme park, Ratanga Junction is a must for all those up for a thrilling day out in the sun with plenty of rides and activities to keep even the most active of children occupied. The park features gift shops and a food hall for weary riders, or those just looking to rest their legs for a while. The most popular ride by far is the Cobra, a snake like rollercoaster ride that flips the occupants round 360 degrees.


Tel:  021 550 8504  Email:  info@ratanga.co.za
 


Butterfly World

Butterfly World is one of Cape Town's more unique attractions. The tropical greenhouse features hundreds of exotic butterflies flying freely. Visitors are urged not to touch them, but the humid environment makes the perfect butterfly watching setting. Butterfly World also features a Spider Room where exotic spiders and scorpions can be viewed in their glass terrarias. There is a small gift shop tearoom for those wanting to take a break from all the invertebrate antics.


Tel:  021 875 5628  Email:  esther@yebo.co.za
 


Scratch Patch

An amazing place for kids to learn about the wonders of precious stones, minerals and gems, the Scratch Patch gives children a little piece of what they have learnt to take home with them. And children love nothing more than little gifts! They will be able to scratch around in a pit of off-cuts of precious stones, such as Tiger's Eye, Jasper, Amethyst, and Rose Quartz, to name a few and for small price, of course.


Tel:  021 786 2020
 


World of Birds and Monkey Park

Boasting over 400 different species of birds and a wide variety of other animals including squirrel monkeys and meerkats, the World of Birds features a children's play area and a tearoom for the parents to stop and take a break. Children will love exploring the grounds and discovering and learning about all the birds and animals here.


Tel:  021 790 2730  Email:  info@worldofbirds.org.za
 


Seal Island

Take a trip to Seal Island, also known as Duiker Island, located just outside of Hout Bay. Boats leave regularly from Hout Bay docks and take passengers on a trip outside the harbour and into the ocean, where breathtaking views of can be enjoyed of Hout Bay and all the way across to Noordhoek, Chapman's Peak and Kommetjie. The boat stops just below the Hout Bay Sentinal where hundreds of Cape Fur Seals bask on the small island in the sun. The sight is a smelly, yet magical one and it is a treat these creatures in their natural habitat.


Tel:  021 791 4441  Email:  drumbeatcharters@intekom.co.za
 


 


 

 

 

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