I don’t really know when or why South Africa made it to my Top 5 List of Places to Visit but now that’d I’ve been, I can’t tell you how happy I am that it was. I’m not in the habit of visiting the same place twice, that is except for Jamaica, but I do plan to return to Cape-Town. After spending a week there, my desire to see Africa has increased tremendously. I want to see more of this continent, Botswana, Namibia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria. I would love for my next move to be some place in Africa.
At first I was a little apprehensive about visiting Cape Town while the city was in the middle of a water crisis but everything we read said go anyway, so we did. We were a group of 6 so we needed a comfortable place to stay that would give everyone their own space. We booked an Airbnb and an eight passenger van. We planned to do most of the driving ourselves even though it was on the opposite side of the street and none of us had ever driven on that side before. We figured it would be all part of the adventure. Most of the planning of our itinerary we did in advance. We were ready and excited!!!
Before our flight, I exchanged money at the airport. The official currency for Cape Town is the South African Rand. Unfortunately, the kiosk was out of South African Rand so the next best thing, according to the CSR, was to exchange for Euros. One ZAR is equal to about 0.067 Euros, or 0.083 USD. I also took my credit/debit cards.
With only one daily, nonstop, 10 hour flight from Doha to Cape Town, leaving at 1:55 a.m., I swallowed two Tylenol PM’s and slept half the flight away. I was hoping to have a row to myself; I mean how many people travel to Cape Town on a Friday morning anyway, well enough to fill up an Airbus to my surprise. About 10 minutes into the flight, I was really missing first class. (To read about my experiences in first class click here)
Cape Town is only an hour behind Doha, so we arrived around 11:00 a.m. We did not require a visa and going through immigration was quick and painless. I exchanged my EURO’s for ZAR with no problem at the airport and was able to access the local currency through the ATM. Since we weren’t staying at a hotel, I knew that having cash on hand would be best. We walked over to Bidvest, our car rental agency, via an underground walkway and picked up our van.
Afterwards we followed Google Maps (I highly recommend downloading this app before you travel), and admired the new scenery on our way to our temporary home. Btw, the place was perfect. It was located within a 10 minute drive to the V&A Waterfront, just below Table Mountain and Signal hill, and within 5 minutes of Bo-Kaap. The townhouse had 3 bedrooms, each with their own en-suites, a balcony with a good view of the city, a fully-equipped kitchen, a rooftop pool and patio (although we couldn’t use the pool due to the water shortage), windows that people could get a glimpse of you showering through, and oh btw, we had a tree in our house. You heard me right, a tree. Take a look at this video.
We settled into our place, found a vegan place to eat (The Hungry Herbivore) and drove around to check out our neighborhood. I’ll tell you about the vegan eating scene in Cape Town in a later post. [check back for that one]
Day 1 Shopping Saturday:
Everyone that we knew from South Africa recommended me check out this place called the Old Biscuit Mill or the Neighborgoods market which is only open on Saturday, thus the title of the day. This is a place not to be missed. Good for: trying different foods and drinks, people-watching, listening to live entertainment, shopping (although the products are a little on the expensive side for the goods). The food we ate was delicious except for the vegan dessert but the sangria made up for it.
Afterwards, we made our way to LongMarket Street. This was a better place to shop in my opinion. It was like a huge flea market down town with a mix of stalls with hand-made products and regular stores. The GreenMarket Square is the best place for tourist shopping of souvenirs. You will find jewelry, clothing, african material, magnets, art, hand bags, and all sorts of knick knacks. I purchased an ankara dress for 250 zar (20 usd) compared to the 650 zar (54 usd) I spent on an ankara skirt at the Old Biscuit Mill. Both of which were a really good price but you get the point. If you’ve ever been to a port of call off of a cruise ship in the Caribbean island, you can get some sense of what this market square is like but with a little less hasseling. Be sure to negotiate your prices. [I was able to negotiate a piece of art down to 50%] But a couple of us gave the seller our business in turn.
Running low on energy and our allotment of the day’s spending, we walked around Long street and found a spot to eat (Royale Eatery), a burger spot with vegan and vegetarian options. In the shopping center you had to pay 2 Rand to use the bathroom. If you are going to Cape Town, it would be best to carry some of their change in case you need to use the WC (wash closet), some wipes or tissue in case there isn’t any and some hand sanitizer as some of the faucets were turned off to conserve water.
Day 2 Safari Sunday:
Our day started with a drive to Bo-Kaap. (Click here to learn all about Bo-Kaap) It’s a beautiful area filled with colorful houses in the creases of Signal Hill. If you are ever in South Africa, be sure to walk through this area and take many pictures like I did.
Then we went to Signal Hill. Well we didn’t actually go to the very top of it but we went pretty close. Here is one of the spots with the best views of Cape Town. Take a look for yourself.
If I’m ever in Cape Town again, I will return to Signal Hill and go to the top at night or in the early morning to watch the sunrise over this picturesque city. Simply breathtaking.
Since there were no decent safari options close to Cape Town, we opted for a Game reserve. Let me tell you what the difference is between a Safari and a Game Reserve. A safari is a experience where you can view wild animals in their natural habitat without fences. A game reserve is privately owned and operated. In this instance, the owners know exactly what animals are on the property and work to make the environment suitable for them. (Basically a wider scale zoo) But we weren’t going to Africa without seeing some animals. Had I done proper research, I might have opted to go to Johannesburg instead. Nah, I probably still wouldn’t gone to Cape Town.
Anyway, we booked a sunset Game Drive with Aquila Private Game Reserve in advance. (to learn more about Aquila, click on the name). Aquila was a very scenic 2 hour drive away. My eyes were glued to the window or my camera lens the entire drive. We drove past farms, and settlements (you can read about the settlements by clicking here, I don’t know much about them and honestly the sight of them made me sad so I’m not going to touch that subject), over and through mountains and towns. I enjoyed seeing many colors and various landforms contrary to my current home. Aquila is not only a Game Reserve, it also a resort that you can stay on. There is a swimming pool, bar, restaurant, single cabins on a hill and hotel rooms.
A tour guide carried us and a small group in a 4X4 safari vehicle through the fences to see the animals. We saw hippos, an ostrich, antelopes, elephants, wildebeast, giraffes and oryx. We made a pit stop during the reserve and enjoyed libations. Lastly, we pulled up to a large fence and saw a lion inside and thought that would be the end of it, but then we pulled into that fence and watched as the tour guide got out of the vehicle and locked the other fence behind us. For a second, I thought being fed to lions would be a horrible way to go. But then he told us, as long as we stay inside the vehicle, the lions sees us as one but the moment one of us gets out, we are considered fair gain. As we drove through the huge area, we saw several more lions. They seemed to put on a show, as they meandered around and sat near us basking in the sunset, then one started howling. Show off!!! We left the ‘lions den’ after some time and continued through the reserve. We spotted rhinos and their babies and zebras too. As the sun went down on our day, we proceeded home. Of the Big Five, we only missed the leopard and cape buffalo but it was a fun time. Enjoy this slide show.
Here’s my friend Leo showing off.
Since I’ve never been to a real safari, I don’t really have anything to compare Aquila Game Reserve to. But what I will say is, I’m not returning back to Africa without visiting one.
Day 3 Mandela Monday:
Monday was reserved to visit Robben Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight and prison where Nelson Mandela and many other men were incarcerated for political offenses. This is another must see while in Cape Town. We booked our tickets at www.robben-island.org.za. We took a ferry 30 minutes out from Cape Town and arrived on the island. Our first stop was the Prison, where a former prisoner gave us a tour and recount of some of the events that transpired there. He was very passionate and informative. I don’t know if I could go back and work in the same place that imprisoned me for year. He not only works there but also lives on the island as do many other former prisoners. Our tour included a visit to the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned as well. Afterwards, we had a rushed tour of the island. Our ferry was late from the jump to transport us to the island then our tour bus was late picking us up to take us on the rest of the tour. But listening to this man talk made the trip worth it, but I would have really liked more time on the island. I recommend taking one of the early morning tours of the island versus the 1 or 3 p.m. ones.
Coincidently, on our way back from Robben island we received a news alert that Winnie Mandela had passed away that same day. RIP Winnie.
Day 4 Trekken Tuesday:
A visit to Cape Town is incomplete without going to Table Mountain. But not only did I ‘go’ to Table Mountain, I CLIMBED IT, All The Way To The Top. And it is way too big and important to just get a piece of this blog post. It needs it’s own post. So sorry wonderful followers, you will have to check back for that one. BTW, that’s me and my friend Britney taking a rest halfway through the climb, in the featured image at the top.
After trekken Table Mountain, and a quick wardrobe change, we went to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Britney, our flower enthusiast, really wanted to go. She makes it her business to visit botanical gardens when she travels and now she has made me a convert. When I was younger, my family and I used to go to the annual flower show in Philadelphia but that was the extent of my knowledge. But a botanical garden is on a higher level. I even found a flower named after my sister, Ericka. This is another must do while in Cape Town.
Here is the famous Kirstenbosch Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway- enjoy the slide show
Next up was Chapman’s Peak, a scenic drive on the side of a mountain. You pay a small toll before you start the drive. We had to pay 45 Rand because we were were driving a van. The route is also patrolled. Vehicles drive from both directions as well as bikes and motorcycles. Don’t fall asleep on this road or you probably won’t wake up. It’s a little unnerving but Britney’s husband Quahn handled it with ease while Britney closed her eyes at several points during the drive. Neither of us wanted to take that same route back home.
We rode Chapman’s Peak, then through Simons Town, a maritime naval town, to Boulders Beach, a sheltered beach made up of inlets between granite boulders. It is here where the African colony of penguins live. Unfortunately, we went to the website which said the beach would close at 6, we arrived at 5 and were told it was closed. Sad faces. I’m seeing a pattern that arriving early for sights in Cape Town is best. Thankfully, a few rebellious penguins were around the area and I was able to get a few photos of them.
To end our day, we went to the Waterfront to enjoy a seafood dinner. It was the most expensive meal we had during our stay and while it was good, it wasn’t worth the price. We ate at the Harbour house. We figure the location had something to do with the price, and we were spoiled with the cheap prices of eating thus far. Check back for a post on how this shady vegan faired during her stay in Cape Town.
Day 5 Wino Wednesday:
Apparently, according to Vogue, Cape town is “home to some of the most prestigious wineries on the planet” (www.vogue.com) so of course we wanted to see for ourselves. We scheduled 3 wine tours in one day. We would drive in a big circle.
Our first stop was Chamonix located in Franschhoek. Its a small farm and winery and the most expensive of our three tours. (100 Rand pp) We tried 6 wines and didn’t like any of them. We sat on wooden benches infested with some sort of green baby bugs. Then we walked through the wine cellar and out to the vineyard. It was pretty but unimpressive.
Stop #2 was Babylonstoren. It is a Cape Dutch farm that also has wine tastings. You walk through the farmland to get to a glass encasement which is where the tasting takes place. We also taste tested 6 wines here and did not like any of them either. However, the place is beautiful and the vibe nice. We didn’t get any food but the service was on point. We needed to taste quickly so that we could make it to our last stop and the waitress was on it. This place was much cheaper than Chamonix, (we paid 35 Rand pp) and better. They have a farm, hotel, spa and restaurant. Our experiences were gradually improving.
Our last stop on Winery Wednesday was to Waterford Estate. This winery was by far the best of the 3. We pulled up and were like “WOW! Now this is more like it.” We had two tastings scheduled here: regular tasting of 6 wines and then a chocolate pairing tasting with an additional 6 wines. We actually got to taste 14 wines and on the 14th tasting, we found a wine we liked. It was sweet and very tasty and the chocolate that went with it was delicious too. We paid for some bread with balsamic because by then we were famished and the ‘wine’ needed some food. Even the bread was great! Our waiter was an infectious young lad that entertained us. We walked around the vineyard for a little while and met a family that lived in Cape Town. They invited us to their beach house and if we had met them earlier on our trip, we would have taken them up on their offer.
Our day ended with half of us finding some vegan food and the other half finding some chicken and a resounding toast and other debauchery on the rooftop enjoying the night view.
Day 6 Thrill Seeking Thursday or Bust:
Is a trip complete without indulging in something thrill-seeking? What is your opinion on this? Well, our Thrill Seeking Thursday was a Bust. With all of our planning, we never locked in an actual event and our quest to find thrills was unsuccessful, that is of course outside of Table Mountain (check back for the full story on that). I wanted to take a gyroflight but wasn’t sure if I’d actually have the heart to do it. We all wanted to do ATV’s or Tree Canopies or both but when we drove to a place that offered it, over an hour away, no one was there. So instead of doing nothing, we headed back down to Long street for more shopping.
Day 7 Farewell Friday:
On our last day, we packed up, said goodbye to our Cape Town home and got some breakfast. This was an unusually long post, I know, but thanks for sticking in there with me. Hands down, the worst part of vacation is leaving and returning to everyday life. Perhaps one day, vacation and everyday life will be one. That is my goal!
In all, I had an amazing time in Cape Town and traveled with a very fun group. I see a second trip to Africa in my very near future.
Here is a list of things I wanted to do but missed: Visit Philadelphia-Town in South Africa, that many South Africans don’t even know exist. I wanted to go just so I could say I was home in Philadelphia but really I wouldn’t have been. Drive to Cape Agulhas- the geographic southern tip of the African continent and the beginning of the dividing line between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Visit Cape of Good Hope- rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula. A common misconception is that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa. Relax at Camps Bay Beach. Drive over Bloukrans bridge. Eat at Willoughby’s. There is a lot you can see and do in 7 days in Cape Town but you will also miss things. Until next time…
I would love to hear from you. Have you ever traveled to Cape Town or any part of Africa? What was your experience like?