During the Easter vacation we traveled to South Africa, my favorite holiday destination. We traveled with our children and my parents. Three generations on one trip!
It was 20 years since we last visited the Cape and it has changed a lot. Twenty years ago we were already impressed with the road network and now it’s even better. When you leave the airport it feels like you're on the wrong continent. Five-way highways, spacious regional roads - the country is ideally suited for a self-drive.
As the region has so much to offer, we stayed five nights in Stellenbosch. It did not appear long enough, but I think it will never be enough.
Cape Town is situated on a peninsula on the southernmost tip of Africa. After Johannesburg and Durban it is the third largest city in the country, and it is by far the most touristy.
Everyone knows the city because of the beautiful Table Mountain. The city itself has many historical buildings and in the vicinity you will find the wine region.
Things to do in Cape Town?
Cape Town has so much to offer that you can spend two weeks. However, there are a few things that you should not miss. Here are some top things to do in Cape Town.
Robben Island was initially a lepracy colony. Since 1636, it served as a penal colony, but it became known worldwide as the place where Nelson Mandela was locked up by the Apartheid regime. The waters around the island are freezing cold. In the course of history there are only three prisoners who have survived their escape effort.
On the island is a limestone mine where the prisoners were employed. Due to the bright light and the fine dust, Nelson Mandela's eyes (and others) were irreparably damaged here.
In 1991, the last political prisoners were released. Several years later, in 1996, the other prisoners were transferred. Since 1999 Robben Island has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
From the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, a ferry departs for Robben Island four times a day for a guided tour. The ferry leaves at Nelson Mandela gate at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. You make a tour of the whole island by bus. In the prison itself your guide is an ex-detainee.
From Robben Island you have a marvelous view on Table Mountain.
Personally I don’t think the visit is very impressive. Perhaps I expected too much because it is such a historic place. But nevertheless, I think the island is a must visit.
The tour takes about 3.5 hours. To avoid long waiting times, you can book tickets in advance. You do this here.
In 2018 South-Africa celebrates Nelson Mandela's 100th birthday. If you look for more info on Cape Town, click here.
Around the Cape Peninsula
For the 160 km long tour of the Cape Peninsula you will need about one day. We began our tour in Muizenberg, a quiet coastal town with 40 km of long white beaches. The brightly colored beach cabins make it a very photogenic place.
Muizenberg is named after Wynand Muijs who, beginning in 1743, commanded the military post on the mountain at the beach.
In the 19th century it was a popular holiday destination for South Africans. The beautiful villas from that time have already seen their best days. On the beach you will find Surfer's Corner, one of the better surf schools for children. The beach was full of little surfers.
On the Main Road you will find the former house of Cecil Rhodes (1st Cape Colony Minister at the end of the 19th century), now serving as a museum. If you leave Muizenberg, heading to Simon's Town, you will pass the beautiful railway station.
The next stop took us to Simon's Town at False Beach. Since 1957, this is the headquarters of the South African navy. The town is named after Simon van der Stel who searched for shelter in 1687 against the storms around the Table Bay.
On Jubilee Square is a special statue of a Danish dog and a sailor. The dog, Just Nuisance, was the mascot of British sailors during the WWII. The dog even got a military funeral.
Just past Simon's Town you pass the Boulders. On this beach, a colony of black feet penguins has lived since 1982. Twenty years ago you could still walk over the beach, but today a wooden footpath has been laid out. The penguins waddle next to you. You can walk to the nesting zone in the dunes
At one point you pass the exit to Cape of Good Hope (you have to pay access fees here). Initially, this place was called the Storm Cape, but the Portuguese king hoped to find a new route to India and changed its name to Cape of Good Hope. In the past, this was the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, but today it belongs to the Table Mountain National Park. For the most beautiful view, take the cable car, the Flying Dutchman, to the old lighthouse. You then float more than 200 meters above the ocean. There are also numerous hiking trails. The surroundings are, because of the strong wind, desolate so it's not my favorite place. But because of the historical value, you must visit here once.
Legend of the Flying Dutchman: This legend originated in 1641 when a Dutch captain got into a storm. When his ship began to sink, he swore that he would round the Cape, even if it took until Judgment Day. Since then a ghost ship has often been seen with broken masts and torn sails.
When you get out of the park, take the M65 north-west. We made a stop in the cozy town of Kommietje. We had lunch at Fishermans, a cozy, simple restaurant where they served crispy fresh fish.
Houtbay is a larger coastal town with numerous eateries. It is an important fishing village (although it decreases, by overfishing) and during the weekends it is a popular seaside resort. In the harbor you can book a boattrip to spot sea birds or to sail to the Cape to see seals on Duivels Island. In the bay is a huge image of a leopard on a high stone. It was made by a local artist in 1963 as a reminder of wildlife that once lived in this area.
Further to the east rises the mountain range Chapman's Peak. The road that passes along these cliffs guarantees beautiful vistas (even on a cloudy day). There are many opportunities to park you car and enjoy the amazing scenery!
After that you will pass numerous beaches such as Clifton, Camps Bay and Llandudno. However, we turned right to Groot Constantia.
Visit a Wine Estate
Groot Constantia is, as the oldest wine farm, the cradle of South African viticulture. Nowadays it is a true tourist attraction with a museum, tasting roomand a large (wine) shop. If you don’t make it into the wine region, visiting Groot Constantia is a good alternative.
Twenty years ago we did not manage to get on top of the Table Mountain because there was too much fog. This time we had no success either. Every morning the top of the mountain was cloudy. That's why we decided to book a helicopter flight the last day.
At the Waterfront there are numerous places offering flights. However, the hotel advised us to use NAC. They have multiple helicopters, including one for six people. We made a 25-minute flight, but according to our children it seemed 25 seconds. The Table Mountain, Lion's Head, the 12 Apostles and the beautiful beaches are spectacular from this point of view. Enjoy the pictures!
According to the kids, this was the most thrilling activity!
If you plan to book a helicopter flight, I advise you to do the round trip on the Cape Peninsula first. The helicopter is flying the same route and you immediately recognize the places you saw before.
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is the walhalla for the shoppers among us. From the famous brands to small ethnic shops, everything can be found. There are a number of luxury hotels, an amphitheater, shopping malls, a Ferris wheel and the Two Oceans Aquarium. Personally, I would not want to stay there because the screaming of the (protected) seagulls drives you crazy. My father-in-law stayed there a few weeks earlier in the beautiful One & Only hotel, and he was very happy that he had a room at the back. Also for good food, you are better off elsewhere. We only ate one time badly during our entire trip and it was here in Quay Four. The service was lamentable, nobody got what he ordered and it tasted awful. In addition, it was the most expensive meal of the entire trip. They have the most beautiful terrace, but stay far away.
Cape Town city center
The city of Cape Town is easy to explore on foot and has many beautiful buildings, nice markets, picturesque streets and a castle. However, we did not have time to enter the city again. Unfortunately, a person has to make choices.
Cape Town is full of photogenic places. Sabine, a Belgian living in South-Africa, wrote an article about the 12 most instragram worthy places in Cape Town. Check them out before you go, so you're sure to get the right shots.
Here are another 10 cool things to do in Cape Town.