I’ve just discovered one of the greatest places on earth and it’s just where I expected it to be–Africa. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to go to Africa since I was little. Although my interest in the continent first arose as a little girl when I watched The Lion King, it grew as I began taking courses in high school and college that detailed the diversity and complexity of the continent. So, I finally decided to book my flight and go!
Cape Town is hands down one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Sky-high peaks collide with the ocean all along the coast of this unique city and, as I’ve been told, continue on along the Garden Route. On mine and my dad’s first day in the city, we decided to check out one of these famed peaks and hike along the top of Table Mountain.
Before I get into our time in Cape Town, I want to break down some neighborhoods and long-held preconceptions about the city. Before I left, many people asked me if I would feel “safe” traveling the country and to be cautious whenever I leave my apartment complex in Cape Town. Of course, safety is a very big concern to me and to others traveling but I never felt unsafe in Cape Town. The city has drastically changed since its dark days of murders and muggings. As with every city, you need to make smart decisions. Don’t walk alleyways at night, aim for well-lit streets, take ubers instead of cabs… Each big city has its drawbacks and coming from Detroit, I often hear phrases like “Detroit is a war zone” or “isn’t it just like 8 Mile?” and the answer is obviously “NO!”. So before you hesitate to travel to South Africa, just remember that it’s an incredibly Westernized country and that the safety of its cities is no different than any other large American or European city!
Referencing the difference in neighborhoods and where to stay, it really depends on what scene you’re looking for. I stayed at an AirBNB in Sea Point due to its central location and close proximity to both Camps Bay/Clifton and the V&A Waterfront. It was very safe and had electrified barb wire to keep the complex secure. There is also an escort service if you every feel uncomfortable. It’s also only two blocks from the boardwalk! But if you haven’t traveled to Cape Town, these neighborhood names and descriptions mean nothing to you (YET!) so let me break it down:
Camps Bay: Ritzy, upscale. Many pricey yet mediocre restaurants along the boardwalk. Aim for the restaurants up the cliffs.
Clifton: Even more ritzy and upscale than Camps Bay. Known as the “Beverly Hills” of Cape Town. Beautiful beaches and restaurants.
City Bowl: Affordable and downtown. Countless restaurants and buzzing nightlife.
Constantia (& Noordhoek): Hilly and leafy countryside suburb of Cape Town. The Winelands’ (Franschhoek/Stellenbosch) little brother. Wine estates and hiking.
Durbanville: Upscale suburb of Cape Town with countless wine farms.
Elgin Valley: NOT a suburb of Cape Town. Countryside region with many wine farms. Hottentot-Holland Mountains foothills. Hiking.
Franschhoek: NOT a suburb of Cape Town. Part of the Winelands. Distance makes it a day or overnight trip. Beautiful small town with many local events and farmers markets.
Green Point: Central and urban. A mix between Sea Point and V&A. Plenty of restaurants and sea views.
Hout Bay: Touristy pier. Boat rides and souvenirs. Incredible and dramatic landscape/beaches.
Kalk Bay (& St. James, Fish Hoek): NOT a suburb of Cape Town. Day trip or overnight trip. Horseback riding on the beach and sharks–but beautiful, long beaches!
Llandudno: Hout Bay’s “Beverly Hills”. Upscale homes set on cliffs and hills. Inconvenient if wanting to tour the Western Cape–although a nice “weekend getaway” location.
Simon’s Town: NOT a suburb of Cape Town. Definitely an day or overnight trip. Colonial era, pastel buildings along tree-lined streets. Plenty of nice restaurants and shopping. A vacation home type town. Make sure you say “Hi!” to Just Nuisance (google it).
Sea Point: Urban, central neighborhood of Cape Town. Young and diverse (White, Black, Jewish, etc.). Great boardwalk.
Stellenbosch: Winelands. Pair with Franschhoek and Paarl to make it a weekend “Wine Tour” getaway.
V&A Waterfront: TOURISTY. Plenty of shopping and a nice restaurants. Many chain restaurants/retail shops.
I’ll focus now on my time in Cape Town exclusively and write about the non-Cape Town areas in other posts.
So, reverting back to our first day, my dad and I went up to Table Mountain! If you buy tickets online, you can skip the line but if not, you typically don’t have to wait very long, depending on the time of day (~10-20 min). Rather than hike up, we took the gondola up due to time constraints. However, I’ve been told that the hike is fantastic and that there are many routes to take, varied by difficulty. At the top, there’s a restaurant, gift shop, restrooms and hiking! Take the long route and cover the perimeter of the summit. Take in the ocean and mountain views.
Find the natural rock staircase with the chains and hike down it to get to the infamous rock where you can take pictures that look like you’re on the edge of the cliff (spoiler alert: it’s very safe and you are not, in fact, on the edge of anything…it’s all an optical illusion). Also note that nearly none of the summit is wheelchair accessible, despite what the brochures and guidebooks will tell you. It’s very bumpy and rocky and would NOT make for an easy or pleasant ride in a wheelchair.
Going down the gondola was much more difficult than getting up because the lines were very long. It took us about an hour to get down around 3pm. Once down, we headed back to our apartment in Sea Point, we freshened up and headed over to our reservation at GOLD, which is an African restaurant with a set menu and traditional African dances. GOLD is unique in that it lets you explore the different flavors of Africa over a 14 course meal that covers over 10 African countries. We had everything from a South African Ostrich Biltong Salad and Cape Malay Potato Samosa’s to Ghanian Peanut Chicken and Zambian Sweet Potato Cakes. The food was exquisite and nothing I had tasted like buffet food, even though the entire restaurant was eating the same thing. And the best part of all this is that it’s very affordable! At just 355 ZAR (that’s $26!) a person, non-inclusive of alcohol and an optional pre-dinner drum performance, it’s a steal. Although I soon came to realize that all food/drinks in Cape Town are less than half the price of American food/drinks. And to top it off, the food also came with three traditional African dances from different regions and countries. Just make sure you make a reservation way in advance because it fills up quick!
Unfortunately, this was the only full day we spent in the city. The following three days in Cape Town were spent on day trips to the Cape Peninsula, Elgin Valley, Hout Bay and the Hottentot-Holland Mountains. However, we did spend the evenings in the city, so check out a few of my favorite places in the city below!
Balducci: If you find yourself wandering the V&A Waterfront, which you probably will, head here for some top Italian. The food and drink menus are HUGE (think Cheesecake Factory big), so you’ll definitely find something you like.
The Bungalow: Come dressed in your best summer casual and enjoy some South African Rose while watching the waves hit the Clifton beaches below. Diverse menu (seafood and meats) with top notch wine pairings. And the wait staff knows their wine well!
Hudsons: The best burger in town! SERIOUSLY! And the burgers are even bigger than American sized ones. AND the menu is, also, HUGE. Don’t forget the cheese truffle fries (Yes, get it with the cheese. Yes, I tried to order just regular truffle fries but couldn’t. And yes, they actually are really good).
Jarryds: Trendy, farm-to-table breakfast and lunch with a young (and very attractive) crowd. Seriously, if you’re looking to meet guys in the city, look no further. There’s post-rugby game men eating and drinking all around you. But I was with my dad so…
Okay not to be that person but skip the shopping if you can. There are so many fun, adventurous things to do in Cape Town and shopping shouldn’t be one of them. Do that at home! But if you feel so inclined to shop, which I hope is just for souvenirs (EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN GET THE SAME ONES AT THE AIRPORT), then go here:
V&A Waterfront: There are about 4 decent souvenir shops here. Wild Things, Made in SA and African Curiosity should be your top hits. And while you’re here, go to Rain, a Lush-type store with apothecary products all made in South Africa using South African ingredients. I picked up a few great bath bombs, scrubs and perfumes for very cheap.
Green Point Market: Outdoor market with plenty of souvenir stands. Cheaper than V&A but not by much.
Camps Bay: If you ignored everything that I said above and still really want to go shopping, go here for small, unique boutiques.
Camps Bay: This is a pretty nice beach and it’s conveniently located along a street full of restaurants.
CLIFTON: Go here. Just do it. Because it’ll be the most beautiful beach you’ve ever seen. There are four beaches (appropriately named Clifton’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th) that are barely separated by large boulders. But you can easily walk down all four by hopping over a few large rocks. The sunsets here are also out of this world. I took an excessive amount of pics of it, so you can see them for yourself. Also, Clifton 1st is dog-friendly! So I got to pet a lot of dogs which was a plus.
Milton/Saunders/Sunset Beaches: Skip it. Instead, stick to the boardwalk and keep walking until you get to Clifton and stay there.
Phew, that was a lot of information! And it was just one day!