One of my favourite cities in Africa is South Africa’s crowning jewel of Cape Town. This dramatic city boasts a superb seaside location, great climate, the iconic Table Mountain, proximity to some of the country’s best natural attractions and a turbulent yet fascinating history.
Located in the South West corner of the country, Cape Town is the second most populated city in South Africa, and the biggest in land area. The city itself is home to 3.5 million people, who enjoy its great climate and spectacular natural beauty on a daily basis. It is no wonder why this ‘beautiful’ city is flooded by tourists yearly.
The most well-known unmissable attraction is that of Table Mountain which dominates the skyline of the city. It is best seen in the morning where a light layer of cloud could (if your lucky) coat the summit of the mountain, literally making it look like a table cloth. A real wonder! Ascending this 1000 metre marvel is popular, and there are two main routes. Either hiking it, which takes some fitness and must be undertaken within a group (lone travelers are often targeted), or the renowned cable car. I have done both, and although the thrill of traversing the mountain by foot is incredible, I still prefer the scenic cable car route best. Either way, the summit offers an unparalleled view of the city and its surroundings. The native wildlife and plant life is also still very apparent at the summit, with snakes, lizards and Rock Dazzies, making frequent appearances.
Cape Town also lays claims to some of South Africa’s best beaches, for lazy days in the sun I recommend the small suburb town of Clifton or Blouberg beach. Be warned however the sea can range in temperature and although a morning swim may seem like a good idea the water can be surprisingly chilly. I personally have never experienced that ocean’s warmth! But what do you expect it is the Atlantic and Southern Oceans.
My favourite beach is called Boulders Beach which is located about an hour from the city and is home to a huge colony of African Penguins. Well worth the trip alone and if you are lucky you could also get a stray Penguin swimming in the sea with you, or waddling across the beach in front of you – a once in a lifetime experience. While you are in this area a trip to the popular Cape Point National Park is a must. Cape Point is an unspoilt area of natural beauty and home to even more African wildlife, Ostriches and Baboons included. The Cape of Good Hope is also located in this beautiful park, where 2 oceans meet – or should I say collide! On a windy or stormy day, this location can provide some of the most dramatic coastline scenes anywhere in the world. However on a nice sunny day the coastline is still littered with spectacular beauty and a tranquil serenity.
Back to the city, Cape Town’s Marina/waterfront area is also a great place to spend the day, with a fantastic aquarium housing some of the most spectacular marine life from the 2 local oceans. This attraction also offers divers the opportunity to swim with some of its inhabitant’s incl. sharks and rays at a reasonable rate. The Waterfront has a huge amount of shops and restaurants to explore and honestly some of the best fresh seafood I have ever tasted!
The Waterfront is also the gateway to the infamous Robben Island, a significant part of South Africa’s turbulent apartheid history. Robben Island (a short ferry ride away) is an island prison which housed hundreds of African political prisoners (among others) during the Apartheid years. Its history is fascinating as it was the home of the great Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years prison life, and numerous other great African minds.
When I first visited this city, the whole of South Africa was still under apartheid, and being so young I had no concept of politics, however remember feeling a significant difference between our home and this wild yet beautiful city. My opinion is that Robben Island offers something for everyone, and is no doubt an essential to start understanding the complexities of the turbulent history that South Africa endured.
Whilst wandering around the streets of the inner city, there is an air of wealth and prosperity and you do start to notice a predominately older white majority. Don’t get me wrong here there is also a lot of local black South Africans in the centre of Cape Town but it was only when we found out a little more about the history that it all made sense. Horrendously a vast majority of local black communities underwent ‘relocation’ in the apartheid years, and Cape Town was no exception. These local communities, some at the heart of Cape Town were literally destroyed at a whim and the inhabitants told to relocate to the outskirts of the city. The relocated areas are known as Townships, and Megan and I had the incredible experience of being able to visit the township of Langa.
Townships are a mix of regimental style concrete building’s and shanty town communities, with the vast majority being extremely underdeveloped. As such they suffer from issues such as drainage, sewage, lack of clean water and lack of functioning electricity. The direct opposite of the magnificence of the city I have just described. Townships have also gained a reputation as being dangerous, especially to white’s as they are predominately black neighbourhoods, and house a lot of poorer local inhabitants.
We arrived and were greeted with great hospitality, as you would expect when visiting any sort of community. The locals were gracious and happy for us to learn about their culture and history, some even taking the time out of their daily routine to chat with us. The local children were absolutely bemused by us, and continuously wanted to hold hands or have hugs and even some to practice their English. The township buildings were no more than a couple of flights, and some held up to 10 families, forced to share a single room between them. These were the more expensive living quarters as many residents didn’t even have this, but just built homes out of corrugated iron slates. The majority of the settlements were connected by dirt roads, and although we could see electrical lines, we had no way of knowing if they were working. All in all it was a far cry from the rich Cape Town paradise we had previously encountered, but this didn’t seem to affect the locals we met.
It was a real treat to experience the ‘salt of the earth’ locals, and it was amazing to speak to them one on one. Both Megan and I felt in no danger whatsoever. Now don’t get me wrong, I think we were taken to a very safe part of the township and what we experienced wasn’t the real underbelly of the township.
Being able to contrast the two sides of Cape Town, you get a real sense of appreciation of the both sides. The Township residents mostly go about their day to day business, as do the city dwellers. It is just a world apart from one another, although they are only a few miles apart.
Now for a story that happened whilst staying in a backpackers in the centre of Cape Town. A young backpacker was targeted by a few locals as he walked back from town to the hostel alone. One ‘mugger’ came up from behind the other from the front, they asked the backpacker for his wallet. As you should, the backpacker gave the ‘mugger’s’ his wallet and nothing else, the mugger took the very small amount of rand the backpacker had, then asked for his phone. Upon which the backpacker gave the mugger his phone. The mugger them laughed at the age-old Nokia phone and gave the backpacker his wallet and phone back and left. Morale of this story, always stay vigilant and never walk alone, if you are unlucky enough to be a victim of a tourist crime, they usually just want your money nothing else.
I love this city; it always delivers a fantastic experience and is well worth a visit. If you are worried about security, this was the only story of any trouble in the Cape we have encountered in 4+ visits, I would say don’t let this put you off, it could happen in any major city, it’s just about being vigilant and sensible in this iconic not to be missed location.
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