Cape Town See And Do
Denizens of Cape Town are spoiled with so many beach option. The water, though, can make or break an outing, as the Atlantic-side beaches are freezing, while the water on the Indian Ocean side is often quite warm. However, the Atlantic seaboard beaches are more image-conscious (read: social types wearing the latest fashion bikinis), whereas the Indian Ocean beaches are more welcoming to diverse visitors. Keep in mind that the Indian Ocean side loses the sun as early as 3:30 in the winter, as it drops behind the mountains, while the Atlantic seaboard beaches have incredible sunsets—best seen from Camps Bay beach. Sand is usually clean and white. A few words of caution regarding the water: Because there is an undertow, it's important to swim where a lifeguard can see you. Shark watchers scan the waves on the Muizenberg side of the peninsula (scene of most recent shark attacks) for great white sharks, and you'll do well to watch for their flags—a black flag with a picture of a shark on it means get out of the water immediately.
A more sedate option is a visit to Boulders Beach, in Simonstown. One of Cape Town's best beaches, it has secluded swimming coves but is now overrun with Jackass penguins that nest on the shoreline. They are charming, but also smell a bit strong. The palm-lined beach at Camps Bay is easy to get to and close to bars and restaurants, whereas Clifton's four beaches and Llandudno each take a bit of a walk. Bloubergstrand is the beach with the most famous postcard view of Table Mountain—but it's windy.
You don't need to go far to find vineyards around Cape Town—there are five in the Constantia valley, a 20-minute drive from the city center. Groot Constantia is the oldest wine-producing estate in South Africa, though the tastings here can be overwhelmed with busloads of tourists, so you might continue up the Main Road to Buitenverwachting. The restaurant is closed during the month of July, and the picnics are only available in summer (November to April), but the tasting room is open regardless, and free. Klein Constantia is literally up the road, and here you'll find the estate's award-winning nectar, Vin de Constance, a dessert wine popular in the courts of Europe for centuries. If you're short of time, head straight to Constantia Uitsig. The John Platter Wine Guide (an invaluable reference if you're interested in SA wines) always give its grapes high marks, and the three restaurants (including La Colombe) are some of the Cape's finest.
Tel: 27 21 799 8783
Located a ten-minute drive from central Cape Town, this modern Eden is devoted to indigenous plants, and you'll find about 5,000 of South Africa's botanical species here. There is also a fragrance garden, and a medicinal garden featuring plants used by Khoisan healers. The lawns, streams, and winding paths are a magnet for children, so if you're after some peace and quiet, then avoid the lower slopes, which are inhabited by stroller-pushing mothers, and head for the wilder upper slopes, with their great view over the city. The gardens are at their peak when covered in spring flowers in September and October. There have been some muggings, so don't walk alone in the park's deserted areas. Two hiking routes also begin in the gardens: Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine. It takes up to three hours to get to the top of Table Mountain along these routes, and the hike is strenuous, so consider going with a guide (bookings can be made through the Cape Town Tourism office, 27-21-762-0687).
Open daily 8 am to 7 pm.
If you crave a close encounter with a great white shark (and who doesn't?), the answer is cage diving. Locals can't agree whether the chumming for sharks is attracting more of them to the shores, or whether they've been there all along, but either way, there are a lot of sharks out there—enough to warrant watchers keeping an eye on the beaches to warn swimmers. While the sharks do swim along the peninsula beaches, the best cage diving is in Gansbaai, about an hour-and-a-half drive out of the city. A cage diving operator will pick you up from the city center, and your $160 fee will cover breakfast, snacks on the boat, all diving equipment, and safety gear. Contact an operator like Marine Dynamic, which conducts shark research as well as sightseeing trips.
Capetonians are serious about surfing: Big-wave surfers get towed out to Dungeons, a break off Hout Bay with waves estimated at between 50 and 60 feet tall. Muizenberg beach is less suicidal, with long, flat lines at Surfer's Corner that attract surfers of all experience levels. Rent equipment and book lessons at one of the surf shops that line the beachfront, such as Gary's Surf School. Kite boarding is also big, especially on Bloubergstrand beach; for lessons and gear, contact Windswept.
Cape Town's most famous landmark is Table Mountain, a flat-topped mountain that stands 3,563 feet above the city. It has two mountains on either side, Devil's Peak and Lion's Head, as well as a small hill called Signal Hill. The city center nestles within the circle formed by these mountains and the sea. Eighteen million visitors have taken the revolving Table Mountain Aerial Cableway to the top. The cars run every ten minutes and will lend you a better understanding of the city's layout. The mountaintop is flat and easy to explore, but for an adrenaline rush, try the world's highest commercial rappel, with Abseil Africa. Hikers do walk up the mountain face, and it looks easy from the cable car; however, we recommend this be done with a guide, as visitors regularly get stuck after underestimating the mountain or taking a wrong turn. Reserve a guide through the Cape Town Tourism office.