Cape Town, South Africa: Our Favorites

Last winter when we decided to take time off to travel we talked to two of our best friends, Kyle and Johnny, and learned that they were planning to do the same thing, at the same time. (What are the odds?!) We immediately decided that we had to see each other at some point during our travels. We knew that our destinations, timing, and routes might be different, but we figured that we both had at least a few places in common. We both had South Africa on our lists, so we decided that this is where we’d meet up.
We planned to meet in Cape Town at the end of August, spend five days there, drive through the Garden Route for a few days, and end with a safari near Kruger National Park.
When we landed in Cape Town and met our taxi driver in the queue outside of the airport, we were immediately stunned by the beauty that surrounded us. Tall mountains scraped the blue skies in the distance and the crisp air matched with the warm sunshine provided a perfect welcome to this fascinating country. Our taxi driver gave us a quick history lesson on the drive to our apartment. He pointed out the townships as we passed them, explained their history, and shared the current changes the city is trying to make to improve the living conditions within them. He showed us the hospital where the world’s first heart transplant was performed. And of course, he identified the mountains, islands, and coasts we saw out the windows.
Kyle and Johnny arrived the night before us and were sitting on the balcony of our Airbnb apartment when we pulled up. Hearing them welcome us from above immediately made us feel happy and comfortable. It’s amazing how seeing familiar faces can make you feel at home no matter where you are in the world.
During our first hour together we caught up on our adventures and swapped travel stories. We heard about the days leading up to their departure from Chicago and their visit to the coffee shops in Amsterdam. And we told them about camping in the desert in Moroccco and almost burning down our apartment in Bergen. Finally, we realized we’d better leave the apartment to see the city, so we headed for a walk along the water in Sea Point.
Cape Town is a spectacularly interesting and beautiful city. Its proximity to mountains and ocean coupled with its vibrant urban culture make it an appealing place to visit and, we imagine, an amazing place to call home. (Don’t worry though, mom, we’re not moving here! Although the thought is tempting… 😉 Some of our favorite moments from our time here were the mornings we spent making eggs with the South African spice peri peri and the nights we sat on the porch drinking wine and playing euchre. However, we also explored Cape Town, and below are some of our favorite places and activities.
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  • Hiking Table Mountain – we skipped the cable car as well as the more common (and safer) Plattklip hiking path, and took the more adventurous India Venster route. The views were spectacular, but this was by far the most intense hike we have done, requiring a lot of technical scrambling and use of ladders and chains. We concluded that we wouldn’t recommend doing it with only two people. However, working hard and fighting off our fear of heights on the way up made our victory of reaching the top all the sweeter. (Check out the GoPro video Kyle and Johnny made of our hike: Hiking Table Mountain GoPro Video)

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  • Visiting the Penguins at Boulders Beach – we drove down to Boulders Beach, which was about an hour from Cape Town, and had a picnic lunch on the boulders in a quiet cove. Then we walked over to the pier where you can see the famous penguins lounging on the beach. They were just as amazing as we had envisioned! On our way back to the car we noticed that we could crawl beneath the boulders we had been sitting on earlier to swim closer to the penguins, and we got some really sweet close encounters with them.

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  • Chapman’s Peak Drive – an incredibly breathtaking drive! Very similar to Big Sur, but a bit shorter of a drive and much closer to Cape Town than Big Sur is to SF. Gorgeous rock formations form a wall below the road that the waves crash up onto.

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  •  Stopping at Muizenberg Beach – we stopped her on our way to Boulders Beach, and it was a nice, quiet morning to explore the area. Muizenberg is home to a white sand beach and the most adorable colorful houses that once served as changing rooms.
  •  Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour – we found that the bus tour was an easy, affordable way to see the city. We took the blue line, and our favorite spots are listed below…

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  • V & A Waterfront – a very popular tourist destination in Cape Town, this area is near the city’s ports, has many restaurants and shops selling goods made from local artisans.

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  • Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – these sprawling gardens are home to many beautiful plants and birds, all with the mountains in the background. A great place to visit on a sunny day with a picnic or a bottle of wine.

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  • Imizamo Yethu Township – we knew we wanted to visit a township in Cape Town in order to get a full sense of the juxtaposition of neighborhoods in the city, and the tour we had in Imizamo Yethu was certainly a highlight of our time here. The effects of Apartheid are still very prevalant many years later.
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