Cape Town, South Africa Travel Guide

by on March 30th, 2014
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Since the decade after Columbus discovered America, first the Dutch, then the Portuguese, then the English colonized South Africa. Today it’s an independent nation, and the capital city is Cape Town. With a population of more than 3 million, Cape Town is a major metropolis with thriving commerce, night life, sports, hotels, restaurants and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

I’ve traveled there several times and find it a vibrant, exciting city with scenery and cafes as exciting as in Paris, the themes and neighborhoods are as varied as they are in New York, and its shopping and night life are as glittering as in London. I even discovered a very cool South African music artist, Weez, and his powerful music provides a great soundtrack for this cool city.

As in Australia and New Zealand, you’ll experience South African summer from November through January. Cape Town’s very mild winters are from the beginning of June to end of August. The best time to visit, especially for surfers, is in summer’s early November.

How to get to Cape Town
Cape Town International Airport, the next largest in South Africa to Johannesburg, schedules both domestic and international flights. Cape Town has direct flights to most cities in South Africa, as well as a number of international destinations.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
The gardens are considered the most extensive and attractive in Africa. It’s in a beautiful natural setting, lined by the backdrop of Table Mountain. Spend a day there where you can view more than 7,000 species of plants and flowers. The best time to go is in early November, when the springtime blooms are at their most spectacular. This is one of my favorite places to spend a relaxing afternoon.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
Rhodes Drive, Newlands, Cape Town

Surfing the Cape Peninsula South
Surfing at Cape Town beaches is some of the best in the world. The annual Red Bull Big Wave Africa competition during three weeks in May features great surfers, and offers exciting viewing for visitors and locals from all over South Africa. There are many choices of great surfing locations on Cape Town beach areas, including the famed Dungeons.

Table Mountain
With its hulking presence and trademark flat top, Table Mountain is synonymous with Cape Town and its natural beauty. There are many great hiking trails that will take you up the mountain. For the easy way, riding the Aerial Cable Way gives equally great views of the surrounding city and coastal beaches. As you ascend Table Mountain, you get a feeling of calm and peace. The cost: $12 adults and $9 for children

Across the bay is Robben Island, once an infamous prison during South Africa’s apartheid years, and now a museum and a place I found incredibly moving. As you learn on the tour, former prisoner and later president of the republic, Nelson Mandella, said he used to look over at Table Mountain from his cell. To him it meant some day gaining his release and freedom for himself and his whole nation.

Long Street
For more than a century, Long Street is where Cape Town natives and savvy visitors come to play and stay. The area has a Greenwich Village-type vibe, mixed with a little of Los Angeles’ Silver Lake and it all works. It’s a one-way thoroughfare that goes from the ocean-side wharves to the foothills of the mountains. During daylight, visitors can browse chic stores, art galleries, Parisian-style outdoor coffee shops and all types of ethnic restaurants. When the sun goes down on Long Street, the clubs and bars invite patrons with an eclectic variety of entertainment.

I have to always recommend my favorite, Aubergine, truly one of the best restaurants I’ve even visited. They take fine dining to the next level, cooking amazing dishes using the finest, locally sourced ingredients. They also have a great wine selection, including some of South Africa’s finest vintages.

Gardens 8001
Cape Town

F. Michael Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog You can also follow him on twitter, @thefredsherman

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