Travel Guide: Cape Town, South Africa
By far, the best thing I've ever done was book a flight to South Africa and plan the trip of a lifetime. It was a TON of work - a lot of research and planning went into it - to make sure we had the best time and saw everything we needed to see.
Because it was such a big trip, I am breaking it down into three posts.
1) This post covers Cape Town, South Africa.
2) The next post covers our Safari in Kruger National Park - check it out!
3) And the last post will cover the last leg of our trip in Zambia to see Victoria Falls. Coming soon!
Just one visit to Cape Town - The Mother City - and you’ll see why it truly has a piece of my heart. We originally booked our trip to South Africa with only a safari in mind. But with a little bit of research we quickly realized that Cape Town just HAD to be on our list. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint! There is so much to see and do in this city. It’s full of amazing restaurants, outdoor activities, and the people are wonderful. We really had the time of our lives on our trip to South Africa and Cape Town was one of the highlights.
As far as travel planning, I did a TON of research for our group and had a lot of things pre-planned before we even arrived in Cape Town. My husband and I met up with some of our besties from California (another couple) and the four of us tackled South Africa together. Luckily, we all wanted the same thing out of the trip: to see and do as much as we could and just enjoy ourselves! If you are planning a trip, check out my South Africa board on Pinterest for all of the inspiration, what to wear, what to do, etc. Again, I did a LOT of research for this trip of a lifetime. :)
Cape Town was stop number one out of three on our vacation. We also visited Kruger National Park, where we went on Safari for three days. And then we ended our trip in Zambia, to see Victoria Falls. Travel Guides for these coming soon!
Here is how we tackled Cape Town.
FYI: we were there for 4 days and 3 nights. There is PLENTY to do, so you can absolutely spend more time in this city. For us, this felt like the perfect amount of time to explore and soak it all in.
We flew from Chicago to Cape Town, but we had a long layover in London, so we spent the day exploring Big Ben, the London Eye, and drinking a pint before heading back to the airport. Check out my post on Sightseeing On A Layover. Once we landed in Cape Town, we met up with our friends and took an Uber to our hotel. I recommend taking Uber everywhere! It’s convenient, safe, and cost effective. There are also tour guides and car service available, just ask your hotel to set you up.
Overall, Cape Town is easy to navigate, but the entirely of the city is very large, so it can take a while to get from one place of interest to the next. For example, we took a cab from our hotel near the V&A Waterfront (Victoria & Alfred) to Boulders Beach and it took at least 45 minutes each way. You’ll want to plan out your sightseeing according to what end of the Cape you’ll be on at any given time. Just keep a map handy and try to go where it makes sense that day, in order to check everything off of your list.
We were blown away by the food in Cape Town. I mean seriously, it was ah-mazing! As I mentioned, I had done a lot of research beforehand so I had a short list of restaurants I wanted to check out. I knew the food scene would be good and I also found out that reservations are required at a lot of the hot restaurants in town! Book in advance. If there is a place you have to try when you are there, call ahead or go online and try to get a reservation. The good places book up fast! Lastly, you might be surprised to find out that good food and wine is very affordable in South Africa. We definitely indulged in nicer meals and bottles of wine than we normally would have and felt that the prices were very reasonable. Enjoy yourself!
Specifically, these were the top restaurants on my list:
Roundhouse - we ate here on our first night in Cape Town. It looks like it has been renamed The Lawns at The Roundhouse. The menus were custom printed for us, there were 9 courses with wine pairings, and the views were spectacular. HIGHLY recommend this place. The views are stunning - a straight shot at the Twelve Apostles mountain range and the ocean. Check out the photos below!
Test Kitchen - I heard phenomenal things about this restaurant, but it was completely booked when I called to make a reservation. If you really want to try it, I would suggest calling ahead each day to see if anything opened up.
Kloof Street House - Kloof Street in general is a super cute area for nightlife. There are a ton of restaurants and bars there and it’s all walkable. This restaurant felt like a very secret-garden-vibe and we even saw some celebrities eating there! The food was great and we lingered for a while to have a drink at the different bar and lounge areas inside. Afterwards we headed to a cute champagne bar down the street.
Gold Restaurant - this place is albeit a bit touristy, but we really enjoyed having one traditional African meal. We learned how to play the African drums (djembe) before dinner, then ate the traditional cuisine, followed by more entertainment, face painting, etc. Every other restaurant we tried was very trendy, so this was a welcome change of pace and felt like we were really getting at the heart of African culture.
A few more restaurants that we didn’t have time to try, but came highly recommended:
ACTIVITIES / SIGHTSEEING
There is so much to do in Cape Town! This is a list of things that we tackled during our few days there - but you can do much more, depending how much time you have. Our agenda was pretty packed, but we loved every minute of it!
Here is what we did:
Hike Lion's Head or Table Mountain - Hiking is one of our favorite activities, so we knew we wanted to hike either Table Mountain or Lion’s Head. With some research, I landed on hiking Lion’s Head in the early morning hours to get the best view of the Cape. Then the plan was to take the cable car up Table Mountain to catch those views.
I read this guide on hiking Lion’s Head before we went. Two things I will warn you about. First, the hike is not necessarily hard, but the path can be a little unsteady at times. Meaning, there is a tad bit of climbing (vs walking/hiking) in certain spots. As long as it isn’t raining, you will be fine. If it is raining, I imagine the path and the climbing ladders will be a bit slick, which I definitely wouldn’t have liked. The second warning is not to expect the perfect view! We went in the early morning hours (we started hiking by 6:30am) and we were still met with a cloud that just sat at the top of Lion’s Head, blocking our view of the Cape, for the entire hike! We still had an awesome time hiking the trail, seeing the little Rock Hyrax (or Dassie) pop out of the mountainside, and seeing little peeks of the Cape down below when the clouds cleared.
See the African Penguins at Boulders Beach - You’ve seen the pictures all over Instagram by now. Boulders Beach is a MUST SEE if you are in Cape Town. Here is a guide on where to go and how to see the penguins. We took a cab from our hotel one afternoon to check this off of our list. You have to buy a ticket to enter the park. Then you take a long boardwalk down the beach to see the penguins! They are literally everywhere - you won’t miss them! Climbing on the sand, hanging out under the boardwalk, swimming. They are just as cute as you think they will be and I swear they pose for pictures. Make sure you plan on enough time to get there and back, plus at least an hour looking at the penguins. You should also know that the park generally closes at sunset, so check the hours before you head over there. You don’t want to be rushed!
Great White Shark Cage Diving - This one is a bit of a sore spot (for my husband, particularly) because we had our Great White Shark experience booked for months, but ultimately were not able to go while we were in Cape Town. The entire southern coast of Africa was experiencing crazy gale-force winds - record winds - that were causing huge swells and waves which made it unsafe for us to take the boat out for shark diving. Every morning and every evening we tried contacting many different diving companies but none were going out. :(
Regardless of our experience, if you are up for cage diving, do it here! From my research, there are only a handful of places in the world that are optimal for viewing Great White sharks: South Africa, Australia, and Southern California/Baja Coast are in the top few! Specifically, if you watch Shark Week (like I do) you will recognize Seal Island or False Bay as one of the famed spots where the divers go to see the sharks in action. There are a bunch of different cage diving tours, but our tour was booked through Apex Shark Expeditions. This is the specific dive we were signed up for - the morning seemed like the best opportunity to get out on the water and have interaction with the sharks.
Even though we were a bit bummed about missing out on this experience, we made the most of our free day and ended up doing a day tour of a bunch of sights we were going to miss…
Day Tour of the Cape - There are plenty of half day and full day tours to choose from in Cape Town. We took a private car for the four of us and spent most of the day sightseeing. There is just so much to see! And everything is a bit spread out. This is a similar tour to what we took. Again, ours was booked last minute so I hadn’t done a ton of research on the tour guides, but we loved our experience and it was handy having someone along to tell us about history, point out sights we may have missed, and take group photos for us! Here is what we saw:
Twelve Apostles Mountain Range Read about the famous mountain range here.
Two Oceans / Cape Point This is where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean. Pretty cool to see! We ended up stopping for lunch here at Two Oceans Restaurant. There are not any other food options at Cape Point, so you have to plan ahead and eat before or just enjoy the view and the tourist pricing here. After lunch, we took the tram up the hill for more views of Cape Point. It was very windy, but worth it for the views.
Signal Hill Another great view of Cape Town is from Signal Hill. We took a photo at one of the yellow frames that literally frames the perfect view of Table Mountain.
Bo Kaap The colorful houses are great for photos. Here is a quick guide on what to expect in Bo Kaap.
Robben Island We didn’t have time to stop here on our tour, but I wish we did.
And there you have it! A complete guide to Cape Town, South Africa. You could honestly spend weeks there, exploring and soaking in the culture. But for a short visit, hopefully this guide helps you prioritize where to go and how to get the most of your trip.