Seeing the Jewel of South Africa
Cape Town is unlike any other city. With its controversial history and culture it has an edgy vibe that attracts, fascinates and divides people in equal measure. From my experience, and that of others I know who’ve been, it’s a place you quickly fall in love with.
Cape Town is full of vibrant and fun people and, most importantly for backpackers, plenty of epic activities. To help narrow your choices down, here’s your ‘absolute must’ list.
Bo-Kaap is the Malay Quarter of Cape Town, set on the slopes of Signal Hill. It’s a colourful area with quaint houses painted in a variety of shades – think Balamory but better. The multi-coloured dwellings on the cobbled streets are a huge draw for anyone travelling through, and with such a multicultural community the area is also brimming with flavoursome must-eats.
Sample some of the best bites by taking a food tour where you’ll end up with a meal in someone’s home – I went to ‘Zainie’s’. Aside from helping you pile on the pounds, the tour also introduces you to some friendly locals who’ll teach you more about the area’s past, present and future.
There’s also the Malay museum and South Africa’s first mosque to visit in Bo-Kaap too.
Think grime, dirt and whole lot of awesome. This has to be one of the most original restaurants around – although ‘restaurant’ is a slight exaggeration. Mzoli’s is an iron shack with plastic tables and chairs stuck on the side of the local butchers in the area of Gugulethu.
While it doesn’t sound so glam, the food is among the city’s tastiest and a bit of grunge is always fun.
The idea is fairly simple: you pile your plate full of meat (there’s a ridiculous amount of choice), wait for it to grill on the big BBQ, grab a beer and dance to the butcher’s DJ pals while you do.
No knives, no forks, no messing at Mzoli’s – pure, hedonistic indulgence, and a veggie’s worst nightmare.
3. Wine tasting
It’s a well known fact that South African wine is some of the best and so it would be rude not to indulge in a few of the region’s favourites.
There are several vineyards you can travel to from the city by bus, and with bottles as cheap as £3 they’re well worth the fare. Most vineyards offer tours of the land where the winemakers will explain the grape to glass process. They’ll also share some samples with you, offer you a nibble and often give you a room for the night if you just can’t stumble home. Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are amongst the biggest vineyards in the region but I went to the lesser-known Constantia Winery and sampled as many wines as possible, at about 10am.
Cape Town has an unbelievable amount to offer when it comes to shopping which is unfortunately bad news for the bank account but good news for the wardrobe.
The Watershed has over 150 stalls offering food, clothing and art, while designer boutiques and local marketsare dotted across the city. Greenmarket is great for picking up the ethnic goodies and exotic jewellery, and Long Street is the place to go for all things retro. It’s here that the budget is in real danger with vintage shops in succession – an Instagrammer’s dream.
5. Climb Table Mountain
More than 20 million people have climbed up Table Mountain in Cape Town but none of the photos taken could ever do the view justice. It’s recently been voted one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature – the views from the top are incredible.
It’s easy enough to climb up and you can go unaided, but if you’re feeling lazy or you don’t have much time, like me, there’s always the cable car. It’ll whizz you to the top in a few minutes for just 185ZAR (£11.75).
If that’s just not fast enough, you can also take it one step further and view the mountain by air from a helicopter. At around 1600ZAR each (£100) it’s quite the investment, but if you have the cash, the experience is well worth it.
6. Do an extreme sport
Cape Town is a hub for all those who love a little adrenaline, can stomach heights and have that crazy desire to jump out of things. While you may not be able to cram in every nail-biting experience the city has to offer in one trip, you should certainly sample some of the city’s extreme sports. You can literally take your pick with several companies offering everything from paragliding over the mountains, kite surfing on the waves or kayaking the Cape Point.
While often a little pricey, these experiences can be a way to see some of the city’s best views and create a day to remember.
7. Shark cage diving
Heart beating already? Yeah, shark cage diving isn’t one for the knee wobblers.
There are several companies in the city that offer you the chance to head down into the deep waters and see a shark up close. You can usually book the excursion through your hotel or hostel for about ZAR 1650 (£78), but shop around for the best deal and make sure you do your company research.
Look for a firm that takes its responsibility to the water and the sharks seriously. They shouldn’t overfeed the shark (a danger when there are tourists to please), they should seek out areas free from other deep sea delvers so as not to disturb the same areas and they should only take out small groups at a time. All this is to protect the sharks and ensure minimal obtrusion to the marine environment.