By Darlene Clarke, Guest Blogger
Thank you to Darlene Clarke, our frequent writer/guest blogger, for this awesome article!
For years, Africa has been on my bucket list, but I never really thought I’d go. It’s costly to travel there and it’s so far away from my Pacific Northwest home. Finally, a number of things came together to let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I really needed to take the leap. My granddaughter was already in Africa on a study abroad program through her university. I found a reasonably priced escorted tour through Gate 1, which by sheer chance wound up less expensive when I booked the airfare independently. It even turned out I was able to schedule 2 extra days in Cape Town before joining the tour. How’s that for a “meant to be” confluence of events?
Cape Town is located on a small peninsula which juts into the Atlantic Ocean, in South Africa. The city itself is in a natural amphitheater-shaped area called City Bowl, bordered by Table Bay and surrounded by the mountains Lions Head, Signal Hill, Table Mountain and Devils Peak. Cape Town is affectionately known as the Mother City and no one really knows why. One fellow told me it’s because she loves and cherishes her citizens and visitors. Another said it comes from the word “metropolis” because for a long time, it was the largest city in the area (metro, meaning mother and polis, meaning city). From what I can tell, the most popular explanation is that, because of the laid back vibe of the city, it takes 9 months to get anything done!
There is so much to see and do in Cape Town that it can be quite overwhelming, especially after spending 24 hours to get there! While my grandkids were off climbing Table Mountain, my daughter and I chose a more leisurely way to get acquainted with the city: a Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour. For a nominal sum (about US$16), you can choose between 4 routes with a total of 26 stops. For only slightly more (about US$21), you can get a 2 day pass. Also included in these prices are 2 walking tours and on the 2 day pass, a Harbor or Canal cruise. Here’s the information on this service:
Here, in pictures, are my family’s suggestions of “must see” sites in Cape Town:
Table Mountain, the iconic landmark that defines Cape Town. Nelson Mandela once said that the view of Table Mountain from his prison cell gave him hope during his 18 year imprisonment on Robben Island. It’s frequently topped, especially in the morning, but a coverlet of clouds which the locals call its tablecloth. The energetic among you can climb all 3600 feet from one of many trails of varying degrees of difficulty, or take the easy way up by cableway. Rates vary (depending on morning or afternoon) from US$20 to US$25.
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, the best area in the city for souvenir shopping. This area (123 hectors according to Wikipedia) has restaurants of every type and price range, high end fashion boutiques and shops. The variety, beauty and scope of the offerings will make you wish you had left half your suitcase empty to have room for all the goodies! It’s still a working harbor and boats bring in fresh fish daily. You can also book catamaran rides and whale watching or shark cage excursions here. Near the clock tower is where you can book the ferry ride to Robben Island.
Robben Island, which was used for centuries as a penal colony, primarily for political prisoners (with Nelson Mandela probably the most prominent). It is no longer a prison but was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. Tickets are purchased near the Clock Tower in the V&A waterfront at a cost of approximately US$25 for adults. Please note: the day we were there, they began instituting a new policy requiring passports, so grab yours before heading there. The trip begins with a 30 minute ferry ride to the island and continues with an hour long bus ride, where a guide will tell you about its history as a prison, a military base and even a leper colony. Your guide for the next portion of the tour will be an ex-political prisoner. It was incredibly humbling to hear stories of prison life from someone who experienced it and to read accounts left behind in the cells, but also heartening to hear what they did to keep hope alive.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, acclaimed as one of the great botanical gardens in the world. Kirstenbosch is world renowned for the beauty and diversity of its flora displays and for the magnificence of its setting against the Eastern slope of Table Mountain – and only indigenous South African plants are grown here.
Bo-Kaap, known for its brightly colored houses and cobble stone streets. The area, formerly known as the Malay Quarter is situated on the slopes of Signal Hill and was originally settled by slaves brought in from Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of Africa. We were told the use of bright colors began around 1834 as a celebration of emancipation.
Greenmarket Square, a flea market trading in mostly African crafts, souvenirs and curios. While haggling isn’t done in the shops of the V&A Waterfront, you can haggle to your heart’s content here! This square was built in 1696 and was formerly a slave market, a vegetable market and during the apartheid era, it was the focus of political protests, due in part to its proximity to parliament. Now it’s a wonderful maze of colorful all things African!
Ethiopian Restaurant next door to the Hop-on Hop-Off Office at 81 Long Street. Madam Taitou, an Ethiopian gem in an urban jungle, is a very small place with limited seating (probably about only 7 or 8 families at a time), but the ambiance it unbelievably rich in the culture and art of Africa and the food (eaten with your fingers) is amazing!
Have you been to Cape Town, South Africa? What are your favorite must see attractions? Leave us a comment in the section below and don’t forget to share, like, and follow our adventures!