It´s been over two months that we went on our trip to South Africa and slowly, it´s starting to feel as if it all has been a dream. Time flew by when we were there and now, being back in everyday life and occupied with all things ordinary, I´m really wishing I could turn back time and relive the whole thing.
The trip was something pretty spontaneous. Both me and my boyfriend where applying for jobs/internships and when we got the rejection letters, we thought, well what else to do with our time? I was finally done with my master’s degree and we were both in the in-between-stage, not fully transitioning into adult life. I had always wanted to travel after finishing my studies and now it seemed like a perfect opportunity opened up. So after a little brainstorming (Asia, New Zeeland, Africa or Portugal?) and checking our finances, we pretty quickly decided on going to South Africa. Traveling to (South) Africa had long been a dream of mine and that it came true so quickly was pretty amazing. From then on everything happened pretty quickly. We booked our flights, loosely planned a tour and sooner than we expected, we were dragging ourselves out of bed at 3.30 in the morning to catch our plane. We landed in Cape Town at 11 p.m. (thank god for no time difference between Europe and Africa), got our rental car (“I´ll give you a nice car” said the nice lady behind the counter and she delivered), drove to our Airbnb and from that moment on we were smitten.
We started our whole adventure in Cape Town and we loved it! Right from the beginning, I fell in love with this city, it´s people, the scenery, the food, the live, the vibrant atmosphere…I mean, being able to go to the beach and on a hike the same day is absolute luxury for someone who is only used to the (albeit very pretty) cities of Europe. There is so much to do, whether you´re into the outdoors, culture, history, vineyards, surfing, shopping, eating. Also, according to my boyfriend, the coffee is excellent!
We only stayed for 3 ½ days which is not nearly enough time to explore this beautiful place in my opinion. But still, we had a great time and I wanted to share a few things that we liked and would recommend. I´m obviously no expert and far from achieving “local-status” so if you are, feel free to chime in in the comments.
But first, let´s talk about some general things.
When to go?
Depending on where you live, my information might not be accurate for you. But if you´re located in Europe, the seasons in South Africa are directly opposite to ours. Meaning, if it´s winter in Europe, it´s summer in South Africa. We went from the end November to the beginning of December and were very happy with this time slot. It was nice, sunny and warm with temperatures going up to 30 – 35 degrees but still not too crowded although the main season starts in December. We never really had the feeling of being surrounded by tourists, on the contrary, we often had the beaches and nature reserves for ourselves. I would recommend not travelling in the middle of December though, since that´s when the locals are on vacation, so my guess is that it can get pretty crowded in the popular tourist destinations.
Where to stay?
We pretty much always use Airbnb when traveling and had one of our best accommodation in Cape Town. I can recommend staying in the gardens neighboorhood (Vredehoek, Oranjezicht and Gardens)
South Africa is definitely not as bad as it´s made out to be in Western media. Yes, crime rates are high but also vary greatly depending on the area. For example, Camps Bay, one of the wealthy areas of Cape Town has a lower crime rate than a lot of cities in Europe. If you approach your trip with a little bit of common sense and caution, you´ll be fine. The two most important things are (a) to never leave anything in your car since they are frequently broken into and (b) be careful with your belongings. For example, don’t leave them on the beach when going swimming and always keep an eye on them when walking around. Other than that, it´s laid back to move around as a tourist. Also, ask the locals, they know best about the do´s and don´ts and where to go or not to go.
Lions, hippos and snakes…
You will most likely not meet a wild lion or hippo in Cape Town, however, South Africa is home to some snakes that I´d rather not make acquaintance with. The chances of seeing a black mamba are incredibly slim. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be a little aware when hiking. We got a tip of stomping our feet every once in a while when hiking so that the snakes can feel the vibrations and flee. Generally speaking, snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them so you´ll most probably be fine.
Cape Town and the whole Western Cape is malaria free, so no need for special arrangements in that area.
Cape Town City Center
The center of Cape Town is not that big and can easily be explored by foot. If you´re tired of walking, take a taxi or an Uber. A good starting point for a tour are the Company´s Gardens, a lovely little park to relax or have a picnic. From there, you move towards the sea, strolling around Long Street with the abundance of little shops and turning right or left occasionally for a cup of coffee.
The Water Front is one of the main tourist attractions of Cape Town. The Docks and Harbour Area have been renovated in the 80s and is now a popular spot with lots of restaurants (and a huuuge mall). It is a little tourist-y but still, it´s pretty nice to enjoy the evening sun while sipping on a (albeit a bit expensive) glass of wine.
Bo Kap is the Muslim neighborhood of Cape Town and famous for it´s lovely, colorful little houses. It´s history can be explored in the (teeny tiny) museum. The most beautiful streets are Chiappini, Rose and Wale.
Museums or Township Tour
Whether you want to go on a township tour or not is personal decision that everyone has to make for themselves. Convincing arguments for and against it can be found on both sides and ultimately, it depends on which factors you deem more important. We went on a township tour in Port Elizabeth, more on our thoughts and experiences to come. An alternative to going on a township tour (which admittedly can feel a bit weird) is booking an accommodation in the townships. That way you´ll probably get a deeper insight into the live and culture of township live than on a three hour long tour and you can make sure, that the money you bring into the townships actually stays there.
I definitely recommend visiting one of the countless museums that offer interesting insights into the history of the city and/or South Africa. We visited the District Six Museum which was fascinating, but there are many others worth a visit (e.g. Robben Island, Slave Lodge, The South African Jewish Museum, etc.)
Cape Point/Cape of Good Hope
When visiting an unknown destination, the first thing almost everybody does is visit the famous sights. And a lot of times (at least in my experience) you get to the place everyone talks about and you think…meh? A lot of things are hyped up more than necessary but let me assure you, Cape Point is not one of them. It´s gorgeous!
It´s not far from Cape Town to Cape Point, that is, if you take the direct route. However, if you´re only in Cape Town for a couple of days and want to check out the surrounding beaches, you can combine it perfectly with a trip to Cape Point. We got the perfect tip from our hosts to travel with the sun. Meaning, in the morning you hit up Muizenberg Beach (see below), Kalk Bay or Simons Town, make a quick stop a Boulders Beach to see some penguins and then head to Cape Point. After spending a couple of hours there, you can continue following the sun to Hout Bay (the scenery on the way there is breathtaking, also, make sure to stop at Bay Harbour Market on the weekends) before ending up at Clifton Beach, enjoying a cool beer, wine or lemonade while watching the sun set.
If you´re more the outdoorsy type of person and have time on your hands, you could probably spend ages in the Cape Point National Park. It´s huge, has some lovely beaches, you can go hiking and even spend a night or two there.
In and surrounding Cape Town, there are some lovely beaches to check out. However, the water is freezing, the current is pretty strong and occasionally, sharks come to visit. Still, the beaches are a great place to hang out, surf, chill or watch the sunsets. On the way to Cape Point you´ll pass Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and Simons Town. Muizenberg beach is the famous one with the cute colorful houses, Simons Town is nice for a lunch break. There are also some beautiful beaches in the Cape Point National Park. In Cape Town, the most recommended beach would probably be Clifton Beach, which is great for watching the sunset.
The Oranjezicht City Farm Market was one of my highlights which is not surprising considering that I´m a big foodie (or just plain hungry all the time). It´s a beautiful market that is happening every Saturday right by the waterfront and selling everything that they grow on the City Farm themselves. You can have amazing breakfast there and buy pretty much everything, from vegetables, fruits, bread, cheese, nuts, pesto, cakes and cookies, smoothies, socks and so much more. All the while, enjoying the sea view and friendly atmosphere. If only something like this would exist in Germany…
There is another market which is supposed to be amazing, unfortunately we didn´t go.
Lions Head or Table Mountain?
Since we spend so little time in Cape Town, we didn´t have time to explore everything. We knew beforehand that we probably wouldn’t manage to check out both, Table Mountain and Lions Head so we asked around and pretty much everyone recommended hiking up Lions Head. The advantage of the Lions Head is that from the top, you have a 360° view. It´s also pretty easy to hike, even if you don´t have any experience. The best times are of course at dawn or in the evening, when the sun is setting. Hiking up there takes about 1 to 1 ½ hours and is not too complicated, however, it does get a little adventurous when the path starts disappearing and it gets a little high and steep right beneath you. Make sure you are good with heights, I for example didn´t make it all the way to the top. The view was still gorgeous.
Table Mountain is something we decided to check out on our next trip, mostly because we really wanted to take our time to explore, hike and discover.
Where to eat?
Cape Town is foodie paradise – you can get fresh, delicious and inexpensive food everywhere. Like I said, I´m no expert but these are the places that we liked. Let me know if you have other recommendations!
Orajnezicht City Farm Market – mentioned above, even if you don´t plan to eat anything it´s worth a visit. You can get everything there – waffles, pita, crepes, eggs benedict, smoothies, etc. – and if this doesn´t suit you, just get some fresh veggies and cook something at home.
Bay Harbour Market – another food market in Hout Bay (only on the weekends, friday with live music) with an abundance of deliciousness. I had a vegan “burger” (picture above) and was very satisfied.
The Woodlands Eatery – tasty pizza and amazing fish tacos!
Truth Coffee – according to their website, they have the best coffee of the world. The brunch looked good too.