Cape Town Travel Guide

AS A COUPLE
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Even more extraordinary is that so close to the national park that extends over much of the peninsula, there’s a vibrant metropolis with nightlife to match the city’s wildlife. Swim with penguins at Boulders Beach, see the continent’s southwestern tip at Cape Point, enjoy lunch on the chichi Atlantic seaboard and taste fine wines on a historic Constantia estate, before partying the night away in a Long Street club. It’s all in a Mother City day.

Read our Cape Town city guide for everything you need to know before you go.

Brief history of Cape Town

San hunter-gatherers, South Africa’s first human inhabitants, moved freely through the Cape Peninsula for tens of millennia before being pushed inland some two thousand years ago by the arrival of Khoikhoi migrants from the north. Over the following 1600 years, the Khoikhoi held sway.

European influences

Portuguese mariners first rounded the Cape in the 1480s, and named it Cabo da Boa Esperança (Cape of Good Hope), but their attempts at trading with the Khoikhoi were short-lived.

In 1652 the Dutch East India Company cruised into Table Bay and set up a halfway house to provide fresh produce to their ships trading between Europe and the East. Their small landing party, led by Jan van Riebeeck, built a mud fort where the Grand Parade now stands and established vegetable gardens, which they hoped to work with indigenous labour. The Khoikhoi resisted, so Van Riebeeck began to import slaves in 1658, first from West Africa and later the East Indies. The growth of the Dutch settlement alarmed the Khoikhoi, who in 1659 tried to drive the Europeans out but were defeated. By 1700, the settlement had grown into an urban centre – “Kaapstad” (Cape Town).

The Brits arrive

During the early eighteenth century, Western Cape Khoikhoi society disintegrated, German and French religious refugees swelled the European population, and slavery became the economic backbone of the colony. By 1750, Cape Town was a town of over a thousand buildings, with 2500 inhabitants.

In 1795, Britain grabbed Cape Town to secure the strategic sea route to the East. They ordered the emancipation of slaves in 1834 and introduced freedom of religion, and South Africa’s first mosque was soon built by freed Muslim slaves in the Bo-Kaap.

By the turn of the nineteenth century, cosmopolitan Cape Town had become a seaport of major significance, growing under the influence of the British Empire. Since slavery had been abolished, Victorian Cape Town had to be built by convicts and prisoners of war. Racial segregation wasn’t far behind, and an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1901 gave the town council a pretext to establish Ndabeni, Cape Town’s first black location, near Maitland.

The birth of apartheid

In 1910, Cape Town was drawn into the political centre of the newly federated South Africa when it became the legislative capital of the Union. Increasing industrialization brought an influx of black workers to the city. In 1948, the whites-only National Party came to power, promising a fearful white electorate that it would reverse the flow of Africans. A new policy favoured coloured people over black Africans for employment, yet only black African men who had jobs were admitted to Cape Town (women were excluded altogether). The construction of family accommodation for Africans was also forbidden.

The exclusively black Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) organized a peaceful anti-pass demonstration in Langa on 30 March 1960, which sparked the government to ban anti-apartheid opposition groups, including the PAC and ANC. The notorious Group Areas Act was used to uproot whole coloured communities from District Six and move them to the desolate Cape Flats. In 1972, the National Party stripped away coloured representation on the town council.

Nelson Mandela

A decade later, the re-formed United Democratic Front heralded a period of intensified opposition to apartheid. In 1986, influx control was scrapped, and blacks poured into Cape Town seeking work and erecting shantytowns. On 11 February 1990, just hours after being released from prison, Nelson Mandela made his first public speech from the balcony of City Hall and, four years later, he made history as South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

In the 1994 election, while most of South Africa delivered an ANC landslide, the Western Cape voted in the National Party – the party that invented apartheid. The majority of coloured people had voted for the party that had once stripped them of the vote, regarding it with less suspicion than they did the black-dominated ANC. Since 2006 both have been governed by the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA), which maintains Cape Town as the city in the country with the least corruption and best infrastructure and facilities. Nonetheless there have been violent protests in the townships about non-delivery of services.

Modern day inequality

The city also suffers from a slew of other problems – poverty, unemployment, housing, rampant crime and high infection rates for HIV and TB. Cape Town remains a divided city, and one where inequality is extreme.

Where to go in Cape Town

More than a scenic backdrop, Table Mountain is the solid core of Cape Town. The flat-topped mountain divides the city into distinct zones, with public gardens, wilderness, forests, hiking routes, vineyards and desirable residential areas trailing down its lower slopes. Standing on the summit, the capital of the Western Cape unfurls before you. Look north for a giddy view of the city centre, its docks lined with matchbox ships. To the west, beyond the mountainous Twelve Apostles, your eye sweeps across the beautiful Atlantic seaboard. To the south, historic vineyards and the marvellous Kirstenbosch Gardens creep up the forested lower slopes.

Here are the top places to visit in Cape Town:

The city centre

The Upper City Centre contains the remains of the city’s 350-year-old historic core. The neighbourhood has survived the ravages of modernization and apartheid-inspired urban clearance to emerge as South Africa’s most charming city centre. It is a place where Europe, Asia and Africa meet in the markets, alleyways and mosques, while a jigsaw of Georgian, Cape Dutch, Victorian and twentieth-century architecture pieces together its complex history. Among the drawcards here are Parliament, the Company’s Garden and a cluster of museums. North of Strand Street to the shore, the Lower City Centre takes in the still-functional Duncan Dock.

Robben Island

Lying a few kilometres from the Waterfront, flat and windswept Robben Island is suffused by a meditative, otherworldly silence. This key site of South Africa’s liberation struggle was intended to silence apartheid’s domestic critics, but instead became an international focus for opposition to the regime. Measuring just six square kilometres and sparsely vegetated by low scrub, it was Nelson Mandela’s “home” for almost twenty years. The UNESCO-listed island is now a museum, and a tour of the former prison is one of the most interesting things to do in Cape Town.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain, a 1086m flat-topped massif with dramatic cliffs and eroded gorges, dominates the northern end of the Cape Peninsula. Its north face overlooks the city centre, with the distinct formations of Lion’s Head and Signal Hill to the west and Devil’s Peak to the east. The massif’s west face is made up of a series of gable-like formations known as the Twelve Apostles. The southwest face towers over Hout Bay, and the east gazes over the Southern Suburbs. The mountain is a habitat for wildlife, including indigenous baboons, dassies and porcupines, and 1400 species of flora. Fabulous hikes weave up and along Table Mountain, while the highly popular cable car offers dizzying views across town to Table Bay and the Atlantic.

Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach takes its name from the huge granite rocks that cluster together to form little coves with sandy beaches and clear sea pools. However, the main reason people come to Boulders’ fenced seafront reserve is for the 2000-plus African penguins (also known as jackass penguins for their distinctive bray). African penguins usually live on islands off the Southern African coast, including Robben Island, and the Boulders birds form one of only two mainland colonies.

Top Things to do in Cape Town

From art and architecture to culture, nature and vineyards, Cape Town travel is diverse and rewarding.

Here are the 10 top things to do in Cape Town:

  1. South African National Gallery

    Check out the sculpture Butcher Boys by Jane Alexander, the epitome of surreal menace, in one of the city’s finest art museums.

  2. Bo-Kaap

    One of Cape Town’s oldest residential areas, its hilly streets are characterized by colourful nineteenth-century Cape Dutch and Georgian terraces.

  3. Robben Island

    Visit the infamous island prison where Nelson Mandela lived for nearly two decades, breaking rocks in the quarry and planning the end of apartheid.

  4. Rotate up Table Mountain

    The revolving cable car is the city’s easiest route to the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views across town to Table Bay and the Atlantic.

  5. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

    Hike in one of the world’s loveliest botanical gardens to discover the fynbos vegetation and its astonishing variety of plants, whose 8500 mostly endemic species make the Cape Floristic Region one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots.

  6. Boulders Beach

    Swimming with penguins on this False Bay beach is one of the most memorable things to do in Cape Town.

  7. Cape Point

    The dramatically rocky southernmost section of the Cape Peninsula offers spectacular views and walks.

  8. Township tour

    See where most Capetonians live and visit an artist’s home gallery in Langa, the city’s oldest township.

  9. Long Street nightlife

    Party till the early hours along the city centre’s nightlife hub, home to a cluster of cool places to drink and dance.

  10. Wine tasting

    Taste fine wines on a historic Constantia estate in the Cape’s oldest winelands, which tumble down the lower slopes of Table Mountain and the Constantiaberg, offering tantalizing views of False Bay.

Accommodation in Cape Town

Cape Town has plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets, though booking ahead is recommended, especially over the Christmas and Easter holidays. The long peninsula offers many different locations, all with hotly debated advantages and varying physical beauty. You’ll need to choose whether you want to be central, with nightlife on your doorstep, or would prefer a quieter setting closer to the ocean, in which case you’ll travel further to get into the city. The greatest concentration of accommodation is in the city centre, City Bowl and the Atlantic seaside strip as far south as Camps Bay. One of the best ways to experience everyday black South Africa is to stay in one of the African townships as part of your Cape Town travel.

Where to eat out in Cape Town

Eating out is one of the highlights of visiting this world-class culinary destination, where the Mediterranean climate nurtures farms, vineyards and small producers galore. Prices are inexpensive compared with Western countries. For the cost of an unmemorable meal back home, you can eat imaginative dishes by outstanding chefs in an upmarket restaurant. This is the place to splash out, and you’ll find the quality of meat, from steaks to springbok, is high, with many vegetarian options also available.

A few restaurants are dedicated to Cape Malay or African cuisine, though other genres are generally prepared more skilfully. Expect fresh Cape fish at every good restaurant as well as seafood from warmer waters. Try the delicious local fish such as yellowtail, which is not endangered. Also check out the fun neighbourhood markets, one of the top places to visit in Cape Town for local food.

Drinking and nightlife in Cape Town

Being a hedonistic city, Cape Town has a range of great places to drink and party, particularly along Long Street. In the summer, the Atlantic seaboard, notably Camps Bay, is a great option for sundowners. While it is possible to seek out a few longstanding watering holes with an old-world ambience, a growing crop of hipster bars with eclectic decor are springing up across the city.

Along with the Winelands, Cape Town’s Constantia is the oldest and most rewarding wine-producing region – a wine-tasting session is among the best things to do in Cape Town. Despite its fine New World wines, beer is indisputably the national drink, cutting across all racial and class divisions. In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of microbreweries, which produce craft beers and ciders.

Sports and activities in Cape Town

There are few other cities in the world where outdoor pursuits are so easily available and affordable as Cape Town. With Table Mountain National Park right on the city’s doorstep, you can try activities such as sea kayaking, abseiling, paragliding and scuba diving for considerably less than you might pay in a Western country. Alternatively, hit the spa, swing a golf iron or watch the cricket, rugby or football. To find out what major fixtures are on, and to buy tickets, visit Computicket.

Shopping in Cape Town

The V&A Waterfront is Cape Town’s most popular shopping venue, with a vast range of shops in a lovely harbour setting. Nearby, the Cape Quarter, accessed off Somerset Road on the border of Der Waterkant and Green Point, is smaller and more exclusive. While most South African malls tend to follow the American model, the city centre offers much more variety. Long Street is good for crafts, antiques and secondhand books, while Bree Street and Kloof Street are perfect for unique designer goods. For something edgier, the increasingly gentrified city-fringe districts of Woodstock and the East City have clusters of cutting-edge design shops and markets. Cape Town’s Green Map is a great source of information about ethical shopping and organic markets.

LGBTQ Cape Town

Cape Town is South Africa’s – and indeed, the African continent’s – LGBTQ capital. The city has long had a vibrant gay culture, attracting gay travellers from across the country and the globe. The centrally located Pink Village, as the gay-friendly De Waterkant is known, offers excellent LGBTQ-orientated cafés, nightlife, accommodation and a sauna. Despite South Africa’s progressive constitution legalizing same-sex marriages, outside the city attitudes remain conservative and there is a great deal of homophobia. Homosexuals are regularly harassed and attacked in the African townships, so be discreet outside the city centre. Cape Town travel is great for LGBTQ events and festivals; try the hugely popular gay costume party organized by Mother City Queer Project in December, or the fun gay pride festival in February.

Around Cape Town

In this section of the Cape Town city guide, we’ll look at the interesting neighbourhoods and nature parks beyond the busy centre.

The Cape Flats

Stretching east of the M5 highway and sprawling out past the airport, the windswept Cape Flats are Cape Town’s largest residential area. It takes in the coloured districts, African townships and informal settlements (shanty town squatter camps). Once the apartheid dumping ground for black and coloured people, these township-covered flatlands now offer rewarding experiences of everyday African life and are best visited on a tour.

Table Mountain National Park

One of Cape Town’s most remarkable features is its seamless fusion with Table Mountain National Park, a patchwork of mountains, forests and coastline. In addition to its crowning glory – the mighty summit after which the park is named – highlights include Silvermine Nature Reserve, which has beautiful walks and a dam to swim in; and Cape Point, the dramatic southwestern tip of Africa.

The Atlantic Seaboard

Table Mountain’s steep drop into the ocean forces the suburbs along the Atlantic seaboard into a ribbon of developments clinging dramatically to the slopes. The sea can be very chilly, but the Atlantic seaboard offers mind-blowing views from some of the most incredible coastal roads in the world, particularly beyond Sea Point. One of the most rewarding things to do in Cape Town is whale-spotting on the western side of the peninsula. The coast itself is a string of bays and white-sand beaches, while inland the Twelve Apostles, a series of rocky buttresses, gaze down on the surf. The beaches are ideal for sunbathing or sunset picnics, or people-watch at some of the city’s most glamorous outdoor cafés and bars.

The False Bay Seaboard

In summer the waters of False Bay are several degrees warmer than those on the Atlantic seaboard, which is why Cape Town’s most popular seaside towns line this flank of the peninsula. A series of historic, mountain-backed suburbs are dotted all the way south from Muizenberg, through St James, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and down to Simon’s Town. Each has its own character with restaurants, shops and places to stay. Simon’s Town, one of South Africa’s oldest settlements, makes either a pleasant day-trip or a relaxing base for visiting Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.

Top image © wolffpower/Shutterstock

Best time to visit

Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate, the warm, dryish summers balanced by cool wet winters. The best time to visit Cape Town depends on the kind of trip you’re planning; come prepared for hot days in winter and cold snaps in summer, and always pack a jumper and jacket.

For sun and swimming, the best time to visit is from October to mid-December and mid-January to Easter, when it’s light long into the evening and there’s an average of ten hours of sunshine a day.

Between mid-December and mid-January, the whole region becomes congested as the nation takes its annual seaside holiday. In Cape Town, this is serious party time, with plenty of major festivals and events; if this is when you plan to visit, arrange accommodation and transport well in advance, and expect to pay considerably more for your bed than during the rest of the year.

Despite its shorter daylight hours, the autumn period, from April to mid-May, has a lot going for it: the southeaster drops and air temperatures remain pleasantly warm and the light is sharp and bright. For similar reasons the spring month of September can be very agreeable, with the added attraction that following the winter rains the peninsula tends to be at its greenest.

Although spells of heavy rain occur in winter (June and July), it tends to be relatively mild, with temperatures rarely falling below 6˚C. Glorious sunny days with crisp blue skies are common, and you won’t see bare wintry trees either: indigenous vegetation is evergreen and gardens flower year-round. It’s also in July that the first migrating whales begin to appear along the southern Cape coast, usually staying till the end of November.

The southeaster, the cool summer wind that blows in across False Bay, forms a major obsession for Capetonians. Its fickle moods can singlehandedly determine what kind of day you’re going to have, and when it gusts at over 60kph you won’t want to be outdoors, let alone on the beach. Conversely, its gentler incarnation as the so-called Cape Doctor brings welcome relief on humid summer days, and lays the famous cloudy tablecloth on top of Table Mountain.

Robben Island

Lying only a few kilometres from the commerce of the Waterfront, flat and windswept Robben Island is suffused by a meditative, otherworldly silence. This key site of South Africa's liberation struggle was intended to silence apartheid's domestic critics, but instead became an international focus for opposition to the regime. Measuring six square kilometres and sparsely vegetated by low scrub, it was Nelson Mandela's "home" for nearly two decades.

The ferry trip from the Waterfront takes about half an hour to reach the island. After arrival you are taken on a bus tour around the island and a tour of the prison. The bus tour stops off at several historical landmarks, the first of which is a beautiful shrine built in memory of Tuan Guru, a Muslim cleric from present-day Indonesia who was imprisoned here by the Dutch in the eighteenth century. On his release, he helped to establish Islam among slaves in Cape Town. The tour also passes a leper graveyard and church designed by Sir Herbert Baker.

Robert Sobukwe's house is perhaps the most affecting relic of incarceration on the island. It was here that Sobukwe, leader of the Pan Africanist Congress (a radical offshoot of the ANC), was held in solitary confinement for nine years. No other political prisoners were allowed to speak to him, but he would sometimes gesture his solidarity with them by letting sand trickle through his fingers as they walked past. After his release in 1969, Sobukwe was restricted to Kimberley under house arrest, until his death from cancer in 1978.

Another stopoff is the lime quarry where Nelson Mandela and his fellow inmates spent countless hours of hard labour.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain, a 1087-metre flat-topped massif with dramatic cliffs and eroded gorges, dominates the northern end of the Cape Peninsula. Its north face overlooks the city centre with the distinct formations of Lion’s Head and Signal Hill to the west and Devil’s Peak to the east. The west face is made up of a series of gable-like formations known as the Twelve Apostles; the southwest face towers over Hout Bay and the east face over the southern suburbs. The mountain is a compelling feature in the middle of the city, a wilderness where you’ll find wildlife and 1400 species of flora. Indigenous mammals include baboons, dassies and porcupines.

Reckoned to be the most-climbed massif in the world, Table Mountain has suffered under the constant pounding of hikers – although the damage isn’t always obvious. Every year the mountain strikes back, taking its toll of lives. One of the commonest causes of difficulties is people losing the track (often due to sudden mist falling) and becoming trapped. If you plan to tackle one of the hundreds of its walks or climbs, go properly prepared. There are also full-day guided hikes tailored to your level of fitness. You may choose to come back the easy way by cable car, or partially abseil.

The cable car

The least challenging, but certainly not least interesting, way up and down the mountain is via the highly popular cable car at the western table, which offers dizzying views across Table Bay and the Atlantic. The state-of-the-art Swiss system is designed to complete a 360-degree rotation on the way, giving passengers a full panorama. Cars leave from the lower cableway station on Tafelberg Road. You can make a real outing of it by going up for breakfast or a sunset drink and meal at the vamped-up eco-restaurant; the upper station is an incomparable spot to watch the sun go down.

Dassies

The outsized fluffy guinea pigs you'll encounter at the top of Table Mountain are dassies or hyraxes (Procavia capensis), which, despite their appearance, aren't rodents at all, but the closest living relatives of elephants. Their name (pronounced like "dusty" without the "t") is the Afrikaans version of dasje, meaning "little badger", a name given to them by the first Dutch settlers. Dassies are very widely distributed, having thrived in South Africa with the elimination of predators, and can be found in suitably rocky habitats all over the country. They live in colonies consisting of a dominant male and eight or more related females and their offspring.

Dassies have poor body temperature control and, like reptiles, rely on shelter against both hot sunlight and the cold. They wake up sluggish and seek out rocks where they can catch the early morning sun – this is one of the best times to look out for them. One adult stands sentry against predators and issues a low-pitched warning cry in response to a threat.

Sacred circle

A number of Muslim holy men and princes were exiled from the East Indies by the Dutch during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and brought to the Cape, where some became revered as auliyah or Muslim saints. The kramats, of which there are nearly two dozen in the province, are their burial sites, shrines and places of pilgrimage. The Signal Hill kramat is a shrine to Mohamed Gasan Galbie Shah, a follower of Sheik Yusuf, a Sufi scholar, who was deported to the Cape in 1694 with a 49-strong retinue. According to tradition, he conducted Muslim prayer meetings in private homes and slave quarters, becoming the founder of Islam in South Africa. Sheik Yusuf's kramat on the Cape Flats is said to be one of a sacred circle of six kramats, including one on Robben Island, that protect Cape Town from natural disasters.

Table Mountain National Park – Cape of Good Hope

Most people come to the Cape of Good Hope section of the Table Mountain National Park to see the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Point. In fact, the continent’s real tip is at Cape Agulhas, some 300km southeast of here, but Cape Point is a lot easier to get to and a hugely dramatic spot. The reserve sits atop massive sea cliffs with huge views, strong seas and, when it’s blowing southeast, gales that whip off caps and sunglasses as visitors gaze southwards from the old lighthouse buttress.

From the car park, the famous viewpoint is a short, steep walk up a series of stairs to the original lighthouse. A funicular (R45 return) runs the less energetic to the top, where there’s a curio shop.

Cape Point

Cape Point is the treacherous promontory of rocks, winds and swells braved by navigators since the Portuguese first "rounded the Cape" in the fifteenth century. Plenty of wrecks lie submerged off its coast, and at Olifantsbos on the west side you can walk to a US ship sunk in 1942, and a South African coaster that ran aground in 1965. The Old Lighthouse, built in 1860, was too often dangerously shrouded in cloud, and failed to keep ships off the rocks, so another was built lower down in 1914. It's not always successful in averting disasters, but is still the most powerful light beaming onto the sea from South Africa.

Most visitors make a beeline for Cape Point, seeing the rest of the reserve through a vehicle window, but walking is the best way to appreciate the dramatic landscape and flora.

There are several waymarked walks in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. If you're planning a big hike it's best to set out early, and take plenty of water, as shade is rare and the wind can be foul. One of the most straightforward hiking routes is the signposted forty-minute trek from the car park at Cape Point to the more westerly Cape of Good Hope. For exploring the shoreline, a clear path runs down the Atlantic side, which you can join at Gifkommetjie, signposted off Cape Point Road. From the car park, several sandy tracks drop quite steeply down the slope across rocks, and through bushes and milkwood trees to the shore, along which you can walk in either direction. The Hoerikwaggo Table Mountain Trail is a popular four-day, five-night hike from Table Mountain to Cape Point along the Peninsula spine. There are overnight huts along the way and you can do just one or more of the 17–18km sections (from R42/person a night; 021 683 7826, www.hoerikwaggotrail.org).

A single main road runs from the Cape Point entrance to the car park, restaurant and funicular. A number of roads branch off this, each leading to one of the series of beaches on either side of the peninsula. The sea is too dangerous for swimming, but there are safe tidal pools at the Buffels Bay and Bordjiesrif beaches, which are adjacent to each other, midway along the east shore. Both have braai stands, but more southerly Buffels Bay is the nicer, with big lawned areas and some sheltered spots to have a picnic.

Cape Point and around

Cape Point is the treacherous promontory of rocks, winds and swells braved by navigators since the Portuguese first "rounded the Cape" in the fifteenth century. Plenty of wrecks lie submerged off its coast, and at Olifantsbos on the west side you can walk to a US ship sunk in 1942, and a South African coaster that ran aground in 1965. The Old Lighthouse, built in 1860, was too often dangerously shrouded in cloud, and failed to keep ships off the rocks, so another was built lower down in 1914. It’s not always successful in averting disasters, but is still the most powerful light beaming onto the sea from South Africa.

Walking

Most visitors make a beeline for Cape Point, seeing the rest of the reserve through a vehicle window, but walking is the best way to appreciate the dramatic landscape and flora.

There are several waymarked walks in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. If you’re planning a big hike it’s best to set out early, and take plenty of water, as shade is rare and the wind can be foul. One of the most straightforward hiking routes is the signposted forty-minute trek from the car park at Cape Point to the more westerly Cape of Good Hope. For exploring the shoreline, a clear path runs down the Atlantic side, which you can join at Gifkommetjie, signposted off Cape Point Road. From the car park, several sandy tracks drop quite steeply down the slope across rocks, and through bushes and milkwood trees to the shore, along which you can walk in either direction. The Hoerikwaggo Table Mountain Trail is a popular four-day, five-night hike from Table Mountain to Cape Point along the Peninsula spine. There are overnight huts along the way and you can do just one or more of the 17–18km sections (from R42/person a night; T 021 683 7826, W www.hoerikwaggotrail.org).

The beaches

A single main road runs from the Cape Point entrance to the car park, restaurant and funicular. A number of roads branch off this, each leading to one of the series of beaches on either side of the peninsula. The sea is too dangerous for swimming, but there are safe tidal pools at the Buffels Bay and Bordjiesrif beaches, which are adjacent to each other, midway along the east shore. Both have braai stands, but more southerly Buffels Bay is the nicer, with big lawned areas and some sheltered spots to have a picnic.

Furry felons

Baboons may look amusing, but be warned: they can be a menace. Keep your car windows closed, as it's not uncommon for them to invade vehicles, and they're adept at swiping picnics. You should lock your car doors even if you only plan to get out for a few minutes to admire the view as there are growing reports of baboons opening unlocked car doors while the vehicle owner's back is turned. Avoid unwrapping food or eating or drinking anything if baboons are in the vicinity. Feeding them is illegal and provocative and can incur a fine. Authorized baboon-chasers are in evidence in several places, warding them off.

Cape fauna

Along with indigenous plants and flowers, you may well spot some of the animals living in the fynbos habitat on Cape Point. Ostriches stride through the low fynbos, and occasionally African penguins come ashore. A distinctive bird on the rocky shores is the black oystercatcher with its bright red beak, jabbing limpets off the rocks. You’ll also see Cape cormorants in large flocks on the beach or rocks, often drying their outstretched wings. Running up and down the water’s edge (where, as on any other beach walk in the Cape, you’ll see piles of shiny brown Ecklonia kelp) are white-fronted plovers and sanderlings, probing for food left by the receding waves.

As for mammals, baboons lope along the rocky shoreline, and grazing on the heathery slopes are bontebok, eland and red hartebeest, as well as Cape rhebok and grysbok. If you’re very lucky, you may even see some of the extremely rare Cape mountain zebras.

What you will undoubtedly see are rock agama lizards, black zonure lizards and rock rabbits (dassies).

The Cape Flats and the townships

East of the northern and southern suburbs, among the industrial smokestacks and the windswept Cape Flats, reaching well beyond the airport, is Cape Town’s largest residential quarter, taking in the coloured districts, African townships and shantytown squatter camps. The Cape Flats are exactly that: flat, barren and populous, exclusively inhabited by Africans and coloureds in separate areas, with the M5 acting as a dividing line between it and the southern suburbs.

Brief history

The African townships were historically set up as dormitories to provide labour for white Cape Town, not as places to build a life, which is why they had no facilities and no real hub. The men-only hostels, another apartheid relic, are at the root of many of the area’s social problems. During the 1950s, the government set out a blueprint to turn the tide of Africans flooding into Cape Town. No African was permitted to settle permanently in the Cape west of a line near the Fish River, the old frontier over 1000km from Cape Town; women were entirely banned from seeking work in Cape Town and men prohibited from bringing their wives to join them. By 1970 there were ten men for every woman in Langa.

In the end, apartheid failed to prevent the influx of work-seekers desperate to come to Cape Town. Where people couldn’t find legal accommodation they set up squatter camps of makeshift iron, cardboard and plastic sheeting. During the 1970s and 1980s, the government attempted to demolish these and destroy anything left inside – but no sooner had the police left than the camps reappeared, and they are now a permanent feature of the Cape Flats. One of the best known of all South Africa’s squatter camps is Crossroads, whose inhabitants suffered campaigns of harassment that included killings by apartheid collaborators and police, and continuous attempts to bulldoze it out of existence. Through sheer determination and desperation its residents hung on, eventually winning the right to stay. Today, the government is making attempts to improve conditions in the shantytowns by introducing electricity, running water and sanitation, as well as building tiny brick houses to replace the shacks.

Township tours and homestays

Several projects are under way to encourage tourists into the townships but, as a high proportion of Cape Town's nearly two thousand annual murders take place here, the recommended way to visit is on a tour operated by residents of the Cape Flats, or in cooperation with local communities, emphasizing face-to-face encounters with ordinary people. They include visits to shebeens, nightclubs and a township restaurant, chats with residents of squatter camps and the Langa hostels, and meetings with traditional healers and music makers, township artists and craftworkers. Some tours also take in "sites of political struggle", where significant events in the fight against apartheid occurred. If you want to really get under the skin of the townships, there's no better way than staying in one of the township B&Bs which offer pleasant, friendly and safe accommodation.

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8/29/2020
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