We got to Cape Town after 3 weeks on the road; we’d safaried, we’d hit the beach, we’d driven a few thousand kilometers, and swam with sharks and I honestly didn’t think the city could possibly be as great as all the countryside we’d seen. But, ohhhhhh Cape Town is a beaut.
We got into town after a long day of shark diving and wine tasting and we. were. BEAT. We got to our hotel (the Three Boutique Hotel) and just wanted to eat and pass out and so, we did.
Day 1 – Robben Island & Bo-Kaap
We started our first full day with a tour of Robben Island at 9 am. I reserved our tickets before the trip and I recommend that; all the tours of the day were fully booked except for a few spaces in the final one of the day. The tour starts with a bus drive around the island with a very informative guide explaining the history of the island and the prison. There’s a quick stop for snacks and a photo op in one of the innumerable frames that dot Cape Town’s streets and surroundings.
After the brief break, we were driven to the prison to meet our guide, an ex-political prisoner, who told us a blend of personal anecdote and general history of the prison. When enjoying Cape Town it’s easy to forget how recent the apartheid really was so I definitely recommend mixing in a bit of history into the trip. It’s important to never forget lest we repeat it.
After Robben Island, we booked it to Green Market Square to meet a walking tour of the Bo-Kaap. I’m a total sucker for a walking tour. I love history and I want to learn EVERYTHING when I’m in a new city. We walked the short distance from the square up to the Bo-Kaap, saw the city’s first mosque, learned about Tuan Guru and the Malaysian and Muslim immigrants while strolling through the most colorful neighborhood I’ve ever seen.
I LOVED Bo-Kaap. I wanted to stay for dinner but we had dinner plans already (spoiler alert, we went back again for that Cape Malay food). After a long day, we freshened up for an early dinner with friends at Codfather in Camps Bay. A must for fish lovers, too bad I hate fish!! However, it’s good to be pushed out of your comfort zone because I tried Dorado and I enjoyed it, so, jokes on me.
Day 2 – District 6 Museum, Botanical Gardens & Table Mountain
We had plans for this afternoon to meet friends for lunch in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens so we had the morning free to kill. We spent it in the District 6 Museum. District 6 was a neighborhood that was stolen during the apartheid, with its non-white residents forcefully removed and sent to live in the Cape Flats outside the city. The buildings were even bulldozed as they were emptied to prevent residents from returning. This area is still mostly empty today, all was demolished except for churches. This museum was set up inside the Methodist Church as people hung up photos and memories of the lives they had lived in District 6. The memories were never taken down but grew naturally into this museum. Our tour guide had grown up in District 6 and her story was heartbreaking. There is a bit of hope in that their family was given a home in District 6 once again, as restitution from the government. Her sister is living there and the home is the meeting point for the entire family.
Afterwards we spent the afternoon in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It was gorgeous and seemed to go on forever, laid out at the foot of Table Mountain. I loved the protea, South Africa’s national flower.
We had lunch at Moyo inside Kirstenbosch with friends. They serve African cuisine from all over the continent, not just South Africa and the setting is unbelievable. We tried a lot of different things and if I learned anything it’s this: never order worms. Their version of Bunny Chow (curry served in a loaf of bread) however was delicious.
Next up was a Table Mountain for sunset. But first, a quick run to the supermarket for a bottle of Rose. You can and should bring wine and snacks up to the top to enjoy while you savor the views. Reserving ahead was a HUGE time saver, the lines were no joke for those that hadn’t planned ahead.
We spent most of our time wandering around the endless trails sipping on our wine and watching fools take life risking shots for their Instagrams #anythingforthegram. There was a large group from the wedding party also at the top so after a bit of wandering and a bit more wine we joined them until a blaring siren subtly informed us it was time to go.
Day 3: Simon’s Town, Penguins, Cape Point & Muizenberg
We started the day with an early drive to Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town to see PENGUINS! You can stroll along a boardwalk above the beach and observe them from afar, or you can pay a nominal fee to waddle amongst them. Obvio we dished out and climbed over and under boulder’s to get up close and personal with the huge colony of penguins.
We went early because I heard there can be crowds in the afternoon and I hate a crowd. Most of the penguins were sunning themselves on the rocks and grooming each other. We also saw this adorable little guy called the Dassie Rat.
After we had our fill of penguin cuteness we kept driving down to Cape Point. The vistas are stunning both along the way and inside the park. We made a long pit-stop on our way with some street-side vendors and bought masks and elephant statues and assorted touristy trinkets.
We spent a couple of hours in the park, walking up to the top of the lighthouse and driving down to the sign that everyone takes pictures of. The sign that proudly proclaims this point to be the Most Southwestern Point of Africa, seems a bit of a reach. There were also too many people there, and I already mentioned my aversions to crowds so we made our way out of the park back into Simon’s Town for lunch.
We stopped for a very enjoyable lunch at Bertha’s, it’s right on the harbor and I recommend it for anyone looking to rest their bones and eat some affordable seafood while your at it. After a bit of a rest we left for one last stop: Muizenberg Beach.
We wanted to see the colorful beach huts and weren’t disappointed. We ended our long day walking up and down the beach before driving back into Cape Town. We had an early wake-up call the next day so we just got pizza to eat on the hotel’s terrace.
Day 4 – Sunrise on Lion’s Head & Sundowners in Camps Bay
I had gotten it into my head that I wanted to hike Lion’s Head to watch the sunrise. The sun rises at around 5:30 am. So, we set our alarm at 4:30 and we were there by 5. It was definitely worth the early wake-up. The crowds were minimal, we didn’t really come across too many people along the way and we got to avoid that midday heat. And also, those views…
The hike itself wasn’t bad at all, but it’s not for the acrophobic. It took us about 45 minutes to get to the stop. The first half you just walk along a dirt path that winds around the mountain. Then you reach a fork in the road where you can continue an easier route or take the quicker route that involves chains and ladders. We chose the ladder (HA), and it didn’t feel too harrowing, everything is very secure.
The sun was rising as we were climbing so we were a bit late to the party. But since we weren’t pros nor did we have flashlights besides our iPhone’s I think it was for the best. It hadn’t fully risen when we got up there so we could still sit and watch it rise from behind Table Mountain. This was my favorite thing we did in Cape Town and well worth the sweat.
After we made our way down, a bit quicker than we had made our way up, we went back to the hotel for breakfast. This was the first trip I’ve ever had to go back to a hotel for breakfast AFTER an activity on vacation and it happened more than once. South Africa is definitely designed for morning people.
We had a Happy Hour, or as the South Africans call it, Sundowner event for the wedding scheduled early that evening so we just enjoyed the rest of the morning on the beach in Camps Bay. We had earned it. I also squeezed in a mani-pedi, which I had also definitely earned.
Sundowners were on the lawn at The Roundhouse in Camps Bay, with a stunning view of the 12 Apostles. It was the first official wedding event for the 89 guests that had flown in from literally every continent (discounting Antarctica). The wine flowed freely and the company was unbeatable.
Day 5: Historical City Tour & Lots of Eating
All morning over breakfast we went back and forth over how to spend our final day: wine tasting in Franschhoek or just take it easy in the city. I always prefer to have at least one day without a strict list of things to see, where we can wander along with lots of food and drink pit-stops. So that’s what we decided to do. My friend Kevin joined us and we started the day on another walking tour (the same company we went with for Bo-Kaap): a history tour of the city center.
We saw the Company Gardens (above), Cape Town was founded as a glorified garden for the Dutch to use as a halfway point en route to Asia. It helped avoid scurvy and also set into motion those beautiful vineyards that still flourish today. The garden is still there albeit with different crops. We also saw where Nelson Mandela made his first speech as a free man. Our guide Rico explained so much about the history of the apartheid and posed for this picture, something that would have gotten him arrested only 26 years ago.
After the tour, we went back to Bo-Kaap for that Cape Malay food I had been dying to try all week. We shared samoosas (how it’s spelled in South Africa, not a typo), chicken curry, and bobotie at Biesmiellah, our guide had told us it was one of the best and I think she was right. After lunch, we went to the Atlas Trading Company, also in Bo-Kaap, and stocked up on some serious spices at a seriously cheap price point.
From here it just kind of snowballed, we ate and drank and ate and had coffee. We stopped for a gluttonous dessert at Honest Chocolate, AKA Heaven. Then we strolled on back towards the Green Market Square area where we shared a bottle of Chenin Blanc, South Africa’s specialty.
From here we walked back towards the District 6 area to Truth Coffee, AKA Hipster Mecca; all along the way snacking on samoosas I had bought that morning for 5 rand a pop at a street market because heaven forbid my sugar levels drop to a healthy level. The hipster vibe was strong but the coffee was fantastic. Martin got a coffee/orange juice “cocktail” served in a martini glass, it was a surprisingly tasty flavor combination.
This was an absolutely perfect day filled with so much amazing food and we were able to see most of Cape Town one last time. It was our last day in the city and Cape Town by far exceeded my expectations.
After Cape Town we drove up to Stellenbosch for my best friend’s wedding, to read about the rest of our trip, click here.
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