CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
A coming-together of cultures, cuisines and landscapes, there’s nowhere quite like Cape Town, a singularly beautiful city crowned by the magnificent Table Mountain National Park.
Table Mountain National Park defines the city. The flat-topped mountain is the headline act, but there are many other equally gorgeous natural landscapes within the park’s extensive boundaries. Cultivated areas, such as the historic Company’s Gardens, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Green Point Park, also make exploring the city a pleasure. Follow the lead of locals by taking full advantage of the abundant outdoor space: learn to surf; go hiking or mountain biking; tandem-paraglide off Lion’s Head; abseil off the top of Table Mountain – just a few of the many activities on offer.
Art & Design
Human creativity is also self-evident here – it’s one of the things that made the city a World Design Capital in 2014. From the brightly painted facades of the Bo-Kaap and the bathing chalets of Muizenberg to the Afro-chic decor of its restaurants and bars and the striking street art and innovation incubators of the East City and Woodstock, this is one great-looking metropolis. The informal settlements of the Cape Flats are a sobering counterpoint, but these townships also have enterprising projects that put food from organic market gardens on tables, or stock gift shops with attractive souvenirs.
Beyond the City
Wrenching yourself away from the magnetic mountain and all the delights of the Cape Peninsula is a challenge, but within an hour you can exchange urban landscapes for the charming towns, villages and bucolic estates of Winelands destinations, such as Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Hermanus is a prime whale-watching location, and also a base from which to organise shark-cave diving. Further afield, the delights of the Garden Route unfold, with more inspiring scenery to be viewed on thrilling drives down the coast and over mountain passes.
People & Culture
Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and traditional African beliefs coexist peacefully in this proudly multicultural city. Given South Africa’s troubled history, such harmony has been hard-won and remains fragile: nearly everyone has a fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking story to tell. It’s a city of determined pioneers – from the Afrikaner descendants of the original Dutch colonists and the majority coloured community to the descendants of European Jewish immigrants and more recent Xhosa (isiXhosa) migrants from the Eastern Cape. They all bring unique flavours to Cape Town’s rich melting pot.
Black-maned lions framed against Kalahari dunes; powdery beaches lapped by two oceans; star-studded desert skies; jagged, lush mountains – this truly is a country of astounding diversity.
South Africa’s landscapes are stunning, from the burning Karoo and Kalahari semideserts to the misty heights of the Drakensberg range and the massive Blyde River Canyon. Even in urban Cape Town you need only look up to see the beautiful fynbos (indigenous flora) climbing the slopes of Table Mountain while, nearby, two of the world’s most dramatic coastal roads lead to Cape Point and Hermanus. Add the vineyards carpeting the Winelands, old-growth forests along the Garden Route and Tsitsikamma, Indian Ocean beaches and Lesotho’s inspiring mountains, and there is a staggering variety to enjoy.
To visit South Africa without learning about its tumultuous history is to miss a crucial part of the country’s identity. Museum visits, many of which include exhibits on the apartheid era, might not be lighthearted, but will help you to understand the very fabric of South African society and to appreciate how far the country has come. Continue your history lesson with a visit to one of the townships, taking time to chat to locals and to learn that despite a heart-wrenching past, there is great pride here, and an immense sense of promise for the future.
South Africa is one of the continent’s best safari destinations, offering the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) and more in accessible parks and reserves. You can drive right into the epic wilderness at Kruger, Kgalagadi and other parks, or join khaki-clad rangers on guided drives and walks. But it’s not all about big game sightings – wildlife watching here also teaches you to enjoy the little things: a leopard tortoise ambling alongside the road, a go-away bird chirping its distinctive chant in the trees, or on the coast, an encounter with seals, whales or a great white shark.
South Africa’s ever-changing scenery is the perfect canvas on which to paint an activity-packed trip. Try rock-climbing in the craggy Cederberg, surfing off the Eastern Cape coast, abseiling from Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain or bungee jumping from a Garden Route bridge. If adrenaline sports aren’t your thing, opt instead for a hike: options include multi-day treks through wildlife reserves, dusty day walks in the semi-desert Karoo, catered “slackpacking” trails along the Cape coast or an overnight hike into the sometimes snow-capped peaks of the Drakensberg.