I’d heard Cape Town was beautiful. I saw the colorful buildings in Boo Kaap a few years ago, saw the Table Mountain views and put Cape Town as a must-do in South Africa. But I still didn’t buy into the hype. Moreover, I did not understand why it was becoming a popular spot for destination weddings, or why everyone seemed to flock there.
You could say there were signs: Kachi blogged about her Cape Town experience with images that just drew you in. Carlinn posts dreamy pictures of her city just about everyday. A couple of days before I left for Cape Town, Glo declared it the most unique city she’d ever visited (and she’s been to 50+ countries).
Cape Town was the first stop on my Southern African adventure (See Part 1 here). There was no rhyme or reason to how that came to be, it was totally ‘based on logistics.’ As the captain on Emirates Flight EK772 announced our descent, I opened my window in seat 32A and peered out in excitement. I took a picture or two (okay maybe ten plus a short video that I need to learn how to put together on YouTube, but I digress). It hit me that I was in South Africa finally, but I still didn’t know what was to come.
As far as landscape and natural beauty, it is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to. That’s only the beginning. Let’s just say that I get it now. I’ll highlight my favorite things about this city and include links as well.
I haven’t complained about it much on here (but I have in real life) but getting the South African visa was a big pain in the ass. They asked for 10,000 documents and then some, it was RIDICULOUS. So, as I walked towards the immigration counters I had the lowest of expectations. I was ready for questioning but I could not have been more wrong.
You see, I may have been told to ‘enjoy my stay’ in a country or two but NEVER have I had an immigration officer stop, ask if it was my first time in her country and then smile and THANK ME for coming to South Africa before telling me to have an amazing time in the Mother City (Cape Town). Wait, what? At this point I was ready to go in for the hug and just be like Yaaassssssss!!! I thanked her, grabbed my passport and skipped out to pick up my bag and call that Uber! Throughout my stay, the warmth of people continued to be a recurring theme.
Stunning everywhere you look and you begin to realize this as you drive from the airport into the city (yes, even as we passed townships). Hills, mountains, bays, vineyards, beaches, the most beautiful peninsula drive (or bike ride), and need I say more?
Nigeria has Jollof rice, the US has got Burgers, Italy has pasta, and South Africa has got Braai!!! I was pre-warned on this one and I testify that I had amazing meals here in regular restaurants. Whatever you do, make sure to get yourself some meat Braai’d to perfection, add some chakalaka, pick your sides and thank me later. I tried everything that was offered to me including game meat, biltong (thanks Leigh-Anne), Malay Cuisine, Samp & Beans, Pap, Boerewors (South African Sausage). Top that off with some South African wine and what else could you ask for? Here are some spots to try out:
V&A Waterfront: A beehive of activity by day and just stunning at night. Waterfront Shops and restaurants, musicians, dancers, a Ferris wheel, a food market and more await you. Within my first hour, I was dancing to live Acapella! The ferry to Robben Island takes off from here and it is a great place to spend a leisurely half day perhaps after a Robben Island visit. Check out the food market here on Saturdays
Mzoli’s on a Sunday: For Braai, music, and to hang out with locals, I did not make it here as everyone told me not to go alone. I later found out that a group of people meet and go together, I was so bummed. Read Glo’s review above.
Marco’s African Place: I went here for dinner twice for great food and live music and dancing. This came recommended by my hostel when I found out Mama Africa was closed due to a fire.
Biesmiellah: I tried Cape Malay food here on my last afternoon in the city. The food was great (albeit sweet and I favor savory) and the service was excellent. This restaurant is in Bo Kaap.
Robben Island: A place that evokes so many emotions. Each one of the political prisoners on Robben Island took a stand for freedom & honor. Was it worth it, do people truly have this freedom yet? It also awakened me to the realities of evil that can exist amongst us. The conditions were brutal, and incredibly so for black prisoners. A former prisoner guides you through the prison, which is special in itself. He was imprisoned at age 18 for sabotage, he was young and naïve but there was no confusion about the wrongness of apartheid. He set fire to an apartheid government building.
There are far-reaching consequences of these dark days that I’ll write about in another post, but this visit brought so much to life for me. Robben Island is a place to learn, reflect, honor, and be inspired by the resilience of the human spirit.
I gained another level of respect and appreciation of those that took a stand for what was right. I’m more than ever challenged to not be a bystander on things that matter. (Tip: Buy your ticket online here in advance here as they sell out, I ended up not doing this and was fortunate to get a no show ticket after hustling for two hours J)
Bo Kaap & Bo Kaap Museum: I spent my last afternoon walking through this neighborhood that triggered my initial interest in Cape Town. There’s more to this area than its colorful buildings, and cobblestone. In the mid-twentieth century, the Apartheid government declared the Bo Kaap a Muslims-only area and forced people of other religions and ethnicity to leave the area. This case was unique because, during this time, most working class (and non-white) people in South Africa were being moved away from the cities (and into townships).
Cape Peninsula Drive: I’ll never forget this perfect day trip. A popular route is a circular route that starts in Cape Town with stops in Hout Bay (see the seals), Chapman Peak Drive, Scarborough, Cape Point, Boulders Beach (for Penguins!), Simons Town, Muizenberg (I didn’t stop here) and back to Cape Town. I did this on a day trip with Day trippers and had the best day. We biked (uphill in parts and I was totally not expecting this L so I was the slowest of the group) along the coast, had the cutest picnic lunch on a farm, and hiked to the lighthouse at Cape Point and then to Cape of Good Hope. (Tip: Rent a car and self drive at your pace if you have at least one co driver)
Signal Hill, Lions Head, and Table Mountain: You could hike all three but I didn’t because I didn’t have the time. I’ve read that Lion’s head for sunrise is amazing. I took the cable car up to Table Mountain and oh my, the views!!! You can paraglide from Signal hill with Cape Town Tandem Paragliding; I skipped this, as I’ve been paragliding in Lima, Peru.
City Life and Shopping
A Township Visit or Homestay: I struggled with whether to do a township tour but I’m absolutely glad that I did it. I wanted to see life in the township (at least one but even more if possible). However, there’s a fine line between doing so and objectifying these communities, I didn’t want to cross the line.
I went with a locally owned company (owned by someone from Langa Township – the oldest black township) and it was the absolutely right thing for me. In doing so, I directly supported a township-based business (and its vendors also within the township). I learned why and how townships came to be as black South Africans were moved out of the city. I learned that there are well-to-do professionals like Doctors and Professors that choose to live in the townships. I was taught about the difference between black and colored townships. There were four of us total in the group and the small group size was great.
Yes, there’s poverty in townships and there is a clear difference between the haves and have-not, but there’s also hustle, a grind that can’t be denied. Illegal abortions are rampant as is teenage pregnancy. There’s a growing meth problem, and low literacy rates.
There are kids playing hide and seek, just like anywhere else in the world. Hair-braiding shops are here and there, Congolese women are known to be the best braiders. In one shack, we marveled at the resourcefulness of a young man’s shack made of out bottle openers and cardboard. Where one may scoff at his living space, he felt pride, I felt proud for him. No room for pity here, he is building a life for himself one step at a time.
We stopped at a local school and the kids showed us their farm and gave us hugs! We stopped at a local Shebeen (shack pub) and I absolutely lost it when I realized we were going to try Umqombothi! This brought me back to the video and performance by Yvonne Chaka Chaka about this ‘African beer.’ You best believe I burst out in song inside the Shebeen.
This is a flea market perfect for window-shopping and souvenir shopping. I bought earrings, necklaces, and magnets. I was a 100% Lagos girl to avoid being conned. Bargain, bargain, and bargain. I start by slashing the price down to a third of asking price and see how the seller responds. I made a few friends at the end of my shopping from sheer relentlessness; you cannot be in a hurry for this stuff!
The establishments on Long Street and Bree Street are plentiful for a night out on the town. I went out on my first night in town and had a blast dancing the night away!
Other Things To do:
Stellenbosch: I know, I know, I cant believe I ran out of time to do this, but it came down to picking one and I went with the township. You should not miss visiting wine country when in Cape Town.
Dolphin watching, skydiving, helicopter rides over the city, shark cage diving, botanical gardens, are other activities worth checking out. You will not lack things to do.
Cape Town Is Legit!
Cape town is beautiful, and it is worth the hype. I challenge you not only visit, but to also really see this city. It is not perfect, and there’s a long way to go post-Apartheid, but it is beautiful in every way and its people are incredibly warm. They called me ‘Sister’ and I loved it.
From one sister to the Mother City, Thank you for embracing me, for teaching me, for showing me your beauty and for challenging me!
Now, go visit!
PS: This is the second post in my series about my trip within Southern Africa!