There are few places in the world that offer some of the greatest things in life in one neat and easily accessible package: Stunning nature, interesting history, awesome adventure, great food and wine, and some of the most exciting wildlife in the world. Cape Town in South Africa manages to do just that.
Here’s why my vote for the best city in the world goes to Cape Town – and why I think you should book a flight over right now. Or at least right after reading this article.
1. Stunning nature
At almost any location in or around Cape Town, you only have to look up to see the magnificent Table Mountain. At 1100 m tall, it dominates the horizon around the city and is, without doubt, Cape Town’s most famous landmark. If you ever get tired of seeing it from below, head on up the mountain to see the vista from a different perspective. You can jump on the cable cars to enjoy an easy glide up or take one of a few different trails ranging from 3-10 km that lead up to the top.
Directly across from Table Mountain sits Lion’s Head at 670 m above sea level. A 5 km hike to the top provides sweet views with little sweat. Interested in more adrenaline? Schedule a tandem paragliding trip off the top and soar above the city, off the coast and back.
2. A rich and raw history
Robben Island, where South Africa’s most famous civil rights activist and former president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, is a must-see. Used as a criminal prison by the Dutch, Robben Island became a prison used by the apartheid-era South African government to lock up civil and political activists who opposed the government. Walking through the compound you can visit the cell where Mandela spent 18 years of his life. Walking outside the compound gives you a view of the iconic skyline of Cape Town, ominously out of reach.
Coming back to the city center you can learn about the trials and tribulations of what was once the city’s soul – District Six. While nothing much stands in this location now there was once a booming neighborhood that used to be home to 60,000+ merchants and immigrants. Under apartheid law District Six was made a white only sector and by 1968 families were forcibly removed and relocated over 25 km away to the Cape Flats. Taking a walking tour of the now vacant area with guides who were themselves evicted in 1968 gives you very raw and real insights into what life in the city was like for decades. Don’t forget to visit the District Six Museum for further insights into what life in the area used to be like.
3. Adventure that’s all around
Adventure is part of the very DNA of this city. You can surf, hike and paraglide off mountains in one single day, and if you’re really, really brave you can go cage diving with great white sharks. Head out to Birkenhead Peninsula and you’ll find many companies eager to take you out to safely view one of the largest marine predators on the planet. Take your GoPro – but be careful with that selfie stick.
When cage diving with Great White Sharks isn’t enough take a drive to Tsitsikamma National Park where you’ll find many more opportunities to cross off your bucket list. Bungee jump off Bloukrans Bridge, the 4th tallest bungee jump in the world, then do a spot of kayaking, scuba diving or mountain biking in the park.
4. World-class wining and dining
The Garden Route is arguably one of the most iconic and idyllic places in the world to sample outstanding wines and eat outstanding food. And it’s easily accessible from the city. It sports beautiful coastal views, picturesque lakes and gorgeous farmlands and makes for a perfect road trip. It’s here that you’ll find South Africa’s best and most famous wine growing regions and vineyards, including Stellenbosch, Constantia and Paarl.
For some world-class (casual) dining, make a short trek to the Hout Bay Market on a weekend to check out a bustling marketplace with local vendors and eat oysters the size of your head. There you’ll find endless types of artisan foods, including hearty meats cooked on a brai (a South African barbecue), cured biltong (dried meat), fire-baked pizzas, (more) gigantic oysters and plenty of other fresh seafood. It’s also a bit of a shopping mecca, with art, clothes and jewelry being sold by local artisans.
5. The Big 5 (up close and personal)
The Garden Route Game Lodge is a great place to spot the famous “Big 5”: the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and the rhinoceros. Jump in the back of an open Land Rover and get your binoculars and cameras out for a beautiful sunset safari. Sunrise safaris are wonderful too, especially if you stay overnight and take advantage of the early hours of the day when lions and other big predators are at their most active.
Not close enough? The De Hoop Game Reserve is another great place to continue your wildlife spotting. This private game reserve is next to the famous Whale Trail – a common backpacking trail with coastal viewing of whales. Better yet, stay a night or two in the reserve surrounded by the (non-predatory) wildlife. Watch out for those baboons though.
All sound a little too good to be true? It isn’t. Don’t take my word for it and just go see it for yourself.