Cape Town was the perfect place to conclude our travels in Africa. Each destination thus far had shown us a different side of the continent: wildlife on the Serengeti, nomadic tribes in the land of the Maasai, relaxation on Lake Kariba, and a double dose of adrenaline at Victoria Falls. By contrast, Cape Town was our first urban experience and by far the most cosmopolitan city on the continent.
Diving into the City Bowl
Cape Town is a city defined by its geography. Take its name: the city was founded by the Dutch to serve as a way-station for ships sailing from Europe to India and Asia, and to this day its position near the Cape of Good Hope gives you the impression that you are standing on the tip of the continent. It’s where the oceans come together and blend like the cultures that comprise the city itself, which is what made for the most interesting exploration.
We stayed in the city bowl, the most central part of the city, the city bowl, tucked between Table Mountain, the waterfront, and Castle of Good Hope. For the first half of the week we stayed in a boutique hotel called the Daddy Long Legs Art Hotel, a cool, chic place right on the main nightlife area of Long Street. Cape Town has great night life and we spent our nights sampling local craft beers and checking out hip bars like & Union, Rafiki’s, and Tjing Tjing.
Later in the week we transferred to Ashanti Guest House, a former farmhouse that is now a fun and unpretentious hostel filled with backpackers and travelers on trans-continental journeys.
Swimming with Sharks
Our own journey began in the frigid Atlantic, two hours east of the city. Our number one bucket list activity was also one of our scariest – cage diving with great white sharks – so we made it a priority and set sail with Marine Dynamics our first day.
We cast anchor in shark alley, a bay with the highest concentration of great whites in the world. The crew chummed the water with fish oil and tossed in some bloody bait while we hopped into an eight-person shark-proof cage off the side of the boat, dipped our heads below the surface and waited.
The first came within minutes: a big gray mass sliding under the opaque water, then suddenly leaping through the air and taking the bait just one meter from the cage. After the initial fright wore off we were able to witness the beauty of the great white and appreciate how rare it is (they estimated only 5,000 exist worldwide).
Side Cars, Cable Cars and Helicopters
Back on land, we decided to leave the city bowl and experience more of the cape in the most stylish way possible: from the side car of a vintage motorbike. To do that, we linked up with Cape Town Side Car Adventures and set off along the coast and through wine country, where we stopped in Groot Constantia Historical Wine Estate for a tasting of South Africa’s famous pinotage and lunch at their gourmet restaurant, Simon’s.
Driving along the coastal road Chapman’s Peak Drive reminded us of the stunning scenery that surrounds the city – from the beaches of Camp Bay to the 1,037 meter high Table Mountain. For the best view of the city, we took a cable car to the top of the mesa to watch the sunset with a cocktail at the Table Mountain Cafe.
The view from the mountain was spectacular – but the view from a helicopter was even better. A thirty minute ride with Cape Town Helicopters gave us the aerial view we needed to put the city’s dramatic scenery into perspective.
From the Beach to the Township
On our last day we grabbed some surfboards and hit Llandudno Beach, a gorgeous stretch of sand situated in one of Cape Town’s nicest neighborhoods. The sun was warm, the waves were great, and the beach was beautiful.
However, we still hadn’t seen all of Cape Town because the reality is that most people don’t live on the beach in such exclusive surroundings. Many Capetoninans live in townships, suburban areas that were once organized by race and class during the apartheid era. With no obvious tourist draws, it can be hard for visitors to experience this aspect of South African culture. Luckily, we found Mzoli’s Place.
Mzoli’s Place is an informal butchery-cum-restaurant-cum-street-party that serves up come of the best braai (barbeque) in the city. You line up, order your raw meat, take it to the grill and then join the two-thousand person party raging in the street outside. They don’t have a liquor license, so you have to go across the road and buy beer from private houses, which function as unofficial liquor stores.
The party rolled from noon to night, all of us throwing back beers as we threw down dance moves and waited for our food. Some three hours later, the food arrived. By then it felt like we’d met half of the crowd!
It was a fitting way to finish the week. South Africa is a blend of cultures and all of them were represented in Mzolis, everyone coming together through music, food, and partying. Between the sidecar trip and the street party at Mzolis, we’d had two of the best days on the trip.
As we left Africa for Asia, we were sure that it would not be the last time we’d seen Cape Town.