The city of Cape Town in the Western Cape Province is perched on the edge of the peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean in the South Western corner of South Africa with a population of approximately 4.5 million Capetonians.
This city is truly unique in that it combines a bustling commercial hub with a superb amount of natural beauty right alongside it consisting of mountains, beaches, diverse vegetation and winelands. It is also home to the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of the world’s seven floral kingdoms found exclusively in this province.
It’s easy to see why Cape Town is Africa’s most popular tourist destination as it prides itself in its colourful, melting pot of people, cultures, cuisine and choices of activities to partake in and sights to enjoy. It is known for its iconic Table Mountain, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront shopping experience at the harbor, Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for years) and world-class beaches, Cape Point Nature Reserve and vineyards in Constantia and just outside the city in Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl.
Just outside this second-most populous city in South Africa you can enjoy the beautiful coastal regions of the Garden Route, West coast fishing villages and also travel inland towards Karoo.
The Cape Peninsula has a Mediterranean-type climate with well-defined seasons, mainly cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. The Western Cape climate is influenced by both the Indian (warm water) and Atlantic (cold water) oceans which meet at Cape Agulhas: the Southern Most tip of the African continent.
Synonymous with the typical winter months, May through August, are North West winds and rain brought through by cold fronts sweeping across the Atlantic. The average minimum winter temperature is about 7° C with most rainfall falling during the winter (but rainfall varies quite dramatically due to the topography).
Summer is Cape Town’s busiest season with temperatures that are relatively comfortable with the average maximum around 26° C. During November to February, the peninsula encounters a strong South East wind also known as the Cape Doctor as its gale force winds often blow the city’s pollution away and cleans the air.
Before Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1487 with his fleet from Portugal to find a sea route to the East, the native San hunter-gathers relied on the seashore for the food whilst the Khoikhoi travelled with herds of sheep and cattle and became the dominant tribe when these first Europeans entered the Cape.
Some historians claim it was first named the “Cape of Storms” (Cape Cabo Tormentosa) by Dias who named the alluding to the storm he endured at sea, but changed it to the "Cape of Good Hope” (Cabo de Boa Esperanca ) as it brought hope of a sea route to the East.
It was in fact Vasco da Gama who became the first person to round the Cape, reaching India and opening the sea route from Europe to the East 10 years later. Ever since, the Cape of Good Hope has been an important landmark for mariners and Table Bay became and still is a haven where seafarers could seek shelter and obtain fresh supplies of water and meat bartered from the Khoikhoi people.
The Dutch East India Company originally developed Cape Town as a refreshment station for Dutch ships sailing to the East. Jan van Riebeeck's arrival on 6 April 1652 established the first permanent European settlement in South Africa. Cape Town was once the largest city and became the economic and cultural hub of the Cape Colony until the Witwatersrand Gold Rush and Johannesburg developed.
Cape Town’s cuisine is just as eclectic as its people and amalgamates its regional ‘Cape Dutch’ cooking style to that brought by the Dutch East India Company’s slaves from Malaysia, Java and Bengal as well as the European style of cooking from colonist settlers from Portugal, Netherlands, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
The Malay influence comes through in the curries, chilies and extensive use of spices such as ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. Afrikaners bring us traditional dishes of potjiekos, tamatiebredie (tomato bredie) or stews of lamb or mutton. There are many European contributions like Dutch fried crueler or koeksister, Malva Pudding and melktert (milk tart). French Hugenots brought wines as well as their traditional recipes.
Biltong, droë wors (dried sausage) and rusks were introduced out of necessity and now form some of South Africans favourite meals including a braai (barbeque) and boerewors rolls (sausage on rolls). Due to its location beside the sea, much of Cape Town’s cuisine takes on a Mediterranean flair with an abundance of seafood.
While there are some restaurants that specialize in traditional South African dishes, there are many featuring other cuisines such as Italian, Moroccan, Chinese, West African and Japanese. Home-grown chain restaurants, such as Spur, Nandos and Steers are also firm favourites among the locals.
Getting around Cape Town
Cape Town International Airport is 20 km from the city centre and a transfer in a taxi will cost you R50 or more. There are many tour companies who will take you around Western Cape 24 hours a day and have tailor-made tours to suit your preferences.
The best way to get around the city independently is by renting a car as the public transport system, the Metrorail train does not reach every area of the city and can be unreliable. Cars can be rented from the airport.
If you are taking a simple route and need to get from the city center to False Bay for example, it is a beautiful train ride along the coast, but be sure to travel with others and preferably during peak travelling times to stay on the safe side.
There are local taxi buses which are available, which are a cheap way to get around, but have around 13 people squeezed into one vehicle. If using these, be sure you know where they are headed and don’t carry valuable goods with you.
Many people also make use of the Golden Arrow bus services but the routes can be complicated for tourists, especially if you don’t plan to stay long.
Something for Everyone
Cape Town comes alive in summer with tourists and locals alike flocking the beaches to tan, surf, wind-surf and swim in the heat. On the Atlantic coast you’ll find Clifton, Camps Bay and Llandudno beaches, all popular amongst sun-worshippers and those who wish to brave the cold water, whilst Muizenberg, Fishhoek and St James in False Bay has warmer water and tends to attract surfers, families, dog-walkers and swimmers.
The winelands and Kirstenbosch botanical gardens provide wonderful picnic spots, whilst the mountains provide scenic trails and hikes. The more adventurous can enjoy abseiling, quad-biking, diving and cycling at certain spots in the city.
The city centre comes alive at night with Long Street being a main hub for bars, restaurants, lounges and clubs. Music Festival lovers can also indulge in the finest musicians South Africa has to offer at certain times of the year.
Note on Safety
As with travelling in many countries worldwide, you need to be cautious as you are not a local and not aware of certain danger zones and expected behaviour. Walking around in the city during the day is fine as long as you’re not flashing expensive jewelry and cameras. There are many people living below the bread line with hardly anything who may see you as an easy target unless you conceal your valuables.
Do not walk around town alone after dark, try to stay in groups if you have to walk and do not drive into areas that you are unsure of. If you are going on townships tours, do so with a registered tour guide and only during the day time. Do not leave valuable items unattended anywhere especially in your car while it is parked and lock your doors at all times just to be safe.
Lauren Manuel is our 'Woman On The Ground' based in Cape Town and has her own Travel Blog and you can also follow her on Twitter @thetravelmanuel
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