I love to travel. I’ve seen USA, Canada, half of the countries in Europe, Egypt, Tunisia, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand… but when people ask me what’s my favorite destination, the answer is always the same: Cape Town, South Africa.
Few weeks before I visited the city of Cape Town I met a girl who’s been there three times before. The thing that struck me the most was when she said she fell in love with it. I was like “Why? What’s so special about it?” Her reply was short and simple: “You’ll see.” She gave me a big smile. Now, after my trip is over, I have to admit I feel the same. Here’s why…
South Africa really is an amazing place on Earth. First of all, there’s rich history full of ups and downs (just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, go see a movie about Nelson Mandela). A country that’s been through hell and back, a country whose people have been divided by white and black, a country that will leave you with a strong desire to go back. Although you can still see the consequences of the apartheid era, much has changed. For the better.
People. I could go on and on telling you about wonderful people of South Africa. Whether you go for a walk on the beach, souvenir shopping in the market or out for a couple of drinks in the evening, everything is a joyful experience on its own. And how many different cultures in that African gem…
Last but not least, a breathtaking nature. There are sooooo many things to do in Cape Town you’ll need weeks to go through all of them. Remember the scene from the Lion King where Rafiki lifts Simba in front of whole animal kingdom? This scene was inspired by a climb to the mountain called Lion’s Head. But when you get to the top of Lion’s Head you literally have millions of people beneath your feet. Add a yellow-orange-red-ish sunset and you have an experience you’ll never forget. Okay, enough teasing, let’s get to the chase.
Since I only visited Cape Town with its surroundings, I’ll be talking about Western Cape. I’m going to cover everything from blue skies to murky waters full of sharks. I’ll also give you an idea for such a crazy road trip you’ll run out of batteries and space on your memory cards all the time! Without further ado, the list of things to do in Cape Town:
#1 – Skydiving
Let’s start our journey about three kilometers up in the sky and dive into it. As I’ve already said before, the nature is really stunning and skydiving will give you a unique perspective not many experience. Not only you’ll get a huge dose of adrenaline but after about a minute of free-falling over 200 km/h you’ll get to experience few minutes of parachute riding towards the ground. I really can’t think of a better way to start experiencing all of the Cape Town attractions.
#2 – Highest Bungee Jump
Although this is technically one of the things to do IN Cape Town, it’s still quite close and since we started in the air let’s go on another aerial adventure. This time let’s attach ourselves to the bungee cord. Let me present you the highest bungee jump in the world from a bridge. With its height of 216 meters it is currently third highest in the world in general! It’s also ridiculously cheap so there’s just no reason not to go!
Here’s my video of jumping from that bridge
Remember the crazy road trip? Well, this is the first stop. Although it’s about 6-hour drive out of Cape Town you won’t be driving so far out just for this, trust me. When you’re on the way to the jumping site you’ll also drive through…
#3 – The Garden Route
This beautiful stretch extends from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape. Diverse vegetation, numerous lagoons, lakes and few cute little towns are just few things you’re going to see when driving through the Garden Route. South Africa has a mild climate, especially around the Garden Route where the climate is the second mildest climate in the world. This means that temperatures are between 10 and 28°C all year long. If you want to cool down even more you can hike up a trail in the Tsitsikamma Mountains or jump in the cold Indian Ocean. Just in case the ocean is too cold for you, I got something that will warm up your blood…
#4 – Crocodile Cage Diving
I didn’t say you get to go out of the water! About an hour of driving North from the Garden Route there’s a Wildlife Ranch that offers you an interaction with animals like lemurs, snakes, lizards, cheetah and… wait for it… crocodiles! Don’t worry, you’ll be safe in a cage. That is if you obey the rules and don’t stick your hands and feet out of the cage!
#5 – Great White Shark Cage Diving
Okay, get back in the car; we have one more stop before we arrive back into the city of Cape Town. This time we stop in Gansbaai, a small fishing town with almost 12,000 inhabitants. Due to a dense population of great white sharks it has become a very popular tourist destination. If you’ve seen the Jaws then I’m sorry you’ve been presented with a wrong picture about these animals. To get that image of a man-eating predator out of your head you need to meet these animals in person. Just you and a great white. And a cage, of course.
I’d suggest you to go on at least one boat trip but highly recommend taking a week off and joining a volunteering program. If you want to know more about it, click here: http://www.ilovejourneys.com/swimming-with-great-white-sharks/. You might get lucky and see penguins, seals, dolphins and whales on the same trip.
To see how a boat trip looks like, check my video
#6 – Table Mountain & Lion’s Head
Whether you drive or fly into Cape Town it’s impossible to miss it: the glorious Table Mountain, South Africa’s most famous mountain. The best view of its shape is definitely from the Northern part of the city, called Table View (go figure). My favorite view of it though is from a beach in Camps Bay. Imagine standing on a sandy beach and looking out to the ocean. Now turn around and across the street there’s a mountain rising out of the ground more than 1080 meters above the sea level. Visible from that beach, the mountain also has a special structure and shape called The Twelve Apostles.
Another mountain that’s visible from the beach in Camps Bay is the favorite of mine, Lion’s Head. I’m guessing you figured out the reason for its name, right? To get on top (669 meters) you have to walk around it in circles, climb the rocks and even a ladder or two. When you’re on the top, the 360° view is even more spectacular than from Table Mountain. On one side there’s a view of the city and on the other side is the view of massive Table Mountain. This is definitely one of my favorite spots in the world. If you’re going to watch the sunset from the top make sure to bring some sort of light so you don’t kill yourself on the way down. I’m serious, it happened before…
#7 – Robben Island
If you climb Table Mountain or Lion’s Head and look towards the sea, you’ll see a small island. This is the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Robben Island tour is a must do for everyone! When you see the pictures of this harsh place and how badly those prisoners were treated, you can’t feel anything but sadness. Remember that this was happening in the apartheid era (a system of racial segregation) where “blacks” were treated really badly by “whites”, especially in prison. Robben Island is a sad place with a very sad story…
#8 – Cape of Good Hope
Another jaw-dropping must-do tour from the list of things to do in Cape Town is also a trip to Cape of Good Hope. I might be easily impressed by nature but this trip is going to melt even the toughest cookies. If you have a GoPro camera, stick it to the roof of the vehicle, start recording and enjoy the ride as you drive though Camps Bay. First stop is Hout Bay where you’ll take a boat ride to see the colony of seals at the Seal Island (P.S. There’s a much bigger seal colony in Gansbaai when you go cage diving with great whites). Just in case you forgot to glue your camera to the top of the vehicle, do it now; time for a drive through Chapman’s Peak. In Simon’s Town you better get ready to take some selfies with clumsy, yet adorable penguins on the Boulders Beach. This is the final stop before you get to Cape Point Lighthouse – the second windiest place on Earth. Cape Point Lighthouse and Cape of Good Hope are basically two different things. If you have an option to walk from one to the other, do it! In-between there is a sexy-looking Diaz Beach. You might also see few Dassies on the way. Dassie is a mixture between a rat and a squirrel (not literally), big as a cat but believe it or not, the closest living relative to the African elephant! You might also see them on Table Mountain late in the day, too.
#9 – The Food Market
By this time you are probably a bit hungry, right? No worries, I got you covered. South Africa is one of the best places to try different food specialties. There’s practically a food market for every day of the week. How does a waffle with ice cream and a banana sounds? African coffee? Fresh coconut or a freshly squeezed tropical fruit juice? French cheese? Spanish seafood Paella? German beer?
Drooling yet? Yeah, me too…
#10 – Townships
If you feel comfortable walking around sketchy places, I’d suggest you to take a guided tour around one of the townships. Well, I’d suggest you to do it anyway because it is one of the most breathtaking things to do in Cape Town. Possibly even life-changing.
What’s a township? That’s basically the same as a favela, only this one is in Brazil and a township is in South Africa. It’s an undeveloped urban living area that was formed in the apartheid era when black people were evicted from the cities and were forced to move. It was built strictly for non-white residents.
Can you imagine a life without your smartphone, computer, TV or a car? Heck, imagine living in a place without a proper roof, walls, running water, sewage or reliable electricity. No safety, no medical help and no education either. Welcome to the township…
#11 – Sports
If you’re into sports, this is the right section for you. What’s the first sport you think of when I say South Africa? If it’s not rugby, it should be. South Africans are crazy about it (and soccer). If you watched a movie about Nelson Mandela, (spoiler alert) you already know that he united his nation at end of the apartheid era through love and passion for rugby. They won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 on their home turf. Technically the process of uniting the people of South Africa was a longer and more complex process but that’s a topic for another time.
If you’re like me and prefer doing sports over watching them, you might want to try windsurfing, it’s easiest one of the most popular things to do in Cape Town. Why? Because Cape Town is the capital of wind. You might also bring along a wetsuit because the water is freezing in the summer – hot sun melts the ice in the Antarctica and ocean currents bring the cold water closer to Africa. By the way, Cape Town is also the place where Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Okay, back to sports…
Thirty minute drive out of the city is another attraction you don’t get to do every day – sandboarding. Almost like snowboarding only here you can wear sunglasses and shorts! Just a word of advice; bring tight underwear otherwise you’re going to have those grains of sands you-know-where.
#12 – Wine Tasting
If you want to take it easy, have fun and relax in the shade, I’d suggest you to try wine tasting. It’s definitely one of the most pleasurable things to do in Cape Town. Usually we drink wine at home or at a restaurant but if you want to experience more than that, book a wine tasting tour. One of the most recognizable vineyards in the world is located close in Cape Town area, called Constantia. Combine almost Tuscany-like valleys with warm and sunny weather while you taste best wines in the world. You can also take a tour of modern cellars and pair your wine tasting tour with chocolate.
#13 – Diving
Since we didn’t mention any real scuba diving experiences, we might do it at the end of this list of things to do in Cape Town. If you like coral reefs, you’re in the wrong place. There are no corals in South Africa because the water is too cold but it does offer different adventures, a bit extreme perhaps. I’ve already mentioned cage diving with great white sharks but let’s ditch the cage and add algae. Diving in kelp forest is a bit scary but fun nevertheless. You’re safe from great whites in the kelp but there are other animals that live there. Along with many species of fish you might find playful seals. Taking a picture of one is going to be quite a challenge because they’re very fast and agile swimmers. If you’re lucky you might as well see a sevengill shark. These sharks are usually found in the shallower waters, cruising along the sea floor or hiding in the kelp.
As you can see, the list could go on and on but I’ll finish with some general information. For any tourist wondering what to do in Cape Town, there’s always an option to take a red double-decker bus. Whether you want to see the city center, botanic gardens, a mini tour around the Peninsula or a tour from one vineyard to another, there are plenty of options for everyone. You can also hop on and off the bus at different locations by your choice.
I know this is a list of things to do in Cape Town, but I’ll still finish with some of the things you can do in other parts of South Africa…
One of the most famous safari parks in the world would be Kruger National Park in the North-East part of South Africa. If you ever wanted to volunteer on various projects, South Africa is definitely the place to go. You can see stalagmites and stalactites in underground caves, too. Boat or kayak cruise to observe various kinds of animals (crocodiles, hippos, whales…) or horseback/ostrich riding. And if you’re too scared of skydiving or bungy jumping, maybe zipline is a better option for you.
One thing is for sure, Cape Town tourism is booming! In fact, the whole South Africa is quickly becoming the adventure capital of the world and I would really, really, reeeeeaaaally recommend you to visit it.