For color, class and pure coolness in South Africa, Cape Town is a must-see destination. Sprawling out over nearly a thousand square miles, the city, which is the second largest in the country, is home to around five million people. Table Mountain reaches into the sky, the sea stretches endlessly into the distance and in between is a vibrant, exciting and thriving metropolis. While it would take a week (at least) to even scratch the surface of everything this town has to offer (and really, there is something for everyone), here’s what to do with just a day.
Ask for Owen Jinka from Roots Africa Tours to pick you up at the airport. Check into Cape Grace, a member of The Leading Small Hotels of the World that offers white-glove service (and views of a quay on Victoria & Alfred Waterfront that rival any in New England). Enjoy a drink in the lounge, or, better yet, a sweet in the library. The daily Sugar Bar serves homemade confections to help guests relax and unwind, but if that doesn’t do the trick, head upstairs to the intimate spa for a soothing treatment. Top Touch: The hotel has a fleet of BMWs that will drive guests anywhere in a 12-mile radius, complimentary. (Note: Anything farther can also be arranged.)
Put on your jeans and sneakers and have lunch at Noon Gun, an unpretentious and beautifully intimate Malay restaurant with a homey vibe and some truly spectacular food. Everything tastes homemade—maybe due to the fact that the restaurant is in what used to be a private residence, and is still family-operated. (Note: Alcohol is not part of the Malay tradition, so enjoy sodas and juices instead.)
Fortified by a wonderful lunch, take a deep breath and head to Table Mountain. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, hike up—it takes between one and two hours to reach the top, depending on your level of fitness (and how often you stop for photos). If time is of the essence, take the cable car, which rotates to give everyone a view of the city and the mountain. (In good weather, the last car leaves the mountain at sunset; in bad weather, they might close access to the mountain early, so keep an ear out for announcements.) At the top, besides a little café and a gift store, there are several trails that can take a few minutes to a few hours to complete, so decide early on how long you want to stay. Be sure to look out over Robben Island, where former president Nelson Mandela spent years in prison, and the brand-new soccer stadium, where many games from the 2010 World Cup were held.
Spend an hour or two walking around the V&A Waterfront by the hotel. Along the wharf, you can gaze at the ships and duck into the little stores that line it. Just like in New England’s seaside towns, sidewalk shops and restaurants offer local products and snacks, and you can sit on the docks and listen to the seagulls and the water. For some more serious shopping, the Tyger Valley Centre has stores like Hugo Boss, Evita Peroni and L’Occitane. For something unique, check out the Young Designers Emporium, which gives up-and-coming designers a chance to show off their work.
Get one of Cape Grace’s BMWs to drive you to Mama Africa, a casual nightclub-cum-restaurant with live music and authentic local cuisine. (Try the chicken-and-peanut stew!) The restaurant’s wine list matches the food and the combination of music, food and wine makes for a relaxing start to the evening.
Long Street is the heart of Cape Town’s nightlife, with exciting bars all over the place. Choose one that suits your style and dance the night away. The Daddy Cool Bar at The Grand Daddy is a popular spot, and if you ask nicely, they may take you up to the roof of the building, which has seven Airstream trailers. Call the hotel to send a car for you when you’re ready to return for some much-needed rest.
After your wake-up call (which includes delivery of tea or coffee), meet Owen in the hotel’s lobby and head to Hout Bay, where local merchants sell their wares by the sea. Pick up statues, woodcarvings and other unique authentic mementos of the trip. (Be sure to haggle with the vendors for a good price—don’t worry, they expect it!)
Head over to Boulders National Park, where penguins roam about freely. Visitors can either watch them swim along the shoreline or stroll along a boardwalk to see where they have built their nests.
Head back to the hotel and check out, and feel very sad that you’ve only had one day to explore this gorgeous, exciting city.
A word of advice: When visiting Cape Town, get all the cash you’ll need at the airport, because ATMs are few and far between on the streets, and many of the little shops and stands are cash-only. Most of the hotels charge a substantial commission for changing cash, and don’t accept notes that have been defaced or scribbled upon.
|Looking Down on Cape Town from atop Table Mountain, whose aerial cableway allows anyone to easily reach the top.|