Cape Town, South Africa
While to focus of the trip was going to be safari, it felt silly to fly all the way done to the other side of the world without spending a few days in Cape Town. It took a lot of planing but I was able to orchestrate the safari to start at the right day so we could stop in South Africa first without taking more than two weeks off. Adding another country did mean adding another COVID test and visiting a major city meant an increased risk of contacting COVID in a country where the vaccination rate was sitting around 10% so we had to be extra caution to not jeopardize the rest of the trip!
Cape Town has a reputation for unsafe with some incidence exceeding petty crime. Like any major city, it is important to always be mindful of your surroundings and to keep valuables hidden, even phones. Always exude confidence like you know where you are going – even if you do not – until you find a safe place to pull out your phone and reorient yourself. Leave anything you absolutely do not need behind. To repeat, do not have your phone, camera or wallet visible. Do not wander around after dark, especially in a place you are unfamiliar. These principles are universal and not just for Cape Town – while it has a bad reputation, if you are a smart tourist you will put yourself in a better position to have a safe trip.
It is important to find a safe place to stay that is in a secure location and if you rent a car, a secure place for your rental as well. I spent a significant amount of time researching this and checking out street views around potential Airbnbs. Our Airbnb was located in the Gardens District which worked out perfectly. There are several neighborhoods that are considered tourist friendly and safe so make sure you do your research on where those are located.
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We relied on two modes of transit to get around – Uber and a rental car. I planned the rental car with the intent on only having the rental car for the minimum amount of time in Cape Town to minimize our risk since it felt like a higher liability than normal. Uber is very easy to use in Cape Town, reliable, and safe – from what I read it is the best method to use, even if you have a car at times (such as night time). Also not that South Africa is extremely strict with drinking and driving – tourists can be a target since the blood alcohol level tolerance is lower here than in other countries. If you are planning on drinking at all, plan on an Uber – it is not worth the risk. We rented a car for one day of our Cape Town portion of the trip and it was the day before we left since we needed the car for the second portion of the trip. Even though the rental was fairly inexpensive, it did not feel worth the risk to have the car for the entire stay when we did not need it the entire time.
After 24 hours of travel, we were exhausted so after familiarizing ourselves with the Airbnb (which is absolutely adorable!), we washed up and passed out in a very comfy bed. One super fun detail of this space was the outdoor shower among so many plants – like taking a shower in the jungle. This was amazing for the rest of the trip but when we landed in the middle of the night (11PM), it was freezing so I was certainly skeptical of using it but the shower pressure was fantastic and it got (and stayed) super hot temperature – check that off the life list!
We woke up ready to explore! While we read lots about the safety of Cape Town and the reliability of Uber, we really enjoy walking to explore a new city. I had a few things marked for the morning so we discussed trying to walk and then if there was any discomfort, we would call an Uber.
From our location in the Gardens, we walked down Kloof Street, then onto Long Street (which I read to avoid at night due to the clubs and bars on this street – however these were closed at the time due to COVID), and then down Strand Street. We had no issues but to reiterate – it is important to be extremely mindful of your surroundings, keep any valuables hidden, and certainly do not take out your phone. The more you look like you belong and know where you are going, the better.
Cape Town is known for their coffee so I could not wait to give Kevin the chance to enjoy it. Our first stop was Origin Coffee Roasters for much needed breakfast and it is a lovely coffee shop. Kevin ordered a pour over of a roast of the barista’s choice and we also ordered food – Kevin ordered avocado toast and I ordered the oatmeal. Everything was delicious and Kevin loved the coffee – he drank it black and was very happy with his choice. We could have sat here all day but we had more to see- cafe life is certainly one of the things we miss post pandemic- just hanging out, enjoying a beverage, working on the blog, the good old days.
I wanted to try our best and invest time in learning about the history and culture of the area. One of the most photographed areas of Cape Town is Bo-Kaap for their brightly painted houses and I noticed one of the best rated experiences on Airbnb was an hour long walking tour with a local where we learned Bo-Kaap is much more than those houses.
Our guide was fantastic at incorporating history and connecting to present day life. In non-COVID times, the tour actually goes inside a mosque and into some of the homes to meet the community but unfortunately that had to be removed from our tour. We did get to try koeksisters, which is a traditional Cape Malay pastry of spiced fried dough rolled in coconut – delicious!
Religion played a huge part in uplifting this area – for a group made up of slaves, Muslim provided a community and belonging that made everyone equal. The colorful houses are what drives many people to this area to witness the vibrant colors. Many rumors formulated around how and why the colors came to be and unfortunately are all more dramatic than the real reason – they just wanted to! There is no deep profound reason for the others other than the desire to by the community. We highly recommend this tour with Rafiq!
Across the street from where our tour completed was another coffee shop on my list – Deluxe Coffee where Kevin grabbed another caffeinated beverage giving two thumbs up. We continued walking around and stumbled upon an outdoor mall that we wandered through – mostly to find an ATM which we did accomplish. Almost everywhere in Cape Town accepts credit cards but we needed some cash for a few things. I read that restaurants are unable to add tip to the final bill on a credit card so we wanted cash for that – this ended up being false and we never were unable to add the tip to the bill on a credit card – as well as smaller coins for parking attendants (we will get into those details later). Upon exiting the mall, we bumped into a large Vespa dealership and admired some of their scooters on display – this city is definitely scooter friendly! If we had more time, I could have definitely seen us renting one of these to explore.
We continued walking for about twenty minutes and made our way to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront where I finally got the photo of Table Mountain I had been waiting for.
There is a lot going on over here and while I am glad we stopped over, we did not stay long and could have skipped it. The Food Hall was a bit too pushy – if you gazed at something or lingered too long it was an immediate indication to force the sale – not every shop was like that but it was clear we entered a tourist destination. We then walked by the waterfront itself where there were many restaurants (I assume they charge a premium for the location) and a series of people trying to get passersbys to book a helicopter tour, a boat tour, shark excursion, etc. After about ten of these offers, we turned into another mall to escape the pestering. Out the other side of the mall, we continued walking to the highly recommended Oranjezicht City Farm Market but unfortunately when we arrived, I neglected to notice it was only open on weekends. So with that, we concluded our walking tour and called an Uber to take us to lunch.
Much like the coffee, the food in Cape Town is competitive giving visitors the difficult decision on figuring out where to eat – it is a good problem to have but with only two days in Cape Town, it was very hard to narrow down the prospects. After much internal turmoil, I picked Clarke’s for lunch.
This causal spot has all day menus that feature breakfast, lunch sandwiches, and larger entrees at dinner. I ordered the tomato soup and grilled cheese combination and Kevin ordered the “baby burger – when you want the real thing but just can’t spare the stomach real estate”. We loved this description of the baby burger cause honestly, that is how I feel about most burgers and why I never really order them – after two or three bites, I am good! Thank you for the baby burger option Clarke’s, more places need to adopt the baby burger. Everything was delicious!
After lunch, we looked at the remaining time we had before dinner to see what made sense for the afternoon. I really wanted us to do one of two major hikes in Cape Town.
- Lion’s Head – 2.7 mile there and back difficult trail that climbs to the top of Lion’s Head said to be a fantastic spot for sunset, sunrise, and for a full moon as well. There is 1118 foot elevation gain to get to the top where there are some climbing sections with staples and chains though it can be skipped with a trail that goes around. Most hikers complete in two to three hours.
- Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge – 4 mile there and back moderate trail with 2293 foot elevation gain that gives hikers the picturesque views of Cape Town below. Most hikers complete within two to three hours.
However, we were running out of time so it was unlikely we would be successful in completing either of these trails with enough time to make it to our dinner reservation. It was disappointing as I really wanted to at least hit one of these with such little time in Cape Town, I knew some cuts would have to be made along the way. So we decided to “splurge” on the cable car option to the top to Table Mountain since the weather was cooperative for great views. We were told several times during the day that the weather can change very quickly and today was perfect to go to the top due to the clear day. We hopped in an Uber and took our chances.
Read about our visit atop Table Mountain here!
We returned to the Airbnb and freshen up for dinner. Originally, I did not have anything planned for this evening but after reading repeated recommendations, we were lucky enough to snag a last minute reservation at La Colombe – one of the top restaurants in the world. When I went to book, they were all full for parties of two but had availability for a party of four – I emailed them asking if it would be at all possible to adjust the availability to permit a party of two and voila they were able to accommodate. Not saying that every place would be able to do this but it never hurts to ask and I am so glad I did.
The drive was about a half hour to Constantia and I had really wished I took some meclizine cause this drive left me a bit car sick driving up and through the windy hills. But I tried to focus on the excitement of what we were hoping to be a memorable meal and wish away the nausea. This was certainly where the nicer houses of Cape Town are located – beautiful homes tucked away under the trees. Once we arrived, the car sickness subsided (thank god) as we were escorted into a luxurious meal.
Read the full dining review of La Colombe here!
What a jam packed first day we had in Cape Town! This day was the only one we had dedicated to exploring the city so I was quite pleased with how it all orchestrated. Unfortunately, we did miss a lot in the city so if you are planning a more thorough trip I will include all the things we would have done if we had more time at the end of this post.
We slept in longer than anticipated but the jet lag was still pretty strong so I gave ourselves a bit of a break. Our first item for the day was picking up our car rental – I didn’t think they would give the car away if we were late so the delayed departure did not jeopardize our day too much. Since it was over a half hour walk, we took an Uber to the downtown car rental (we used Avis) and got our automatic, left sided vehicle. Luckily we learned how to drive on the left hand side in New Zealand so we felt comfortable hitting the ground running (“driver middle” mantra). The automatic part of the car was kind of hilarious as it took the might of Zeus for the car to “automatically” switch gears. There was also no park option so we had to get used to using the e-brake routinely.
With rental car secured, we were ready to start today’s activity – driving around the Cape Peninsula! Everyone recommends including this journey when visiting Cape Town so it was an easy decision. And yes, this included see those African penguins.
Read all the details of our road trip around the Cape Peninsula here!
We could have made more stops but with weather the way it was and a dinner reservation waiting for us, we decided to drive back to the Airbnb to freshen up before making our way to the Observatory neighborhood of Cape Town for dinner at Reverie Social Table. I was hopeful that this meal was going to be my DESKRIB discovery of the Cape Town portion of the trip.
Read the full dining review of Reverie Social Table here!
Another awesome day in Cape Town!
Our last morning in Cape Town – I know it was a short time to be here but it went by so fast! The first order of business that was one of the most important stops of the trip was getting our COVID test. In order to enter our next country, Botswana, a PCR COVID test was required for entry. I was nervous about finding a legit test that would get us the results in time since we had quite an experience getting the results for entry into South Africa, I made sure to do a bunch of research and have a few back ups just in case. We used BioSmart which actually navigated the process through an app where the results would populate. Luckily it worked like a charm and we had our results the following morning.
After our COVID test, we decided to make one final stop before leaving Cape Town by visiting the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – one of the best! With epic views of Table Mountain in the background, this location boasts one of the largest presentations of indigenous plants and flowers sprawling over 1300 acres. Since we were visiting in springtime, I was hoping our floral timing was optimal.
To view all the amazing photos, read the full post for Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens here!
It was time to say goodbye to Cape Town and make the trip inland to wine country, which was one of the inspirations of this trip. Less than an hour away was a rich wine region that produces complex white wine and bold red wines that we could not wait to explore.
That being said, we only scratched the surface of seeing all Cape Town has to offer! I feel we If you are planning a trip to Cape Town, here are other places to see, things to do, and spots to eat that I have on my list:
- Hike Lion’s Head, Table Mountain, or both
- Wine tasting in Constantia
- So many dining options: Pot Luck Club, Chefs Warehouse and Canteen, Jason Bakery, Black Sheep
- Cape Town is a coffee meca! Stop by Tribe, Truth, Origin, Kamili, and Deluxe
- And tons of neighborhoods to explore such as Hout Bay, Camps Bay, the Gardens, Woodstock, Observatory, Sea Point and more
- When the South Easter wind departs, make sure to add more stops to your Cape Peninsula drive as well