Cape Town & Western Cape

South African's city of Cape Town is definitely one of the most beautifully located places around the world. Ocean, beaches, mountains, dunes and vineyards create breathtaking scenery. It also worth to plan a few days for visiting Western Cape area, either by rented car or organized trips departing from Cape Town. I personally love the freedom the car gives me and roads around Western Cape are easy to navigate, wide and well maintented. 

Few quick tips:

- Make sure you have enough time between connecting flights at the airport in Johannesburg. It took us 1h45min from leaving the first aircraft, going thru passport control, reclaiming luggages, checking them in for second flight and walking thru scan control to the gate. Waiting time depends on number of flights arriving at any specific time so give yourself plenty of it to avoid unnecessary stress.
- Buy a pre paid sim card in Vodacome at the airport in Joburg. Sim card with 3GB of data costs 405Rand ( ~ 25€).
- Summer is nice and very warm (up to 30 degrees C) but evenings are quite chilly. Make sure to bring some light sweater or hoodie.
- All Safari Reserve Games are malaria free so you do not need any mosquito repellent while on safari nor visiting around Cape Town.
- The busiest time to visit is around Christmas. Be prepared for queuing to almost every tourist attraction, especially to Red Bus and cable car to Table Mountain.
- Some restaurants are closed or require booking for Christmas dinner but do not panic, there are tons of restaurants and you will easily find one that is open and does not require booking.
- If you are going to rent a car, look for: how many km per day is included in a daily rate, what is a price for extra km, check if window and tyre damage is included in insurance cover (most likely not and repair is costly so consider buying additional cover). We found Hertz being competitively priced.
- Make sure you always have some small change for people who ‘help’ you to park a car. They are everywhere. Consider them as an unofficial parking security members.
- Make sure you always have some small change for people on the petrol stations who operate pumps.
- You can pay with debit/credit card everywhere. You can even add tip in restaurant to your card payment. If you need some cash, make sure to use ATMs that belong to a bank.
- Do not be afraid to use Taxi or Uber. This is cheap, reliable and commonly used way of transport.
- Cape Town is quite safe but I wouldn’t recommend you walking outside of V&A area - use Hop on Hop off buses, taxi or Uber instead.
- I give a lot of tips in my posts on Instagram so consider visiting @travelinmayasstilettos

Where To Stay?

You have to bear in mind that Cape Town is not the safest place to walk and even though taxi and Uber are relatively inexpensive, hotel located close to V&A Waterfront would make your stay definitely nicer. If you are planning a longer vacation, then I would recommend to split the time between city centre and one of the suburbs: gorgeous beach part of Camps Bay or stunning vineyards area in Constantia.
We spent 11 nights in Cape Town, split between city centre and Constantia at the suburbs of Cape Town. We rented a car at the airport for the first 7 nights that we spent in Constantia. During that time we did 1200 km by car around Western Cape, enjoying quiet evenings in our guest house surrounded by vineyards. Then we drove back to the airport to return the car. We got to our second hotel in Cape Town city centre by pre-booked taxi at a cost of circa €22. We booked the last 4 nights stay at a hotel in V&A area, for its convenient location, which gave us walkable distance to all restaurants and nightlife. Traffic in Cape Town is crazy and it’s better to use Red Bus or taxi for sightseeing.
Our first accommodation was amazing Ikhaya Safari Lodge guest house in Constantia. Surrounded by vineyards, beautifully decorated, with a stunning view and small swimming pool, not too faraway from the city centre but enough to have a quiet atmosphere of a countryside. They offer freshly prepared breakfast, usually served on the terrace. I can’t recommend this place enough but you would need to rent a car, so that can be a little drawback for some people. The guest house is located in a neighbourhood of the best restaurants in Cape Town.
Then we moved to Protea Hotel by Marriot in the V&A Waterfront area. It’s renewed 19th century prison, quiet big, simple in decor but very clean and modern place to stay. Two Ocean Aquarium, main Red Bus (Hop on Hop off) stop and Water Shack are on the other side of the road and V&A shopping and restaurant area is just few minutes walking distance. Hotel offers a typical buffet breakfast for €11 pp. Nothing spectacular about it but you can have absolutely delicious breakfast in the Cooked located in Water Shack across the road.

CAPE TOWN:

The city of Cape Town, colloquially named Mother City, can overwhelm you with amount of attractions and places to visit. 11 nights spent there wasn’t enough to cover everything. If you are not going to rent a car, stay in proximal distance to V&A Waterfront area and use Red Bus and organized tours. Prepare yourself for enjoying food in many restaurants, shopping, visiting museums and other sights, visiting Two Ocean Aquarium, city cycling, walking tour with the locals, cooking classes, picnic in open air cinema, sunset watching from Signal Hill, helicopter ride, sunbathing at one of the most amazing beaches, horseback riding, paddling, kayaking with dolphins, snorkelling with seals, scuba diving, surfing, kitesurfing, fishing, sailing, hiking, mountain biking, paragliding, zip lining, sandboarding, safari, nature walks, wine tasting in many wine estates, white shark cage diving, whale watching, swimming with penguins. It is a lot to fit in one holiday. There are many companies which can organize different trips and transport. Train from Cape Town connects all towns and it is a great option for travel, especially with gorgeous views along the way from the train’s window.  

RED BUS (Hop on Hop off Bus)

It is the best way of sightseeing the city. There are 3 lines which can take you literally to every place of interest. Yellow line goes to Castle of Good Hope and District Six museum; Blue - the longest line - can take you to Constantia, World of Birds, Kirstenbosch Garden and Red line goes to Long Street (African Market), Bo Kaap, Table Mountain, Camps Bay and Sea Point. You can buy ticket for one, two or three days. We booked 3 days ticket but we didn’t really need 3 days since we visited some places by car. Every bus drives in a circle - all in the same direction – so, if you decide to finish sightseeing earlier, then you need to take an Uber or taxi to get you back to the start. 

V&A Waterfront

It is definitely one of the most recognisable places in CT - one of the busiest but also one of the safest to walk even at night. This is the place where you can find 450 shops, many restaurants, delis, cafes and casual eateries for every budget and palates. You can take a 1.5 hour guided walking tour or catch a ferry to Roben Island, famous former prison where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years. Also Two Ocean Aquarium, Harbour Cruise companies - if you fancy to watch sunset from chartered boat - and Helicopter Tour companies, which take you for a ride with stunning aerial views, all are located there. 

Helicopter Flight

It is quiet expensive attraction but I couldn’t recommend it more. Flying over the mountains and enjoying incredible views of CT was an absolutely amazing, memorable experience and the highlight of our stay in CT. There are few different companies located in V&A. I booked helicopter flight with NAC. They offer different tours, and price depends on the length of time spend in the air. I booked Atlantico Tour in private helicopter flight for 3 tourists. We were lucky to have the helicopter to ourselves, but even if another person attended the tour, we all would sill have access to the windows - something to consider before booking your trip. If you book 2 people tour in 4-6 seat helicopter, then not every person will have direct access to the windows. Book morning or evening flight for a better light to take a photos. 

Table Mountain

Is the most spectacular flat-topped mountain overlooking Cape Town. A flat formation of clouds sitting on its top quite often, looks like a tablecloth, hence the name. This is the most iconic landmark, most photographed place and the most crowded attraction. The easiest way to visit it is by cable car, but if you have spare time (which we didn’t), then I would recommend you to hike it up, to get a chance to fully admire stunning surroundings. You can also use cable car one way only. Check their website for information about opening hours, cable car tickets and weather conditions. Cable car does not operate during strong winds and weather - on the mountain top - can change dramatically within an hour. Comfortable shoes, sun cream and some warm top (even in a summer time) are essential. You can get there by Hop on Hop Off bus but if you use your own car, you need to leave it in the designated parking area and take a free bus to the cable car station. During Christmas holidays this place is overcrowded, queue to the cable car reaches between 2 to 4 hours waiting and  depends on the time of the day. Their website suggests to buy tickets online, but because everyone does it, there is no queue to ticket office anyway, only to a cable car. You can also buy a ticket from driver in Hop on Hop off bus on your way to the Table Mountain. We went there in the evening time about 5.30 pm, queued to the cable car for 40 minutes only, did a nice stroll on the top and finished the evening with a coffee and glass of wine while enjoying sunset from a restaurant located next to the cable car station. You can expect an amazing sunset in a summer about 7.45pm – 8pm. Hop on Hop off bus doesn’t operate in the evenings but there is no problem with catching a taxi, which waits next to the lower cable car station.

Two Oceans Aquarium

It’s a fantastic place located in V&A area for the whole families and scuba divers. This place is all about fun, entertainment, education and conservation. With more than 3000 creatures on display, kids can spend there hours, learning, playing and interacting with some animals and scuba divers alike. You will find there small coffee place - in front of the huge I&J tank – a souvenir shop and a restaurant just outside the exit. We visited the aquarium twice and were scuba diving in the Predator Exhibit and the I&J Ocean Exhibit tanks. There is also a tank with Kelp Forest for advanced scuba divers, which we skipped because we did scuba diving around Kelp Forest in the Atlantic Ocean. If you are visiting Cape Town in a peak season, especially around Christmas time, make sure to book that aquarium dives in advance. Predator Exhibit offers a unique dive with ragged tooth sharks which swim freely close to divers. It’s an amazing and thrilling experience that lasts circa 30 minutes, but to be honest, I got bored and cold after just 15 minutes. Sharks are unpredictable predators thus divers have to respect their territory and stay calm and very close to the bottom. I&J Ocean exhibit on the other hand, is all about fun and interaction with fishes and kids who are on the other side of the glass. You are encouraged to freely dive along 10 meters long tunnel, touch sting rays, rub turtle’s back, play with supper funny soap fish and give high five to all the kids gathered on the other side of the glass. It was definitely the coolest dive we’ve ever done. If you have time limited to only one of the dives, then I guess, I don’t have to say which one was my favourite. Also, I would highly recommend the restaurant attached to the aquarium – the Two Ocean Aquarium restaurant offers nice decor, fantastic staff and lovely food.

Here’s a few places visited by us by car:

Muizenberg

Small town, totally dedicated to surfers/kitesurfers with colourful, Instagramable beach huts. You can get there by car or by train but if your time is limited and you’re not surfer, then skip this town. Long, flat, extremely windy beach is not a nicest place for walk. You can also find colourful beach huts in St. James Bay which is close by.

Kalk Bay

Cute coastal town, reachable by train from CT. Parking spaces are limited, especially in the evening. Go there for a little stroll around shops and galleries or for a dinner to one of the restaurants. You will find there Cape to Cuba bar/restaurant with quite good and not too expensive food. Even if you are not in a mood for eating, check out this restaurant for its unique, very interesting design and a bit of Cuban experience. 

Simon's Town

Picturesque, naval town, easily reachable by train, car or organized tour - if you want to visit Boulders Beach as well. It is one of South Africa’s oldest towns with charming colonial buildings, museum, shops, galleries, eateries, scuba dive shops and beautiful views from the shores of False Bay. You can leave car in a small, designated parking area for 4 Rand per 30mins. Highly recommend stop for delicious seafood in Bertha’s restaurant overlooking the harbour. 

Boulders Beach

Famous beach with African penguins cannot be missed. Parking area is quite small and often full in high season. We visited it in the late afternoon and were lucky to get a parking spot. Entrance fee for tourists in high season is 152 Rand, while SA residences pay only 32. I don’t mind to pay a bit more as a tourist but five times more feels like a real rip off. After entrance gate you will find long walkway with some viewing points to have an opportunity to observe hundreds African penguins in their natural habitat. There is also small beach but you should check the tide chart before visiting because with high tide, there is no beach at all. If you came prepared (rather bikini than long dress), you can use the huge boulders to sit on next to the penguins or just swim with them in adjacent waters. 

Hout Bay

Once a fishing village, despite development has managed to maintain that unique combination between old and new. It is beautiful suburb of CT and its long beach provide amazing view of the bay surrounded by mountains. There is lively market on weekends, quite few restaurants and World Of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary. It can be also a starting point to seal island and Chapman’s Peak Drive. It’s connected with CT by MyCiti bus and Hop on Hop off bus.

World of Birds

Sanctuary for birds and some mammals, don’t expect big zoo though. This place is very basic, depends totally on donations and small entry fee. Parking is free but like in most places around CT, ‘donation’ is well welcome. You can experience here close encounter with full of fun and energy squirrel monkeys. Gate to The Monkey Jungle is open from 11.30 – 13.00 and 14.00 – 15.30 and you have to apply to few simple rules, do not chase or touch them but if you sit and patiently wait, they will be jumping around and on you, trying to steal some of your belongings – be warned. There is also small cafeteria next to the entrance, their brownie is very tasty.

Chapman's Peak Drive

Affectionately known as ‘chappies’ it’s 9 kilometres of absolutely scenic and interesting from history point, twisting road of 114 curves between Hout Bay and Noordhoek. Popular for cycling, hiking, running and of course driving with a few stops along the way for a photo opportunity. It is a busy road among tourists, so expect queue line to the toll. Toll fee is 49 Rand per car. I would recommend coming from Noordhoek side towards Hout Bay, it's easier to pull car over when you spot a parking space what - during high season – is problematic. Wind on the top is very strong. The road winding at the edge of the cliff can be scary at first but is well maintented and wide enough for a two cars coming from opposite directions. Chapman’s Peak Drive can be closed due to a weather conditions so check their website before visiting.

Cape Point

Unfortunately we missed this beautiful part of the coast. Traffic was horrendous on a Boxing Day. Queue of cars to the toll gate reached about 2 km and after moving just 800 meters within 1 hour, we decided to turn around.

Wine Tasting in Groot Constantia

It is the oldest wine estate with museum, wine cellar, shop and restaurants. It’s located in Constantia, stunning suburb of Cape Town. You can easily reach Constantia by Hop on Hop off bus from CT. Groot Constantia has its own, quite big parking area. You can choose different tours, for more information check out their website. We booked full tour and wine tasting paired with chocolate. The cellar tour wasn’t great, tour guide was very informative but because of amount of people on the tour, I barely could hear him. Fortunately, we found plenty information in the museum. Wine tasting itself was fun and wine is gorgeous to taste, especially when was paired with the chocolate. There are also restaurants on site, as expected they are a bit more expensive but still reasonably priced. Jonaskaurt restaurant has interesting decor, lovely staff and serve absolutely delicious food.

Open Air Cinema

The Galileo Open Air Cinema brings you to a magical movie experience under the sky full of stars. The cinema rotate between few locations in Cape Town so check their website for updates and to buy a ticket. They also organize special screening events eg. Christmas, Valentine’s. If you travel to Cape Town during Christmas time, make sure to book an event in Meerendal Wine Estate. It’s located about 40 minutes drive by car from Cape Town. The doors open at 5pm and with your ticket you will get your own backseat, blanket and Santa’s hat. There is a fantastic atmosphere, loud music, games for kids, food and snacks stalls and of course delicious wine from Meerendal’s vineyards.  Movie starts when it gets dark around 8.30pm and it is of course ‘Kevin Home Alone’, the most Christmassy movie of all time. Locals bring extra blankets and their own picnic baskets. There is no need to bring your own food because there is variety available on site to purchase but extra blanket would be a nice addition. Even in the summer time, evenings are quite chilly, make sure you have a proper clothing. It was a fabulous evening, definitely one to remember.

Safari in Aquaila Safari Game Reserve

There are few game reserves in short distance from Cape Town. All of them offer half day, full day and overnight options. Aquila is located two hours drive northeast of Cape Town. The road is absolutely spectacular and leads throughout the mountains and vineyards, yet very well maintained. This place is a home to Big Five and a conservation centre which provides a sanctuary for rescued animals that no longer are able to survive in the wild. Aquila Hotel is a very expensive placed to stay, especially in Christmas time. If you decide to spend few nights there, bare in mind, hotel is located in the middle of nowhere and safari will be your main attraction. We booked 3 hours sunset safari, the tour itself was very informative and definitely gave us a chance to see what to expect from the real safari trip. Summer is very hot and windy, make sure you bring sun cream and some hat and binoculars or camera with a long lens. It’s an open truck-like car with roof for a bit of shade. You only get off the car in the designated area, which is a bar where you will be served a drink or Prosecco. Even though there are not that many animals, it was still a thrilling experience to see Big Five in a close distance, roaming freely.

Sandboarding in Atlantis Dunes

For all of you who look for some fun, I would recommend to book a trip to Atlantis Dunes for sandboarding. Dunes are located about 1 hour drive form Cape Town but if you do not have your own transport, they will book transport for you. We booked sandboarding with Dylan from sandboardingcapetown.com. He is a nice, straightforward guy with an easy and fast email communication approach. There is some parking area just before entrance and toilets facility. Unfortunately there is no shop or restaurant close by. Wear comfortable closed-toe shoes, hat (not a beach hat, it’s very windy there), do not forget to bring plenty of water and sunscreen – it’s very warm there and you will be exposed to the sun all the time. If you feel comfortable on the board, you can wear shorts and t-shirt but if you have never done snowboarding before then I would suggest longer pants eg. leggings or tracksuit bottom to protect your body in case you fall - no worries though, it is only a sand and you will not have a super speed anyway. We booked 3 hours with 4x4 ride up and Dylan made sure to get us up the dunes as many times as we wanted. This is an activity for everyone, also kids. You start sandboarding at the lower parts and whenever you feel comfortable on the board you can gradually go up higher. Sandboarding is not very challenging but still brings a lot of fun and after 3 hours you will be exhausted but happy.   

Shark Cage Diving in Gansbaai

It is a town located about 170 km from CT, famous for organized cage diving with white sharks near Dyer Island. 2 hours by car seems like a long drive but it is a very scenic drive. You can get to Gansbaai by train, taxi, bus, car or with a shuttle bus prebooked with a diving company.  Along with Hermanus town famous for whale watching trips, both towns offer that unforgettable experience but in a winter time. There are none white sharks or whale sharks in the summer, so if you feel you might be disappointed, better skip this trips. We booked this trip for an experience of diving in the cage. Being so close to about 20 Copper sharks was a unique feeling. We booked the trip with White Shark Diving Company in Gansbaai and we couldn’t pick better. They provide professional service via email and on premises. They are also highly involved in conservation and volunteering programs in the preservation of the white sharks. The day starts with breakfast, educational video about sharks and safety briefing, followed by 2 hours long trip. You will be provided with wetsuits and masks on the boat but you need to bring your own towel. Water temperature in the summer is about 18/19 degrees Celsius. It’s quite warm on the boat but just in case bring some hoodie. There are snacks and water on the boat and tasty lunch in the dive shop after the trip.  

Scuba Diving

We did 2 dives with Pisces Divers in Simon’s Town. Professional service, equipment in great conditions and tasty lunch after dives. Parking is next to their building and you can use their changing rooms. Both dives – playful, full of energy fur seals and amazing kelp forest, were interesting but with quite tough conditions, low visibility, strong surge and water temperature of only 18 degrees Celsius.   

Go and enjoy yourself

For more descriptive overview of Cape Town check out my video on YouTube (stjaro) and my Instagram account @travelinmayasstilettos