Quite Possibly the World's Most Beautiful CityNovember 5-16
We cannot say enough good things about Cape Town. Along with Istanbul, it ranks right up there as one of our favorite cities of all time. Beautifully endowed with natural beauty, hip and cosmopolitan, friendly and relaxed, Cape Town has all of the qualities that make a city great. We came to Cape Town with high expectations. Those lofty expectations were not only met, but exceeded during our ten day stay here. As South Africa's oldest city (it was originally settled by the Dutch in the mid-1600s), Cape Town is full of interesting history. Today, it serves as the country's parliamentary capital.
The V&A Waterfront, with Table Mountain in background
We aren't exaggerating when we say that Cape Town could be the most beautiful city in the world. Sitting on pretty, blue Table Bay, the city is surrounded by soaring mountains, the most famous of which is, of course, Table Mountain. Providing a stunning backdrop for the city, flat-topped Table Mountain rises some 1000 meters (3200 feet) straight up behind the downtown area. No matter where you are in the city, Table Mountain looms above. There are no bad views in Cape Town -- if you're not facing the mountain, you're facing the sea. It's really impossible not to gawk at the spectacular natural beauty of the area!
An oft-photographed view of Table Mountain, from Bloubergstrand
Jen browsing in the St. George Street market
Downtown Cape Town, in itself, is not particularly beautiful from an architectural perspective. Many of the buildings are workaday, unimpressive modern structures. But there are some nice old buildings, like the imposing Parliament buildings and the old Town Hall. And there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore, full of funky little neighborhoods reminiscent of San Francisco's many unique neighborhoods. There is Long Street, which is loaded with good restaurants and small bars; De Waterkaant, an up-and-coming neighborhood full of colorful bars and cafes; the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which is a lot like SF's touristy Pier 39; and the core downtown area, which includes lots of shopping opportunities at places like the St. George Street Mall and Adderly Street. Cape Town is also home to some of the country's best restaurants -- foodies could spend months exploring all the eating options without dining at the same place twice!
Adderly Street, downtown (notice the Christmas lights!)
On top of Table Mountain (Lion's Head below)
Every visit to Cape Town must include a trip up to the top of Table Mountain. A new cable car system shuttles people to the top of the 1000 meter mountain in about four minutes. The view from the top is really breathtaking. Looking down on the city from up above puts Cape Town in perspective. It's a remarkably compact city, contained by Table Mountain, Lion's Head Peak, and Signal Hill. On the other side of Lion's Head lie the upscale coastal suburbs of Sea Point, Clifton, and Camp's Bay. Much of the time, Table Mountain is covered in the infamous "table cloth" -- a heavy blanket of clouds which can roll in on an otherwise clear day and cover the mountain in a matter of minutes. This phenomenon echoes a common saying about the city -- If you don't like the weather in Cape Town, wait 10 minutes. The weather can change very quickly, from sunny and hot to windy and rainy in no time. Truly like having four seasons in one day!
Another shot on top of the mountain
Just outside of Cape Town, on the opposide side of Table Mountain, lies the world famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. One hundred years old, the amazing gardens include some 9,000 of South Africa's 22,000 species of plants. It's a great place to spend an afternoon with a picnic. Kirstenbosch is huge, covering a couple hundred acres of Table Mountain's southern slope. With the mountain as a backdrop, you might be forgiven for believing you're in a more tropical destination like Maui rather than mediterranean Cape Town.
Visitors from home, at last!
We were fortunate enough to have our first visitors from home while in Cape Town. Our friends Chris and Jamie flew all the way from San Francisco to spend a week with us in the World's Most Beautiful City before heading on to their own safari in Botswana. We rented a house in the exclusive beach community of Camp's Bay, just a five minute walk from the powder-white beach. After nearly seven months on the road without any visitors, it was so nice to see some faces from home...in person! We had a great time cruising around the Cape Town area during their one week visit. We saw all of the Cape Town sights we had already seen on our own, and went to some places that were new for us as well. One day, the four of us took a drive to see the sights of the Cape of Good Hope, which lies to the south of Cape Town.
At Kirstenbosch Gardens
With Chris and Jamie and the Penguins
Among the Cape's many attractions is Simonstown, home to a large colony of African penguins. Yes, there are penguins in South Africa. At Boulder's Beach, just south of Simonstown, hundreds of the little tuxedo-clad birds live among the rocks and sand. Wooden platforms are built above the beach so visitors can watch the penguins without disturbing their nesting sites. There is also a pretty section of the boulder-strewn beach where you can swim with the penguins...if you can handle the chilly water. The birds are quite used to the human presence here and let you get quite close without seeming to be bothered. Simonstown itself is a nice, well-preserved 300 year-old village set on a very scenic part of False Bay.
Penguins...in Africa? At Simonstown's Boulders Beach
At Cape Point with Chris and Jamie
At the very southern tip of the Cape Peninsula lies Cape Point, the most southwesterly point of the African continent. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the southern tip of Africa (that distinction belongs to Cape Agulhas, some distance to the southeast). Still, Cape Point does have that "end of the continent" feel to it, so it's a good place to pretend you're sitting at the edge of the earth. Unfortunately, we got really bad weather, with a lot of wind and rain, the day we went to Cape Point, so we were unable to make the 1.5 hour hike to the actual end of the peninsula. We did get to stop and pose for this picture, though...
The stunning Cape coast, looking north to Camp's Bay
The beautiful beach at Camp's Bay (Twelve Apostles behind)
The four of us had a lot of fun hanging out in our huge house in Camp's Bay. Camp's Bay, along with neighboring Clifton, has to have one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Backed by the impressive Twelve Apostles (a long chain of twelve mountains which form a line south of Table Mountain), Camp's Bay sits on a sloping hill, with an unbelievable powdery-white sand beach at the waterfront. Large boulders dot the beach and big palm trees sway with the wind along the waterfront promenade, where things can get quite busy on sunny days and on weekend nights. Another nice thing about Camp's Bay is that downtown Cape Town, with its many restaurants and shops, are just over the hill behind town.
Aerial view of Camp's Bay
Trendy Clifton -- even prettier than Camp's Bay
Next to Camp's Bay lies Clifton, a very upscale town built on a steep cliffside with yet another spectacular beach. Together with Camp's Bay, Clifton has some of South Africa's most expensive real estate. And with good reason. The combination of mountains, beach, and ocean is unbeatable. If it weren't so far from home (and as expensive as San Francisco real estate), we sure would like to have a holiday home here! Maybe someday...
Camp's Bay beach, from the water
We loved South Africa (and especially Cape Town) so much that we wanted to extend our stay by an extra week. We tried to change our onward ticket to Mauritius, but alas, that wasn't in the cards for us...the approaching holiday season meant all onward flights were already booked full. With much sadness, we left Cape Town and our favorite country behind. We will definitely be back someday.
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