Africa’s southernmost city.
It is also the major city with the most beautiful location on the continent, if not the world, with the spectacular Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean providing the perfect setting. Including its suburbs, around 3.7 million people live in and around Cape Town, and the city has a large international airport offering good connections to a large part of the continent, as well as a number of direct routes to Europe. South Africa’s parliament is housed in Cape Town, which is the country’s legislative capital, while Pretoria is its administrative and Bloemfontein its judicial capitals.
Cape Town’s history can be traced back to the 1400’s when the Portuguese explorers Bartolomeu Diaz and Vasco da Gama anchored in the bay, but the city itself was not founded until the mid-17th century, when the area was settled by the Dutch. Later the area became a British Colony until it gained its independence in 1910. In more recent time Cape Town is perhaps best known as being the city where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years out of the total of 27 years in prison under the apartheid government. He was finally freed on the 11th February 1990 when he made his famous speech from Cape Town’s City Hall, before becoming the country’s first President after the first truly democratic elections held on 27th April 1994.
The prison of Robben Island lies 10 km north west of Cape Town and is one of the area’s most visited locations. The prison now serves as a museum, where former prisoners act as your guides on the prison tours. It goes without saying that Mandela’s cell is the biggest attraction here. The cable car up to the top of Table Mountain is another great attraction, as it quickly carries visitors up to the broad flat summit, some 1,000m above sea level. The views over the city and out as far as Robben Island are indescribably beautiful, and the nature quite unique. The flat plateaux at the top of Table Mountain is the most northern part of the Table Mountain national park, which stretches right down to the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-westerly point in Africa, nearly 50 km to the south.
A tour down to the Cape is also a must for most visitors, even though Africa’s “true” southern tip is Cape Agulhas a couple of hundred kilometers to the south east.The landscape here is magnificent, and the vegetation totally unique – in this small area you can find more plant species than in the whole of the British Isles, 70% of which are only found in south western South Africa. Even though the Cape peninsula isn’t a safari destination, it is actually possible to see a few big game animals here.
The rare Cape mountain-zebra and antelopes such as the eland and particularly the beautiful and very rare bontebuk can be found in the park, where uniquely you can also see baboons and ostriches with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. A really special, and for many totally surprising, experience is to see the colony of African penguins (once known as jackass penguins) at Boulder´s Beach, where you have the opportunity to swim amongst the penguins right in front of the colony. This area also has a number of colonies of brown fur seals you can sail out to, and it is actually possible to see both the penguins and seals on Robben Island, while the furs seals thrive in Cape Town’s large harbour.
If you would like to see a concentration of the Cape’s distinctive flora then it is worthwhile visiting the impressive National Botanical Gardens in Kirstenbosch, which is also home to a great variety of birds. Cape Town can offer many excellent hotels, the very best city hotels can be found on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, which is a delightful shopping area next to the harbour, where you can also eat really well for a very reasonable price. South of the city center, along the beautiful coastline with its wonderful bathing beaches you can also find some really excellent hotels. If you find yourself wondering why there are relatively few people swimming in comparison to the numbers of people on the beaches, there is a simple explanation, the Ocean water is relatively cold along this part of the coast.
• The cable car up to the top of Table Mountain, with its spectacular views over Cape Town
• The beautiful sailing trip to Robben Island, where you can visit the prison and Nelson Mandela’s cell
• A tour to the Cape of Good Hope with its impressive scenery and unique plants and animals
• Restaurants, music and shopping along the atmospheric Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
High season: September to April