Cape Town is the ultimate outdoor city. Blessed with white sandy bays, warm weather and an active population, it's a city with lots of activities on offer. This was my first visit to Cape Town and I had only one week to explore.
I wanted to make the most of my time, finding some uniquely African experiences and staying active at the same time. I had a brilliant time and if you're wondering what to do in Cape Town on a flying visit, you can get all my tips below!
I flew to Cape Town in February for a friend’s wedding, so I thought I'd turn it into a mini Cape Town discovery. A couple of friends were arriving on the same day and one friend was eager to drive, so we picked up a car at the airport and our road trip began.
It's always a bit daunting driving in a new country especially after a long flight, but fortunately South Africans drive on the same side of the road as us Brits. However, unluckily for us, our driver was Norwegian and she hadn't driven on the left hand side before!
We stayed right in the centre of downtown Cape Town, nestled between hipster Bree Street with its cool cafes and backpacker party destination, Long Street. In the afternoon we were still pretty tired so just ambled through the streets and stopped for lunch in a pavement cafe. While we ate, we listened to an amazing African band who were busking with huge wooden xylophones and maracas.
Then, we continued to the traditional market in Greenmarket Square selling everything from wooden meerkats to brightly-coloured African materials and tribal statues. It’s a great spot for souvenirs and gifts. We then meandered through the tree lined avenues, checked out the gorgeous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and looped back to our accommodation.
After nightfall, we took an Uber ride (the best way to get around the city especially at night) to the V&A waterfront for dinner overlooking the marina. There was a great choice of upmarket seafood restaurants, lots of busy bars and twinkling lights reflected on the water.
The next day we drove along the coastal roads to Langebaan, always in the shadow of beautiful Table Mountain. On the way, we stopped at a few beaches to get our hair whipped around and our toes wet in the fresh Atlantic Ocean. Being February, it was the height of kitesurf season, as the winds are pretty strong and consistent. There were hundreds of brightly-coloured kites getting looped in the waves, which was great to watch.
The conditions around Bloubergstrand were better suited to experienced kitesurfers like us, as the waves were bigger. However, if you’re a beginner, the natural bay of Langebaan provides perfect flat and shallow water to learn. There are a number of kitesurfing schools here offering beginner courses for around 650 ZAR per hour (February 2018), which is reasonable compared to the UK. You can also rent paddle boards in the lagoon and it’s also a good spot for learning to SUP (Stand-up paddle board).
Whilst staying in Langebaan, I also did beach runs along empty coastlines with areas of amazing purple sand, where mussel shells had accumulated and been ground down. One restaurant you cannot miss in Langebaan is the famous 'Die Strandloper'. It's like a pirate grotto serving fish local-style from a braai. Here, you’ll be served 10 (yes 10!) courses served amongst fishing nets and bouys, cooked before you on open fires with the sunset as a backdrop. It's got great rustic charm and the pearly mussel shells are your cutlery. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Just one hour from Cape Town, you will find Buffelsfontein Game Reserve, which is perfect if you don't have time to go to one of the bigger safari parks like Kruger. I was in Cape Town in February 2018, during the longest drought for over 100 years, so the landscape was not as lush as normal.
However, our game drive was blessed with lots more animal sightings than normal as the wildlife was all grouped close to the water sources! You can opt for a 1.5 hour or 3 hour safari from the comfort of a big safari truck and the reserve has 4 of the Big 5 (lion, buffalo, rhino and leopard). Alternatively, you can choose to cycle round the reserve.
During the first half of the safari, we saw zebras, rhinos, emus, springbok, giraffe and many more! We were also able to enter the enclosure of a cheetah which had been born in captivity and so was tame around humans. During the second half of the safari, we visited the other big cats, including a black leopard and lots of lions.
I preferred the first 1.5 hours as the majority of the cats were kept in enclosures. Although the enclosures were big, the cats were not able to roam free in a natural habitat. Overall, this was a really good way to experience a safari near Cape Town, but it’s not what you would call an authentic African game drive.
Afterwards, we drove back to the Cape Town Peninsula. The journey back is stunning, as the whole way Table Mountain is in sight and growing in size. If you get a chance, swing by the West Coast National Park on your way back to the city. Set around an azure blue lagoon, with white dunes and green wetlands – it’s gorgeous.
If you like surfing and/or paddle boarding, but you’re not so keen on surfing where there's a potential risk of great white sharks, then Big Bay is for you. Being on the Atlantic side of the Cape Peninsula, there's a much lower chance of Great Whites, so I opted to surf here rather than Muizenburg, which is on the other side.
The surf in Big Bay was sublime, with perfect lines rolling in, clear blue seas and lots of surf shops renting good equipment just a 2 minute walk away. You'll need to bring or hire a wetsuit, as even in summer the sea is fresh! I took my 4:3 spring suit which was perfect. There are short and longboard surfers here, lots of paddle boarders and the locals were friendly when I paddled out alone.
For any non-surfers the beach is stunning, there are also lots of really nice restaurants looking over the ocean and a Thai massage spa which my friend can vouch for! There’s also the option to hire paddle boards and head over to the little sandy islands in the bay, which have a lot of feathered inhabitants. I saw a few people paddling out to these islands which all looked like a great spots for a picnic.
We stayed just down the road on Dolphin Beach at a yoga and pilates centre, so if we weren't surfing at Big Bay we were running on the beach or trying out some yoga!. This area was great for us, as there were a number of restaurants within walking distance. We were also told that it was safe to walk around after dark and also to leave our car parked in the street - which was handy.
Cape Town’s landscape really lends itself to great hiking. Many people recommended hiking to Lion’s Head - a 3 hour round-trip with jaw-dropping views over Table Mountain and the Cape Town area. You can go it alone but if you book a guide you can take some lesser-known routes and get the low-down from a local at the same time. We decided to opt for a quiet trail starting and finishing from the Silvermine reservoir and finishing with an awesome view over Hout Bay.
The hike was supposed to be a 1.5 hour round trip however, we decided to add an extra section to stand in a cave called Elephant’s Eye. On our way back, we must have taken the wrong path as eventually we hiked all the way to the top of Table Mountain National Park! This took us a mouth-parching and limb-wobbling 5.5 hours in the strong African heat (hence why I recommend a guide). However, it was 100% worth it for the views.
After the hike, we headed to Muizenburg for lunch in one of the surf cafes. There were lots of people learning to surf here although the shark signs were a little off-putting! We checked out the rainbow beach huts and then drove through the villages of Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simonstown. These villages had some beautiful colonial style buildings and cute arty shops to browse.
Now, the penguins were calling us! We arrived on the Boulders Beach just 1 hour before sunset, which was perfect as the crowds had gone and the lighting was just right for a penguin photo shoot. Once we were penguinned out, we headed to Cape Point National Park – but we were too late! The Park closes at 6pm, so I recommend getting there at 5pm at the very latest!
Next, we took the scenic Chapman’s Peak Drive, a gorgeous coast road that leads back up to Cape Town. We were absolutely stunned by the views. It’s one of the most beautiful drives I have ever done and coupled with the perfect timing of sunset it couldn't have been better. There’s a lots of laybys to pull over and take photos. We pulled into Hout Bay as dusk was setting in and looked up the mountain and saw where we'd hiked a few hours previously. What a day!
If you have more time you can continue on to glitzy Camps Bay for your next stop, but we headed home for a well-deserved rest and some sushi!
We started the day with a beach run along Dolphin Beach under the watchful eye of Table Mountain. Afterwards, we enjoyed a healthy breakfast in 'Carluccio's', the kitesurfers’ favourite café, with home-baked bread and fresh smoothies. Once our bags were packed and loaded into the hired car, we drove to Table Mountain to experience the cable car and view from the top before heading to the airport to finish our trip.
As I flew with Turkish Airlines, I decided to stop in Istanbul for 24 hours to break up the return trip home and visit a new destination. You need to get a visa on arrival, but this only took 2 minutes using a self-service machine and paying the 20 USD (ish) fee with my credit card. Next, I jumped in a taxi and paid around £12 to get to the old town. I was in the city by 9am and spent a whole day discovering the mosques, riverside life and the maze of spices and lanterns in the grand bazaar. This stopover really helped with my jetlag, as it gave me a great excuse to stretch my legs and counteract all the hours of sitting still on my flight from Cape Town.
Often it's possible to add a night or a few days to your stopover point for a nominal increase in flight taxes. If you add this after your flight ticket has already been bought, it will cost a whole lot more, so be sure to consider a stopover during the planning phase of your trip.
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