When visiting a city, many people set aside two or three days to see the sights, do a spot of shopping and take in the culture and pace of the city. One of the few cities that do not fit into this category is the magnificent Cape Town. Towering cliffs overlooking the city overflow with white cloud that spills off the top. Out to sea, an island sits on the horizon, Robben Island, possibly the second famous prison in the world after Alcatraz.
What makes Cape Town so special is not the sights within the city, although these are not to be forgotten, but the many things that there are to see and do in the surrounding area. It leaves the adventure traveller often spoilt for choice and as many only set aside a few days to explore the city, people find they have to return over and over again.
The look and feel of Cape Town differ somewhat to the rest of South Africa. Much safer than Johannesburg, Cape Town’s Camps Bay is as lively at night as it is during the day although the time to visit is at sundown when the sun soaks into the sea producing colours out of this world. The Waterfront, a modern marina bursting with shops and restaurants is the gateway to Robben Island and also where you can arrange fishing trips, tours and the famous shark dives. Buskers liven up the crowds creating an electric atmosphere whatever time of day you visit. At Robben Island, a morning tour takes you through the history of the island, starting as a leper colony eventually becoming the symbol of apartheid and oppression. It is here you can learn about the countries dear Mandaba and about how he had such an important impact on the world.
Heading up in to the clouds by cable car or using your feet, the views from Table Mountain are spectacular. The piercing blue sea surrounds the city and it is fenced in on all sides by the mountain where on a clear day, you can see far out to Robben Island. From the top of Table Mountain you can spot the Football Stadiums below which hosted the 2010 Word Cup and, walking around the mountain, on established paths and trails, you can see small fishing villages in the distance.
Cape Town is often seen as the launch pad for tours down the legendary Garden Route and while heading east, you pass magnificent beaches, dense forests and beautiful quaint villages, there is much to see and explore to the south as you head for the most southern point in Africa.
A couple of hours down the road is the famous Boulders Beach. It is the only place in the southern hemisphere where you can paddle with penguins, sunbathe side by side on the small beach and watch them pop in and out of the water. You have to pay to get on to the beach and even to access the walkways that take you down to viewpoints when the beach is full, but the money goes towards the conservation of one of the only penguin colonies on this stretch of coast. Walking down the walkway, make sure to check under the paths, under trees and in the shade by rocks where the pesky birds have their snooze.
Further south lies Cape Point. A National Park, it contains some grazing animals and ostriches. At the most southern part of the park, you can pull up, park and begin the short hike up the hill to the lighthouse. The views at this lighthouse are astounding. It is here that you can see the great Atlantic Ocean, meet the Pacific and both oceans hammer the towering cliffs, sending the vast bird life in to a tizz.
On your return to Cape Town, you can drive up the west side of the coast. This road, off the beaten track, traces breathtaking cliffs where, hundreds of meters below, lie deserted beaches, battered and beaten by the waves.
About the Author: Jess is Communications Coordinator for Tucan Travel. She has travelled independently and on group tours through Central America, Africa, North America, Israel and Europe. You can find her on Google+ or read her other contributions here.