Why you need to visit Cape Town, South Africa
The great explorer Sir Francis Drake was not wrong in the year 1580 by naming this “the fairest Cape in all the world”. On arriving here yourself, whether by sea or air, it’s almost impossible to disagree with him; quite simply this city is spectacular. More recent acknowledgement of this would be in 2014 when the city of Cape Town was named "the best place in the world to visit" by both The New York Times and The Telegraph newspapers.
When traveling from London, New York or infact any of the other major cities around the world, you just can’t help but smile when arriving here. Cape Town just knocks all of the competition into a cocked hat. Unlike many cities around the world, Cape Town’s a small city; you immediately feel more relaxed and at ease here. It is easy to get around, and with a short 15-minute private transfer from wherever you are based, you can pretty much be at most of the major sites. Even if you want to stay 'out of town' in the Winelands or along the beautiful cape peninsula, you can find yourself back at the V & A Waterfront for your sunset cruise in a jiffy (that's by car, not by helicopter, which can be arranged for those with the budget).
(The views from a sunset cruise are breathtaking, the sort that stay with you for many years. If you're lucky, dolphins will swim alongside the bow of the boat as you sip your South African sparkling wine).
"Each excursion and experience you have here has so much depth to it - you just wouldn’t expect all this from one place but Cape Town truly offers the traveler rich rewards", Sandgrouse client Nora Connolly, New York USA.
Where to stay in Cape Town
From an accommodation point of view, Cape Town truly has it all. There's a wonderful array of luxury boutique hotels to choose from, which complement some of the world's most respected and renowned names. Hotels that spring to mind are the historic and traditional Belmond Mount Nelson, the wonderful Cape Grace by the V&A Waterfront or the family friendly One&Only. For those of you who prefer a more intimate, homely feel yet are not willing to compromise on the high level of service or luxury that you're used to, Cape Town comes into its own. If you're looking to wake up to glorious, endless sea views, then look no further than the faultless Ellerman House or the gorgeous Cape View Clifton - two absolute gems commanding outstanding views perched above some of Cape Town's best beaches. Or perhaps you would prefer to be within walking distance of the city's cool bars and cafés on Long Street? To feel what it's like to live in Cape Town's famous 'City Bowl' area, it's either Four Rosmead Boutique Guest House, Welgelegen Boutique Hotel, Abbey Manor Guest House or The Cape Cadogan Boutique Hotel.
If you can't beat them, then join them
Capetonians know how to relax and have fun. You’ll find the locals have a relaxed, friendly and laid back demeanour. They know there are better things in life than being glued to your office chair, like sipping sundowner drinks by the palm tree lined beach in Camps Bay, or conversely, watching the sun rise from Signal Hill high above the city one morning before the rest of the world even wakes!
From a tourist's perspective, the list of things to get to grips with is endless; take a break from the great shopping to make sure you sample the utterly delicious contemporary food in one of the city's superb restaurants. South African meat is sublime, in particular their steak or their 'game' meats, they really give Argentina a real run for their money for the title of 'Best Steaks in the World'. Pair your delicious food with a locally produced fine wine (which just keep improving year on year) or even a craft ale from what's becoming a budding emerging industry.
(Sandgrouse Travel's Jonny tandem paragliding with a professsional guide over the selubrious Camps Bay in Cape Town).
The adrenaline junkie is spoilt for choice visiting Cape Town. Probably due to the wonderful climate, South Africa is an active nation and if you're that way inclined, you'll quickly find yourself planning something that's sure to give you a rush. When I was in Cape Town, I met up with a local running club each morning and managed to discover some of the brilliant trails and tracks within Table Mountain National Park - this helped me connect with the city on a deeper level and build some great contacts with locals. I took away some tips and manged to plan more adventurous things to enjoy, like paragliding from Lion's Head and landing on the beach in Camps Bay between sunbathers! There's stacks more though. How about a shark cage diving trip? Diving with great white sharks, the most fearsome of predators, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a previlage. And if that doesn't do it for you, you can try mountain biking on the peninsula, a sea kayaking adventure in the harbor or abseilling off Table Mountain - one of the world's highest commercial abseils.
For those not so daring, enjoy a gentle cable car trip up Table Mountain at least, surely one of the most iconic mountains in the world. Akin to the likes of the Effiel Tower in Paris, a trip to Cape Town would not be complete without heading up the mountain. The views from the top are spectacular, well worth the expense (however please remember that the cable car is closed for annual maintenance between 27th July to 9th August 2015).
Historic Cape Town
For history buffs there's the historical quarters to the city, being a colonial settlement, of course, it's not short of a captivating story or two and there are many famous associated figures. Take a ferry out to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned during the Apartheid era. Here you can have a guided tour of the prison from an ex-prisoner, gaining a first-hand account of what it was like. You can even see the cell the great Nelson Mandela was assigned during his stay here and hear his story in full (as per President Barack Obama's 2013 visit to South Africa).
Back in the city, take a stroll around the brilliant markets selling all sorts of useful and not so useful items. African crafts and culture are so colourful, if not for yourself, take something home for your friends. Visit some of the wonderful museums where all the family can enjoy something on offer or simply enjoy a picnic in the grounds of the gorgeous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
A visit to South Africa wouldn't be complete without a safari
South African Airways now offer direct internal flights out of Cape Town's International Airport (CPT) to Kruger National Park's International Airport (MQP). This means there's no excuse not to factor in a few days wrapping up a wonderful vacation viewing some of Africa's most spellbinding wildlife. Kruger National Park is one of the very best areas in the world for safaris and if you're looking for an exclusive, more private flavor to your safari, you could consider the Sabi Sand Game Reserve which boarders Kruger National Park.
Look out for our luxury South African itineraries that will be featuring on our soon to be launched Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions website. Please subscribe for further updates and feel free to add your Cape Town recommendations to the comments below.
(Combine your trip to Cape Town with a few days on safari. Here a Nile crocodile is caught warming itself in the sun - Kruger National Park. Click to enlarge image).
(Two giraffe seen through dry winter bush in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. During the winter months of May to September, the bush is much thinner making animal sightings easier).