Cape Town was founded in the 1650s by the Dutch as a rest stop for ships heading east on the legendary Spice Route. The site on the southern tip of the African continent was a good choice, with two oceans and a large bay in its front yard. The backdrop is courtesy several mountain ranges dominated by the 3,500-foot flat-topped Table Mountain.
Either hike or take a cable car to the top of the Table – the views stretch for miles. Go out, over the sea to the west, into the Western Cape to the east and down below to the city of Cape Town, the country’s oldest city and the recognized mother of modern South Africa. In the past 30 years, the Mother City’s population has doubled to nearly five million.
Nudging its way up the slopes of Table Mountain is the 1,300-acre Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Stroll the elevated wood and steel Boomslang Tree Canopy Walkway as it climbs and dips, then curls and meanders through the arboretum like a tree snake (a boomslang). The series of gardens showcase more than 7,000 southern African plant species, 30% of which are found nowhere else in the world.
Answer the call of the wild with a day trip to the Aquila Private Game Preserve for face time with cape buffalos, rhinos, elephants, lions, blue wildebeest, giraffes, baboons and zebras.
One of the world’s two mainland colonies of African penguins hangs out nearby at Boulders Beach, where suspended walkways bring folks right alongside the engaging little fellows. For top-notch surfing, head to Muizenberg Beach, which offers brightly-colored Victorian beach huts that line the sand. Back in town, the historic Bo-Kaap area is also filled with homes of vibrant hues along with aromatic Cape Malay spice shops.
At Camps Bay, the sand is white and fine and there are miles of it. On the other side of the bay are chic bars, restaurants and fiery ebsunsets. The locals will be dining on biltong (dried cured meat) and bobotie (curry and turmeric meatloaf with raisins) and sipping Rooibos (red bush) tea, made from a shrub found only in the area.
The wines produced in South Africa are superb, and there are probably no finer vineyards than the 200-plus found in the fertile, green valleys of Stellenbosch, not far from town. Some of the oldest vineyards in the southern hemisphere lie in Constantia, a suburb boasting an established wine route which features excellent wineries and more than a few fine dining establishments.
Some of the best upscale shopping is found on the charming Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, where restaurants compete with 450 shops and purveyors of sunset cruises for your attention. Among things to buy: wire and beaded art, decorated ostrich eggs, Amarula cream liqueur (flavored with the fruit of the native marula tree; tastes much like toffee) and, of course, tanzanite and diamonds.
While you’re on the waterfront, swing by the Two Oceans Aquarium’s celebration of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, located in the heart of the shopping district. Shark-feeding times are very popular.
Your visit to Cape Town will not be complete without a stop at Robben Island in Table Bay. It’s now a World Heritage site, but for 27 years, a prison on the island built by apartheid supporters was home to Nelson Mandela. In 1994, the then-freed Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically-elected president.
Stay at one of Cape Town’s finest hotels, the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa on the ocean just minutes from town, flanked by Table mountain. Rejuvenate at one of the hotel’s indulging mountainside spa gazebos looking out over the Atlantic.