First stop in Africa:
Beautiful and complicated Cape Town
After about four days of constant travel, the crisp sea air of Cape Town was a welcome and refreshing destination. Unfortunately, the uncharacteristically spectacular winter weather was in part responsible for a horrible drought. When we were there, the city had less than sixty days remaining before total water shut-off.
Where to Stay
Downtown Cape Town is a pretty walkable and safe place and there are a variety of neighborhoods to choose from. I stayed in Greenpoint at A Sunflower Stop Backpackers (amazing, clean, comfy hostel and the cheapest in CT, highly recommend it). Greenpoint has a nice little strip of restaurants and is close to a lot of outdoor activities like hiking and picnicking in the park. Nearby Seapoint is also lovely and offers the same amenities. De Waterkant is a bit more central and is more of a new development, boasting proximity to a big mall and the stadium. It's more touristy and expensive since the infrastructure and buildings are new. If it were me, I'd spend that money staying in the city center off of Long/ Loop/Bree Street or around Greenmarket Square. This is the old, wealthy part of the city and it's full of historic buildings, shops, and amazing restaurants. While there's not a crazy nightlife scene, this is the area I'd walk to or uber to at night for dinner and drinks.
What to Do
- Hike to Lion's Head. This is a must-do when in Cape Town! In addition to the absolutely stunning panoramic views of the whole city and down the coast, this hike is unique because of the literal mountain-climbing you need to do to reach the peak. It's definitely a "hike at your own risk" kind of trail but absolutely thrilling and worth it! Pro tip: bring a backpack with a couple beers and crack them open once you get to the top.
- Hike the Table Mountains. It can takes 7 hours each way, so maybe hike up, enjoy the views, and take the gondola down.
- Visit Boulder Beach to see the penguins playing in the sand and jumping into the waves!
- Tour Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. It's pretty windy and cold there, the locals called it the "Cape of Storms" before the English re-branded. It's amazing to be at the southernmost point on the continent and see the Indian and Atlantic Ocean currents collide.
- Take a walking tour. In Greenpoint Square, there are tons of free walking tours you can take around the city on a variety of subjects, like Apartheid history or general South African history. I went on the Apartheid tour and it really helped me understand the city and its people much clearer, plus I was able to get my bearings exploring the downtown area.
Where to Eat
- Eastern Food Bazaar- If you're looking for cheap eats in a local favorite, you have to come here. It's a collection of food stalls right downtown with a variety of Mediterranean, Chinese, and Indian food to choose from. I ordered a huge bowl of palak paneer, daal, a serving of rice, and a salad for $3 and it was delicious. You can get it to go or eat in the dining room decorated with ornate fixtures from the middle east.
- Alexander's- Cocktails are cheap in CT but it's worth it to pay a little extra for one at Alexander's. This old-world style bar serves up delicious food and expertly crafted cocktails which you can order directly from your rotary telephone at the table. It's like being in your dad's study- dark wood, arm chairs, jazz filling the air. There's also a theater upstairs that plays a different show every night which means the bar is always packed.
- Mama Africa- Our friend Adam recommended this place to us and it did not disappoint. They're famous for their game platter (Dain ate ostrich and antelope) and traditional South African sides like pap. Otherwise, the food is pretty similar to any steakhouse you'll find but with an African twist. The best part: after 8pm, the live music starts and the whole place is filled with infectious, upbeat traditional music. You can't help but dance in your seat! It's helpful to make reservations in advance.
- Addis in Cape- Authentic Ethiopian food in a plush colorful lounge. The service is friendly, the food's delicious and hearty, the drinks are strong, and it's always fun to eat with your hands.
- Hudson's- A down-to-earth burger place on Main Street. We had great burgers there, a good spot for a casual dinner or lunch.
- Giovanni's- A sweet Italian deli that has great cold salad options as well as a hot grill and coffee shop. A little expensive for groceries but a great place to pick up a quick lunch or picnic supplies.
- Uber or walk everywhere. The sidewalks are big and new and the city is so gorgeous and pretty compact- if it's during the day, walk! If it's after dinner, you're better off taking an Uber home for safety's sake. Each ride cost me less than $2 and a ride to the airport was around $14.
- Talk to locals. It's the best way to get great advice on restaurants, services (like where to get USD or find cheap safari gear), and hear about South Africa firsthand. There's so much information available online but a lot of the good stuff is tribal knowledge. We missed out on so many authentic SA dishes because we didn't know which restaurants to visit until our last day. In addition, we had fantastically eye-opening conversation with our tour guide who taught us about his ethnic group's struggle for sovereignty in Zimbabwe and how he still experiences systemic racism each day in Cape Town. As Westerners, we are so ignorant about the African continent so I encourage you to hear as many points of view as possible.
- Get the Coast to Coast book. It's free at most tourist destinations and you can also get the information online. It's a great resource for planning where to stay, what to do, and how to get there across the South Africa region. For starters, there are a lot of great hostels on there that don't have an online presence and it explains how to manage expectations when traveling in Africa. This is where I learned that Africans hate disappointing foreigners so if you ask how far away something is, they'll tell you it's really close even if you're hundreds of kilometers away!