Recently the New York Times Travel Magazine voted Capetown the #1 travel destination for 2014. Having now visited the city with two Imprint groups, I can see why she was chosen for the honor. Capetown is an energetic, friendly, and stunningly picturesque destination. With Table Mountain as a majestic backdrop, the city center boasts a vibrant waterfront, lively and colorful neighborhoods, beach communities and promenades, and a historic center. This is perhaps the most attractive urban setting I’ve ever seen.
The downtown area, or the City Bowl, sports historic architecture, interesting museums and a diverse restaurant scene. One can visit the Castle of Good Hope, the 17th century fortress built by the Dutch to defend their colonial interests in the city. It contains military and decorative arts museums. Next door is the impressive Capetown City Hall. On our Southern Safaris tour we made a brief foray here on our way out of town on our wine tasting day. A short walk away is the District Six Museum, dedicated to the memory of the community forced to vacate the district in an Apartheid era eviction.
A 20-minute walk takes you to Bo Kaap, the colorful Cape Malay neighborhood. Cape Malay is a community descended from Indian and Indonesian slaves, intermingled with Europeans - a unique cultural blend. This neighborhood, which they settled, is easily the most colorful and photogenic of the city with brightly colored houses on streets climbing the foothills of Table Mountain. On our tour we explored Bo Kaap in the perfect morning light when the vibrant colors were electric.
Long Street is the place for an evening out with its colonial architecture, multiple celebratory venues, and Bourbon St vibe. Wrought iron balconies and a lively bar and restaurant scene provide the New Orleans atmosphere. I loved it! Our unique hotel, Daddy Long Legs, was right in the heart of the action. The rooms were small, but absolutely unique. Each
room has been decorated by a different local artist or designer. Mine was the Levis room, complete with bluejean studs and buttons embedded in the toilet seat. The staff was friendly and accommodating, making our creaky/funky Capetown home warm and welcoming. 24 hour fresh coffee was another welcome bonus.
I chose a classic venue for our first night dinner - Mama Africa's, a travelers’ institution. Live music, the colorful African décor, classic “snake bar” (the bar itself is shaped and like a giant, winding serpent), and friendly service made for a fun-filled first evening. Oh, and the menu was a mixed grill of game meats: ostrich, kudu, crocodile, springbok, and venison sausage! You’re not in Kansas anymore Todo.
The Victoria and Alfred (V & A) Waterfront is another choice spot for a drink or a meal. This historic working harbor is a fun excursion within the city. It is bursting at the seams with shops, restaurants, bars, and street performers. There is also a giant ferris wheel, an excellent aquarium, and a fortified battery to explore. On our tour we explored the area after an AM excursion to Robben Island, the infamous Apartheid-era political prison.
Departing from the waterfront, a one-hour boat ride takes you to the island. There you board buses for a tour of the facility. Like many important travel destinations, it is what occurred here that makes it worthwhile rather than the physical makeup of the place. In this case, I think Robben is the ultimate Apartheid site.
Former inmates are the docents that walk you through the cell blocks and buildings, relating their own stories. It is a moving and chilling experience. The harsh reality of the oppressive regime makes a visceral impression as you tour the prison. Highlights (lowlights??) include visiting Nelson Mandela’s cell, the immediacy and empathy of the docent’s stories, and the pile of stones in the quarry spontaneously created by returning inmates as a memorial cairn. We were all glad to have visited, but also to get back on the boat to return to lovely Capetown waterfront for lunch.
Capetown is host to many other worthwhile activities and destinations, some of which I’ll describe in my Cape Point excursion installment. I’ll finish with Capetown proper by saying, in 4 ½ full days of exploration I feel I just brushed the surface of the delights this city has to offer. This is a world-class travel destination.