"Confessions of a Vaalie" Top 5 Page for this destination Cape Town by CatherineReichardt
Cape Town Travel Guide: 2,671 reviews and 6,198 photos
My name's Cathy, I'm a Vaalie (or should that be a 'Gautie' now that Transvaal province has become Gauteng?) and I like Cape Town. Truth be told, I even quite like Capetonians, but now we're straying onto dangerously confessional ground ...
The rivalry between Johannesburg - the vibrant but rather unlovely economic powerhouse of Africa - and beautiful, cultured Cape Town shouldn't come as a surprise. We can usually peacefully coexist with the help of a 1400km cordon sanitaire (nice to see that the Karoo comes in handy for something!) but come December, we have the temerity to invade their paradise, flashing fancy cars and fistfuls of money, buying up their property and stuffing up their parking - you get the picture.
Cape Town is often referred to as the 'most beautiful city in the world', but, being actively involved in self-sacrificing market research to identify the most worthy contender for this title, I don't agree with this assessment: at the moment, Sydney is a short nose ahead, but I'm happy to be proved wrong! However I will happily concede that Cape Town is probably the most beautifully appointed city on earth. I know that many overseas visitors (particularly those from countries which drive on the right hand side of the road) are nervous of driving in South Africa, and whilst I understand their concerns, this is a tremendous pity, as potentially you will miss out on seeing so much of this stupendously gorgeous and varied part of the world. And in an uncharacteristically accommodating gesture to out-of-towners, Capetonians have even arranged an enormous mountain in the middle of the city so that those of us who don't have a keenly honed sense of direction can always navigate using the mountain as a visual reference!
Culturally Cape Town is very distinct from the rest of South Africa - the influence of the Cape Malays (descendents of former slaves) is still very strong, and the Coloured community forms the single biggest racial group. The political situation is also intriguing as (at the time of updating in 2012) the Western Cape is the only province that is not controlled by the ANC: because the opposition Democractic Alliance has to establish coalitions with more minor parties in order to establish a majority, Cape politics are a maelstrom of ever-shifting alliances. The former Mayor of Cape Town and current Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille - (un)affectionately known as Godzille - is cast in the Margaret Thatcher mould, and has more balls than the rest of her (entirely male) provincial cabinet put together!
The worst part of Cape Town is undoubtedly the downtown area of the City Bowl, which is bedevilled with '60s concrete monstrosities, uneasily juxtaposed with the few remaining Cape Dutch buildings and remnants of colonial architecture. And whoever granted planning permission for the construction of the Tampax Towers at the foot of Table Mountain should be publically hung, drawn and quartered for crimes against nature!
Cape Town has a reputation for being very clique-y, and I have often been told by people who have moved there in search of a better quality of life that they have found it hard to break into social circles. Also, if you come from fast-paced Johannesburg, the 'manana' attitude of Capetonians can drive you up the wall!
The other really irritating thing about Capetonians is that they all assume that everyone else wants to live there too! I cannot recall ever having a conversation with a Capetonian where they didn't end up asking me where I would live in Cape Town if I had the chance: I don't know what annoys me more - the smug arrogance of assuming that everyone wants what they already have, or the nagging suspicion that their assumption is probably correct!
Sadly I can offer you no guidance on Cape Town's wine or coffee cultures (since I am allergic to both): I am however reliably informed by those who know about such things that the wine - and all associated activities - are exceptionally enjoyable, and the coffee also passes muster!
Moving swiftly on to a subject that I know a thing or two about, then if there is a better place in the world to holiday with kids than Cape Town, I want to know about it! Precisely because it is potentially such a family-friendly destination, I have focused my tips on trying to provide advice in how to get the best out of Cape Town with kids to maximise the experience without compromising anyone's sanity! There are so many things to do - both indoors and out - and the beauty is that many of these are virtually free. There are any number of lovely beaches within an easy travel distance, so you just need to decide what your priorities are (naturism? surfing? exploring rockpools? Being Seen at trendy locations?) and select one which fits the bill. Table Mountain itself provides a host of hiking opportunities from gentle family-friendly strolls through to extreme endurance. Cape Town has more 'first division' tourist attractions (of both the cultural and theme park ilk) than any other South African city and has a well developed arts scene. And that's not even touching the stunning hinterland with the Overberg and the winelands and the West Coast ...
Being brought up in Britain, I can't pass up the opportunity to offer a few words of warning on the weather. Like Melbourne, Cape Town's weather is notoriously changeable, and can be both unimaginably gorgeous and utterly foul in all seasons (and occasionally both on the same day)! It has a Mediterranean climate, so experiences hot dry summers and cool, wet winters, but it makes sense to be prepared for all eventualities. I have therefore tried to offer some suggestions on what to do when the weather is less than clement - the good news is that there is a surprising amount.
I consider myself blessed to have been fortunate enough to have visited Cape Town probably twenty times over the years, and every time we seem to find something new and interesting to do (as well as happily revisiting our perennial favourites). By way of example, I recently discovered the extraordinary Heart Of Cape Town Museum at Groote Schuur Hospital, where the world's first heart transplant was conducted by the gifted but narcissistic Christiaan Barnard (probably the world's first celebrity surgeon who would have been an absolute natural for a reality TV show). If you're looking to do something utterly unique that's off the well beaten tourist track, then this has it all: what more could you ask for than the tale of a medical breakthrough that gave life and hope to thousands, presented as a gripping human drama played out by larger than life characters against the stark racially segregated backdrop of the Grand Apartheid era?
For some ideas on possible itineraries in Johannesburg, which you can 'mix and match' depending on your available time, budget and interests, follow this itinerary link which then contains hyperlinks to the individual tips.
For some ideas on day trips from Cape Town, follow these links:
My Simon's Town page (including the penguins at Boulders Beach)
My Paarl page
My Langebaan page
There's also some more generic stuff on my South Africa page, which is particularly focused on planning your trip:
My South Africa page
However often I go to Cape Town, I always have a great time: to shamelessly paraphase Dr Johnson, when a man is tired of Cape Town, he's tired of life! I think that it's one of the world's great travel destinations, and I hope that you'll feel the same way too!
- Pros:Gobsmackingly beautiful and packed with wonderful things to do and see
- Cons:As the Aussies would say, most Capetonians are "up themselves"
- In a nutshell:The Eastern Boulevard flyover just by the Cape Town International Convention Centre has been unfinished since the 70s ... says it all about Cape Town's 'manana' attitude!
(work in progress) What do you do when you want to travel between Jo'burg and Cape Town by rail and can't afford the... more travel advice
(work in progress) Along with cities like San Francisco and Sydney, Cape Town is one of the 'gayest' cities in the world... more travel advice
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