Loving It Like a Local: Cape Town!
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This quarantine can't last forever.
By Nick Dall
Remember: Summer in the Southern Hemisphere hits December 20 and continues to March 20, 2021. Vacation planners should check travel advisories for COVID cautions before booking tickets.
When you think of Cape Town, your first thought might be of Table Mountain, a flat-topped, 3,600-foot majestic landmark. But South Africa’s second most populous city is home to so much more, from fantastic restaurants and quirky bars to amazing art, and from beaches and outdoor pursuits to wildlife and habitat conservation spaces.
What to Do
Sure, you can take the cable car up Table Mountain –– more than a million visitors do each year. Tens of thousands opt for the more challenging option and hike up its impressive face. Yet another way up is hidden in plain sight –– it’s called Tranquility Cracks for a reason. Set aside a morning and enjoy the stunning climb. For the superfit, there’s the annual Three Peaks Challenge whose grueling course includes Table Mountain.
If it’s fun for the kids –– including adult kids –– you’re after, the Acrobranch treetop adventure park (about 10 miles south of the city center) will help bring out your inner Tarzan as you crawl over and rappel down an aerial obstacle course strung among the trees. Zip lining is also an option.
For fans of flora and fauna, plan to visit the breathtaking Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, or, if you have the time, the most botanically diverse place on Earth, Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, which is well worth the 1.5-hour drive from the city. Or check out the baby penguins on a tour of the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in the beachfront suburb of Table View.
Cape Town is also known for its diverse neighborhoods and artisans like Davis Ndungu, who creates cool animals from discarded flip-flops. For those who like to venture off the beaten path and aren’t afraid of grime, check out the multicultural and Vegas-esque suburb of Parow, about 10 miles from the city center, where there’s a quirky market, curious bars and great street eats.
What to Eat
If you’re in Parow and looking for a restaurant with character, check out the quirky Bar-B-Que Steakhouse, which has been serving up steaks, ribs and schnitzels since 1969. The 70-seat restaurant has a reputation for massive portions, and its whip-cracking owner. Pro tip: The Namaqualand Special ($23) is advertised as “1 kilogram rump for the very hungry,” but it usually weighs more.
For sweet treats snag a bag of koeksisters — plaited golden doughnuts that are crisp on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside and slathered in sweet syrup. Or head to the beachfront and indulge in an Icessant, an upmarket version of the ice cream sandwich: a flaky, butter-rich croissant loaded with creamy soft-serve ice cream slathered with Belgian chocolate sauce. Or if you’re a chocolate-only purist, try the Kirstenbosch, a French bonbon infused with African flavors.
If fried and salty is more your thing, grab a parcel of slaptjips, which just may be the best fries you’ve ever had. They’ll likely be the soggiest too, but that’s part of their magic. Slathered with salt and vinegar, these fries are intentionally slap (pronounced “slup”), an Afrikaans word that means limp. The best slaptjips are at Trueman’s Fish & Chips in Cape Town’s light-industrial suburb of Retreat.
On the fancier side, the Potluck Club is the more affordable and easier-to-get-into sister of the Test Kitchen, Africa’s top restaurant. Housed in the top floor of an old industrial warehouse in rapidly gentrifying Woodstock, the Potluck Club delivers kick-ass views (classic Table Bay with a sprinkling of grunge) and an even better menu that’s grouped according to the five basic tastes: salty, sour, sweet, umami and bitter. You haven’t experienced Cape Town if you haven’t tried the Cape Malay pickled fish.
Cape Town Facts
- Population: 4.6 million
- Spoken languages: English, Afrikaans and Xhosa
- Words to know: Awe (pronounced ah-weh) means “hi,” but it’s got some serious street cred. Dankie (dahn-key) is “thank you.”
- When to visit: Peak season is December to February (28 C average high). Late April to early June is cooler (22 C average high) and great for hiking. June, July and August typically see the most rainfall.
Where to Stay
- Splurge: Opened in 1899 by shipping magnate Donald Currie to cater to his first-class passengers from London, the Mount Nelson (aka the Nellie) was the first hotel in Cape Town to boast running water. These days it’s got more competition, but if you’re going to do Cape Town properly, this is the place to lay your head. At the very least, indulge in the Nellie’s legendary high tea in the shadow of Table Mountain.
- Quirky: Housed in a handsome Victorian edifice in the heart of the Long Street action, the Grand Daddy’s 25 colorful, four-star rooms are not its main attraction. That honor goes to its one-of-a-kind rooftop trailer park. Each of the seven Airstream trailers has been designed with a distinctly South African theme; they all provide creature comforts. We like the glitz of the Gold Rush, but you might prefer the tumbleweed charm of Karoo Dorps. Either way, booking early is essential.
- Budget: There are cheaper spots than the Chartfield Guesthouse (from $55 for a double) overlooking the gentrified fishing suburb of Kalk Bay, but you’re unlikely to find one that has better value for money. The lovingly restored 120-year-old spot features spacious rooms, panoramic views of False Bay and the best breakfast in Kalk Bay.
- Nick Dall, OZY Author Contact Nick Dall