I recently had the benefit of returning to Cape Town for a business trip… the last time I was there was during the apartheid era, when I was still just a kid. What I saw during this trip was a city that is very different from anywhere else I have been on the African continent.
For those that don’t know, Cape Town is South Africa’s second largest city, with a population of about 400,000. It is located on the South West point of the African continent, and was originally founded by the Dutch East India Company way back in 1652. Since those early days of Dutch and English colonialisation, Cape Town has had a very interesting development and at present it is considered one of the most multicultural cities in the world.
The most notable feature after arrival at Cape Town airport is Table Mountain. This is a large dominating escarpment that protrudes parallel with the southern coastline and the city sits at its foot on the west, terminating at the port.
On some days, Table Mountain is said to be wearing a table cloth (see my topmost photo) due to clouds that sit on the flat summit. This is obviously a major attraction for both tourists and locals and on weekends it’s quite popular for people to hike up to the top (or for those that are a bit lazier, to just take a cable car up).
The main city centre is quite small, but then again, this city is only 400,000 people, so I am not sure what I was expecting. Nevertheless, it looks a lot more modern than many other (larger) cities that I have visited in Africa and is definitely the most European in terms of architecture and atmosphere. In fact, in strolling the streets downtown, I tended to completely forget that I was in South Africa, and often felt like I was in Europe somewhere.
However, my favourite part of Cape Town isn’t the city centre, but just to the west, at the port (known as the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront). This is a place of real history, and gorgeous European architecture is represented everywhere you look. Everything has been gorgeously redeveloped to both preserve the history and also to make things functional for locals to spend their evenings wining, dining and shopping, as well as offering entertainment for tourists.
When strolling through the waterfront, I noticed this area seemed to be the most crowded part of town. I am not surprised because there were plenty of great restaurants here. In addition, there were places offering shark diving excursions, combat helicopter flights and sailing adventures. There was even a “pirate ship” that you could take a cruise on.
At the end of the dock area (the very south west point) is the Cape of Good Hope. This is the meeting point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Heading just inland from it is Lion’s Head… I can see how it got its name.
If you follow the coast around to the south or else cut through the divide between Lion’s Head and Table Mountain, you end up on the south coast (Indian Ocean side) which offers a complete change of scenery, and I honestly felt like I was at a beach resort in Spain… this is Clifton Beach, and is filled with gorgeous beach side houses and apartments and lots of great restaurants. However, this isn’t the tranquil tropical beach lifestyle that one might imagine. I actually found the sea conditions to be quite rough, the wind quite strong and the off-shore sharks to be quite hungry…. swimmer beware!
Beyond the main city and port area, I discovered there was even more to experience. For instance, inland, up in the hills north of Cape Town there are plenty of vineyards where a lot the famous South African wines are created. Also, just north of the city is an old swamp that has been turned into its own little city, known as Century City. This is a recent modern development with canals ringing around buildings and the main swamp has been turned into a bird sanctuary. The central feature is a massive shopping centre (Canal Walk) which is the largest in Cape Town and third largest in South Africa. The architecture of Canal Walk and most of the buildings in Century City is “Cape Venetian” which has a very strong Italian flavour… but some features also seemed reminiscent of Moorish architecture.
The Canal area in Century City is definitely its own little oasis, and from what I could see, offered a very inviting lifestyle. Houses, apartments, shopping and offices are all located within the same area, and I even noticed an amusement park at the southern end.
My verdict for Cape Town… I can definitely understand why it is the most popular destination in Africa for tourists. There is a lot on offer here and it is a great place to visit. I certainly felt a lot safer here than in other African destinations (and substantially safer than in Johannesburg). I am now waiting for my next business trip there in order to engage in some of the activities that I didn’t have time for on the last trip, such as the combat helicopter flight.