Cape Town: The ‘It’ List
A place where beer is almost cheaper than water and hiking is worth the sweat…
By Rebecca Hennelly, Tulane University
While you’re in Cape Town you must do/see the following (or else I’ll be personally mad with you):
Table Mountain: You can see this wonder from almost anywhere in Cape Town. It was jarring to see this natural beauty mirrored with such a busy cityscape. There are different ways to conquer Table Mountain, so whether you’re outdoorsy enough to hike or your idea of adventure is cable car, get your butt to the top. It is so high up that it actually looked like we were in a cloud. It wasn’t until the fog finally parted that I could take in the 360 degree beauty. It’s cold up there so wear layers!
Cape of Good Hope: The views from here are actually unreal. The hike up to the top was prolonged due to the number of photographs I had to take. If you’re really adventurous you can go out farther on the point and get that really cool cover photo (partially kidding). While you’re over here, make sure you check out the penguins! (P.S. they smell really bad)
Kayaking with Whales/Shark Diving: The group I was with was very adventurous, and if you’re lucky you have some daredevils in your group as well. South Africa is full of opportunities to eliminate whatever you consider to be your comfort zone. I was unable to go shark diving due to a severe case of bronchitis (lame, I know) but all of my friends loved it. Instead I went kayaking with whales. Not only did I break a sweat and get to be two feet from seals, but this experience allowed me to really reflect on my journey. I hate to get all cliche, but as stupid as you think “reflecting may be,” it really helps you to slow down and enjoy your time in South Africa.
Food to Try: You have to try pap and other traditional foods including the different types of meat. My first couple of days in Cape Town I was frazzled as to where vegetables had gone. The main part of meals was always meat, even breakfast. I was apprehensive about trying meat that I couldn’t identify the original animal, but you learn. You ask questions and you try things. If you’re lucky enough to be adopted by locals, you must experience a braai (their version of a barbecue). Unless you have a stomach of steel, steer away from tripe (sheep intestines). The mere smell of it made me queasy.
Speaking of which, incase you were wondering, food poisoning is a real thing. I thought I knew what food poisoning was until I was waddling through a South African prison after trying a random Mexican place in South Africa. Word to the wise, do your homework on your restaurants.
Mzoli’s: One of the most authentic experiences you will have while in Cape Town. It’s in a township right outside of the city. Try to go with locals and be headed home by sundown. When you first arrive you may be confused as to where the restaurant is, so throw away your preconceived notions of Sunday brunch. The place is a tent-like structure with a sea of outdoor tables underneath.The Mzoli’s way of Sunday brunch is a stop at the connected alcohol store, and a large preselected amount of meat. The kitchen cooks your meat and pap, bringing it to your table on large metal trays when it’s ready. While your group is waiting, there is a DJ directing the party. Neighboring tables become your new friends, and you leave with new anthems for your stay.
Township Tours: In order to ground yourself in the reality of this place, you must tour the townships. The program I was with was public service focused, specifically health initiatives. Not only did I learn more about the country, but I was no longer the “typical tourist.” Seek out opportunities for public service in Cape Town. The reality of townships, including their lack of clean water, electricity, proper housing, and the social issues they create, is something you need to be educated on if you are living in South Africa. Don’t be someone passing through; listen, learn, make a difference.
Safari: I grew up dreaming of safaris and of the wildlife I wished I could see. I never imagined it would come true. Our group was greeted with champagne and warm towels. A gourmet brunch buffet was included in our excursion. It was like 10 year old me and 21 year old me we’re having all of their dreams come true in the same day.
Museums: Cape Town is full of museums. Make a list of your targets and prioritize. One of my favorites with the National Art Gallery. However, I recommend visiting the District 6 Museum as soon as possible when you get to Cape Town. If you are unfamiliar with the country’s history, or even if you think you know it all, you will learn so much about your new home. Not only will you have a better understanding of your surroundings, but you will immediately connect with Cape Town on an emotional level.
Markets: You will have plenty of opportunity to explore different markets in Cape Town. Before you get there make sure you have cash and that it’s broken into small bills in order to help you negotiate prices. Walk around the entire market and compare different prices. Don’t be that “stupid American.”
Long Street: One of the hottest nightlife scenes in Cape Town. My favorite place to go at night was the Dubliner. There was plenty of bar space and bartenders so lines weren’t too long. There was usually live music and the place was spacious. Another group favorite was Julep for specialty drinks in the beginning of the night. Make sure you keep your belongings close, wallet in a front pocket or a purse with zippers. As much fun as Long Street may be, keep your wits.
When you’re out on Long Street at night try the local beers! Satisfy your nighttime cravings with naan or a bratwurst from a street vendor. Heads up, the South African “ketchup” is the distant cousin to the one you’re used to.
See a Performance: While I was in Cape Town I had the pleasure of seeing a variety of performances and art. One of my favorite experiences was a rap battle we happened to walk in on. South African culture tends to include the audience more in performances and in general it is a more inclusive experience.
Wine Tours: Even if you’re not a “wine-o,” you can’t miss South African vineyards. Friendly sommeliers (see WIkipedia if I lost you) will walk you through the world of wine. Not only are the fields of grapes beautiful, but there’s usually pretty good food there too.