No city of nearly 4 million people has any right to look as beautiful as Cape Town does. Sprinkled between the dramatic peaks of the Cape Fold Mountains and kissed by both the Atlantic and Indian oceans, the Mother City’s dazzling, Art Nouveau-inspired architecture and beachfront promenades make it the stuff of grade-A travel porn.
The city’s rare blend of natural and man-made splendour is hard to ignore, and as a result can overshadow all of the other incredible features of South Africa’s Western Cape. Sure, the vineyards, beaches, and charming streets are nice and all, but there’s so much more going on down here, especially for travellers looking to mix a little sweat with their Overberg-bred Chardonnay. (Not literally, of course. That would be gross.) Here’s a few of our favourite active options to take in to really earn your evening’s bottle of port.
1. Table Mountain
Majestic Table Mountain is the logical first stop on any active romp around Cape Town. The instantly recognizable 1,085m-tall (3,558 ft) landmark dominates the skyline, but the view from the ground is nothing like the one you’ll find at the top. Sure, you could take the cableway to get to the top, but the stout of heart and sure of foot opt to hike to the summit. “You have to work hard to earn the right to see Table Mountain’s rugged scenery,” Nadja Lingl, G Adventures’ Regional Operations Manager in Southern Africa says. “It really is a journey, but a rewarding one.”
2. Chapman’s Peak
A breathtaking 9km (5.6 mi) stretch of highway connecting Noordhoek and Hout Bay, the Chapman’s Peak Drive is a perennial favourite of “World’s Best Drives” lists. The big secret: It’s even better without a car. Hikers can take routes that lead up to the 593m (1,945 ft) peak for amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean and journey through both Silvermine Nature Reserve and the Table Mountain National Park. Hout Bay itself is one of the Cape’s bigger draws for sailors and swimmers, too.
3. Smitswinkel Bay
For a place with so much beachfront, it can be awfully hard to find a patch of sand to call your own sometimes. Travellers willing to go a little further off the beaten path should check out the beach at Smitswinkel Bay, and out-of-the-way cove near Simon’s Town and the Cape Point Nature Reserve. You can’t drive there and may need to ask a local for directions, but that’s okay – once you’ve stretched out and taken in the eye-popping view of the city, you won’t want to leave.
Smitswinkel Bay. Photo by S Crane.
4. Boulders Beach penguin colony
Looking at penguins at the zoo? Cool. Swimming with penguins in the Atlantic Ocean? Considerably cooler. The Boulders Beach African penguin colony is one of the few places in the world that grants up-close access to these endangered birds in their natural habitat. Begun in 1983 from just a handful of breeding pairs, the colony now boasts a population of over 3,000 birds, not to mention loads of seals, dolphins, whales, and the occasional shark.
5. Cape Malay cuisine
Getting the most out of the Cape requires plenty of exercise, and exercise requires lots of hearty food. Fortunately, there’s plenty of that to go around. Imported to the Cape via labourers working for the Dutch East India Company back in the 17th century, Cape Malay cuisine places an emphasis on spices; just about everything has some form of ginger, chilli, fennel, or coriander in it. Before you tackle the peak of Slangkop, fuel up in Ocean View, a town renowned for its Cape Malay food.
How best to put these active options together? Try out our tour “Cape of Good Hope Hike” to see for yourself just what makes Cape Town so unique. And, when you get the chance to be active on your travels, you’re offered the opportunity to see the world through an adrenaline-soaked perspective.
What active travels have you done? Let us know in the comments.