Cape Town, South Africa - A Little Bit of Everything

by shutton / Mar 10, 2010 / 0 comments

There are many reasons why people travel. Some want to see famous sights or learn a little bit of history. Others want to do something adventurous. Others want to experience the local culture and witness things that could never be seen in their hometown. Cape Town, South Africa offers all of these things and a visit to Cape Town is not complete without a little bit of everything.

The first day I arrived in Cape Town I visited Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and many other prisoners were once held captive. A former prisoner guided our tour and I was shocked at how accepting he seemed of how he was treated there.

Nelson Mandela's jail cell:

Nelson Mandela's jail cell 

That night, my friends and I visited Long Street, known for its crazy night life. We went to a restaurant called Mama Africa, which is famous for its live music and strange items on the menu. I shared a platter with a friend which consisted of crocodile, ostrich, kudu, springbok, and a kudu/springbok sausage mixture. 

The next day, my friend and I took a helicopter ride over the city. I had never been in a helicopter before, and the views were beautiful. 

Cape Town from helicopter

After that, we took a bus tour of the city. The bus cost about $12 and there were many stops along the way where passengers could get off and other buses would come by every 20 minutes to pick them up. We only had about two hours so we just took the whole bus ride without getting off. It was still a great, cheap way to see the city and it also included headphones so people could listen to narration about everything they were going past.

That night, seven of us took a cab to eat dinner at Camps Bay, an area the two of us had seen on the tour earlier. Camps Bay is a pretty waterfront area with a lot of restaurants.

Camps Bay

The next day, my friend and I went cage diving with great white sharks. When we signed up for the trip, we didn't realize February is the worst month for shark diving, but we still got a shark or two to stay around our cage long enough for everyone to get in the water with them twice. I didn't realize what a science leading shark diving trips can be. I assumed you just threw some chum in the water and waited, but there was actually a lot more to it than that.

shark diving 

When we got back from shark diving, we ate at the harbor in Cape Town where our ship was docked. The harbor is beautiful and has a lot of shops and restaurants.

On the third day, I took a trip with Abseil Africa to hike up table mountain and rappel down it. Table Mountain is pretty famous and for those who don't want to hike, there is a cable car that goes up and down it. The abseil is touted as the "world's highest commercial abseil," so I was a little nervous that this would be my first time abseiling. The hike up was actually A LOT harder than I expected but the rappelling was amazing. It was the strangest feeling and there were definitely times where I felt like I was going to fall but that is part of what made it so exciting. When we first hiked to the top, it was really foggy.


But, by the time we abseiled down the fog had cleared and we could see the entire town below us.


Abseil Africa was a great company and I would recommend them to anyone who wants to do a similar trip. Some friends and I ate at a restaurant in the harbor again and I went to bed kind of early - I was exhausted from that hike!

On the last day, I visited Khayelitsha township. Everything I saw there was shocking. It was the first country where the living conditions appalled me. In Morocco, I saw people living in mud huts and other conditions I could never imagine. But, while a majority of those people were probably poor, there was still an element of culture which seemed to be present in what I saw there. In South Africa, many houses were partially made out of trash; it was an entirely different situation and it made me so sad to see.


Despite the conditions in Khayelitsha, I met some of the most inspiring people there. We met two women who owned bed and breakfasts in the area. It was amazing that they were not in the business for business reasons; they genuinely wanted to better their community. Vicky, who owns Vicky's Bed and Breakfast, has started several programs for the children of Khayelitsha. She feeds all of the children twice a week before school. She said if she tried to feed them every day, there wouldn't be enough food. She also started a Christmas program so each child can receive at least one gift, even if it is very small. Thope, the owner of Kopanong Bed and Breakfast, tries to employ other community members as cooks, cleaning services, etc. She said even though she could probably do a lot of the work herself, she wants to give other people the chance to earn money.  

Both women spoke extensively about trying to encourage other women to start similar businesses. It was refreshing coming from the USA, where capitalism and individual gain reign supreme, to see people who use their businesses as something to benefit the entire community.

I left Cape Town a little bit overwhelmed. I had crammed history, adventure, night life, and culture into five days. Finding each of those things to do in Cape Town had been pretty easy - you can't walk down a street near the harbor without seeing advertisements for all of the types of tours I took. I had planned Robben Island, Table Mountain, and Khayelitsha ahead of time but I easily could have done any of those things last minute. The bus tour, helicopter tour, and shark diving were things my friend and I decided to do on the spot.

Cape Town makes taking part in a variety of activities very easy, but I think it is important to seek out similar opportunities in areas where they may not be so out in the open. I think often times we get so caught up in "having fun" in a place that we miss out on key aspects of an area's culture, like Khayelitsha. Likewise, if all we ever focus on is culture, we could miss out on fun things we literally could not do anywhere else, such as the "highest commercial abseil in the world." If you seek things out, any area can offer a little bit of everything like Cape Town does. It is up to us to be good, responsible travelers and make sure we get a good balance of all of the things which make traveling enjoyable.  


S Hutton is the Student Travels Editor for Wandering Educators