Five Ways Cape Town, South Africa Surprised Me

Table Mountain

I recently returned home from an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime journey exploring Cape Town and the surrounding region. I spent a week in the Mother City as the guest of Cape Town Tourism and it was my first time visiting both South Africa and Cape Town. I learned a lot that week, about myself and about this incredible city poised on the southern tip of Africa. While I thought I was reasonably prepared before the adventure began, I was surprised by some of the things I encountered in the great coastal city of Cape Town.

1. Beauty – I travel a lot, I think that’s fairly obvious. I’ve seen thousands of beautiful landscapes, buildings and vistas and frankly it takes a lot to impress me anymore; call me a jaded traveler I guess. But Cape Town had me from the moment I first saw the majestic Table Mountain and Twelve Apostles mountain range. Like a miniature New Zealand, around every bend and turn in the road lay before me a spectacular example of Mother Nature at her finest. Yes, Table Mountain is stunning and a treat to see every day, but there’s much more to the beauty of the area. The ocean, the city skyline, the waterfront area and the Mother City’s people are all beautiful in very different ways. This beauty can’t be contained though, it spills out into the nearby towns and communities from Hout Bay to Cape Point; the entire Cape area suffers from an incredible embarrassment of riches.

 Cape Town Town Hall

2. History – I admit it, I was woefully underprepared for my trip to Cape Town. I had conducted some introductory research, but not the exhaustive historical examination I normally like to perform before the start of any great adventure. That’s why I suppose I was surprised to learn of the long and rich history of the city and why Cape Town is called the Mother City. The modern state of South Africa started in 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck landed on the shores of the Cape, finding a way to connect the wealth of the East Indies with Europe. That started an undeniably eclectic and interesting history that persists to this day. In more recent times the dark history of apartheid has left its scars upon the city; a fact from which no one hides and instead seeks to learn from every day. Whether your interest is ancient or modern, history is everywhere in Cape Town.

 Matt Hout Bay

3. Variety of Activities – I love urban travel, but I’m also realistic when managing my expectations. When I visit a new city I expect to tour museums, see historic buildings and enjoy new restaurants and cafes. But Cape Town surprised me with her variety of adventure, outdoor activities as well. It starts with the city’s most recognizable sight; Table Mountain, which you may hike up, and abseil back down. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you can jog up nearby Lion’s Head mountain and paraglide down to Camps Bay where a beach-side massage may be in your future. A short drive away is perhaps the most adventurous of adrenalin pumping activities, great white shark cage diving. In what is commonly referred to as shark alley, you can join other thrill seekers as you descend into the chilly waters for an experience you’ll never forget. This is one of the best places in the world to get impossibly close to these majestic and misunderstood giants of the sea, and it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

 Cape of Good Hope

4. Weather – Cape Town is well known for its warm, sunny summer days, which is also when tourists from around the world invade by the hundreds of thousands. What isn’t as well considered is Cape Town in the winter, probably because it’s more unpredictable. I’m a big proponent of off-season travel; it’s cheaper and usually a lot more enjoyable when you’re not part of a mob. I know I as lucky when I visited, the weather was near perfect. For the first few days there wasn’t a cloud in sight and it was even warm, prompting shorts on more than one occasion. Then on the last day of my trip winter returned, bringing cold temperatures, light rain and a gloomy sky. But unlike other areas of the world, the rain doesn’t last for very long and by the afternoon the sun had returned and our spirits were again lifted. I also understood what Capetonians often say, that Cape Town experiences four seasons in a day.

 Bo-Kaap Cape Town

5. People – What transforms any city into a great, world-class destination isn’t an attraction or famous sight, it’s the people. Again I was the victim of poor research which, had I conducted any, would have immediately revealed that Cape Town is exceedingly diverse. Thanks to a strange and absolutely unique history, people from around the world have immigrated to this city by the sea, from Malaysians to Eastern Cape people and of course the British and Dutch. Over time this influx of people has created one of the best examples of city melting pots I’ve ever seen and it defines the city. The food is perhaps the best way to see this wonderful diversity first hand, especially if you take a Cape Malay cooking class. Malaysians were brought to Cape Town early in its history and their culture has evolved over time to the point where it’s just part of Cape Town’s fabric. I took a cooking class in the home of a Cape Malay woman in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town, learning how to hand turn samosas and even baking roti bread from scratch. More than delicious food though, I learned about the history and culture of the Cape Malay descendants and only afterwards was I truly able to appreciate the great history of the city.

Have you ever been to Cape Town? What surprised you?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

32 thoughts on “Five Ways Cape Town, South Africa Surprised Me”

  1. You’ve gotta love Cape Town. Wine, mountains, beaches, good food and some of South Africa’s friendliest people. Winter does suck though and it’s pouring with rain here today. Did you get to climb Table Mountain?

    1. No I didn’t, the cable car was closed and I wasn’t enthusiastic about climbing both up AND down. Just gives me something to do next time!

  2. Thanks for showing us great pictures of Cape Town. I keep trying to pursaude my wife that Africa is not like she has it in her mind and it has a lot of great places! Hope these pictures will make her believe me : )

  3. Very interesting post. What I know about South Africa and Cape town I learnt from school. At our high school there were a very large amount of South African students who had emigrated to NZ with their families. (In some classes they would outnumber the kiwis!)
    The main reason they all moved was because of how dangerous the place is. They had homes with huge fences, some had witnessed shootings at school, they had to lie down in the car at traffic lights. Im not sure if you saw any of this when you were there but because of what I have been told its not high on my travel list.

    1. Yikes, no that’s definitely not Cape Town. Just think, you’re getting information from people who don’t want to live there so….

      In JoBurg that may have been the case ten, twenty years ago, but Cape Town isn’t at all dangerous. It reminded me of Melbourne or Seattle actually. Same laid back, cool vibe. Feel free to ask any questions!

  4. What a beautiful piece on my home-city. You have really captured the essence of our beloved city with astuteness I have yet to find in other reviews.

  5. Heart of Cape Town

    Wow!! What an amazing write up about our beautiful city!!!
    You MUST come again, and if you didn’t visit our Museum in honour of the first transplant this time, it’s a MUST!!!

  6. What’s NOT to love about Cape Town *sigh*. Having been lucky enough to have lived there for 6 years, I couldn’t agree more with your post Matt – glad you loved it too. Your pic of the colourful Bo-Kaap houses is amazing!

  7. Matt, glad you enjoyed your trip !
    Thanks for spreading the word about our magnificent area – and dispelling some of the terrible ideas some people have.
    Did you manage to get out to the winelands?? Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Constantia wine areas – that’s a whole other world, all within an hours drive of the city.
    Mountains, beaches, winelands, restaurants, seaside villages – I love my Cape Town !

  8. Albert van Niekerk

    Matt I’ve been reading your blog for a while and I actually thought you were South African because of the “Afrikaans” name of the blog. But now I see it was your first time here. So is the name Dutch then? Well Afrikaans obviously came from the Dutch language (I am Afrikaans) but I was just wondering where you picked it up.

    Glad you enjoyed Cape Town so much and thanks for the positive review. We do get a lot of negative publicity from the outside world.

    1. Thanks Albert and no, not Dutch or South African. I found the name while looking through a thesaurus for traveler synonyms. I liked LandLopers because it was unusual, but had no idea of its meaning in Dutch and Afrikaans until later.

      Thanks for your kind words and yes, I loved Cape Town and can’t wait to return!

  9. Such a nicely written article. It took me back to my days in the Mother City.
    I have not traveled to all countries but visited many places in Asia, UK, US and South Africa. I must admit that Cape Town is undoubtedly the best place that I have ever been to. The variety that this place offers cannot possibly be matched.

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