Located in the southwest of South Africa, Cape Town is the second most populated city after Johannesburg. The city is tucked under the mighty Table Mountain and a broad bay surrounded by white sand beaches. To the south of the city is the Cape Peninsula which comprises a 40km mountainous stretch that extends out into the Atlantic Ocean, culminating at Cape Point. The downtown area, affectionately nicknamed City Bowl, is home to sprawling suburbs that cover a 50km area, referred to as the Cape Flats, which joins the peninsular to the mainland.
Not much is known about the initial inhabitants of the Cape Town region, as there are no written records in existence. However, there are early human remnants that have been found that date from between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago. In 1486, the first Europeans to reach Cape Town were Portuguese explorers. In 1652, the Dutch East India Company took over the city and established a way-station for ships travelling between the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. Britain captured Cape Town in 1795, but it was later returned to the Dutch in 1803. The 17th and 18th centuries saw a lot of bloodshed and disagreement as ownership of Cape Town was passed between the Dutch and the British numerous times, particularly during the Boer Wars.
Much later, after the 1948 elections that established apartheid, Cape Town became racially divided and remained that way until apartheid was officially abolished in 1991. In 1994, Cape Town played host to South Africa’s first democratic elections and the city began to move forward towards a more positive future.
Today, Cape Town’s beautiful beaches, ample hiking opportunities, and numerous attractions make it a top African destination to visit. The city has an easy-going vibe, the cultural sights are top-notch, and of course, diverse wildlife and fauna are its biggest lure. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder Cape Town is a bucket-list destination for many travellers.
Cape Town has incredible biodiversity and boasts many protected areas that are also World Heritage Sites. Table Mountain itself contains around 2200 different species of plants, many of which are unique to the area. Cape Town’s incredible species diversity is down to its varied soil types and microclimates, which allow for multiple varied plants to live in relative closeness to each other. The city has 19 different endemic vegetation types and countless wildlife species, including dolphins, seals, aardvarks and bats. However, due to urban sprawl and population growth, many of these unique ecosystems have been lost over the years. The good news is, South Africa’s natural flora and fauna is currently being protected in over 30 nature reserves around the country, including the Table Mountain National Park.
Cape Town offers amazing holidays throughout the year, and although it technically has four seasons, temperatures are mild all year round. So, whichever month you choose to visit Cape Town, you’ll have an incredible African experience.
Summer (November – February)
With temperatures reaching an average of 25C and minimal rainfall, summer in Cape Town is highly popular among tourists. Beaches are likely to be busy, but there are a whole host of other summer activities available to keep you entertained. Treat yourself to an outdoor movie at the Galileo Open Air Cinema or have a cocktail at one of the many trendy bars on Bree Street. Temperatures can reach 40C though, so bring your sunscreen!
Autumn (March – April)
This is the best time to hit the beach as temperatures are still warm (around 18C to 20C) but there are fewer tourists. Due to it being the off-season, you can expect great deals on accommodation, emptier beaches, and less competition for those restaurant reservations.
Winter (May – August)
Temperatures are a little cooler at this time of year, but at an average of 17C there’s still no need for a winter coat. Rainfall, although still rare, is rather unpredictable, so taking a waterproof jacket with you at all times is probably a good idea. This is the perfect time to go hiking, as the scenery is lush and green and the cooler weather is perfect for exploring Table Mountain. From July until September you can also enjoy whale watching as migratory whales pass by the Cape.
Spring (September – October)
Cape Town is awash with colour as flowers begin to bloom. Temperatures are still mild (around 15C to 17C), although as October approaches, you can experience days in the mid twenties. Days get longer and spring showers are sporadic so you can enjoy a full Cape Town experience.
As a dynamic metropolitan city, Cape Town has much to offer its visitors: lively nightlife, gorgeous beaches, delicious food and stunning nature. Whatever your interests, Cape Town has something for everyone.
Table Mountain, Cape Town’s defining landmark, is also one of the city’s greatest tourist attractions. There are hundreds of hiking trails leading keen hikers to the flat summit. Always carry water, food, sunblock, a ‘space blanket’ and a mobile phone with you before setting off. If hiking isn’t your thing, then take the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, a five-minute ride that offers splendid views of Cape Town.
Cape Town is surrounded by excellent vineyards, many of which have their own world-class restaurants. Stellenbosch is the place to try South Africa’s most famous red wine grape, Pinotage, which is a cross between Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and heat-tolerant Cinsault. For a gastronomic treat, enjoy a local wine tour to the Spier winery and sample their internationally acclaimed wines paired with sumptuous dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.
Add a historical touch to your holiday by visiting the Castle of Good Hope, a fort built in the 17th century. Initially built by the Dutch East Indian Company, the fort protected the first Dutch settlement in South Africa. Today, the Castle of Good Hope is open to the public and is a place where you can learn about the colonial past of Cape Town.
For a fascinating (but grim) history of the Apartheid period, visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was once incarcerated. This island is now home to a museum offering guided tours to Mandela’s cell and the quarry where inmates worked. To get to the island, take the ferries that depart from the Victoria & Alfred waterfront.