Cape Town was the first stop of our 2 week vacation in South Africa. It was a LONG journey from Los Angeles, but after nearly 24 hours of flying time, we touched down in “the Mother City.” It’s hard to narrow down what to do in Cape Town — so many hikes, beaches, high-end restaurants, museums, markets, animal encounters and the list goes on. But best thing of all? It’s cheap! I mean, like really cheap.
We LOVE a deal and found that it was the complete opposite of our recent trip to Iceland (which was cheap to fly to, but once there we were dropping about $100 a meal). In South Africa, a dinner with appetizers, entree, dessert AND wine for 2 people typically didn’t even hit $50 USD. Let’s just say, we didn’t share a pizza nearly every dinner like our trip in Iceland!
We could have stayed even longer than 5 days in Cape Town — and that says a lot since we are always jetting around. But alas, we just had 2 weeks of total vacation and wanted to hit up a few other spots (including Zambia, which is a blog post to come!). Below are our top picks, including a hotel right in the middle of Cape Town’s action.
TOP HOTEL PICK: CAPE HERITAGE HOTEL
Cape Heritage Hotel is a boutique property located in the heart of Cape Town and walking distance to the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood. We loved this place since it was so personalized. The entire staff knew our names and exactly what we needed (even before we did at times!).
The hotel offers 17 bedrooms (standard, luxury and suites), each one individually appointed to enhance its unique historical character. We stayed in a standard room, which was massive and less than $150 USD a night inclusive. The neighborhood seemed mostly safe — though, like any major city in South Africa, once night sets in, you should probably not be wandering around too much. During the daytime, it was certainly a busy neighborhood with the African Market just about a 3 minute walk away.
TOP PICKS FOR CAPE TOWN:
5. Take a FREE walking tour through the Bo-Kaap neighborhood
Cape Town Free Walking Tours leave daily at 4 PM from Green Market Square, located just 3 minutes walking distance from the Cape Heritage Hotel. Note, the time actually says 4:20 PM on the website, which is incorrect. Kevin and I jogged a few blocks to catch up with the actual tour that left at 4 PM. What we loved most about it – well, besides being free – is that we got to stroll around the neighborhood we were based. It makes a great way to start off the trip and check out places to shop and eat.
Tours are about 90 minutes long, and the Bo-Kaap tour has a lot of hills since you’ll be walking up into this Malay community on the hillside. There are a few theories about why the homes are painted – to celebrate Ramadan or neighbors that couldn’t agree on what color to paint their homes.
But I liked our guide’s story the best — a doctor wanted everyone to know which house was his so he started the trend by painting his house purple. The other folks in the neighborhood liked the concept, so one by one, they all started doing the same thing.
Bo-Kaap is situated strategically at the foot of Signal Hill in the heart of Cape Town, and is home to several historic Islamic sites. Today you’ll find a place that feels like a time capsule — with its cobbled roads, beautiful houses and mosques. To have a great view of Cape Town, you should climb towards Signal Hill. Plus, you’ll burn off all those tasty samosas!
4. Cable Car Ride up Table Mountain
It’s a long way up to the top of Table Mountain. This is an absolute must in Cape Town — and lives up to all the hype. There were a few places that we heard we couldn’t miss — and frankly, we were somewhat let down by some of these spots. But Table Mountain, which overlooks the city, is grand and worth the time.
The ride takes less than 10 minutes and we were a little bummed to hear that the top would be covered in a cloud. But this is Cape Town, and weather can change drastically! We decided to barrel through since its sort of become our thing… going to the top of a mountain to only see nothing! But as we climbed higher and higher, the clouds opened up to this!
It’s definitely windy at the top – bring a jacket! And there isn’t a ton to do up there with the exception of a few bare walking trails and a pretty fantastic gift shop and restaurant (you know my weakness for a shop!). There were also little rodent-like animals (called “Dassies”) that Kevin literally almost sat on!
Surprisingly, we spent over an hour at the top. We just couldn’t get over that view.
3. Bike Riding Through Wine Country
We joined the very well-organized Bikes ‘n Wine travel company for a full day “adventure tour” through Stellenbosch, a wine region located just 30 minutes drive from downtown Cape Town. This New World wine region is known for its Pinotage — a red wine that is South Africa’s signature variety. It was bred there in 1925 as a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut (Cinsaut was known as “Hermitage” in South Africa during that time, hence the combo-name of “Pinotage”).
This tour isn’t for the weak – the region is VERY hilly. We got in such the work out burning off all the calories we put in our body that day. During the trip, you’ll get to stop at 4 different wineries and grab lunch as well.
Our favorite winery along the trip was Vredenheim, where we stopped to have lunch in their gorgeous restaurant. We also sampled some white wines. Besides Pinotage, South Africa is known for white wines including Chenin Blanc and MCC (which is basically Champagne, but they can’t call it that since it is the French region. MCC stands for Methode Cap Classique).
The full day biking tour – including all wine – comes to $55 USD per person.
2. Shopping at the Old Biscuit Mill
Kevin just loves shopping. Okay, maybe not so much. But even he had a blast at the Old Biscuit Mill. We visited this place a total of 2 times during our trip — once during the evening market held on the last Wednesday of every month, then on Saturday for their morning food market.
You’ll want to come hungry if you’re visiting for the Saturday morning market. The place is alive with energy and each stand seems to offer free samples. We weren’t even hungry – but that actually didn’t stop me! There are also clothing stalls and a chocolate factory on site that you can tour. It’s more on the touristy side compared to the special evening market on the last Wednesday of the month, which is mostly for locals. We recommend sampling the wines and grabbing dinner at the restaurant Burrata located inside the market during the evening. One of our favorite memories of the entire trip.
1. Boulder Beach Penguins
We oftentimes work out a detailed plan for our trips. But I always leave a little wiggle room for other adventures. We originally were planning to kayak around Boulder Beach, but due to wind, the trip got cancelled. But sometimes adventure comes when you least expect it! That’s the case when we walked just 20 minutes from the pier in Simon’s Town (30 minutes South of our hotel by Uber) and found the viewing platforms for these adorable African penguins!
The pathway is well maintained and takes you face-to-beak with these wobbly animals. Kevin and I must have spent about 2 hours here just wandering around and laughing most of the time. Penguins aren’t the most graceful creature on land, but they can zip away in seconds once they hit the water. Be sure to explore all the viewing platforms including the actual secluded swimming area. There are rarely penguins stopping by here, but we actually saw a few!