I’ve visited Cape Town, South Africa many times over the years, and every time I return, I’m amazed how the Mother City’s allure grows. Until recently, I thought it was primarily her physical beauty, but now I’ve finally realized it’s the people and the unique culture that has evolved in this special part of Africa.
From first arrival, one can’t help but be wowed by the dramatic back drop of Table Mountain, often topped with a “tablecloth” of cottony clouds, cradling the city below with its fortress-like structure. Prolific and endemic flora covers sharp mountains that dip into cold oceans teaming with whales, sharks, seals, penguins and more.
I often compare Cape Town to San Francisco because of the dramatic oceanfront setting, cosmopolitan culture and proximity to bountiful winelands. It also reminds me of San Diego, where you know there’s plenty of business being transacted, but you can’t figure out how because during work hours, everyone seems to be chatting in outdoor cafes or catching a wave at the beach. In Cape Town, afternoon tea can last for hours and happy hour doesn’t go from 4 to 6 but is more of a state of mind.
Cape Town has been drawing people in for centuries. Slight Khoisan, or bushman, first inhabited the southern tip of Africa, hunting and gathering and enjoying the generous offerings of nature. Later others arrived including the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Indonesians. Some just stopped by and moved on, but many of them stayed, creating a fascinating melting pot culture.
Still, Cape Town’s pull is strong to people from all walks of life, including successful, industrious and fun-loving people from as far away as Australia, Europe, India and America. They join long time residents in enjoying la dolce vita.
"I was an exchange student to South Africa in 1993, and it’s never really left my heart”, says American Caitlin Carter, a private consultant to the safari industry. “Then, after many visits back and forth, I decided it was the place to be! So, we packed up nearly 4 years ago and settled in Cape Town where we’ve found a hospitable, eclectic and unbelievably gorgeous place to call home, and raise our two young children.”
Some people believe that because of its Mediterranean climate, sophistication and larger than average white population, Cape Town is “not really African”. Well, then by that same thinking then New York City isn’t American, and London is not British. I would say that like iconic cities around the world, Cape Town is its own being, and if you don’t experience it for yourself then you’ve really missed out.
For me, Cape Town is a place where the people are welcoming and hospitable and where I always feel at home. Each time I visit, I seem to make a new friend. And while I may not see them again for a year or more, I know that next time I do I’ll be welcomed with a quick offer to have a beer or share a meal where we’ll settle quickly into a comfortable and enjoyable conversation.
It is impossible to squeeze all the must-see-and-do Cape Town experiences into one day, but it’s fun to think about! If you find yourself in the Mother City and have unlimited access to caffeine, fast shoes, and a speedy driver, here’s our recommended (but unrealistic) dream itinerary:
Drive to Kalk Bay and have the muffins and croissants at Olympia Café
Sea kayak with African penguins in Simon’s Town
Enjoy a wine tasting and lunch in the Cape Winelands at Franschhoek’s La Petite Ferme
Hike to the top of Table Mountain and take the cable car down
Have high tea at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel
Scenic motorcycle side car ride to Signal Hill followed by happy hour at a pop-up gin stand on the beach at Camp’s Bay
Dinner at Kloof Street House, a trendy restaurant in the Gardens area of central Cape Town
Overnight Kensington Place, a boutique hotel in central Cape Town