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Hidden Gems of South Africa’s Cape Town & Winelands

July 17, 2023  By: Hilary

Africa Adventure Consultants (AAC) Journey Specialist Hilary recently returned from visiting South Africa where she enjoyed both time on safari as well as exploring the Western Cape. She joins us on the blog today to share her favorite experiences and expert tips for exploring in and around Cape Town.

Hilary and friend by water

Cape Town is one of my favorite cities, and each time I visit, I see and do something completely new. This city has something for everyone, and I highly recommend including it in your safari and staying for at least 3-4 days. I promise you’ll want to come back and spend even more time in this hub of culture, history, nature and activities. For foodies and wine connoisseurs, the Winelands are an absolute must. On this trip, I spent a few days in Franschhoek, and boy do I wish I could have stayed longer. I can hardly wait to return!

penguins on beach

There are so many things to do and see in Cape Town, but here are my top 5 “hidden gems” to consider including in your safari with Africa Adventure Consultants:

woman in Bo-Kaap

1. Explore and Taste Your Way Through the Bo-Kaap

This photogenic neighborhood is lined with brightly colored buildings and cobbled streets and is featured in many traveler’s Cape Town photos. I recommend you go beyond the standard photo opp and explore Cape Town’s Muslim heritage and Cape Malay culture. This is one of Cape Town’s oldest residential areas and originally was inhabited by Muslim descendants of slaves brought from Southeast Asia, Indonesia and other parts of Africa. The Bo Kaap Museum illuminates much of this special place’s history. This area is also famous for its delicious Cape Malay cuisine – a fusion of the many cultures that have called this place home throughout history. AAC can arrange cooking classes in Bo Kaap, where you visit a local’s home and learn to cook up (and eat!) incredible dishes like chicken curry, rooti’s, samoosas and daaltjies (chilli bites) to name a few!

Pro Tip: Interested in learning more about Cape Town’s Apartheid history? Near Bo Kaap is the District 6 Museum which preserves the memory and history of the diverse community that once lived here.


2. Shopping at the Watershed in Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

The V & A Waterfront is one of Cape Town’s hubs, and while there’s lots of shopping and dining on offer, a visit to the Watershed is a bit different. This market is so fun to explore! It’s filled with myriad African crafts, ceramics, jewelry, traditional wellness products, clothing and more. There are a lot of unique pieces that would make fun souvenirs to remember your time in South Africa. You can even get your shoes refurbished if you’ve worn them out walking the city! Carve out time to scratch that retail therapy itch with a visit! After shopping, take a stroll through V&A Waterfront where more conventional shops and restaurants abound, and local musicians and dance troops put on spectacular shows for passersby.

Pro Tip: If you’re like me and like to bring home lots of souvenirs, you might want to end your trip in Cape Town so your luggage isn’t too heavy for those small bush flights on safari.

hiking Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town

3. Hike Table Mountain

While the majority of visitors take the cable car up Table Mountain, we recommend hiking instead for those who are interested in the chance to get some exercise in a beautiful setting, get away from the crowds and enjoy a more unique experience. The mountain has a variety of trails, offering a range in difficulty levels and scenic viewpoints. Our experienced hiking guides discuss options and select the right trail for each group based on fitness levels, experience and interest. If the sky is clear, views are outstanding, and our guides share captivating stories about Cape Town’s history, Table Mountain’s geology and the unusual plants and animals that make its slopes their home. For birders: keep your eyes peeled for elusive ground woodpecker and the brightly colored orange-breasted sunbird, among many other special endemic species. If you are an avid hiker, let your AAC Journey Specialist know – there are many additional hiking regions throughout the Western Cape and we can make a personalized recommendation for a second day of trekking.

The easiest trail (though perhaps the least scenic) is the Platteklip Gorge, and one of the most challenging is India Venster. I had such a wonderful morning trekking India Venster this trip, climbing the steep ascent, scrambling upward with a bit of bouldering over the rocky cliffs on the misty mountain.

Pro tips:

  • What to bring? Be sure to bring good hiking shoes! The terrain is rocky and uneven, some bouldering may be required (depending on the trail), and if conditions are wet, it will be slippery. A light windproof and wet weather jacket is also a must have, especially for those hiking June – September. From November to March, you’ll want a sun hat, and be aware you’ll start hiking early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowds.
  • A few thoughts on the weather: Weather on Table Mountain can be unreliable. It can be windy, very hot or bitterly cold, wet or cloudy. If there are clouds on the mountain that means limited or no views but hiking in these conditions can still make for a spectacular day! Cloud or mist lends an air of mystery to the mountain and creates surreal surroundings. The clouds often seen on the mountain are famous and are known as the “tablecloth” for the way they drape over the flat top of the mountain.
swimming in a tidal pool

4. Take a Dive in a Tidal Pool Along the Cape Point Peninsula

For the water babies among us, pack your swimsuit! While a trip along the Cape Peninsula is likely already on your radar, I also recommend stopping along the way to dip your toe or take a full plunge in one of the tidal pools nestled along the coastline. The pools are formed by rocky outcrops and boy, oh boy, do they have the most stunning backdrops! Did you know the Octopus Teacher documentary was filmed here in the Cape Peninsula? There are many spots to get your saltwater fix. A few popular pools include Dalebrook Tidal Pool in Kalk Bay, Miller’s Point Tidal Pool near Simon’s Town and St. James Tidal Pool adjacent to St. James Beach (near the colorful Victorian style changing rooms that you may have seen in photos).

Pro Tip: AAC’s Cape Point Peninsula tours are designed to fit a variety of interests, from the classic driving tour and family-friendly experiences to quirky cultural encounters and active adventures. Let your Journey Specialist know what interests you most and we’ll design the day around you!

Winelands scenic view

5. All Aboard the Franschhoek Wine Train!

The Franschhoek Valley is nothing short of gorgeous. Riding the Wine Train is an unforgettable and unique way to taste your way through the region, sipping exquisite wines in beautiful gardens, tasting rooms and cellars along the way. Passengers hop off and on as they wish, crafting the day to fit their unique interests and pacing. There are several lines to choose from, each offering a stunning scenic ride by double-decker tram and open-air tram-bus. Not only is this a convenient and relaxing ride, you’ll also be immersed in Franschhoek’s history, which dates to the 17th century. Understanding the winemaking traditions here further illuminates the intricate tapestry of South Africa’s history and culture.

Pro Tip: Let your Journey Specialist know your preferred varietals to help them tailor make your time in the Cape Winelands. We also arrange privately guided wine tours, hiking or biking wine tours, and specialty art or food focused tours that pair beautifully with wine tastings.

flowers in the Winelands

A treasure trove of hidden gems are waiting to be discovered in Cape Town and the Winelands of South Africa. Museums and important historic sites for history buffs, delicious cuisine for foodies, a shopper’s paradise, exhilarating adventures and so much more!

coastline outside of Cape Town

Whether you have a few days or more to spare, these areas promise a diverse range of experiences that will leave you yearning to return and explore even further. So, pack your bags, embrace the adventure, and embark on a journey filled with fascinating culture, remarkable history, stunning nature, exhilarating adventures and culinary delights.

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Photos courtesy AAC Journey Specialist Hilary Walters, Jiao Shen, Watershed,