Archive for the ‘Cape Town’ Category

Greenpoint and Seapoint

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Greenpoint is mostly a residential suburb. Located to the North-West of the central business district (CBD) in Cape Town, it is very close to the city center. For visitors, the main appeal of the suburb is the large number of restaurants, clubs, dance halls, bars and other nightlife. Since 2009, the Greenpoint Stadium has been in development.

This stadium will be the site of a number of 2010 Soccer World Cup matches, including a quarter and semi-final. Because of this, the number of accommodations is poised to rise exponentially over the coming months, and the suburb, which used to be both notorious for its high crime level and famous for its shopping and dining atmosphere, is set to be cleansed of its dark side.

Cape Town is often hailed as one of the gay capitals of the planet. If this is true, the Greenpoint is definitely the headquarters. GLBT emancipation has progressed a lot over the years, and the Seapoint on Greenpoint is characterized by Rainbow flags outside some well established gay bars.

For straight people, the suburb has much to offer as well, both night and day. During the day, the biggest African market in the city is set up near the site of the new Greenpoint Stadium. Sellers from all over Southern Africa set up their stalls most mornings, offering the widest variety of African art, in the form of statues, cloths and other handicraft items, of decent quality. Haggling is absolutely necessary if you intend to buy any souvenirs at the market.

The neighboring suburb of Seapoint has many of the same qualities, but the buildings are more expensive, there are a lot of high rise buildings, and the views of Lion’s Head, the little brother of Table Mountain, and the Atlantic Seaboard are an additional reason to visit.

Kirstenbosch Gardens

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Kirstenbosch Gardens is a large botanical garden, inside Cape Town, on the slopes of the Table mountain. It is a 13km drive from the city center, and there are buses in the center and the Southern Suburbs which will take you to the Gardens directly.

The unique climate of the Western Cape, and the large amounts of indigenous species of flora which are found all over the country in special locations, such as the Table Mountain fynbos ecosystem, are all on display in a natural environment. Most of the 525 hectares of the Garden are cultivated by nature and can be enjoyed in their own habitat.

The cultivated garden area is an impressive botanical feat. South Africa has several differing climates, from the Mediterranean climate down at the West Coast, to semi-desert in the Karoo, humid wet forest in the East and dry patches in the Northern Cape. The cultivated garden recreates the best conditions for each of these areas, and some of the spectacular flora from the winter rainfall areas, which you would not be able to encounter inside the Western Cape, are blooming in Kirstenbosch.

Kirstenbosch does have an entrance fee, of about R30 (about $4), and with this you will have access to all the amenities inside the park. There are pathways throughout the park, a visitor center where maps can be purchased, toilets, a restaurant and a garden shop where seeds, flowers and other paraphernalia are offered.

Most days, visitors will come to the Garden for a lazy afternoon, a picnic, drinks or a chance to climb the Table Mountain from one of the more accessible slopes. Between November and April, Kirstenbosch offers something more, when the Summer Concerts occur every Sunday on the lawns. Some of the finest musicians and groups, included rock, jazz and classical, can be viewed live in this peaceful setting.

Camps Bay

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

Camps Bay is one of the famous beaches of the mother city. Because of its great location, only 15 minutes from the heart of Cape Town or the V A Waterfront, and about half an hour from the airport, it has become a busy tourist hub. Even though it is only a short drive to get there, the stunning views on the way past the mountainous windy roads will make you feel like entering a different place altogether.

The beach area itself is characterized by the long straight road, with boardwalks on the side, flanked by towering palms, which severs the beach from the hotels, restaurants and amenities. In the background, you can recognize the Twelve Apostles, the famous twelve mountain ridges.

Although the Atlantic Ocean waters near Cape Town are notoriously cold, even during the summer months, a brave swimmer will be tempted to jump in the deep blue waters bordering the sandy white beach. The waters are safe, with coast guards always on duty. However, sharks have been active, if rarely, in this area, and it is advised to keep close to the shore. For the not so brave, a large tidal pool, built in the 1930ies, will be the warmer (and safer) option to get some aquatic exercise.

You can rent umbrellas and loungers, and public toilets are situated near the west end, by the coast guard station. Beach volley, kite surfing, and scuba diving can all be organized, and a short drive away you will find a 30 holes golf course.

Among the many beachfront cafes, you are bound to find the perfect spot to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets in the city. If you are looking for a luxury stay and fine dining, the Bay Hotel and the Twelve Apostles Hotel both offer top of the line luxury rooms, several pools and sundecks, and their restaurants are equally acclaimed.

District 6

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

District Six used to be a mixed-race suburb within Apartheid South Africa. After the regime decided the area was unfit for the residents, they forcefully removed the 60,000 inhabitants, in order for the area to be cleared. Its location near the harbor, the city center and the attractive Table Mountain made it a prime real estate area, one of the main reasons the government decided to clear the area 40 years ago, and a good reason for visitors staying near the V A Waterfront or the city center to visit the suburb, which now boasts the expansive and interesting historical District Six museum.

The neighborhood itself is still in the process of being restructured. It is a politically difficult legacy, as the ANC government promised it would restore the suburb and hand it back to former residents, but practical and ethical obstacles remain in place.

The museum features a permanent exhibit, located in an old, wooden community church, where the central theme is the reconstruction of the memories and identities of the community of freed slaves, immigrants, merchants and artisans who were cut off from their living space. This is done by combining actual objects from the former neighborhood with digital visual and audio effects.

Temporary exhibits rotate, and include art projects, photography and video screenings. The entrance fee is R20 (about $2). The district lies in between Sir Lowry Road and De Waal Drive, and it is easily accessible. The recent (2009) science fiction movie District 9, directed by Peter Jackson has attracted more attention to the history of District 6, as the movie is based on the story of the forced removals.

Table Mountain

Monday, November 9th, 2009

The National Park of course includes Table Mountain, or Tafelberg as it is called in Afrikaans, but it also encompasses a much larger area, ranging from Signal Hill all the way to Cape Point in the South. Most of the Table Mountain National Park area is open to visitors at no charge, but some activities and parts of the park require a fee. Cape Point, Boulders, Table Mountain and Silver mine are the most popular parts of the park with a cost.

Cape Point, the southernmost point of Cape peninsula, is a stunning rock formation, with unique flora and fauna, including the klipdassie, a local species of hyrax. The highest elevated formation on Cape Point features an old lighthouse, and the opportunity for visitors to look out over the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

Boulders beach is another major attraction. The beach is enclosed by large granite boulders, which provides the perfect environment for the indigenous, rare African penguin. For a small fee, visitors can observe an African penguin colony in its natural environment. Table Mountain is the most prominent natural feature of Cape Town. The geography of the city is determined by the location of the mountain, and it forms a magnificent backdrop to many of the cities’ natural and architectural scenes. A visit to the city is not complete without a visit to the top of the mountain.

There are several routes leading up to the flat mountain top. Experienced guides organize tours along the more dangerous route. Anyone in good health with two to three hours to spare will enjoy the more gradual hike to the top. Alternatively, if the weather permits, a glass-paneled cable cart with a 65 person capacity will take you to the top of the mountain, while giving a unique 360 degree view of the city below.

At the top of Table Mountain, a restaurant and souvenir shop, as well as several panoramic view sites with magnificent photo opportunities are located near the exit of the Cableway. From there on out, several hiking trails along the table top will lead you to even more stunning views.

V&A Waterfront

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Since the end of Apartheid, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront has developed from an active harbor and commerce center into the main tourist hub of the city. Located close to the city center, it is very accessible by public transport or even on foot. The V&A, as it is also called, covers a large area, and one of the finest hotels (the V&A) as well as some smaller accommodation is available on site. This makes the V&A a perfect place to stay if you want to explore the city.

The Waterfront’s appeal is fueled by the several attractions, including a number of historical museums, a large shopping mall, several pubs, bars and restaurants and hotels. The Victorian styled old buildings, erected after Prince Alfred supervised the initial development in 1860, include the Clock Tower, the Robben Island Demarcation Building and the Breakwater Prison. But many of the newer structures have managed to keep the classic charm of the historical harbor.

Strolling through the Waterfront’s harbor area, you will notice that the colonial legacy is not the only cultural influence present on the boardwalks. European styled mime artists and African choirs perform regularly side by side in the streets between the cafes, and open air musical performances take place near the smaller V&A mall most afternoons in summer.

The Waterfront caters mostly for tourists, and at any given point, tourists will outnumber locals by a wide margin. Because of this, there are a lot of foreign exchange bureaus, souvenir shops, travel agencies and tourist activity businesses, promoting sailing trips, paragliding, parachuting and other activities taking place nearby. Of course, other amenities such as pharmacies, toilets and wireless access are easy to find.

One of the attractions near the Waterfront any tourist should visit is Robben Island. A ferry to the notorious prisoner’s island leaves from the Waterfront harbor, past the Demarcation Building, on scheduled times, and the subsequent tour, given by a former prisoner, is both interesting and emotional.


Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Observatory, or “Obs” as most locals refer to it, is one of the Southern Suburbs, located south of Table Mountain, bordering Mowbray and Salt River. It has a large student population, due to its location near the University of Cape Town (UCT) Medical School, and the campus itself.

Obs used to be notorious for the high crime rate, but recent developments, such as the renovation of the main square and a cleaning out of its streets and parks, have improved the entire suburb.

One of the main attractions during the day is the famous Grootte Schuur Hospital. Grootte Schuur is a stately Victorian hospital, built by Cecil Rhodes. Christian Barnard performed the first heart transplant ever over 40 years ago, and a small museum dedicated to this fact, and to the Hospital’s history, is open for those interested in both medical history and architecture.

On the other side of the suburb, on the east side, you can find the Royal Observatory, which gave the suburb its name. Twice a month in the weekend, it opens for visitors who like to get a clearer view of the South African night sky.

The Suburb itself is not frequented constantly by tourists, although a number of lively backpackers’ and cheap short-term accommodation are available throughout the year.

Obs’ main street features many organic food stores and alternative music and fashion shops, as well as a rapidly changing restaurant scene. Obz Cafe is the largest restaurant/cafe, and, like many of the smaller cafes and restaurants, it features wireless internet access and all-day breakfast specials. Occasional live music performances are held in its small theater section. Cafe Ganesh is a more chaotic and flamboyant place to eat, and one of the several places specializing in vegetarian dishes.

The other main appeal of the suburb is its nightlife scene. Like the restaurants, clubs appear, disappear and change appearance quite frequently, but Roots, a beach themed bar, Gandalf’s, an alternative rock club and Stones, the pool bar, are the most established ones.

Company Gardens

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

The Company Gardens are more than just an urban park; they are the oldest garden in the country, created years ago by Jan Van Riebeeck as a tranquil asset and vegetable garden bordering his lawn “Town house” or Tuynhuys as it is known currently. The former Riebeeck estate is currently the official President’s house in Cape Town, and it is well-guarded and gated, although the garden and many of the other colonial-era buildings have opened up for the public. Between 7AM and 7PM, the gates to the park will remain open.

Even though the Garden area is a well-known and popular tourist destination, locals enjoy the fresh air and peaceful surrounds equally, and can be found throughout the Company grounds. The surrounding area contains both the professional business district and the Parliament houses, and lunch breaks cause the Gardens to overflow with Capetonians. Other locals enjoying the park are the many squirrels you will undoubtedly meet on a walk through one of the two parallel lanes.

For visitors, aside from the views of Table Mountain, the Cecil Rhodes statue and the appeal of the large fountain in the center of the park walkway, the several museums within and just outside the Company Gardens are the main attractions. Unlike the park, these museums will require an entrance fee on any day of the week apart from Thursdays, when there is free admission.

The South African National Gallery is worth a visit by any art-lover. The permanent collection of the Gallery includes contemporary as well as colonial art from renowned European and African artists. Recently, the SANG has made an effort to showcase more South African art, such as bead work and apartheid-era paintings which have been censored in the past.

Opposite the Gallery you can find the South African Museum, the oldest museum South of the Sahara. A highly popular destination, the museum has a large collection of natural historical items as well as cultural and anthropological gems on display, specifically from South Africa, although Africa in general is well represented.

Long Street

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

As the name suggests, Long Street is one of the longest streets, with a length of 3.8 kilometers, in Cape Town, found in the city center and stretching between the Waterfront and Gardens areas of the city. As you enter the street, the first impression is the lively atmosphere and architectural splendor, with elaborate Victorian designs and colorful balconies attached to most of the larger buildings.

It is not only a popular tourist site, but also a place where locals shop for antiques, clothing and (second-hand) books, and visit other specialized retail stores. Travel agencies, banks with foreign exchange counters and internet cafes are all to be found along the line. A number of cafes and restaurants are spread out among the shops, although these are generally more expensive than usual.

Just off Long Street you can find Green market Square, a tourist hub where traditional African merchandise is sold in market stalls. Wooden masks, drums, T-shirts and other souvenirs are sold here during the day, and you will find that the vendors are friendly, although insistent. Haggling is advised if you are set on buying your souvenirs here.

One of the most celebrated restaurants on Long Street is Mama Africa, where traditional African meals are accompanied by live music, and at night there are often high quality music performances by Cape Towns top jazz and African musicians and collectives. Night life on Long Street has always been vibrant and the large and diverse set of clubs, pubs, cafes and lounge bars attract people from inside and outside of Cape Town with different lifestyles and backgrounds.

Hip-hop and R&B have gained significant popularity recently among the local city dwellers. Jo’burg is one of the busiest venues for this scene.  Electronic music is also on the rise, and several clubs have caught on and play the latest psytrance, fidget, electro, wildbeat, drum ‘n’ bass, dubstep, and more. Rhino Room and Fiction are two most prominent electro clubs. For a more relaxed night out, the Irish pub the Dubliner and the mellow alternative balcony-clad Neighborhood provide the perfect setting for a drink and the chance to meet other people.

Cape Town

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Cape Town is the second most populous city, as well as the provincial capital of the Western Cape and legislative capital of South Africa. The city is the center for the national parliament and many other government offices. Cape Town has a population of approximately 3.5 million people.

The city is world famous for its harbor, as well its natural settings including the well known landmarks and top tourist attractions as Cape Point and Table Mountain, a mountain that’s 700 million years old. Aside from Cape Town’s natural and tourist attractions that draw 3 million people per year to the city, the city also offers outstanding restaurants, cafes and bars that serve locally brewed wines which have worldwide recognition. Cape Bay is filled with modern hangout spaces while Long Street has several great options for dining and nightlife.

The traveler should feel blessed with a trip to the most popular South African destination for tourism, with its resplendent landscape such as the beaches, the harbor, the vineyards and Victorian styles buildings. It impresses many first timers to South Africa’s freshly reborn ‘Mother City’.

Travelers to Cape Town require a valid passport and visa. American citizens can visit without need of visa unless the stay extends 90 days. Petty crime and theft are common issues for tourists, its advised to look after your belongings and ignore the many con-artists trying to sell or offer you something.