When becoming a volunteer with The Great Projects, you’ll have the opportunity to visit some of the most incredible locations on earth. The focus of today’s blog is no other than Cape Town, South Africa: famous for its harbour, lush natural terrain and a multitude of fun and varied activities, Cape Town is well worth a visit. The city is within easy reach of a number of our projects (each and any of our South African volunteer trips are just a short flight away, and The Great White Shark Project is located by the city itself) and with that in mind, what reason do you have not to visit? Join us as we run through an A-Z of all that can be done during your time in Cape Town.
A is for…Animals
Well-known for its stunning landscapes and an abundance of biodiversity, Cape Town is also renowned for its wildlife. Cape fur seals, penguins, and baboons all make their home around the peninsulas of Cape Town, while sharks and humpback whales frequent the waters around the city. There are also plenty of bird species to be found around Cape Town, too, including the beautiful malachite kingfishers and the equally lovely orange-breasted sunbirds.
Of course, South Africa is famed for hosting the ‘Big Five’: lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos can all be found in this highly-revered part of the continent, so while you won’t necessarily spot these particular animals in Cape Town itself, you’ll never be too far from getting the best of both worlds. Why not consider joining a project such as the Zululand Wildlife Conservation Project, bookending your time spent as a volunteer with tourist activities in Cape Town?
B is for…Boulder Beach
‘Penguins? In Africa?!,’ I hear you cry. Yes, I meant what I said in the last section: there really are penguins to be found in Africa! Often considered to be a species typically found in colder climates (such as that of Antarctica), the notion that penguins prefer the cold has long-since been proven to be an unfounded rumour. In fact, several species of penguin can be found in warmer climates around the world; one particular area being Boulders Beach, near Cape Town. After a small colony of penguins landed on the beach back in 1982, their populations have grown to around 3000 in recent years, and tourists are able to observe the birds at close range since they wander so freely in their natural environment.
As well as being a hotspot for tourists wanting to observe the penguins up close, Boulder Beach is also popular with people looking to take a quick dip to cool off. People are restricted to the beaches adjacent to the colony, but the idea of taking a paddle while witnessing penguins waddle on the land across the way is just wonderful, don’t you think?
C is for…Canal Walk
If ‘shopping til you drop’ is high on your agenda while visiting Cape Town, why not visit one of the main shopping malls in the city? Canal Walk is Africa’s third largest shopping centre, with over 400 stores (including top designer brands) and therefore being the perfect place for you to pick up some treats before heading home. The mall itself is also stunning, located just by the water (just as its name suggests!), which allows you to shop to your hearts’ content without succumbing to the hot heat of Cape Town.
D is for…District Six Museum
Cape Town does have a sad history of segregation, discrimination and apartheid, with its end only being as recent as at the turn of the 90’s. The District Six museum was founded in 1994, designed to be a memorial to the forced movement of some 60,000 inhabitants of various races in District Six during apartheid in the 70’s. The museum is a sad reminder of what is shockingly recent history, and provides education to visitors about the effects of apartheid. Important and emotional, a visit to the District Six museum deserves a place on any tourist’s list of things to do in Cape Town.
E is for…Exploring The Art Scene
Okay, so we might have cheated a little bit here, but you really should spend some time delving into Cape Town’s fascinating art scene! Pay a visit to Woodstock, home to a number of galleries and local contemporary arts: previously a derelict area with little more to show other than worn Victorian buildings and empty warehouses, this previously gang-ridden area no longer poses a threat and, instead, welcomes visitors to enjoy some breath-taking pieces of art.
In addition to its galleries, Woodstock also hosts a number of world-class (and often hipster) restaurants, such as the Test Kitchen, which recently ranked 48th in a list of the world’s-best eateries. There’s antique shops, boutiques, and an influx of trendsetters to observe as they scuttle on through the crowds. Woodstock is worlds apart to how it was once remembered, so if bohemia and the arts are your thing, don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit.
F is for…the Flying Dutchman Funicular
Cape Town is well-loved for its stunning landscapes, and what better way is there to view the city than from above? Take a ride on the Flying Dutchman Funicular, from the bottom of Cape Point all the way to the upper lighthouse…and of course, to those fantastic views of Cape Town in all its glory! Once atop the point, enjoy whale-watching from a distance, or tuck into a hearty meal in any one of the restaurants.
Alternatively, stay on the ground and head back to District Six to catch a performance at the Fugard Theatre. Named after the acclaimed South African playright, Athol Fugard, the theatre remains to follow its namesake’s ethos by putting on some soul-searing performances. Laugh, cry and embrace all emotions while watching the talented team perform in this stunning historical building.
G is for…Gastronomy
Cape Town is well-known for its food, and really, what’s a holiday if you’re not spending time filling your face with delicious local grub? This South African city has always been proud of its unusual dishes which, in turn, have managed to win respect from world-renowned chefs and humble tourists alike. From local delicacies such as game-meat, to fusion-inspired dishes like bobotie, there seems to be a never-ending list of delectable delights to enjoy throughout Cape Town. Dig in!
H is for…Hiking Up Lion’s Head
Situated between Table Mountain and Signal Hill, Lion’s Head is a beloved location for hikers. It is known for its spectacular views over both the city and the Atlantic Seaboard, as well as for being a popular launching point for paragliding activities. Lion’s Head also lends itself to some truly unique experiences, from sunrise hikes to observations of the full moon – both of which are endlessly popular excursions for tourists and locals alike!
I is for…Iziko
The Iziko Museums of Cape Town are comprised of 12 national museums located near the city centre, revolving mainly around the topics of natural history, social history, and the arts. Three of the main museums in the area are the planetarium, the slave lodge, or the South African National Gallery; each with their own exhibitions throughout the year, selected to educate and interest visitors to Iziko across a broad spectrum of compelling topics. The museums were founded in 1825 (namely, the South African museum), and remain to be an important part of Cape Town’s history.
J is for…Jazz
While you might not expect it, Cape Town is actually a very popular location for jazz music, and even plays host to the wildly popular International Jazz Festival every year. Major events aside, the genre runs through the veins of South African culture, and a number of clubs and jazz-inspired restaurants can be found throughout Cape Town. Whether you’d prefer the laid-back atmosphere of the aptly titled Piano Bar, or to experience eclectic fusion food while enjoying the vibrancy of the Asoka club, there’s a jazz club for everybody in this city.
K is for… Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
If you’re looking for a more relaxed affair away from the heady energy of Cape Town’s clubs, consider spending your days unwinding at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Here, you can enjoy a carefree waltz through 528 hectares of gardens, designed to celebrate South Africa’s glorious indigenous plant life. In addition to taking in the sights and smells of the gardens, you’ll also have the opportunity to cast your eyes upon some marvelous bird species (such as the Sugarbird, the African Dusky Flycatcher, and numerous sunbird species.) Take your time walking through the gardens, even settling for a picnic amongst the stunning flora.
L is for…Long Street
When you’re ready to get back into the spirit of partying, pay a visit to Long Street and drink in the hipster-yet-unpretentious vibe that this hotspot has to offer. Discover best-kept secrets such as Julep, a relaxed lounge with bare-brick walls and cocktails to die for; or head to the retro Waiting Room, opting to bask in the hot heat of the evenings by hanging out on the divine rooftop bar. After all, you’re on holiday – why not take the chance to unwind?
M is for…Meditation
There were a number of suggestions we could have thrown at you for this letter (more museums, the Maynardville Open Air Theatre, or any number of motorcycle tours), but sometimes it’s nice just to breathe easy. With that in mind, consider dropping in on one of the many meditation centres dotted around Cape Town: whether you need help to ease your mind before taking a flight, or if you simply need a moment of serenity, somewhere like the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Centre could be the perfect choice. There are a multitude of reasons why meditation could work for you, so relax, take it easy, and find your inner peace…
N is for…Nature Reserves
There are a number of nature reserves in and around Cape Town, beginning with Table Mountain National Park. 28,898 hectares of reserve stretch across the length of the peninsular mountains, and here you can find an extraordinary 2,285 species of protected plant species, including 90 endemic species and 141 threatened species.
Elsewhere, the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve has a different feel altogether: wild flowers, pools, waterfalls and mountains make up part of this tough-yet-beautiful terrain, so it’s no surprise why hikers love Hottentots so very much.
Finally, the De Hoop Nature Reserve is made up of 34,000 hectares, extending 5km out to see and therefore making it one of the biggest marine protected areas in all of Africa. Sea, sand, rock pools and mountains contribute to the landscape, and a wide range of animals (from mountain zebras to whales) make De Hoop all the more alluring.
O is for…Ostrich Ranches
An unusual pastime for tourists visiting Cape Town is to visit an ostrich ranch. A great day out (particularly for kids), ostrich ranches promise to provide visitors with a fun-filled day of education: not only will you be able to learn about the species and feed them, but you may even be able to check out some other animals such as cheetahs, tortoises, and peacocks too!
P is for…Paragliding From Signal Hill
Another popular activity for tourists and locals alike is paragliding from Signal Hill. Located at the back of Lion’s Head and easily visible from just about anywhere in Cape Town, Signal Hill is not the tallest of mounds but it does offer an awesome jumping-off point for anybody wanting to view the city from a birds-eye view. There are also opportunities to spend the night on the hill, with one or two lodges located on the slopes. Finally, Signal Hill is home to the final bit of endangered Peninsula Shale Renosterveld vegetation in Cape Town, meaning it is one of the few places on earth where nature lovers can spot the rate Moraea Aristata flower and the Medusa’s Head succulent in the wild. Take your time when visiting Signal Hill, absorbing its beauty before taking flight by paragliding!
Q is for…Quad Biking
Is paragliding not quite enough to satisfy your cravings for white-knuckle adventures? Don’t worry – there’s plenty of opportunity to get your kicks when visiting Cape Town. With mountainous terrains, sandy dunes and stunning landscapes on offer, your perfect quad bike experience can be found right here in South Africa. And there’s a seemingly never-ending number of excursions to choose from – keep reading on to find out more.
R is for…Robben Island
Arguably one of the most famous areas in all of South Africa, Robben Island is perhaps best known as where Nelson Mandela was kept as a prisoner through 18 of his 27 years behind bars. Tours to the island are lead by former political prisoners, who are fully knowledgeable of the island’s 500 year history and can give you a unique insight to the horrors of life on Robben Island. The tour includes visits to the graves of those who died from leprosy, the Lime Quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the Bluestone quarry, and the Maximum-Security Prison where thousands of South Africa’s freedom fighters were incarcerated for years. Of course, the tour culminates with a viewing of Nelson Mandela’s cell – a pertinent experience, especially given the fact that Mandela went on to become president of South Africa (and, indeed, so did two of his inmates during their lifetimes.) This is perhaps the most popular tour in all of Cape Town, so be sure to book your tickets well in advance.
S is for… Sea Point Promenade
As one of Cape Town’s most affluent suburbs, the vibe at Sea Point is really quite relaxed and makes for a great area to go jogging, sunbathing or socialising. There’s plenty of restaurants here, as well as bars (for both coffee and alcohol), but even on a full stomach you can enjoy time at the promenade. Observe spectacular sunsets over the horizon, take a dip in the local swimming pool, or simply enjoy the sea breeze blowing by you as you amble through this lovely location.
T is for…Table Mountain
Known as one of Cape Town’s most famous landmarks, Table Mountain is perhaps this city’s most significant tourist attraction…and with good reason. Not only is it part of the New 7 Wonders Of Nature (beating out stiff competition from Kilimanjaro, the Matterhorn, and Jade Mountain), but it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has also been witness to much of South Africa’s history (it was a sight of wonder for the first Dutch settlers arriving in 1652, and was also perceived to be a symbol of hope to the prisoners on Robben Island.)
On top of its fascinating history, Table Mountain is, quite simply, a picture-perfect location. It’s one of the most photographed locations in the world: not only because of the amazing views it offers of Cape Town, but because it is such an unusual beauty in itself. If you’re willing to climb 1086m to the top (or, indeed, take a ride on the Cableway), there is no reason why you should miss out on time at Table Mountain.
U is for…Urban Park
Open from 7am-7pm, Urban Park (otherwise known as Green Point Park) is a great day out for just about anybody. With cycling paths, outdoor gym facilities, children’s playgrounds and guided tours, there’s a lot going on within the stadium that constitutes Urban Park. The grounds also play host to a beautiful biodiversity garden, pretty water features and even an outdoor labyrinth – take a romantic stroll, pack a picnic or simply relax and reflect in this peaceful utopia.
V is for…Volunteering
Of course, one of the best things you can do when visiting Cape Town is volunteer! South Africans are fiercly proud of their wildlife, and by becoming a wildlife volunteer with The Great Projects, you will be able to contribute to the survival of so many beloved and revered animals. The Great White Shark Project is the closest option to Cape Town itself, and offers you the chance to come face to face with one of the world’s most misunderstood predators, while contributing to vital conservation efforts. We also provide volunteer opportunities elsewhere in South Africa – take a look here to find out more.
W is for…Wine
One of the things that South Africa is most famous for is, of course, its wine! Cape Town falls very close to the well-known ‘wine route’ of South Africa, and there are plenty of tours that you can join which will take you out to sample some of the freshest alcohol from the best vineyards. If you’re unable to leave the city, fret not as there’s still opportunity to indulge in the finest of wines: try Constantia Valley, nestled at the base of Table Mountain and boasting an unsurpassed beauty that is unique to this part of the world.
X is for…Xtreme Adventure Tours (literal company name, but pushing clients towards them?)
Remember how we spoke about quadbiking (and paragliding, for that matter)? Well, look no further than Xtreme Adventure Tours, your one-stop shop for adrenaline-pumping adventures. This company offers abseiling trips, sky diving activities, and hiking excursions, as well as the aforementioned quad biking and paragliding tours. So if you want to add an extra bit of zing to your South African adventure, check these guys out.
Y is for…Yacht Parties
Believe it or not, yacht parties are plentiful around Cape Town: this city’s stunning coastal location allows it to become host to a multitude of fun festivities out on the water, and there really is a niche yacht party for everybody! Pirate ships, floating clubs and sublime catamarans all contribute to the impressive roster of ocean activities and, if you get the timing right, you could even find yourself at one of Cape Town’s annual shindigs. Dance and party to your heart’s content as DJ’s play aboard the boat, and indulge in some delicious food and wine while you’re at it!
Z is for…Ziplining
We’ve spoken a lot about thrill-seeking activities during this guide, but this particular pastime deserves a section all to itself. Ziplining in Cape Town sums up pretty much everything that this remarkable city is about: fantastic panoramic views, a unique sense of adventure and, cheesy as it may sound, a city that buzzes and hums along with an emotional rush. What better analogy is there than ziplining and all the senses such an activity can inspire?
You can, of course, zipline from such locations as Table Mountain…but why not experience the rush of the wild by flying through some of Cape Town’s greenest locations? Zip through the canopies of Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, or experience sheer exhilaration 155 metres above Costantia. Embrace the metaphor that so easily lends itself to this awesome activity, and experience the ultimate high on your zipline adventure.
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