The iconic image of Cape Town centers around a severe drop off, from the top of the magical, inspiring peaks of Table Mountains right down to the seal laden beaches and shark-infested waters at the tip of the continent,; 'here be dragons' in one of the world's most notoriously dangerous stretches of water. Africa’s southernmost point is also home to the continent’s third largest city; Cape Town is a spiritual, eccentric and playful place to be, and hosted soccer's international World Cup to its shores in 2010.
It’s difficult not to place Table Mountain at the centre of all things Cape Town. The national park is home to such alluring hiking, climbing and abseiling, as well as astonishing views from 1000 meters directly above sea level, that it’s both geographically and touristically essential. It can be dangerous (and the easy route – the cable car – shuts down during heavy wind), but keep an eye out and you’ll find yourself enthralled as the cloudy ‘tablecloth’ descends and leaves you stumbling through a misty wonderland. If you’re the adventurous type, don’t forget to try out the utter insanity that is ‘kloofing’.
Back in the city, you’ll find a colorful selection of districts that incorporate inventive art and crafts, luminous facades and enticing, culturally varied fashion. The hefty scars of Apartheid still run deep in Cape Town; just walking from the wealthy districts like Camp Bay into a poorer township area gives a real sense of the division of wealth that keeps ethnic tensions running high. The townships might be upsettingly poor and disease ridden, but they’re also home to heartwarming community projects, and a fantastic taste of the local music scene.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Cape Town without the offshore adventures that come with it. The seas off this cape were once deemed impassable (‘here be dragons’), now they offer the chance for intrepid explorers to cage dive with sharks, wallow with seals, penguin spot and surf. Then there are the passionate soccer games (try to catch a game against a Johannesburg team, for a taste of hardcore rivalry South African style), and the nearby national parks where you can glance at rhinos and buffalo.
A real trailblazer’s paradiso, then, and a city that maintains a staunch South African identity despite its growing international influences. Don’t forget your hiking boots.
Simons Town is on the Cape Peninsula, between Cape Town and Cape Point. It is home to Boulders Beach, where you can see plenty of penguins and is also the main naval base for South Africa.