Africa for me holds endless mysteries, exotic locals and a way of life unknown on this side of the globe. I have had the pleasure of visiting nearly a dozen countries on the Dark Continent and among my favourite is South Africa and its wonderful 'English-style' city of Capetown, located on the southernmost tip of this fantastic continent.
Lufthansa flies to Frankfurt and then after a short, nine hour hop to Johannesburg you will only be three hours from Capetown. It helps if you schedule your travel to spend a day in Frankfurt just to stretch your legs and see some sights. Fortunately most flights from Canada to Europe arrive early in the morning. Most flights to South Africa depart Europe in the evenings, offering you enough time to sightsee or get a day room and nap. For the more anxious travellers, South African Airways flies through New York and then a direct (fifteen hour) jaunt to Capetown.
Enough said about the travelling, because once you arrive you will be transformed into a world of magical proportion. Capetown is by far the prettiest city in South Africa and is a starting point for the famed Garden Route excursion, which takes you up the coast to Port Elizabeth. Capetown is also a great centre point for activities from whale watching and sightseeing to fine dining and great wine tastings.
The city of Paarl, on the outskirts of Capetown is world famous for its South African wines as well as being the cultural centre for the official languages of South Africa. By far my favourite winery is Boschendaal (Afrikaans for forest and dale) located in an old, Dutch style building with acres of lush green hills, trees and vineyards. No matter what your wine tastes are you will find it here, in one of the world’s finest wine regions. There is also a Language Monument, dedicated to the cohesiveness of the nine languages of South Africa and well worth the visit. It is not only artistic, but very informative.
Perhaps the most famous attraction in Capetown is Table Mountain, a flat outcropping visible from the air as you approach the city. A cable car which turns 360 degrees, as it rises takes you to the top. Don’t let the rain deter you, because Table Mountain is above the clouds and the views are spectacular. Small animals and a variety of bird species inhabit the elevation and pathways are clearly marked for leisurely strolls atop the world.
Also located near Capetown is the meeting of the two oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian, which are separated by a ten meter Gulf Stream causing the water temperature to vary by ten degrees on either side. It is also the sight of a photo op beside a sign indicating the southernmost point on the African continent.
Beautiful vistas are everywhere, especially those overlooking the turbulent waters of the Cape of Good Hope, known for its fierce gales and the final resting place for more than 2,300 ship wrecks. The often sunny skies are always accompanied by strong winds so hold on to your hats and belongings, as it is a steep drop and long climb to try and retrieve them.
A tour of the city is a must and a definite stopping point is the Victoria and Alfred Shopping district, located on the water and named after Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria who was responsible for developing the Capetown area. With more than 20 million visitors each year this centre is the most visited tourist site on the entire African continent. Bars and cafes, pubs and fine dining establishments offer something for everyone's palette. There are numerous boutiques, art galleries and artisan shops, all surrounded by a beautiful harbour.
If time permits and you can be persuaded to venture away from this southern gem, a trip up the coast is well worth the time. It is not called the garden route without reason. A fantastic climate is rewarded with spectacular colours from many different plants, flowers and trees. Bird of paradise flowers are seen everywhere, as are King Proteus, the national flower of South Africa.
For those who desire to see whales frolicking close to shore, the city t offers the best views and picnics along the parklands are encouraged. Many small towns like Mossels Bay, located half way between Capetown and Port Elizabeth offer picturesque scenery with many shops and eateries all bathed in sunshine and warmth brought by currents from the Indian Ocean. The city of Port Elizabeth has a large airport with regular flights to Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria, if you wish to continue your trek.
Along with being a beautiful city the government has maintained an extremely safe environment for visitors to Capetown. Unlike walled compounds in cities of the north, crime in Capetown is extremely low and given normal precautions, visitors should not expect any issues.
South Africa has become an extremely popular travel destination, and once you visit you will understand why. Take your camera and lots of memory cards, as you will be amazed by the wonders you are about to experience.