Updated: Jun 30, 2018
People always ask , "What's the best place you've traveled to?" and there are two that always come to mind. One is Istanbul, & the other is Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town is breathtakingly beautiful. It is right on the southern tip of Africa, on the Atlantic Ocean, and if you take a short drive to the other side of that tip, you can also dip your toes in the Indian Ocean, surrounded by penguins (yes, real fucking penguins live on the beach here).
The food is insane (I was not yet vegan, the two times that I went here), with specialty meats like springbok biltong, ostrich bobotie, as well as fresh oysters & fish! They have incredible wine vineyards & they even have their own varietal called Pinotage, which only grows in South Africa! Oh, and on top of all that, their dollar, the Rand, is worth about one tenth of the American dollar. So, you can live like royalty for next to nothing.
The first time I went to South Africa, I was hesitant. Africa is not exactly known to be an easy place to live & with guerrilla warfare, wild animals, and severe poverty, it can be a scary thought coming from a country that is completely based on industry & capitalism. American greed, along with other attributes that I need not mention make us look pretty bad to other, less wealthy countries, which is why I tell people that I'm Canadian if they ask. It's just safer to travel when you're from a neutral country.
Africa is a very big continent & each country in Africa is as different as Mexico is from the United States of America. South Africa is much more industrialized than most African countries. It has resorts, grocery stores, ocean front restaurants, skyscrapers, etc. The second time I flew to South Africa, I left from Nashville International Airport. The TSA agent asked if we were traveling for vacation or work. I said vacation. He looked at the tickets, said, "South Africa? That's not vacation. That's work." (Insert eye roll.) Cape Town is a tourist destination! People come from all over the world to vacation here.
The flight is long. So, so long! If you fly from Atlanta, it is 18 hours to Johannesburg and a short flight to Cape Town from there. Honestly, I prefer extremely long flights. When you have an 8 hour flight, your whole sleep schedule is going to be disrupted. If you settle in on an 18 hour flight, you're bound to sleep at some point, making the time transition easier. Plus, exotic airlines (think Singapore Air, & Turkish Airways) have kick ass food on the plane! And almost all international flights offer free alcohol, individual TV monitors, and free movies.
Things to do:
Victoria & Albert Waterfront
Yes, that's me holding hands with a larger than life-size Nelson Mandela statue made out of beads because, Africa.
Camps Bay is the most popular beach in Cape Town for tourists. It is loaded with restaurants, shops, bars, with live musical performances on the sidewalks from people trying to get money (which is sad when it's children, but actually awesome music and talent), sugary sand beaches, and extremely cold water.
This is the Atlantic Ocean, but it's not the warm, shallow side like Florida beaches. This is the deep part. And you know what loves deep, cold water? Giant fucking sharks. The top tourist activity in South Africa is cage-diving with great white sharks. I am a beach baby and I have no interest in chumming the waters and trying to get sharks the size of a school bus to eat me, but I'm protected by a wire cage. Not today, Satan! However, my agent did do this and loved it! So, you do you on that one!
Paragliding is also an option if the weather permits. I think the mountain that you jump from is Devil's Peak, but it might be Lion's Head. Anyways, you can't miss it if you're at the beach. It's the one that humans are leaping off of. We really wanted to do this, but it was too windy.
Ian and I decided to walk along the sidewalk because we're not really into tourist traps. So, we walked, and walked. The beach was now behind us and we were walking up hill, but figured that it would eventually turn into something cool. We stopped seeing pedestrians and only saw the occasional car and tons of bicyclists! There was a lookout with the most ridiculous view of Camps Bay!
We finally decided to turn around after a couple of miles because I was (shocker) starving!
Camps bay is a tourist trap, but it's a beautiful one that you should go to for at least a partial beach day.
I love my gays and I love a good drag queen, and the only thing that I might love more than a good drag queen, is a bad one! So, Beefcakes is a burger joint that has drag shows and sexy, shirtless men who bring you your food. I'm not sure what the health code says about this, but who cares?! They also serve exotic burgers. I (being pre-vegan at the time) ordered an ostrich burger and it was awesome! Definitely take the time to have a meal here!
Stellenbosch is an absolute must-see! It will take at least a full day to see it, so plan accordingly. You can drive there and back in one day, but we decided to take our time and stay the night. Cape Town is the big beach city (think Miami). Stellenbosch is wine country (think Napa Valley). Stellenbosch is laid back with beautiful, rolling green hills. There is a wine varietal called Pinotage that only grows here. It is a red wine crossbreed between a pinot noir and cinsaut. It reads more like a shiraz on your palate with hints of blackberry, sweet tobacco, a little spice, hoison (which is asian barbecue sauce made from plums), even bacon. Essentially, a rich smoky wine with high acidity that makes it feel a touch fruity and light to drink. It's good, it's everywhere, and it's cheap! There is no shortage of wineries in Stellenbosch. There are many wine trails that you can take, jumping from vineyard to vineyard, tasting the best of each one for the American equivalent of $2.50.
The first time I went to South Africa, I did all of the wine trails with my friends. We were pretty drunk after the second one (of 5), which is fine, but not great if you actually want to absorb some culture! The last time I went, I actually had one of the liquor reps from my restaurant reach out to a distributor and book a private tour with the Murray Barlow (Thanks, Jeremy!) at Rustenberg Winery. He drove us all over the property, explained everything about the growing process, let us taste grapes, took us into the cellars, sipped wine with us... It was incredible. There was a fire on a neighboring hill and Murray explained that all of the wine in his vineyard this year would have a smoky flavor because of the fire. I never realized how sensitive the grapes were to their environment. That could explain why Tennessee wine tastes like... Moving on!
Good Neighbours Market - Biscuit Mill
The Good Neighbours Market is an open-air market in Woodstock, and it's only open on Saturdays. This is a must-see.The potato pancake topped with salmon, a poached egg, hollandaise, & chives (pictured on the right) is one of the best meals that I have ever eaten, and it was all made from scratch in front of me (by the nice man pictured on the left). I was brought here by my guide on my first trip here and fell completely in love.
The "Good Neighbours Market" is extremely crowded, so prepare yourself for that. Once you get in, it's kind of hard to find your way around, but merchants set up tables and booths all over with everything from handmade jewelry and animal statues, to curries, and smoothies. This market is mostly bustling with natives, not tourists. Citizens of Cape Town trickle in every Saturday to buy fresh bread, flowers, sandwiches, and trinkets. This is the place where everyone comes together, which is pretty spectaular in a country still recovering from apartheid. Be aware that pick-pockets may be present because of how busy it is, but I didn't have any issues and I'm pretty careless with my things.
Twelve Apostles refers to a rock formation (too large for a normal camera to photograph) that juts out in twelve places over the ocean. There is a "12 Apostles Hotel & Spa" that you must go to for a drink. They have an area called the "Leopard Bar" (don't go to any other section, this is your ocean view) and you don't need a reservation to get in! You absolutely must have a cocktail here during sunset. It is the most spectacular vista that I have ever experienced. The hotel is, as you would imagine, very pricey for the South Africa, but the drinks are still around $10 each and you're paying for the view. Worth it! They also have a high tea, but I can't imagine the view being any better than it is at sunset.
You will have to take an uber or taxi to get to Boulder's Beach, aptly named for the giant boulders in the water. The drive is almost an hour, so it is best to do a day trip here and maybe come back to Cape Town for dinner at night. False Bay is actually the exact location that you want to go to if you want to swim with the penguins. This water is fed by the Indian Ocean so, you can check swimming in the Indian Ocean off your bucket list! The cost is 65 rand or $6.50 to get in. At False Bay, you can come right up to the penguins. They actually swim around your legs and it's kind of scary at first! If you go to the other beaches, the penguins are fenced off from you. You can see them in their natural habitat, but you can't get very close. You're in Africa! Do it right and go to False Bay. It's quaint, and pretty quiet. You'll want to pack your own lunch, bottled water, etc. There are restaurants nearby, but you have to hike back up to the road, it's kind of a trek, and you might have to pay to get back in. Please keep in mind that these are wild penguins. Do not feed them and do not touch them. Just be happy that you are graced with their penguin presence.
At the turn of the 20th century, an estimated 100,000 cheetahs lived throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Today there are only about 7,100! Cheetah Outreach is a place that focuses on educating the public of the plight of the cheetah. It also campaigns for wild cheetahs' survival, which I feel passionately about as a model and vegan. Many fashion labels use cheetah hide for shoes, handbags, jackets, ear muffs, etc. And, while there is no good way to kill an innocent animal just so that someone can wear it, these fashions encourage counterfeit fashion producers to kill and poach these animals as well, even illegally just to fetch a good price on the black market. When you go to the Cheetah Outreach, there are many options that you can partake in, like feeding cheetah cubs, playing with meercats, and what I did, petting grown cheetahs! You do have to sign a waiver because it is a wild animal and if it decides to maul you, there's no guarantee that it won't kill you before it can be sedated. So, there's that. This cheetah actually hopped off the table and scared the hell out of me, but I survived and I have a cool photo of me petting a cheetah and trying not to die. I don't remember the cost but I want to say that it was pretty inexpensive. It's definitely worth the trip, even if you opt out of petting one!
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are insanely gorgeous and they're full of wild life! The cost is 65 rand to get in (or $6.50). We felt like we were in Jurassic Park, especially because there were birds everywhere (birds evolved from dinosaurs, in case you didn't already know that). I never would have taken the time to come here, but we were riding the "Hop On, Hop Off" bus and when it pulled up, we thought, "Why not?" We were both blown away with the spectacular beauty that unfolded upon entering. We have been to some of the world's most beautiful botanical gardens and they've all been very manicured. The Kirstenbosch Gardens look almost untouched. Obviously, the grass is mowed and they are taken care of, but everything seems to be taken care of exactly where it was already growing. It feels so naturally gorgeous. It is worth the time and walk. Wear proper shoes (unlike me) and sunscreen! Our only regret was not having more time to spend here! We could have spent the entire day!
Hop On Hop Off
Buy the bus tour! Hop On Hop Off costs about $20 for two days of touring with almost every stop that you must see! Cape Town is not exactly pedestrian-friendly, so you will have to take taxis if you want to see anything and taxi drivers are always going to take tourists on the "scenic route", wasting your time & money. Take the Hop On Hop Off to see the most popular sights with an informative guide and save yourself some money! They even have boat tickets included (take the boat tour!).
When traveling to a new place that differs so much from home, I encourage you to look past the differences & instead see the similarities. I have found that human beings are innately the same. We all have hopes and dreams. We want healthy children with full bellies & opportunities provided to them. We want to fall in love. We want to travel, make money, provide for our families. We're all the same! We all want to feel respected. The only time that you will have an issue when traveling is if you forget that. If you are in a Muslim country and you walk into a mosque in a mini skirt, holding a beer, expect to get in big trouble, including jail if not more serious harm. Be respectful of the people & culture that have allowed you to be immersed in their life.
I will not go too deeply into this subject because it's really a whole blog post in itself, but I need to touch on race. If you are caucasian, you would assume that you would stand out like a sore thumb in Africa. However, South Africa was settled by the Dutch, and the English played a huge role in South Africa once gold and diamonds were discovered. This means that there are many blonde-haired, blue-eyed European people living here. In 1948, the "National Party" issued an apartheid, which means "separateness." Think, segregation in America. In 1989, the country was desegregated. We dealt with this in America & know that it takes a very long time to heal the wounds left from so many years of social injustice and inequality. For lack of a better term, I am going to say that South Africa is still "healing." If you are black or mixed race, you will be treated differently here. Racism is very much alive. In my hotel at breakfast, I noticed that the server was mixed, moderately talkative. The serving staff (they just refilled drinks, set down plates and removed items) were very dark skinned and they would not even make eye contact with me. I felt very uncomfortable. I asked a friend and she confirmed that white people held the good jobs, mixed skin held jobs in service where they would talk and interact with people, and blacks worked the hard jobs. This is opinion-based, but every time I have been here, I have never seen anything to disbar that idea. I still have a hole in my heart from the black taxi driver who kept trying to explain to us that "Blacks are greedy. They are not equal. They want equal rights but the whites are better." We fought with him. We cited examples, gave him scientific evidence that we are literally equal, and he would not hear it. He was raised to think that he was less than equal, and he believed it, and perpetuated it! It was... shocking. I never felt like I was in danger in South Africa, but I do worry how my friends would be treated here. I just have to say this because you need to be prepared for what you may encounter and I don't want you traveling there and getting treated like dirt because of your skin color. It's disgusting.
Okay, it's kind of hard to segue out of racial oppression, but if you stay in the tourist-friendly areas, I don't think you will have to experience any negativity first-hand. And you will never be in danger because of it, just extremely offended and uncomfortable. There are options to tour the shanty village, but we elected not to go. It does help the community living there, but we didn't have much time and we were trying to have a relaxing vacation. I feel guilty for not giving the homeless guy on the street corner both of my dollars 3 years ago, so guilt weighs very heavy on my heart and I didn't want to expose myself to the possibility of encountering people who I couldn't help, which is selfish and wrong, but it was my choice.
If you EVER get the opportunity to go to Cape Town, GO!!! There is no place like it in the world. You will have the time of your life and spend next to nothing doing it!
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