Cape Town is one of African Impact’s most popular volunteer destinations, due to a combination vulnerable communities mixed with world-class tourist attractions. It’s not surprising, therefore, that it frequently makes the lists of one of the top travel destinations in the world. Whether you’re coming to volunteer with African Impact, or are simply pit-stopping in this incredible destination before continuing your travels, here is how I would best spend a weekend in Cape Town.
Cape Town is renowned for its cuisine and, in particular, its beef, so if you like a good steak, you must head to the Butchers Shop and Grill at Mouille Point on Friday night. Here is a top-shelf restaurant situated on the ocean foreshore with world-class beef from South Africa, Australia and Argentina (don’t worry, there are some great vegetarian options available also). The prices are more than reasonable – for the food and wine alike – but don’t go too crazy on the wine as you’ve got an early start in the morning! Instead, take a walk along the foreshore and grab an ice-cream from the Creamery Café. It’s seriously good.
The Big Red Bus Tour. Okay, so I know this sounds like a very touristy thing to do, but trust me, it’s one of the best ways to see the whole city in one weekend, and will save you a ton of money on taxi rides. Do this in advance – head to the City Sightseeing website and purchase the premium two-day hop-on, hop-off bus ticket. This gets you access to all the city bus tours available over a two-day period. We are talking the double decker buses with open-top roofs, so you will have a great vantage point to take in the amazing scenery, as well as running commentary on the city’s rich history through earphones provided. The ticket costs R280 (ZAR) – around US$28 – which is excellent value for money.
With that purchased, get ready for an awesome weekend ahead!
To make the most of your day, you’re going to have to wake up fresh, early and energetic because you’ll be hiking up the iconic Table Mountain, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Pack a backpack with plenty of water and some snacks. Think bananas, energy bars or a sandwich. Throw in a warm top or jacket as it can be cold and windy at the peak. And, knowing Cape Town, the weather can turn in a heartbeat.
To reach Table Mountain, it’s time to pull out your Big Red Bus ticket. The tour buses leave from The Waterfront; the most visited tourist destination in the whole of Africa. Before you hop on the bus though, walk around and enjoy the shopping, engage with the buskers and grab some breakfast at one of the many fine eateries. It’s time to fuel up with food as you’re going to need it for the day ahead!
The buses leave from outside the Aquarium and will then take you through Cape Town’s city center, up to the Table Mountain Cableway, through to the exclusive enclave of Camps Bay and back around to the Waterfront.
So, where should you ‘hop-off’?
Table Mountain Cableway
After a short trip through the city center, you’ll arrive at the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. But don’t get excited, you’re not getting the cable car to the top. If you truly want the Table Mountain experience and feeling of achievement when you reach the peak, yep, you guessed it, you got to climb it. And I won’t lie, it’s no easy feat, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Up there, you feel like you’re on top of the world. Be sure to stop in at the café to refuel and follow the trail that leads you to some informative signs and stunning view points. An opportunity for that obligatory cover photo! If you’re feeling adventurous or after a hit of adrenalin, I highly recommend doing the abseil, a massive 112meter vertical drop down the side of the mountain.
After enjoying the sights, no one will blame you for getting the cable car back down (just be sure to have bought your ticket in advance because you can’t buy them at the top!).
Mama Africa & Long Street
For dinner, we’re going to head to Mama Africa in the Cape Town city center. If you catch the Big Red Bus from Camps Bay, you can sit on it all the way through till Long Street, where you hop off! Mama Africa is a Cape Town institution, a restaurant where you can experience some true African culture and cuisine from such varied countries as Mozambique, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to name a few. And get ready to shake your booty because at 8pm each evening a band comes out to play traditional African beats until midnight.
Once you’ve got your African groove on at Mama Africa’s, it’s time to move on to the plethora of bars close by on Long Street; Cape Town’s nightlife district. Just remember to keep your wits about you, don’t go out alone and when it’s time to leave make sure you get a registered taxi back to your accommodation.
Okay, it’s time to wake up early again and head down to the Waterfront for a tour of Robben Island, home of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell. The trips run three times a day, leaving at 9am, 11am and 1pm (we recommend going as early as possible to fit in the rest of your day’s plans!), and they book out quick (especially on weekends), so try and book your tour a week in advance. It’ll cost you R350 (ZAR). The ferry ride from the Waterfront takes around half an hour, where you will then arrive on the island and be guided around by bus, as well as tour guides who are also ex-prisoners of the island. Thus, they are well qualified to provide a wealth of knowledge of the island’s history, political prisoners and it’s use during the apartheid-era. The tour finishes up with the viewing of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell, which is a surreal experience in itself.
Mini Peninsula Tour
Once back at the Waterfront, grab yourself some nosh and then hop on to the Mini Peninsula Tour bus. This is going to take you on an extremely scenic tour around the back of Table Mountain and down the Peninsula, so make sure you grab a seat on the top deck of the bus.
Peninsula Tour Stop 1: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
First stop you’ll want to get off at is Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which are situated at the back of Table Mountain and are some of the finest gardens in the world. Entry is only R60, so it’s definitely worth a stroll to take in the beauty, but don’t spend too long as you’ve got a pretty jam-packed day ahead!
Peninsula Tour Stop 2: Constantia Wineries
When you’re done enjoying nature, hop back on the bus and your next stop will be Constantia Nek. Here, you will be switching bus tours to the Constantia Wine Bus Tour, which will take you to three of Constantia Valley’s finest wine estates. Yes, that’s right, Cape Town even has its own wine region! For a small price you can do some wine tasting at each estate (they are rather generous, so don’t say we didn’t warn you!). The bus will come back around to each winery, so there’s no rush. Relax, sip away and take in the amazing scenery of the vineyards.
Peninsula Tour Stop 3: Hout Bay
Once you’re ‘wine-ed’ out, jump back on the bus to Constantia Nek and switch back on to the Mini Peninsula Tour bus. Here, you will be taken through another picturesque valley to Hout Bay, a personal favourite of mine in Cape Town. Aside from enjoying the beach, they also have an awesome market (closes at 4pm on a Sunday) where you can find some well-priced African souvenirs, clothes and food.
Signal Hill Sunset
You can’t end a weekend in Cape Town without watching the sunset from one of Cape Town’s peaks, and the most convenient is from the banks of Signal Hill. To get there, hop back on the bus from Hout Bay and enjoy the ride along the beautiful coastline, back to the Waterfront. Now, provided you make it back by 5pm, you can hop on to the Sunset Bus Tour which takes you up to Signal Hill, one of the best vantage points to watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. I recommend having picked up a cheeky bottle of wine from Constantia beforehand to cap off your weekend, and then sit back, relax and enjoy watching the sun set over this iconic city.
So, I know we’ve covered a lot there, but even if you can only fit in half this stuff you are still sure to have one of the best weekends of your life. Whether you’re in Cape Town working on one of our several volunteer projects on offer, or just passing through, try and make the most of this incredible city because it seriously has so much to offer. I speak for myself here, but after volunteering and interning here I have truly fallen in love with the city and it has changed my life – and myself – for the better. Happy travels!