Use Cape Town as your launching point to explore the base of South Africa. There is much for families to do and see both within the city and its surrounding areas.
When people think of visiting South Africa, safaris come to mind. However, the city of Cape Town is well worth being included on your itinerary. In addition to an exciting urban experience, there are numerous opportunities for day trips from the city.
Cape Town (also known as the Mother City) is the legislative capital of South Africa, located at the base of the country in the Western Cape. For an overview of the city, take a cable car to the top of Table Mountain. More adventurous folks can climb up for their panoramic view.
Once down from the mountain, your visit should include the Government Avenue area to see the Houses of Parliament, Company Gardens and the Great Synagogue. You could spend at least a day at Victoria and Alfred Waterfront (27 21 408-7600), which is full of shops, clubs, eateries and the five-star Table Bay Hotel (866/435-9277). A stroll on the streets of Cape Malay provides a site for sore eyes: the residents, whose ancestors hail from Malaysia, have painted their homes with every color of the rainbow.
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is also home to the Two Oceans Aquarium (27 21 418-3823), which claims to be “Fresher Than Sushi.” Its over 50 exhibits include a predator tank with sharks, a kelp forest, the typical touch pool, and an interactive microscope display.
The South African Maritime Museum (27/21-405-2880) on the waterfront provides nautical buffs with historical information and artifacts about whaling, shipwrecks, and other aspects of maritime life near the Cape of Good Hope. The more general South African Museum (27 21 481-3800) shows off the country’s natural and social history, with everything from a large collection of giant squid to ceramics, furniture, toys, and weapons. The Planetarium is housed there as well.
Cape Town’s Waterfront & Townships
From Cape Town’s waterfront, you take a ferry 12 kilometers offshore for a tour of Robben Island (27 21 409-5100). I feel that because of the subject matter, this tour is not suitable for younger children, so this is more of an adult and teen excursion. Robben Island was a place of banishment for over 400 years. Its most famous resident was Nelson Mandela, who was held there during the apartheid era. It is gut-wrenching to see the abysmal way in which this man lived for over two decades. The fact that Mandela was still sane at the time of his release made me scratch my head. The tour is conducted by former political prisoners and includes a viewing of the beloved former president’s cell.
Visitors to Cape Town are encouraged to take a trip to the Townships. This tour will be an eye-opener for North American families who by and large have so much more. First, you might go to a visitor’s center to see the arts and crafts produced by the locals, and then you’ll step into the world of the poor and the very poor. Local residents will invite you into their homes; some, owned by the lucky educated ones who stayed in the community, are actually nice, but most homes are only shacks without electricity. So unreal–but unfortunately, it is very real. Amongst all this poverty are children, and believe it or not, they had smiles on their faces and just wanted to hold a foreigner’s hand.
Companies such as African Insight (27 21 426-5359) and Zikho Tours (27 82 687-0409) offer specialized cultural tours, including excursions to the Townships.
Other day trips from Cape Town include a visit to Hout Bay, once a fishing village, now a residential area in stark economic contrast to the Townships. Chapman’s Peak and sandy beaches make for stunning natural scenery in the area. From Hout Bay, you can take a cruise to Seal Island. Make sure to have plenty of film on hand–the seals are there in droves, and you might see a dolphin or two as well.
The 40-kilometer coastline of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve leads to Cape Point, where you can take The Flying Dutchman Funicular high to the top of the cliffs for the best view. Also at Cape Point, you can see old and new lighthouses, check the over 1,000 species species of indigenous plants and, from June to November, even do some land-based whale-watching.
On your way back to Cape Town, check out the adorable Jackass Penguins at Boulders Beach.
South African Airlines flies from New York to Johannesburg with frequent domestic connections to Cape Town.
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