6 Hidden Gems in Cape Town the Guide Books Won’t Tell You
October 29, 2017
Ahhhhh, Cape Town what’s not to love! Recently named the most beautiful city in the world, there is no denying the visual feast that is Cape Town from its awe-inspiring mountains, vast ocean fronts, lush greenery, warm people and vibrant nightlife, the City has a lot more to offer than any red bus sightseeing tour can provide.
I spent 14 glorious days exploring Mother City, not just doing the typical tourist things but really digging underneath the city’s surface. In subsequent posts, I’ll examine what it’s like to travel to this African city as a single woman, as well as take a deeper look into the city’s current race relations only 23 years after the end of apartheid.
For now though, these are some of the discoveries I made that will help you fall in love with this city the same way I did. This is not a guide to some of the Cape Town’s most stunning sites, there is plenty of that on the Web. Instead, here are some of the best gems I discovered that most guidebooks won’t tell you about.
10 million visitors come through Cape Town’s airport every year and unlike its neighbours in Kenya or DRC, the city has not suffered through terrorist attacks or internal strife. This makes sweeping through the airport very easy. There is no long list of questions, my baggage check took just 5 minutes. Once you clear immigration, turn left and look for City Hopper, with two spots at the airport, they have licensed taxis that will drop you to your door.
Tip: I took the mini bus service, which was ten times cheaper than their private taxi service.
TAXI VS. RENTAL
I found using a private taxi service cheaper than renting a car which can cost about US $160 and upward a day. With the US/ R conversion rate this may not necessarily be a bad thing- but renting the same cab driver for my trips allowed me to relax and really see Cape Town during the long treks and sit up front with my driver and press him for all sorts of information. The city is also easily navigable. My Air BnB was an 8-minute walk from Bo-Kaap, a 20-minute walk from Long Street where tons of restaurants and clubs dot the New Orleans-like roadway.
Tip: Hire Richard, a taxi driver, whose middle name should be ‘service’ because he knew how to dole it out in significant measure. From opening the car door each time I entered to carrying around our film equipment, the best thing about this Ugandan transplant is that he was always willing to do more than what was required. His rate is US $130 for an eight-hour day. You can reach him at +27 79 307 3466.
WHERE TO STAY
This selection was the easiest for me. As an Air Bnb owner, I support other AirBnB hosts whenever I travel. Choosing this gorgeous pad in Green Point was a no-brainer. It was spacious with a balcony, close to a number of good restaurants supermarkets and cabs. Plus, I could run along the ocean and get to the tourist-packed VA Waterfront in all of 25 minutes.
Tip: Ciska, the owner, is very accommodating and in my book a 5-star Air BnB host. If visiting, make sure to ask her about the apartment’s heating panels. I was in Cape Town at the end of spring and experienced three types of weather: heavy rain, sunny skies and temperatures that sunk below 12 degrees. For the colder nights (if you are going in the winter for instance) Ciska has an easy to use heating system that I had never seen before but which was not explained in her apartment guidebook.
Do you drink coffee? If you do then you’ll be in the right city for the perfect cuppa. It’s true that more and more people are moving away from the concept of just drinking alcohol at bars and at home and are turning to coffee bars. And Cape Town is seeing a massive surge growth in the java business because of it. One account suggests the industry has grown from a mere 20 roasteries to over 100 spots in recent years.
In Cape Town, I visited the Truth Café, a steampunk-inspired artisan coffee house, voted twice as the best roastery in the world. I also checked out Bootleggers known for its ethically sourced coffee and laidback feel. Other well-known spots in the city include Mischu in Sea Point and Anthony’s Golden Cup of Coffee, which is actually one of the oldest coffee houses in Western Cape. And yes, all the coffee shops serve hot chocolate though I found only with full cream milk. If you are a vegan, you might want to try a speciality café.
Tip: Langham House Coffee is located on Long Street owned by a Dutch couple and run by a small team of the most friendly and warm South Africans you’ll find in the city. Walking by its canopied shop front, you’ll fall in love with the array of chocolate covered desserts and pastries covered under sparkling glassware enhanced with a soft, yellow light. But this spot also has seating downstairs in an intimate enclave that compliments the home good feel the owners were trying to recreate. It opens at 7:00 am and was by far my favourite coffee spot in Cape Town.
WHERE TO SHOP
Visiting local markets are an absolute must on my list of things to do when visiting a city and Cape Town has everything from farmers’ market to vintage and craft markets and a lot more stuff in between. Located just off Long Street in front of a stunning Episcopal Church, Green Market has traders from all over Africa selling wares, jewellery, clothes, art and cool craft made from all kinds of unexpected material like bottle caps.
While there may be too much sameness to some of the stalls you can’t beat the Green Market vendors for their charm and haggling chops. On a sunny day when most tourists and locals have gone to the beach, I was able to name my price for the trinkets I picked up. The Green Market is a welcome counterpoint to the VA Waterfront design market, which has a larger range of South African goods and in most cases better quality, just be prepared for the higher prices.
Tip: If you’re looking for something a bit more high-end than Green Market but not quite as bank-breaking as the VA Waterfront, head to the Old Biscuit Mill. On Saturdays, the award-winning market jumps to life. There are over 100 speciality traders from “local farmers, fine-food purveyors, organic merchants, bakers, grocers, mongers, butchers, artisanal producers and celebrated local chefs” who showcase and sell their delicious wares. Go to shop but stay for the creative, hipster vibe.
WHERE TO WINE
Yes, I know every visitor to Cape Town puts Stellenbosch on their must see list. With 148 vineyards and each one marked with amazing landscapes, wine tasting experiences, hotels, quaint shops and walking tours, this wine region has a lot of offer. But if you really want to experience something more, take a one-hour drive away from Stellenbosch to a stunning tasting experience in Solms Delta. Like most vineyards, Solms Delta sits on a large swath of land dotted with lakes and acres and acres of vines. But what makes this vineyard stand out is its pioneering efforts in equitable wine-farming in the Cape. The owner gives back 45% of its profits back to workers, mostly black South Africans and it has invested in a museum that tells the story of the coloured community in the Western Cape. Both are unheard of in Wine Country.
Tip: Ask for Martha, a woman who grew up on the farm when the dop system was still active. The dop system, part of apartheid, paid workers as young as six years old not in wages, but in wine and was responsible for systemic alcoholism among the Cape’s black and coloured communities. Martha’s recollection and stories are well known for their realness and authenticity.