Cape Town is pretty incredible. First off, it’s stunning. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean, several bays, and the backdrop of Table Mountain, it’s pretty hard to beat for picturesque beauty. Considering the city’s proximity to Wine Country, beaches and National Parks, not to mention near-perfect year-round weather, a great food scene, awesome music, and more culture than you can handle (this is Africa after all), it’s no wonder that it has topped the list two years running for Best City for Tourists.
So, what to do, what to do. Schneids and I like the outdoors so we were quick to climb Table Mountain and were woefully underprepared, lacking ample food and water. (We actually were taking timed swigs every 10 minutes to conserve.) It’s great at the top, no doubt, but if time is tight in town, save your hiking legs for nearby Lion’s Head. It’s far less strenuous, more fun, and the 360-degree panam views are absolutely ridiculous. City to beach, Table Mountain to the Twelve Apostles coastal range, you can see it all. Time your summit with sunset, pack some wine and a flashlight and you’re in for a treat.
Long Street is the tourist hub of Cape Town and you’ll become a part of the scene whether you like it or not, and trust me, you’re gonna like it. Whether it’s a well-timed happy hour cocktail with new friends at Neighborhood Pub or just strolling around from café to café and trinket shopping at Green Square Market on a lazy afternoon, the people watching is amazing and the vibe is just right. But please, do not leave Cape Town without making reservations at Mama Africa. The food is good (though slightly overpriced) but that’s not why you’re going. The music is key. A live band starts at 7 every night and plays for 3 hours+ and it seriously gets everyone up dancing and involved. I was even playing the cow bell, boogeying around in the aptly-formed conga line, curing all fevers in the vicinity. You will too. Don’t miss it.
Spend a little more and go Shark Cage Diving with White Shark Projects. Seriously, there is no where else in the world with a greater population of Great White Sharks and you’d think the prices would be astronomical like they are in San Francisco ($775.) Well, they’re not, it’s only $130 for more-or-less a full day including breakfast, lunch and transport. Plus, unlike SF, they chum so your chances are much much higher to see the sharks. If that’s not enough, the above video should definitely do the trick.
For a chill, ultra-cheap night, head to one of the two Labia (yep) theatres, one on Orange and one on the 2nd level of a mall on Kloof and Park. Every night of the week they run a “dinner and movie for two” special and it won’t cost more than $10 USD for the whole package. Plus, they show the award winners and only the good ones.
Rent a car and circle the Cape of Good Hope, finishing the drive with the western coast. The drive is “quintessential South Africa” with gorgeous rocky outcroppings, lovely views of ocean-side towns and windy roads to appeal to your inner-Vettel. Plus after a short climb at the actual Cape of Good Hope, you can act like famed Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias and pretend it’s 1488 all over again, the time of Western discovery of the Cape. Enjoy the view and lunch in Hout’s Bay on the way home on Bream ‘n Chips.
And if that’s not enough to suit your taste, hop on the bus east toward Stellenbosch, the center of all things wine in South Africa, er, make that all of Africa. Perfect temps, good soil, and more oft than not, a jolly (read drunk) old Afrikaaner to keep your day going strong. When you get into the quaint town, opt for the Easy Rider wine tour found at the Stumble Inn (no pun intended I think.) Four stops, a tour, champagne, lunch and a cheesery tour free-for-all, plus a quirky designated driver and the value is there. It’s a bit pricey at $60 but even us budget travelers couldn’t have done it for less and in reality, how expensive is a DUI or worse? Hop on the bus, Gus!
On your Way to Namibia
Your first stop on the way north to Namibia is the Cederberg Mountain Range in South Africa. Stay at Gecko Creek and depending on your budget, go big with their deluxe rooms or go budge with your tent. Mid-range ($24/night/ppn) are their safari tents with two beds. The surroundings are incredible, and the sundowners just taste better in their deluxe Lapa filled with reclining bean bags and a cozy fire under the stars. Plus this is your hub for an awesome waterfall hike in nearby Algeria and a pitstop at the Cederberg Winery (highest elevation winery in Africa) for a tasting on your way home.
Heading to the North Country
Namibia, that is. 2 Million people in a space over half the size of Alaska mixed with extreme desert surroundings and you can imagine what you’re in for. Total isolation and some of the best starry skies known to man. Literally, in one day of driving you will encounter no one else and quite possibly not another living thing besides the bush on the side of the road. Pack a gas can and lots of extra water. With all of this in mind, Namibia really is a special place and on the completely unbeaten track.
First stop is Ai-Ais at the southern tip of Fish River Canyon for a dip in the hot springs. After all, driving is hard work on the ol’ bones. If you’ve timed it right (not in summer) and have the time, you can take 5 days to hike the entire Fish River Canyon, best route being north starting in Hobas, and south to Ai-Ais to finish in the Hot Springs. It just works. Sounded good to us but we arrived in the heart of summer and opted to take it easy. Plus, just looking down into the canyon and enjoying the speedy birds riding the thermals, or if you’re lucky, the Fish River Eagle, is enough to peak your smile.
The ultimate do-not-miss of Namibia is Sossusvlei, the quintessential red dunes of your dreams. Having some of the highest sand dunes in the world, the Sossusvlei area is surely enough to take your breath away. Your activities are based around Sesreim, a quant little area with cheap lodging and ice cold beers, the perfect combo for any desert exploration. Most visitors make a mad dash for Dune 45 before sunrise to make the daunting climb and enjoy the sun’s effects on the iron-rich sand surrounding you for as far as the eye can see. It’s simply amazing and a true one-of-a-kind experience. Afterward, you can carry on (4×4 only, so make friends if you’re not driving one yourself) to Sossusvlei dune and Deadvlei, a 1km hike to an ancient salt pan with trees– dead ones of course.
Swakopmund, aka Little Germany, is a worthwhile stop if you like beer and brats, and really, who doesn’t? Since Namibia was once a German colony, Swakop was its seaside hub and the charm has lasted for centuries. Now the adventure captial of Namibia, you can get gnarly in any adventure you can dream of, but we found the dune quadding to be incredible. If whipping around gorgeous sand dunes with some buddies isn’t your idea of fun, then stop reading here and book the next flight to Orlando. Walt is waiting. The dune quadding is a free-for-all, no rules kind of adventure, from launching over lips to white-knuckling down 22-degree pitches, the two-hours feels like forever and the ice-cold (notice a trend in the desert?) Windhoek Beers that follow are some of the best you’ve ever had.
And of course, Etosha National Park. Hands down the biggest reason tourists come to Namibia in the first place. This is some of Africa’s premier safari action and for good reason. It has one of, if not the highest population of Black Rhino in Africa, and any safari-goer knows how hard they are to spot. We saw two in one day in areas separated by 200km! The waterholes here are well lit at night, perfect for a dessert and yep, ice cold beers, to end your day. A word of caution though: Jackals roam the camps freely and will eat your shoes. Pack ‘em and save ‘em for the next morning’s game drive. Lions and Elephants like covered feet!
On our end, a load of gratitude goes out to the Shearer family and Ollie “Roger the First Mate” and “Sue Sea Q” of Bolttin Hardcore fame. First-off, we were spoiled rotten with 5-star beach front accomodation courtesy of the Shearer’s, not to mention being immediately brought into the family as honorary members, hence the new surname, “van den Shearer.” And Ollie, really, truly just knows how to make every situation better with great humor and better stories. Plus, with enough thoughtfullness and generosity to still bring tears to our eyes months later, he styled us out with a “South African Starter Kit,” the essentials needed for any road trip through Southern Africa, complete with Bovril, Braai starters, wine glasses, enamel cookware, maps, and so so so much more. As always, we are forever grateful to our hosts and friends for their hospitality while we are away from home. To a traveler, it means more than you can ever know. Thank you.