Ten amazing nights in Cape Town
South Africa and Cape Town had long been on mine and my wife Laura’s list of places to visit. We were torn when booking the trip whether to do the ‘Garden Route,’ just visit Cape Town or do Cape Town and Kruger National Park. In the end, partially because we were also spending three nights in Dubai and partially because of how much there was to do, we decided on ten nights in Cape Town. We had an unbelievable time and whilst we did lots, there is still plenty we would still love to do. This blog post is an account of our time and will hopefully give you a feel of why this wonderful city is so special and worth visiting.
Dubai to Cape Town – Wednesday
Travelling from Dubai, we arrived in Cape Town at about 6.15pm. We whizzed through passport control and picked up our bags in no time. We were then quickly exposed to ‘African time’ as the bus picking is up was no where to be seen and ended up an hour late picking us up. Not to worry, we had arrived in South Africa and were ready to get settled.
A 25 minute drive took us to the BIG Backpackers hostel in Green Point. The hostess Milou greeted us with a warm welcome on arrival and downloaded a bucket load of information on us. We couldn’t take it all in but most importantly she made it clear she was happy to help.
With that she suggested a great restaurant down the road called Mano’s for our first meal out. We both ordered pasta dishes which were very good and plentiful. But the best thing about he restaurant was the atmosphere. It was loud, lively, friendly and we felt comfortable immediately. A great way to start our ten days in Cape Town.
Walking tour and Korean Braai – Thursday
After grabbing a quick breakfast at the hostel we headed out to V&A Waterfront to find a bar and plan our day. The waterfront has a fab vibe, an abundance of eateries with spectacular views of Table Mountain. We chose Ferrymans for our morning drink as it looked more of a pub than restaurant compared to other places.
We flicked through our leaflets and after a couple of pints decided on the free walking tour of Bo’Kaap. This trip was always on the agenda as we enjoyed the free alternative walking tour in Berlin so much.
We made our way up to the meeting point at Greenmarket Square passing plenty of dodgy characters on the way. The public safety officers on every robot (traffic light) warned us to stick to the main roads and keep our wits about us. This made the simple trip a little more unnerving than necessary.
The tour started 2pm at Baran’s restaurant. As we were early it would have been rude not to have a drink, and as there was a water shortage in South Africa we did the dutiful thing and had another beer! #savingwater
I won’t wax lyrical about the tour, but the guide (Geovanni) was excellent, informative and chilled. The tour included colourful houses, old mosques, Muslim culture and storytelling.
One thing of note was the stop for koesisters donut. A Cape Malay speciality that is basically a donut spiced with ginger, naartjie peel, cinnamon and aniseed. It is cooked in syrup and sprinkled with coconut. Don’t be shy and get yourself one!
The tour ended at Bree Street. He recommended a few bars, including Love Thy Neighbour. It was right next to where we stopped and we were reliably informed it was a ‘German beer garden style bar for a lekker time’. We went for a pit stop and the toilets were clean (Laura said this is important). A quick pint each and a laugh at my burnt red face then we headed back to the hostel to prepare for the group Korean BBQ.
The hostel had booked a table Galbi a Korean Braai (BBQ) place off Long Street. One of the great things about booking with a hostel like this is they take you places you wouldn’t dream of going alone. The restaurant was hidden down a back alley that we wouldn’t have looked twice at. But inside it was well decked out and each table had its own BBQ cooking station. We had a laugh with some of multinational Backpackers staying with us and had an amazing meal.
We decided to be super adventurous and try the ‘Safari Set’ which included zebra, ostrich, warthog and kudu along with some mouthwatering sides. Much to our surprise all four meats were tasty, tender and beautifully seasoned. The big sell here though was the social aspect of cooking your own food with friends – new and old. Great spot. If in Cape Town give it a try.
After dinner we went across to the Beerhouse. We had the first world problem of trying to choose between the 99 beers! It’s a decent and lively bar with plenty of craft and standard beers to choose from.
Hiking Table mountain and evening at V&A Waterfront – Friday
Table mountain is the stunning landmark that provides the backdrop to the entire city of Cape Town, along with Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head. It is 1085m at its highest and the flat top makes it unique. We arrived at the starting point of our hike (near the cable car station) at 11am. It was busy at the bottom but the cable cars weren’t running due to the wind so I would imagine it gets a whole lot busier.
We chose the ‘easy’ route, but the word ‘easy’ is far from the truth about ascending this Platteklip Gorge trail in 60km/h winds. My Fitbit went off the scale registering 300 flights of stairs which was a new record! Woop woop. Anyway the hike is tough going with some steep climbs and we earned the spectacular views from the top.
In terms of the views, they really are something to behold. Panoramic views of Cape Town and the bay are amazing. And I stopped for photos every time I got the chance. Luckily with Laura’s ‘slowly slowly catch the monkey’ approach I had plenty opportunities!
The wind was howling at the top. The hot, sweaty climb was quickly forgot about as a chilly wind blasted across the flat top of Table Mountain. Unfortunately, this did make it difficult to take good photos of the sensational views. It felt like I was going to blow off the top, never mind my phone.
It took us about two and a half hours to get to the summit and about an hour and half to get back down.
Laura was drained when we were done. Her skinny little legs had given up. She swore categorically that she would never do it again. As her achy body struggled towards the Uber pickup point I decided now wasn’t a great time to remind her we were surfing the next morning.
We decided to head to Ferrymans for a drink and snack as we hadn’t eaten lunch. It’s a nice easy place to go for a drink on the V&A Waterfront. A lot of the places feel like you would have to order food, but this place had a more relaxed vibe.
We whizzed back to the hostel, got ourselves sorted for the evening then head back to V&A for some chow at Meloncini. Meloncini is a modern Italian restaurant on the waterfront at Victoria Wharf. It is a big restaurant jam packed with locals and tourists alike. The staff were running around tirelessly trying to keep up with the excessive number of groups of ten or more. From what we have seen of Cape Town it appears South Africans only ever seem to dine in large groups!
They had an extensive and award winning wine list, but we were thirsty after Table Mountain hike so settled on lager. Pizza and pasta maybe pretty simple, but the food was really good. The main note from this place was the sheer volume of the patrons. As mentioned it was packed with large groups and I have never known a restaurant to be so loud!
As we were up early the next morning, we decided to finish up with a couple of drinks at Mitchells Scottish waterfront bar. This is next to Ferryman’s and another ‘proper’ bar.
Surf’s up dude – Saturday
Saturday morning we went surfing for the first time. We had a two hour lesson with the Stoked School of Surf. Our lesson was at Muizenberg beach about half an hour from Cape Town.
The whole experience was fantastic, from being picked up by Alexi and Dave in the party bus to getting up on the board for the first time and surfing back to shore. We both managed to get up and surf during the lesson and it felt great.
Laura asked me to mention that she was the first to stand up for a long period. But I will counter that by also saying that once she got up a few times and was happy her picture had been snapped she gave up. Her spindly little arms were knackered and couldn’t push her up any more! She swore categorically that she would get fit before the next time we had a surf lesson.
For anyone that hasn’t tried it, I would absolutely recommend surfing. You can find my more detailed account of our first surfing experience here.
Food! After two days of physical activity we were starving. So we headed out round the corner to Hudson’s burger joint. We had passed it a few times and it was always busy and bustling. Jayde that served us was full on, in your face lively, excitable and friendly. I ordered the East Village Selection sliders, a trio of miniature burgers and Laura had the Ranch, a peri peri chicken burger.
The spicy Wiseguy burger blew my freak’n head off! Either the fresh chilli or the Jalapeño’s were on another scale! The food was delicious though! Lekker!
A couple of hours back by the pool at the hostel, then out for the Saturday evening’s entertainment.
Our big night out with the multi-national gang from the hostel started with a meal at Odyssey on Bree Street. The food was pretty good but we weren’t that hungry after eating lunch late. Kwong, one of the lads from the hostel kept us entertained with his many tales from around the world. It was amazing to hear the amount of travelling all these young people had done and the exotic locations they had visited.
With our stomachs suitably lined we hit the town. Starting with The Gin and Tonic bar off Bree Street. It’s a trendy hipster vibe place that is difficult to find because it is hidden within the Honest Chocolate Cafe. The gins are plentiful, the staff knowledgable and we drank our GnTs in an open air room.
From there we hit Long Street. This is the main rowdy drinking area in Cape Town. It is lively, vibrant and full life. The bars are good and atmosphere is just what a Saturday night demands. We drank and danced the night away at The Waiting Room, Cappello and the Beer House. We did plan on going to The Dubliners until a lovely German girl with us called Katherin pointed out there was only two old men in there – which wasn’t the happening vibe we were looking for.
V&A Waterfront and Camps Bay – Sunday
Knowing Saturday would be a late one we purposely kept Sunday as a free day. We got up too late for breakfast at the hostel so walked down to V&A.
We had the healthy breakfast of waffles and apple tart with ice cream at Belgian restaurant Den Anker. They were delicious. We ate outside watching the harbour as boats came and went. We also ordered tea with the treats but they served us Rooibos tea rather than good old fashioned English breakfast. It was awful. What is the world coming to when you order a cup of tea and they don’t default to traditional English tea!!! We devoured our sweet treats but left the ‘tea.’
We spent what was left of the morning mooching around V&A Waterfront shops. When Laura started to get a little too drawn towards the sparkling blue tanzanite rings with equally sparkling prices we decided we best leave! We went for a drink on the terrace at the elegant Harbour House looking out onto the harbour.
We then got an Uber to Camps Bay to get dinner and spend some time on the beach. When we got there the wind was howling and the beach was empty. This made the place all the more beautiful and picturesque.
We walked up and down the promenade and settled on eating back where we started at La Prarada. We sat on high bar stools overlooking the beach. It was our dream scenario drinking a good glass of Sauvignon Blanc, eating tapas and looking out on a stunning beach.
I would highly recommend making the trip to Camps Bay and stopping at this gem of a restaurant. You will pay a little more than in the city centre, but the attentive staff and amazing views make it well worth it. Plus 400 rand (£22) for four large tapas, four glasses of wine and a water still isn’t a lot in the scheme of things!
We then went down to Camps Bay beach for all of about five minutes. We had the beach to ourselves and soon realised why as the sand started sand blasting our faces and body due to the powerful winds. I wanted some decent pictures of the beach and the Twelve Apostles – mountains that added impact to the scenery. So I told Laura that people would pay good money to get this sand blast treatment on their skin. I’m not sure such a thing really exists so I’ll have to google later.
After snapping a few shots we wrestled our way back through the wind up to the promenade.
We stopped at Sunset Sessions for a couple beers. A trendy bar with a mix of low stools and standard tables. Perfect for sipping few beers as the sun shines on the fabulous view.
Our final stop at Camps Bay was Mynt Cafe. The last restaurant/bar on the north side of the promenade. Laura ordered a brandy based cocktail called Candy Apple. As I couldn’t decide what cocktail I wanted I settled on a beer! Laura’s Candy Apple cocktail was sumptuous. It tasted like a Granny Smith apple in a glass. Refreshing and just the trick in the South African sun.
For dinner a group of us from BIG Backpackers went to an African restaurant called Arnold’s. It was unbelievably cheap and had an extensive menu to choose from. It is definitely the first time I have ever asked for a ‘North African chicken curry and a ‘crocodile on the side please.’ The flavours were amazing! Just short of a week to the date we were in the 5 star Armani hotel eating a lovely curry for a heavy price tag. Both my north African and crocodile curry were just as good. It was incredible. The spices and flavours burst in your mouth. I was dubious about the crocodile meat, thinking it would be tough, but it was like perfectly cooked chicken! My entire meal was about the same price as a McDonald’s in the UK. And you can’t get McCrocodile nuggets with your Happy Meal!
Robben Island and sunset hike up Lion’s Head – Monday
After breakfast at the hostel we said our goodbyes to Katherin who was off paragliding then home (make sure you read that sentence properly, she wasn’t paragliding home). She was a fun loving, easy going girl with a warm personality and great company. She had also travelled around the world plenty for someone so young.
We drifted down to V&A Waterfront to chill out until our Robben Island trip at 12.30. The Robben Island tour involved a return boat trip across Table Bay, a tour of the infamous maximum security prison guided by an ex-political prisoner and a 45 minute bus ride with commentary.
The queue for the boat was big and unfortunately we ended up having to sit inside on the lower deck. The 30 minute boat trip started with a strange safety guide with a local advising us how to put on a life jacket in a manner that gave us the distinct impression the boat was going to sink!
On arrival at Robben Island we got on a jam packed bus. The bus tour focused on history of the island and the imprisonment between 1960 to 1991. It was not all about Nelson Mandela, he was one of many political prisoners including Robert Sobukwe. If you are wondering who he is, so was I. But if you are interested in the history of Nelson Mandela and the apartheid then google him.
The bus tour around the island was informative but the bus was hot and stuffy and it wasn’t easy to see much. I’m not sure how far we travelled but I think a walking tour or at least getting off the bus at each stop would have hugely improved the experience.
There are 150 people still living on the island. Former political prisoners, lighthouse owner and service providers. Apparently if you fancy joining them it is only 950 rand for a three bed detached! That’s £50! That is what the guide told us anyway.
The next part of the trip saw us taken through the prison by one of the former political prisoners. He had been imprisoned for 7 years and was released in 1991. He was captivating with emotional stories of his own experience mixed with deep history and sad accounts of the harsh treatment of himself and others. He also showed us Nelson Mandela’s cell. The tour was quite long and our guide had a pretty strong accent so we had to really concentrate to keep up.
We were back on the boat and heading to Cape Town at 4.30pm. The tour was interesting but not as good as the Alcatraz tour in San Francisco. If you are in Cape Town as long as we were, or if you have a real interest in the history, it is definitely worth going, but I spotted a lot of sleepyheads on the way back.
We got back just in time to change into some trainers, meet the backpacker gang and catch an Uber to Lion’s Head parking lot. We got there about 6.30pm and it was still scorching hot. The hike up was fairly easy in the main but it was hot and Laura was flagging as her legs were still aching from Table Mountain and surfing.
When we got about ten minutes from the top the simple hike up a track turned into a more challenging trail with the occasional climb. Mrs. Sensible chickened out because she felt the narrow tracks and climbs were treacherous enough in the light, so didn’t want to have to tackle climbing down in the dark after sunset.
So we slowly made our way back down. Even from where we were the views of the sun setting over Camps Bay were stunning. Looking down on Cape Town with the mountains on one side and Atlantic Ocean on the other is something special. The locals are blessed to live in this gem of a city.
We finished the evening back at Hudson’s Burger Joint with a pizza, chicken taco and couple of beers before heading back for an early night. We were drained and had an early start ahead of us for a Stellenbosch wine tour!
Stellenbosch wine tour – Tuesday
On Tuesday whilst our friends at home were busy working 9 to 5, our 9am to 5pm involved visiting five wineries in one of South Africa’s most famous wine region – Stellenbosch. You can read all about this fantastic Stellenbosch wine tasting experience here.
In summary we visited five beautiful wine estates, drank 25 different wines, paired them with chocolate (yes chocolate), cheese and ate a Braai (BBQ). The setting for each wine tasting was different and impressive. The wines tasted delicious. The company was great. And I would highly recommend the tour. Again, click here for more about our Stellenbosch wine tasting experience.
For the evening we went as a big group of seventeen to Jerry’s Burger Bar on Park Road. As soon as I got there I realised I didn’t have my phone. I hoped I’d left it in the room but felt it was more likely that it dropped out of my pocket in the Uber! Having taken over 1200 photos and written most of my blog I was gutted. But there wasn’t much I could do, so tried to forget about it and enjoy my night.
Luckily having already drunk 26 wines (there was a bonus one on the tour), I found enjoying the night easier than you would think. We were sat with Kwong, Kevin an Irish lad from very near where I was born, a German lad called Nicholas and a South African, Kayleigh. We had an amazing night laughing at each other’s tales and the idea of Kwong in a ginger wig.
The burgers were superb and mine came with the ‘toppings’ encased into the middle of the burger.
From there we went for a couple at Once, a bar and hostel on Kloof Street. It is a pretty happening and busy place but did take a while to get drinks sorted. That said there was a lot of us.
Back to the hostel and I realised my phone had been lost! Devastated. We tried ringing the Uber driver but no luck. Suffice to say I had a restless night thinking about it.
Phone hunt and lazy day around pool – Wednesday
Wednesday started with trip back to Jerry’s to see if my phone had miraculously been handed in. No luck.
So we walked to Green Market square to look at the market for a bit. It’s a vibrant atmosphere at Green Market Square and can be a little intimidating. Most the the stalls sold African trinkets and we left empty handed.
Then we rang the Uber driver again to check if he had my phone. Unbelievably he had found my phone and offered to bring it to the hostel. I eventually got it about 1pm and couldn’t have been happier!
We stayed local for lunch and got a couple of chicken burgers at South African chain franchise Rocomama’s. The food was good and the ordering concept was a bit quirky. It took the waiter about five minutes to talk us through it.
Back to the pool for a bit before heading out for tea at Karibu South African restaurant on the Waterfront. Laura had a very nice masala chicken salad. I decided to be risky and get a Karoo Lamb Bredie, even though I’m not a big fan of lamb. It is a lamb stew and whilst tasty was a bit too rich and the lamb had far too much fat on for me – which is the exact reason I don’t eat lamb. It was a bit disappointing but more a result of my choice of meal than the quality of the food I think.
We ended the night back at Ferryman’s where a live two piece band kept us entertained with classic pop and rock ballads as the cold evening wind blew in from the Atlantic.
Aquila game reserve safari and spa – Thursday
We had pre-booked a night at Aquila Game Reserve and set off early Thursday morning. It is a large game reserve about 2/3 hours from Cape Town and we got there about midday. You can read about our evening safari, the amazing facilities and our stay at Aquila here.
Another safari and last evening in Cape Town, Friday
After an early morning safari we spent the rest of the morning chilled out by Aquila’s fantastic swimming pool. We got picked up at midday and brought back to the the hostel.
The bus trip back took longer than expected due to traffic so we said bye to a couple of people leaving the hostel that night then got ourselves packed up ready for the next day’s long trip home.
For our final meal in Cape Town we took an Uber down to V&A Waterfront and headed to Balducci. It is known for good quality, simple and fresh food. It was Friday night so we were hoping we could get in without making a reservation. Luckily the lady at front of house shifted a few things round and created a table for us.
The restaurant was stylish and classily decorated inside. We ordered a garlic bread, pizza and penne arrabbiata. The food was excellent although the mains came a little too quickly! In fact before we had even finished the starter. The pizza was about as good as I have had. We were stuffed after dinner so went for a walk around the shopping mall floor that the restaurant was on. There looked to be quite a few posh looking eateries around and lots of high end shops.
A final few drinks at Mitchell’s then back to the hostel to finish packing.
Epic journey home – Saturday
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. So Saturday we checked out, said goodbye to the fantastic BIG Backpackers hostel and made the 24 hour journey home to Chorley via Dubai and Manchester.
Tips, information and final words
BIG Backpackers hostel
I could not overstate the quality of this place. Friendly and natural Five star service that beats anything you will get at a posh hotel. Milou, Daph, Tyler, Robyn and all the other staff bent over backwards to help make our trip the best it could possibly be. From talking through and arranging the various trips for us, to advising on places to eat and even providing us with a SIM card and setting up Uber and Taxify on our phones. This is a gem of a place run perfectly by fantastic staff.
This was our first experience at a hostel as a couple and it couldn’t have been better. We had booked a private room so that element was no different to staying in a hotel. The room was modern, comfortable and very clean. The big bonus of staying in a hostel, or at least this hostel, was the added social element. It really enhanced our trip. The evenings out kept us lively and entertained and the tales of what people had done and were going to do inspired us.
I could not speak highly enough of BIG Backpackers in Greenpoint. If you are planning a visit to Cape Town this is the perfect place to lodge.
Uber and Taxify
We had never used either of these services before, but on the advice of the hostel downloaded both apps. In Cape Town they were always minutes away from our pick up destination and the prices were scarily cheap. A 25 minute ride to table mountain costing less than £4, most of our trips cost between £1 and £2!! Use them for all your trips including your airport transfer if possible (about £9).
Costs in Cape Town
As mentioned above, the Uber prices are ridiculously cheap. But in reality so is pretty much everything else. We spent less than £400 each over ten nights in Cape Town. This included all our trips, drinks, eating lunch and dinner out every day and tips. The only exclusion was Aquila game reserve which we had paid for in advance.
A beer tended to be 30 to 40 rand – £1.60 to £2.20.
You could easily get a meal for two and a couple of drinks each for 300 to 500 rand – £16 to £27.
Alcohol in the ‘Bottle stores’ was dirt cheap – we paid £6 for a 70cl bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum.
Trips also seemed cheaper from the hostel than we had seen online.
Be careful in the Cape Town sun
The wind keeps temperatures at pleasant level and it is easy to get burnt. I completely forgot to put sunscreen on the first day walking around and my neck and arms were glowing red!
Wardrobe – Bring a hoody/jumper for the cool Cape Town evenings
The evenings can get pretty cold, particularly on a windy night. So even in the summer season it is worth throwing something warm in the suitcase.
Also it is worth noting that it is quite a causal and relaxed place in relation to clothing. So you don’t have to worry too much about bringing your glad rags with you.
Final words on Cape Town
We loved Cape Town. Hopefully this blog will have given you a good insight, but my advice would be go and find out what Cape Town is all about yourself!Tags: adventure, Aquila Game reserve, beach, Cape Town, culture, experience, holiday, Stellenbosch, travel, travelblog