If you're traveling to Cape Town for the World Cup, you may very well be inspired to wander further afield by the mesmerizing views of nearby Table Mountain. Here's how to maximize your trip.
1. Cape Town weather changes in a blink of an eye, so make sure your plans are flexible. If Table Mountain is on your must see list, make a beeline for the mountain on your first sunny morning; those with limited time should take the tram (aka Table Mountain Ariel Cableway) to the top of the mountain and allow an hour to walk around the top. If you have more time and want to climb or hike to the top, ask locals for advice on the best routes. Another tip: reserve tickets ahead of time so you won't have to wait in line.
2. Don't let bad weather spoil your trip. There are numerous options to fill your day. If shopping's your thing, head to the V&A Waterfront. There are hundreds of shops, restaurants, bars, and a few movie theaters to occupy your time. The V&A Craft Market, right next to the Two Oceans Aquarium, is a great place to find unique gifts and souvenirs. Plan to spend a few hours poking through the stalls that feature locally made jewelry, rugs, glass, pottery, and leather sandals. If you're looking for something more genteel, try high tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel, the grand dame of Cape Town. The lavish afternoon tea is served daily from 2:30 to 5:30 and costs R150. You'll dine on finger sandwiches and every sweet imaginable.
3. Kids won't be bored. Two Oceans Aquarium is considered to be one of the best in the world and it's hands-on. Don't miss the feeding time at the predator tank every day at 3 pm. The South African Museum has Shark World and a planetarium that has children specific shows throughout the week.
4. Don't miss the penguins. It's not every day that you get the chance to see penguins up close and in their natural habitat. Boulders Beach, just outside of Simon's Town—part of Table Mountain National Park, is home to African penguins, the species that call this area home. You'll see penguins everywhere as you walk along the boardwalk that takes you through the park. One penguin is cuter then the next and even the hardest hearts will melt when a baby is spotted.
5. The Winelands can't be missed. While you may think you can pass up a visit to South Africa's wine country because you've been to Napa, think again. Just 45 minutes east of Cape Town, the region is home to some of the country's best restaurants and hotels, and of course, wine. There are three major areas that fan out around the historic towns of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Paarl. We suggest picking an area to explore and planning two full days to do so, making sure to spend a few hours in the towns themselves. Make sure you designate a driver. Tastings will run you about R10 to R30 for four or five glasses, which is no more then $5, depending on the exchange rate—oenophiles will think they've died and gone to wine heaven. Don't be surprised if you buy a few bottles at each stop. Oh, and be sure to try Pinotage. It's the only truly South African varietal.
6. Don't plan on carrying your wine home with you. Travelers to the states can only bring two bottles on board. Any more will have to be shipped home—each person is allowed two cases—and could run you shipping charges of R1,500 per case. A cheaper and less stressful option is asking wineries for a list of their US based distributors. The Vineyard Connection is just one of the agents that can help you find your wine stateside.
7. Cape Town is the culinary capital of South Africa. Along with French and Italian food, you'll find a wide variety of Asian and Middle Eastern spots, as well as sushi and South African eateries. You may come across foods you've never encountered before, so be a little adventurous. If you're a meat lover, you're in for a real treat. A new carnivore world awaits you—warthog, springbok, impala, kudu, and wildebeest. Don't worry, these game meats are grown on farms, not hunted in the parks you've just visited.
8. Pack good walking shoes and a light weight, waterproof jacket. You'll cover a lot of ground if you plan to walk up Table Mountain or do any hiking. You'll also do a ton of walking if you plan to see the city waterfront by foot. And, as Cape Town's weather can be unpredictable, you never know when a rain storm may come and go.
9. Always ask your hotel to call you a cab. Hotels make it their business to establish relationships with cab companies. This relationship ensures you a reputable company with a driver you can trust, meaning you won't get the tourist rates or routes. Be sure to get your driver's business card (most have one) so that you can have your restaurant or bar call them when you're ready to return to the hotel.
10. Call ahead for tickets to Robben Island. During peak season (December and January), it's a good idea to reserve your tickets at least three weeks in advance. Be sure to reconfirm your order before you arrive for your time slot. Boats leave on the hour (every other hour in winter) and crossing takes 30 minutes. Bring a hat and sunglasses during the summer.
11. Unique souvenir and gift options abound. A few of our favorites include the beaded animals and baskets you'll see just about everywhere. They may not be unique in South Africa, but they will be a hit back home. Elephant hair bracelets are another unusual treasure. Made from single strands of elephant tail hair (don't worry, no elephants are harmed in the making of the bracelets), these beautiful bracelets range from R100 to R800; the more expensive has sterling silver. Foodies might enjoy biltong. Very similar to beef jerky, this protein packed, low calorie snack is loved by South Africans and found everywhere from roadside stands and gas station store to high end groceries. We like kudu.
Photo credit: istock / Ken Sorrie