When to Go
Whatever activities you hope to accomplish in Cape Town, head up Table Mountain as soon as the wind isn't blowing. Cape Town wind is notorious, and the mountain can be shut for days on end when there are gales. Summer (October–March) is the windiest time of the year, and from December to April winds can reach 60 km (37 miles) an hour. But they will often happen in the winter months, too—just less frequently. If you're planning to visit Robben Island during peak season, it's also wise to book well in advance. One of the best months to visit is April, when the heat and wind have abated and the Cape is bathed in warm autumnal hues. Winter rains can put off visitors, but this time of the year holds its own surprises: the countryside is a brilliant green, and without fail the best sunny and temperate days come between the rainy spells. Whales are seen in False Bay in spring (late August to early September), when wildflowers are also in bloom.
Cape Minstrel Carnival. One of the greatest celebrations in Cape Town is the annual Cape Town Minstrel Carnival. The origins of this January festival date to the early colonial period, when this was the one day of the year that slaves were given time off. The tradition continued even after the emancipation of slaves and is the most visible reminder of a way of life that saw its finest flowering in District Six. Today thousands of wild celebrants take to the streets in vibrant costumes—complete with matching umbrellas—to sing moppies (pronounced a somewhat guttural more peas, they're vaudeville-style songs), accompanied by banjos, drums, and whistles. The celebration lasts one or two days.
Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Music, especially jazz and local African music, was an extremely potent instrument for social change during the oppressive apartheid regime. Consequently, South Africans are passionate about music, and they celebrate their love of jazz with the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, usually held in March or early April. Started in 1999, this event is arguably the best weekend of the year in Cape Town. There's an even mix of local and international stars, and past festivals have included the likes of Randy Crawford, Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, Ismael Lo, Earth, Wind & Fire and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. www.capetownjazzfest.com.
Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts. From late November to early April, enjoy the best in South African music, from African to classical to electronica, at outdoor concerts on Sundays at Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts. It's a Cape Town summer institution, not to be missed. Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens, Rhodes Ave., Newlands, Cape Town, Western Cape, 7735. 021/799–8783; www.dogreatthings.co.za/music/kirstenbosch. R65–140.
MCQP. A key event on Cape Town's social calendar is December's MCQP, which started in 1993. Party animals should definitely add this to their must-do list. It's part Mardi Gras, part Gay Pride March, and one enormous fancy-dress party. Each year the party is themed, and everyone goes all out to dress up in fantastic outfits. All are welcome! mcqp.co.za/spacecowboys2013/home.