For as much time as it takes to plan an adventurous trip down to the nitty gritty details, it pays off in ways that leave me saying “Wow!” every turn I take in my destination. While we had been dreaming about this trip for two years, we started putting plans in place last December. Selecting flights while weighing price, travel time, layover city, dates, etc. was like putting together a Rubik’s cube. Flights came in conjunction with how many days we wanted to spend in Cape Town, which required planning a sketch of an itinerary and making sure our hotel had availability. The safari company, &Beyond, helped tremendously with recommending airports to use to get to and from their remote Phinda Forest Lodge location. Ultimately, it came together, and it was worth complicated planning. In fact, we were pretty impressed with the itinerary we put together and felt like we were there for just the right amount of time. Here I’ll break down what we did with our five full days in Cape Town, South Africa. If you have questions about the logistics of putting together a trip to South Africa, don’t hesitate to contact me!
Day 1: Climb Table Mountain, Le Roux Winery, The Hussar Grille
If we had to pick a favorite day in Cape Town, this would be it (though every single day was so different and amazing!). We awoke to the most beautiful, clear weather and view of Table Mountain from our hotel! Our friends, Charl and Han-Mari, picked us up from our hotel and we parked at the base of Table Mountain for our hike. Though we selected the shortest of the three hiking paths (2 hours), it was strenuous. I had stripped down to my base layers and was sweaty and out of breath. The hike (more like a climb) is incredibly steep, but you get stunning views of Cape Town and Table Bay the entire way up. It was completely worth the extra effort to get to the top (you can opt to take a cable car up). Once at the top, we got to see the views on the other side of the mountain, and we were, once again, blown away at the beauty of the region. These moments at the top were the highlight of our trip!
We grabbed a quick lunch of ostrich sandwich and chips at the top, took the cable car back down, and then headed east toward South Africa’s wine region. Only about 45 minutes from Cape Town are some of the most renowned vineyards in the world. Charl and Han-Mari took us to one that shares their name: Le Roux Winery for sparkling wine paired with nougat, a South Africa favorite. It was wonderful to share the tasting experience with our friends.
From there, we got cleaned up before re-joining for dinner at a famous steakhouse in Cape Town, the Hussar Grille. What was especially wonderful about us going to South Africa at this time was the exchange rate! We got to enjoy some really wonderful meals for much less than we could ever pay in the US. Plus, you can bring your own bottle of wine to the restaurant – even without a corking fee!
Day 2: Robben Island Tour, Explore Waterfront, Dolphin Bay
If you want to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, along with hundreds of other political prisoners during the Apartheid era, be sure to book your tickets online in advance! I printed our tickets at home and brought them with us in my travel documents folder. Robben Island is about a 30-minute ferry ride from the Waterfront of Cape Town, which you can see from Cape Town. It’s actually similar to Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay. The tour starts with a bus ride around the island and seeing various points of interest before culminating at the maximum security prison where Mandela was held. All tour guides of the prison are actually former prisoners, which makes for an incredibly interesting tour. Our guide was fantastic and spoke openly about his time there: how prisoners were treated, the various classes among the prisoners, the kind wardens who treated prisoners with respect, the wardens who didn’t, and so on. The most significant thing to hear him say was that he didn’t harbor any bitterness toward his captors – that if he didn’t forgive and move forward in life with love, then he’d still be a prisoner.
After our time at Robben Island, we docked at the Waterfront and set out to explore the touristy area’s shops and restaurants. I loved being by the water and looking back up to Table Mountain behind us. Cape Town is so picturesque!
For dinner, we got to see another set of South African friends! Another former co-worker of Rob’s (and his wife) picked us up from our hotel and drove us around the bay to a restaurant near their home in Dolphin Bay, right next to the water. We ate and drank and talked for hours. They are such a wonderful couple, and we loved getting to visit with them in their home town. Before dropping us off back at our hotel, they drove us up Signal Hill, around the base of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head for stunning night time views of Cape Town from above. I love those city lights!
Day 3: Excursion to the Winelands: Paarla, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek
A trip to Cape Town isn’t complete without an excursion to the neighboring wine region of South Africa. Renting a car in South Africa is definitely something one could consider, but we really didn’t want to deal with the hassle of it (or drive on the opposite side of the road). So we decided to book two private tours outside of Cape Town, the Winelands tour being the first. We booked through MK Exotic Tours ahead of our trip and used them because were a partner of our hotel with a travel desk in the lobby and pick-up/drop-off right at our hotel.
Our first stop was Spice Route in Paarla, which could have been an all-day affair! They make wine, beer, chocolate, brandy, ice cream, and more! We did a wine tasting, perused their beautiful retail shop (wherein I wanted to buy everything I saw), and checked out their chocolate-making and beer-making. I highly recommend this for a day-trip outside Cape Town!
Next up was Fairview Winery, which was almost right next door to Spice Route. Fairview was my very favorite experience and my favorite wines of the day. We did a wine and cheese pairing, which I had never actually done before. All their wines and cheeses are made on site – we even got to see some goats out front :). I am still thinking about their sparkling brut paired with goat’s milk cheese from that tasting. It was divine.
We drove a ways to our next stop in Franschhoek, Haute Cabriere, where we had lunch followed by a wine tasting. We both ordered the springbok (a deer-like animal) and enjoyed the lovely views of the mountains.
Last up was a driving tour through Stellenbosch, where a major SA university is located, before arriving at our final stop of the day, Waterford. The venue was stunning. We drove up the driveway through rows of orange trees and then wandered around the premises taking it all in before sitting down for a wine and chocolate pairing. The perfect way to end our day in South Africa’s wine region!
Day 4: Excursion around the Peninsula: Camps Bay, Chapman’s Peak, Seal Island, Boulders Beach, Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Mama Africa
Another “can’t miss” excursion in Cape Town is the Peninsula tour. If you rent a car, you can get around on your own, but we couldn’t miss the scenic and stunning drive, the penguins, or the point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet! We went out the next day with the same driver through MK Exotic Tours for a day-long scenic tour. Since he knew what we wanted to see, he had already planned the day, including our lunch stop, for us. We could sit back and take it all in!
Highlights from the Peninsula tour include driving along Chapman’s Peak (similar to California’s State Route 1) where mountains and ocean meet in the most incredible views. We also loved climbing up to Cape Point where the oceans meet and seeing the Cape of Good Hope. It felt like we were on the edge of the world! The penguins at Boulders Beach were just about the cutest things you’ll ever see. An endangered African penguin colony lives there and they nest in the sun and swim in the water and waddle around – it was really amazing to see them! Finally, one thing we added to the tour was a stop at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens on our way back to Cape Town. It sits on the other side of Table Mountain (Table Mountain being between the gardens and downtown Cape Town), and blew me away. Every turn we took had me ooh-ing and ahh-ing. It felt a bit mystical with some fog and sunbeams cutting in from the top of Table Mountain.
For dinner, our hotel staff recommended Mama Africa on Long Street for some local African cuisine. It was such a fun vibe inside, and there was even live music playing. Rob got kudu (a moose-like animal), and I got the best roasted chicken salad I’ve ever had. Have to admit – I needed a break from eating so much game!
Day 5: District 6 Museum, explore downtown and Waterfront by foot, Camps Bay dinner
On our final day in Cape Town, we wanted to explore a bit more of the downtown by foot so that we could go at our own pace and take it all in. We started with a visit to the District 6 Museum, which gives an informative glimpse into life in Cape Town during Apartheid. After that, we walked over to the Castle of Good Hope and then cut across town, stumbling into The Company’s Gardens. These gardens were so gorgeous, with huge trees and fun sculptures throughout. This is exactly why exploring on foot is so fun in new places! We ended up finding a massive tree swing to hang out on for a few and then found the perfect spot for lunch inside the park.
From there, we walked down Long Street, famous for its lively, bohemian atmosphere, books stores, music stores, and restaurants. We did some shopping and perusing, then cut over to Bo-Kaap, Cape Town’s Malay Quarter with the brightest colored houses I’ve ever seen!
That evening, we went one more time to the Waterfront to look for a tea I’d been on the hunt for (if you haven’t had African Rooibos tea, you must try it!). Then we hopped in a car over to Camps Bay for our dinner reservation at Paranga. A wonderful way to end our time in Cape Town!