A safari in South Africa can be a mystical experience, but don’t make the mistake of thinking the country is all savannah plains and Big Five game. Cape Town is cosmopolitan Africa at its best. Fine wining and dining can be at your fingertips as easily as natural beauty and rich cultural heritage.
With a delightfully temperate climate and full four-season slate, Cape Town is an excellent year-round destination. The summer months of December, January, and February are incomparable for warm beach weather and lively nightlife, making this an ideal escape for chilly Northern Hemisphere dwellers.
Immediately upon your arrival, you’ll be captivated by the dominating façade of Table Mountain, South Africa’s most famous landmark. High summer winds can often envelop this flat-topped mountain in cloud, but if you’re blessed with a clear day, an hour and a half hike or the aerial cableway will take to the top for stellar panoramic views.
You’ll naturally enjoy some sand and surf during your time in this coastal city, but if lazing about the beach gets old, treat yourself to the ultimate adrenaline rush: shark cage diving. A hop, skip, and a jump away from Cape Town lies the fishing town of Gansbaai, gateway to the legendary Shark Alley. You don’t need any diving experience or special certifications to get yourself lowered into the waters in a galvanized steel cage – the perfect setting for your up close and personal experience with a Great White.
Of course, South Africa’s political history is just as critical to its identity as its natural beauty. Just off the coast, you’ll find Robben Island, the UNESCO World Heritage Site where former president Nelson Mandela spent the first 18 years of his political imprisonment. For most of the twentieth century, South Africa was controlled by rigid apartheid. Mandela was famously arrested in 1962 for his political activism and revolutionary activity and spent a total of 27 years in prison before his release and the fall of apartheid in the early ‘90s. As the country continues to heal the wounds of racial segregation, Robben Island remains an important heritage site with a living museum and guided tours available from former political prisoners.
If one museum isn’t enough, you’ll love the culture-packed slice of Government Avenue known as Museum Mile. South Africa’s Iziko organization is akin to America’s Smithsonian properties, and it runs a wide variety of excellent educational institutions. Dust off your science knowledge at the museum of natural history or the planetarium, or dive into history at the Slave Lodge and the Social History Centre. If you’re more of an art lover, venture to nearby Greenmarket Square, where Dutch paintings fill the Old Town House’s Michaelis Collection and glitz and glam dominate the Gold of Africa Museum.
Finally, no trip to South Africa isn’t complete without at least a day tour of the Cape Winelands. If you think rolling hills of vineyards are exclusively a European sight, you’re in for a big surprise. This region near Cape Town is on par with the Napa Valley for quality. Viticulture near the Cape of Good Hope dates back to the seventeenth century when Dutch, German, and French settlers realized their new homes were ideal for wine making. There are plenty of guided tours available from Cape Town, or you can venture independently through the picturesque towns of Stellenbosch and Paarl as you sip citrusy Chenin Blancs and juicy Merlots and Syrahs.