This is my first trip to South Africa and this is the Cape Town was my first stop. Thanks to the internet and guidebooks it’s easy to plan visits to foreign destinations. Still, there are times when we want to have a local guide. With so many ways to travel from group coach tours to completely independent travel it’s nice to mix it up and for that reason with destinations we’re unfamiliar we prefer semi-independent travel. Let me explain: With semi-independent travel we have a local guide meet us at each destination. In this case that was the airport in Cape Town. Our guide Carlton met us with a sign and a smile, introduced himself, and escorted us to his air conditioned van and off we were to our hotel. The first benefit we gained from our guide was his introduction to his city. He told us about the history, the architecture, the restaurant scene, and how to stay safe while visiting.
After checking in to the Westin Hotel we took a walk to a twenty minute walk to the waterfront for dinner. Yes, after nearly 36 hours of traveling we went for a walk. I agree with every expert that’s ever said no matter how tired you are after traveling, if it’s noon, go have lunch. If it’s the middle of the afternoon find something to do. Don’t take a nap. Get your body and your mind adjusted right away to your new times zone by doing what you would normally be doing and avoid jet lag.
The next day after some much needed sleep Charlton picked us up and off we went to Table Mountain, part of Table Mountain National Park. Table Mountain is a level plateau about 2 miles wide from side to side, that serves as the backdrop for Cape Town with its amazing shear cliffs. The plateau tops off at an elevation of 3,563 feet. The mountain is often obscured by clouds, but we had a bright sunny morning for our visit. The way up is via a very steep cable car lift. Alternately you may choose the 3 hour hike up the narrow rocky trails. We chose the cable car. It’s noteworthy that we visited in July (their winter)
and the crowds were light and there was no wait to aces the cable car.
The top cable station has gift shops, a restaurant, restrooms and hiking trails of various lengths. The cable car rotates during its ascent giving everyone packed inside a chance to see the amazing views from every angle. The best views however are waiting on the top. On a clear day you are rewarded with panoramic views of Cape Town and Table Bay, Robben Island off in the near distance and beyond to the Cape Point and Cape of New Hope.
There are some wildflowers on the mountain, but with the seasons opposite ours in the Southern Hemisphere you can expect amazing flora in November and December along with hoards of visitors. We did see some evidence of wildlife in a hyrax or “dossie” as they are locally known.
This was our first stop on a long wonderful day in South Africa and by itself it was worth the trip to Cape Town. We found the people welcoming and friendly and the scenery beautiful. But, this was just the start to our day. We’ll meet the penguins in Part II.