Whether you’re energetic, knowledge-hungry or feeling downright decadent, there’s plenty to whet the appetite in Cape Town, South Africa. We put together a list to help you choose what to do when visiting.
For the High-Flying Traveler
If money's no object, take a helicopter tour. Seeing Cape Town from a low-flying helicopter is an incredible experience. You can pre-book, or if it’s a clear wind-free day, just turn up at Quay 5 at the V&A Waterfront, where there are several offices. Passengers are transferred from there by golf cart to the helipad beyond Table Bay Hotel. Flights start from R700 per person for 15-20 minutes. Cape Town Tourism lists official partners.
For the Energetic, Outdoors Lover
The city of Cape Town is surrounded by mountains and national parks, including the city's famed Table Mountain, which is visible from town. Hiking is a fabulous way to experience Table Mountain, and there are numerous paths climbing to the top. The most popular route starts 1.5 km beyond the Lower Cableway Station and follows a course up Platteklip Gorge; there’s another path from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Both routes take about two to three hours to reach the top, although both hikes are fairly strenuous and should not be taken lightly. Check weather conditions before you pull on your boots.
For the Historian and Civil Rights Advocate
Relive the courage of Nelson Mandela at Robben Island, the infamous island prison where Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years, along with others such as Robert Sobukwe and Walter Sisulu. It was here in the B-section, in solitary confinement and enduring rigorous hard labour, that the fight against apartheid began. Today, the island prison has become a museum and is a UNESCO heritage site. Take a guided tour, often led by a former political prisoner, to see Mandela's miniscule cell and the lime quarry where he was forced to work.
For the Beach Lover
Cape Town is blessed with beautiful beaches, although not particular for swimming; even during the hottest months, water temperatures rarely reach 16 degrees Celsius (a chilly 61 degrees Fahrenheit). Despite the water temps, surfing is a serious business here, thanks to wetsuits and proper gear, with excellent facilities catering for learners through to experienced surf rats. Some of the best breaks are on Long Beach, Kommetjie, Noordhoek, Kalk Bay and Bloubergstrand. Try paddleboarding or kitesurfing at False Bar, and you can even visit penguins at Boulders Beach.
For the Fashionista
Luxury shopping or handicrafts? The world is your oyster in Cape Town. Try chic designer boutiques in Victoria Mall and visit the upmarket lifestyle village at De Waterkant. If you want something with a local feel, you can take home wood carvings, local jewellery and hand-dyed fabrics at the cobblestoned, vibrant Greenmarket Square or comb through contemporary art options at Africa Nova.
For the Wine Aficionado
Raise your glass to South Africa's fine wine industry, with bars galore and a plethora of local vineyards. Located in the centre of the Cape Peninsular, Constantia Valley is a short trip from Cape Town with tours available around the oldest wine-making region in the southern hemisphere. The vineyards were even enjoyed by Napoleon in the 18th century.
For Art Lovers
From Noria Mabasa's 2008 wooden sculpture "Ndi Mukegulu" to Jane Alexander's "The Butcher Boys" sculpture (1985), the South African National Gallery has not only some Turners and Gainsboroughs but also a dynamic collection of African contemporary art. There's an entire permanent collection of around 3,000 African pieces, which incorporates beadwork, wood carvings and metalwork. Look out for watercolours by Moses Tladi, the first black artist to exhibit his work here.
For the Future Marine Biologists
The Indian and Atlantic oceans meet at the Two Oceans Aquarium, with sea creatures ranging from cute-as-you-like tropical beauties to fearsome ragged-tooth sharks. If you're feeling brave, take part in a shark dive (for qualified scuba divers) or take the kids to the dedicated play areas on the waterfront.
For the Sports Fan
The last 20 years have seen South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, burst onto the world map as a top-class sporting destination. It hosted, and won, the rugby World Cup in 1995, where Nelson Mandela handed over the trophy to winning captain Francois Pienaar. The 2010 FIFA World Cup took place in South Africa to the backdrop of vuvuzela horns, with Cape Town's new stadium hosting the semifinal. South Africa is one of the world's best cricket teams; the season runs October to March.
For Those Who Need to Relax
Time to relax? Take a boat trip around the harbour. There are more than 20 boats of varying types and sizes operating from Quay 5, the Pierhead or the Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront. Just take a stroll around and the agents at the various kiosks will tell you what’s on offer and when the next departure is. You can choose from a sail on a schooner to Camps Bay, a quick ferry trip across one of the docks, a guided tour of the working harbour, a sunset cruise with champagne or a thrilling jet boat ride. All companies are listed at www.waterfront.co.za.