By Joel Centano
If you’re looking to get wild, “South Africa offers all the wildlife you’d hope to see,” says Myrna Arroyo, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based Virtuoso travel advisor who recently visited the country on a group tour led by National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures. “But I also love that you can combine a safari with all the attractions in Cape Town.”
With a confluence of cultural, cosmopolitan, and natural draws, the “Mother City” provides a perfect easing-in point for any South Africa vacation. Here are a few must-do urban adventures before you set out for the bush.
To Great Heights
For a city overview, start with an ascent of Table Mountain, Cape Town’s iconic plateau-topped peak. A five-minute ride in a rotating cable car leads to the 3,500-foot-high summit and panoramas of the City Bowl, Table Bay, and nearby Robben Island.
During South Africa’s apartheid era, its government imprisoned more than 3,000 dissidents on Robben Island. The most famous, Nelson Mandela, commenced his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, there before becoming the nation’s first democratically elected president. Former captives lead tours of the prison, now a museum and UNESCO World Heritage site.
State of the Art
Opened in September 2017, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is now the world’s largest cultural repository dedicated solely to modern African art. More than 100 galleries showcase works from across the continent and as far away as the UK and United States.
Located in a church within Greenmarket Square, Heaven Coffee serves excellent espresso from South African-origin beans. “You’re also likely to meet its young owner who came from the countryside to make his mark in the city,” says Theresa Jackson, a Virtuoso advisor from Allendale, New Jersey. In lieu of tips, guests can make a donation toward a coffee for a homeless person.
In the Neighborhood
Cape Town’s multicultural history is on vivid display in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, rooted in a mix of Asian and African influences. Its cobblestoned streets wend past spice shops, historic mosques, and a kaleidoscope of pastel-painted houses.
Wine & Dine
On the menu at Groot Constantia, South Africa’s oldest wine estate: cellar tours, tastings (try the Grand Constance, a blend of red and white muscat favored by Napoleon Bonaparte), and alfresco meals overlooking its vineyards. Jonkershuis restaurant’s Estate Tasting Plate offers a sampling of traditional Cape Malay dishes, including oven-baked bobotie (curried mincemeat topped with custard), Karoo lamb, and chicken curry.
More than 7,000 species of indigenous plants thrive at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Linger-worthy stops in the 1,300-acre estate include the fragrance and protea gardens, the latter to honor South Africa’s national flower. Look for the medicinal pepper-bark tree planted by Nelson Mandela in 1996.
“For a special souvenir, Prins & Prins in the city center is a wonderful stop,” says advisor Myrna Arroyo. “The jewelry store manufactures all of its pieces in-house, and its rings based on South African flowers (set with precious gems) are stunning.”
Located on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the new 28-room Silo Hotel (one of seven centrally located Cape Town properties in the Virtuoso network) occupies six floors of a historic grain silo complex that also houses Zeitz MOCAA. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a 50-minute massage.
Read On: For more on South Africa, read “Game On,” published in the December 2017 issue of Virtuoso Traveler.