As your plane descends into Cape Town South Africa, you are immediately mesmerized by the scenery. A bay town situated at the edge of the ocean and flanked by grandiose mountains, Cape Town is a very special place. During our stay, we learned a lot that most don’t know about Cape Town — more about that later.
As you can see, Cape Town is the at the southern point of Africa and has been a pivotable trade route for Europe and India.
Cape Town Waterfront
If you love cities flanked by water, you will really love Cape Town. It’s clean, easy to navigate, and relatively inexpensive for Americans.
With Table Mountain as a backdrop, you will want to explore the city to appreciate its beauty from different angles.
As a bay city, it offers lots of great restaurants that specialize in seafood. We had some of the best fish and shrimp dishes in Cape Town.
The mountain you see in the background is called Table Mountain. Aptly named, it has a flat top that resembles a table. Each day you get a different look from the mountain. Some days it is flat with no low-hanging clouds. Other days, clouds tend to hover just over the table top and locals call this the tablecloth.
Seeing Table Mountain from below is inspiring but catching the view from the top is simply spectacular. You can board a gondola for a 5-minute ride to the top.
You are rewarded with incredible panoramic views of the city and seascape below.
Originally settled by freed Muslim slaves, Bo-Kapp is an area of Cape Town formerly known as the Malay Quarter. Muslims wanted the houses to be as beautiful on the outside as they were on the inside, so they painted the exteriors in pastel colors. This attracts lots of visitors each year. As we cruised these streets, we saw Muslim children playing and enjoying the day.
Juxtaposition of Wealth
As beautiful as Cape Town is, it has a checkered past. As we were riding from the airport to the city center, we noticed a sprawling area of shacks and shanties. Our driver told us that over 2 million people live in the townships that are primarily filled with shanties. Five minutes later in our drive, we were surrounded by opulent homes and outward signs of wealth.
The all-white (mostly Dutch) Nationalist Party took power in South Africa in 1948 and quickly instituted Apartheid, a social system instituted to segregate blacks from whites. In 1960, the government stormed the township called District 6 and forced the black residents to leave their homes, then bulldozed the homes. They were then relocated to less desirable areas of Cape Town and surrounding areas and were stripped of basic human rights and this was the beginning of the shanty townships.
One of our tour guides was forced from his home in District 6 and he told us of his personal losses in property and dignity. He said he has forgiven South Africa for this but he vows to never forget. The government is starting to make amends and plans to rebuild District 6 and give the new homes back to the families there were driven out.
Although Apartheid ended in 1994 and all South Africans were granted equal rights, we were floored by how families still live this way today. We took a bicycle tour of the shanty towns and it was truly eye-opening.
As you can see below, the houses are right on top of each other and most are made of tin.
Many shanties lack running water and we saw residents getting water from community wells. However, we were always greeted with a smile and a quick hello.
Our tour guide was a well-known philanthropist that built a community center that specializes in empowering youth from the community to ride bikes and live a more healthy lifestyle. His after school program keeps youth off the street, offers computer access and provides a positive influence during the critical formative years.
You might think the interior of the shanties would have dirt floors. Surprisingly, we saw nice furniture, flat screen TVs, satellite dishes, and nice appliances.
Just a 30-minute boat ride from Cape Town is Robben Island, a prison island where Nelson Mandella was enprisoned from 1964 to 1982. Nelson Mandella was an anti-apartheid revolutionary jailed due to influence in the anti-apartheid movement. As you enter Robben Island, you can see it was heavily fortified.
The tour guides for Robben Island were actual prisoners that were incarcerated at the same time as Nelson Mandella, so they have first-hand knowledge of how it was. They explained their plight and showed us the jail cell Nelson Mandella occupied during his stay.
It was a small cramped room with nothing more than a pad to sleep on. No pillows or quilts. They also explained how black inmates were given small rations of food while white inmates were fed more food.
Nelson Mandella was freed from Robben Island after 27 years and became South Africa’s president in 1994.
5 Little-Known Facts of Cape Town
Although Cape Town and South Africa has a difficult past, there is a lot of beauty in this place — we highly recommend you visit. While there, we learned a few facts we would like to share:
- The first heart transplant was performed here – Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first successful heart transplant here. However, the patient died 18 days later of pneumonia.
- There are 11 official languages in South Africa – While most South Africans speak English, their second most popular language is Afrikaans. As we spoke with people in the townships, we heard many people speaking a language that has “clicking or popping sounds” as part of the language – very interesting!
- The Castle of Good Hope had a sea view – The oldest colonial building in South Africa is the Castle of Good Hope. It is located about a mile or so inward of the ocean but when it was originally built, it was ocean front. Through the years, Cape Town’s landscape was extended out to allow expansion and the sea was replaced with land.
- Fountain of Youth – Over 43% of Cape Town residents are under 25 years old!
- Income Equality – Income wise, Cape Town has better income equality than all of it’s South African neighbors. Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Buffalo City are the worst regarding income equality.
I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Cape Town. We visited a lot more coastal areas surrounding Cape Town, I will be chronicling those visits in the coming weeks.
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I’ll leave you with a final picture of an interesting experience we had. We learned that a local delicacy of Cape Town (especially in the Shanty townships) is sheep’s head. Yep, you heard it right, sheep’s head. As we cycled through, we stopped and visited a place where you could buy sheep’s head. The lady in the picture below was using a hot wand scorches the hair off the sheep’s head. Once that’s done, they boil it, then serve it.
Would you eat it?