Before this trip, I had never been to Africa and I was desperately trying to go as I had heard so many great things about the continent. I finally got the chance when I was in between jobs! Cape Town is a very beautiful city which surpassed all of my expectations. Everyone I met was incredibly kind and there’s so much to do, especially if you like the outdoors and nature.
Flying to Africa from the US West Coast is very expensive - expect to pay at least $800 USD round trip. This time around, I used airline miles that I’ve been saving so the cost was significantly less. If I were to come again, I would want to stay at least a week. I definitely feel like ~3 days was a little rushed, even though I did mostly everything I wanted to. Cape Town is a little out of the way but it is worth the trip. I would definitely come again!
I landed at Cape Town International Airport in the afternoon, went through immigration quickly, and hopped on the public bus to get to my hostel. If you follow the signs that say “Public Transportation”, it will lead you to the arrivals hall where it takes you outside. There will be an area that says “myCiti bus to city centre” or something like that - you can’t miss it. That’s where you could buy a single ride ticket or a day pass. In Cape Town, using Uber is also convenient and very cheap. Since I was only in Cape Town for a short while, I used a combination of public transport and Uber - the prices are very reasonable! You could probably get by with just using Uber.
I took the bus to the city centre stop and then took an Uber to my hostel (Big Blue Backpackers) where I dropped my bags off. The hostel is really good for the price, but you could definitely see that the building was old. The only downside was that there weren’t any locks in the rooms. But, I had a few backpack locks so I was fine. Also, it smelled kind of funny but I couldn't tell if it was the room or the 5 other guys I was sharing the room with. I went to the nearby grocery store to buy some snacks and then took an Uber to the Platteklip Gorge hike entrance at Table Mountain.
There are a lot of different hikes to the top of Table Mountain, each varying in time, distance, and difficulty. The Platteklip Gorge is the most straightforward route as it’s essentially doing a StairMaster for over an hour. If I had more time in Cape Town, I would have opted to do a more challenging and scenic hike. Platteklip Gorge is considered the "easy" hike. However, it was no joke - you definitely want to be prepared: don’t hike too late, bring water, and being careful with where you place your feet as the terrain is quite uneven.
So when it comes to the hike, there are two different entrances - one is for the cable car, and another is the Platteklip Gorge starting point. You’ll want to get dropped off at the starting point because the two points are around a 20 minute walk from each other. My Uber driver was forced to drop me off at the cable car entrance, so I had to walk the rest of the way. The cable car is the easier way up, but it's more expensive and the line is long.
The hike up took me 1-1.5 hours but I didn’t take many breaks as I forced myself to power through. The trail is clearly marked, so you don’t have to worry about deviating from the route. Also, you’ll most likely see people going up and down the mountain which means you know you’re going the right way. It was definitely tiring, but reaching the top made it all worth it. You get a beautiful view of the mountains, seas, and Cape Town itself in all directions. The view made my sore legs feel less sore - it was that great! I would say hiking Table Mountain is definitely a must when you're in Cape Town.
After I got my fill of pictures, I rushed to get in line for the cable car as my legs were too sore to walk down all the way back down. The last car goes down at 7pm, and it was around 6:30pm when I noticed the line getting really long. However, make sure you buy a ticket before getting in line! At 6:59pm, I was nowhere near the front. But, if you’re in the line before 7, you’ll be fine. I probably waited around an hour to get into the cable car. Once I got down safely, I called another Uber to take me back to the hostel and called it a day.
I got up at around 6am for my 7am tour of Boulders Beach, Cape Point/Cape of Good Hope, and Chapman’s Peak Drive. I booked my tour through Airbnb Experiences and it was absolutely amazing and worth every penny. I did an Airbnb Experience when I was in Melbourne, and it was a great experience. Usually I don’t book tours, but I did this time around for a few reasons.
The first reason was the limited amount of time I had in Cape Town - I wanted to make the most of my visit. The second reason is that driving myself would have been a hassle. Technically, renting a car would not be that difficult as the rates are very competitive. However, South Africa drives on the other side of the road - which is something I’ve never done before. Also, the places I listed above aren’t too accessible by public transportation. It was simply easier to just do a tour due to the risks and logistical planning required. Also, after doing the math, both methods would have probably cost the same.
The day before, my host Marisa let me know that I would be the only one on the tour, which was a pleasant surprise! I was expecting a few more people to come with us. She picked me up at 7am and we went on our way. Because it was just me, she was really flexible on what I wanted to do.
The first stop we made was at Muizenburg Beach. There weren’t a lot of people yet, which gave me the chance to take some good pictures. The area around it was very cute with various shops and restaurants. Apparently, it's a very popular surfing spot among the locals. We stopped by Knead Bakery for a quick breakfast - I got a small pie which was good! A little while after that, we were on our way again.
Throughout the day, Marisa would point out various places as we drove past them and tell me a little about that place. I ended up learning a lot about all things related to Cape Town, which was definitely something I wasn't expecting. She was really knowledgeable about everything as she previously worked for Table Mountain National Park.
After driving a little more, we soon reached Boulders Beach. The beach is known to have lots of African penguins, which I was really excited to see! Marisa knew a few hidden spots where I was able to get really close to the penguins. They are absolutely adorable and I wouldn't mind having one as a pet, but I'm sure that's illegal. I was close enough to touch them, but you don’t want to do that because they bite.
After looking at the penguins, we started to drive towards Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape of Good Hope is the most southwestern point on the African continent. They have a sign where you could take a picture with and the surrounding area. It's nice to look at and it's a cool place but that’s about it.
On the other hand, Cape Point was simply breathtaking. You do have to climb upwards for around 20 minutes where there is a lighthouse at the top. That particular lighthouse isn’t used anymore, but you could take a walking trail to the actual lighthouse which takes around an hour. On the way up, there are some nice viewpoints. Once I was at the top, you could see the ocean go on in all directions. On one side, you could see the mountains along with the ocean. On the other side, it’s just all ocean. Overall, the view was pretty breathtaking!
After walking down, I bought a baguette at the nearby shop as I was getting pretty hungry. Then, Marisa drove us towards a more isolated area of the park for a picturesque hike. I was excited about this because this was one of the main reasons why I booked this particular tour, as I wanted to get an additional side vs. the traditional tourist experience. The hike was pretty long (~2 hours) but it was simply fantastic. Throughout the hike, Marisa would point out various flowers and plants and tell me a little about them - something I would have definitely missed on my own. The hike curved around to a very isolated beach, where we were able to see 2 shipwrecks! After seeing the shipwrecks, we walked back towards the car.
At this point, I was very impressed as the last hike was something I wouldn’t had been able to do on my own. There weren’t any labeled trail markers, but you could kind of tell where you were supposed to walk. However, it wasn’t that obvious. Then, once you got to the beach, there were no signs or markers at all - I would have definitely gotten lost.
Once we rested for a bit and after I dumped out all the sand from my shoes, we started to drive back to Cape Town via Chapman’s Peak Drive. I was also really excited about this part because I’ve seen really amazing pictures of the drive on Google. Chapman’s Peak Drive is similar to PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) in California. There are several viewpoints along the way, which provided for some absolutely breathtaking views of the ocean and mountains. I would definitely recommend doing this!
Camps Bay was on the way back to Cape Town, and I asked Marisa if we could stop by for a bit, which she was okay with! I was pretty happy about this too because Camps Bay was one of the areas I wanted to see, but I wasn’t sure if I would have time to do so. Marisa dropped me off at Camps Bay Beach while she went to look for parking. The area around the beach reminded me of Huntington Beach because there were LOTS of people at the beach, and that there were small shops and restaurants nearby. I wasn’t there for very long but it was nice to walk through. There are also a few tidal pools on the beach itself. The tour “officially” ends at 4:30pm, and it was getting close to that time so Marisa and I walked back to the car to drive back to town.
I had Marisa drop me off at the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town because I wanted to see the colorful houses. You may have seen them on Instagram! The houses start on Wale Street close to the Bo-Kaap Museum, so that’s where you want to start. The houses are super pretty and make for a good photo op. There’s also a heavy historical aspect to the area as well. After getting my share of pictures and walking, I took the bus to see the V&A Waterfront.
The waterfront was pretty nice but it didn’t strike me as anything special. There’s a shopping mall along with shops at the outside. There is also a Ferris wheel you could go on if you wanted to. At this point, I was really hungry so I stopped at Karibu to eat. I got the Chapman’s Peak braai, which had a meat variety (ostrich and some type of sausage) along with a few other side dishes. It was tasty, but I was expecting a little more for the price. After I finished eating, I walked back to the hostel to get some rest.
FIRST HALF OF Day 3
I started the day off by getting breakfast at the hostel and then taking an Uber to Truth Coffee Roasting, which supposedly is one of the best places in the world to get coffee. The place had somewhat of a retro element to it and the menu looked like a newspaper which I thought was cool. You can kind of “create” your own coffee, so I went with the “Single Origin India” for my beans with a dripper. When it came, they gave me three things: the cup, an hourglass, and a container/filter thing with the coffee. I was told to put the container on top of the cup when the hourglass ran out. When I did that, all the coffee went in the cup! I assumed that the coffee filtered itself while I was waiting, which was really cool. The coffee itself was the right amount of bitterness and wasn't too sweet.
After drinking the coffee, I started to make my way back towards the hostel via Greenmarket Square. I walked through Greenmarket Square right when it opened, as a lot of the vendors were setting up their stalls with lots of bags, rugs, and other things. I got back to my hostel just in time for my scheduled pick-up to the Garden Route Game Lodge.
The game lodge itself is 4 hours away from Cape Town, so I had to book a private transfer to get there. If I had more time in Cape Town, I could have planned my trip in a way where I could take advantage of a coach service called Baz Bus, where they have buses going from Cape Town and Johannesburg certain days of the week and vice versa for a reasonable rate. In my case, I didn’t want to drive by myself that far of a distance on the wrong side of the road. Also, the days of the service didn’t line up with my itinerary. The private transfer I got was 100% worth it given my constraints as I didn’t need to worry about anything, but I paid around $300 USD for that service alone - you can definitely find something cheaper!
My driver, Dion, was actually already waiting for me at my hostel when I got there. I took care of a few things and then we hopped into this 10-seater minivan and went on our way. I thought that I was going to fall asleep because the drive was so long. However, Dion and I vibed really well and we basically talked throughout the entire ride! He pointed out various landmarks and gave me a small background of each place, while I told him about life in the US. We made a few pit stops and finally got to the lodge.
I heard about the lodge because my friend recommended it to me, and my expectations were simply blown away. I’ll elaborate on my experience in the next section but I would recommend this place 100% for anyone interested in looking to do a safari. Out of all my travels, I could say with confidence that this was one of the most memorable experiences that I’ve ever done.
Second Half of Day 3
Dion took me to the reception desk where I was able to check in. They gave me a quick rundown of my room and the agenda. I had booked a 2 day 1 night package, which includes the accommodation, a buffet dinner and breakfast, 2 game drives, and a tour of the Reptile Centre. The Reptile Centre tour was scheduled in the late morning the next day, which worried me because I had to leave early to make my flight. However, it turned out that the centre was open in the mornings for anyone to visit - there just wouldn’t be a guide with me. That was more than okay with me!
Once I finished checking in, one of the people at the front desk drove me to my room in a little golf cart. They have different types of accommodation, and I booked a Valley View Bush Chalet, which had a nice view of the range and the other chalets. The chalet is kind of like a mini cabin-like hotel room, but you’re surrounded by nature. There was even a little patio! Overall, I was really surprised at how nice the room was. I got settled in, and I had some time to kill before the evening game drive. So, I decided to go exploring. There are several trails you could walk on and they even had a few small pools overlooking the range! It was definitely a sight to behold.
After I went exploring, it was time to go on the game drive. Everyone was split up into different Land Cruisers based on their room number. There were 10 of us in the car, including me and our guide. My guide was a German guy (I forgot his name) but he knew his stuff and basically told us a little about the animals we saw. He definitely made the experience that much more special. What I really liked was that we were able to get REALLY close to some of the animals, such as the ostrich, eland, and buffalo. We also saw a rhino and her baby rhino in the distance along with a lot of other animals. Towards the end of the drive, our guide let us get out of the Land Cruiser and we all had drinks overlooking the African sunset. It was definitely a great way to close out the day! The game drive was probably around 2 hours, so we all piled back into the car to go back to the lodge.
After the game drive, it was time for dinner. The dinner was really good as well. It’s essentially a buffet dinner where they serve a lot of different things. But, I would say the best part was that they had a grill-to-order meat station. The most unique types they had on the menu were ostrich and wildebeest, which were both very flavorful and had a chewy type of taste to it. I ended up getting 3 plates worth of food and dessert (yes, they also provide dessert for free) and was absolutely stuffed! It was all high-quality food, but the water wasn’t free. After stuffing myself silly, I walked back to my room and started to get ready for bed as I had to get up pretty early!
The morning game drive was at 7am, so I packed all of my things the previous night and went to check out before the drive started. They also served coffee and tea starting 15 minutes before the game drive, which I thought was a nice touch. On the second game drive, we were able to see the elephants, a lion, and a cheetah and her cubs! The most amazing part of that game drive was that we were able to see the cheetah and her cubs, along with the lion eating a carcass in real-time. It was terrifying yet spectacular to watch - you couldn’t take your eyes away from it. It was definitely a very interesting experience! By then, 2 hours have passed by so we went back to the lodge.
After the game drive, we were able to eat breakfast (buffet style like the previous night). They had a made-to-order omelet station and a machine that was making freshly squeezed orange juice! Overall, the breakfast was pretty solid.
Because I was supposed to leave soon to make my flight, I went straight for the Reptile Centre after finishing breakfast. The inside was pretty cool as there were different kinds of snakes, from harmless ones to lethal ones. There were also alligators and a giant tortoise in the little grassy field behind the centre! This time around, I think most of the snakes were asleep, but it was still cool to see.
My driver and I previously agreed that he would get my stuff from the front desk and bring the van to the front of the Reptile Centre so we could leave right away, which is exactly what we did. We talked some more on the drive, and he dropped me off right at the airport. I was sad to leave because I had such a great experience in Cape Town, but happy that I got a chance to have that experience! I would definitely visit Cape Town again, but that’s a story for next time.
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