Some years ago, I read a quote from Pascal Merciel in his book The night Train to Lisabon, which really stuck with me until today: “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
Actually, this has been my experience everytime I go to a new place. Back in November this year, I had the privilege to visit Cape Town for the first time. I still remember, the first impression when landing on the Cape Town International Airport. From the airplane window I could already marbel at the magnificent view of the deep blue colors of the atlantic ocean and the wondeful mountains with exotic shapes, like the Table Mountain. I could see already from the above, how the city unfolds itself, in a curious combination between wild nature and the familiar infraestructure of a typical big city.
I confess, it took some time for me to really fall in love with the city. It was like that first blind date: You have seen the picture, and you come to meet the person with many expectations. In the very first encounter, you may feel a bit confused because your very first impression does not match the first thing you see. But then, when exploring with gentle curiosity you begin to inquire in the roundabouts of the person, finding her treasures, one by one, by one… until by the time you realize it, you have fallen… completely inflatuated by her beauty.
This is how I fell in love with Cape Town. In the very beginning, all I saw was a big city: Traffic everywhere, big buildings, lots of shopping centers… lots of people. Not the typical image of a cute little city in Africa where wild nature dominates the sceneries. Not really sure of what more to expect, but following the recommended spots to visit, we started our journey into the city to give it a go: We rented a car and went to the very last spot of the city, The Cape of Good Hope.
50 km away from Cape Town, this spot which is part of the Table Mountain National Park, is of extraordinary beauty. This is the point where the Cape divides between the atlantic and the indian oceans. Curiously close to this place is also where the currents of the warm-water meets the cold-water ones. I was amazed at the views from the ocean, the special combination of deep blues with rocky and greenery mountains and fantastic beaches…it literally took my breath away.
Back on Cape Town central city, we went for a walk at the Long Street, well known for it´s lively environment, full of bars and restaurants. We walked all the way up to the Bo Kaap, which is a very special neigborhood situated on the slopes of Signal Hill. The colorful little houses and pintoresque streets made you feel like in an alternate life. This neighborhood used to be a township in the earlier days and its the place where you can still experience the Malay history. The origins of this neigborhood dates back to the 1700s where the houses were built mainly for slaves so they can be close to their workplaces. This is one of the few neighborhoods which resisted the forced removals that happened during the apartheid era. The locals confirm that it has maintained a lot from it´s original character.
Another beautiful spot where you can appreciate the beauty of the city is going up to the legendary Table Mountain using the funicular. The views of the city are simply breathtaking! an advise for all the curious adventurous travellers: Check the weather forecast the same day before deciding to go up to the mountain! a cloudy day, or even worse, a cloud standing around the mountain in a clear blue sky day can completely take away the spectacular views of the city. Another amateur tip: Bring a jacket even during summer days. The wind up there can be quite cold 🙂 and for God´s sake do not forget your camera!
Great view of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain
If you feel like going out for a nice bar or restaurant, definitely V&A Waterfront and the Greenpoint area in Cape Town city is the place to be. There is a big shopping centre with all the known international brands but also you can find a lot of local brands. Right next to the shopping center, there is also a lovely market full of handcrafts, clothes and accesories produced from locals. Do not forget to visit as well the food market nearby to grab an artisanal south african delicacy or some drinks. If you enjoy long walks, start your journey at the waterfront, walk along the promenade all the way to the greenspoint area, and admire the wonderful sea view of the atlantic ocean from one side, and the Lion´s head mountain on the other. if you´re lucky, you can appreciate dolphins and seals swimming around in the ocean.
Left: Boo Kaap neighborhood; Top Right: Greenpoint promenade; Bottom Right: V&A Waterfront
If you enjoy wine tasting and wine yards sceneries, Franschoek is a must visit. I cannot describe the beauty of this little town: The greenery of the mountains and the pintoresque señorial houses with french and cape dutch arquitectural influences… it is so pretty that you can spend the whole day just walking around doing wine desgustations passing from one café to the next and combining it with some shopping walking around in the local little stores. It is 50 km east from Cape Town; definitely worth a drive, specially if you take the mountain road between Franschoek and Stellenbosch.
Coming back to the beach part, an experience I will never forget it´s visiting the Simon´s town Boulders beach. You might wonder what could be special about this place… nothing more and nothing less than the adventure of swimming with african pinguins! The beach itself is really special, because of the scenery around it, which consists on boulders made of cape granite. The colony of pinguins exist there since 1985, and they live and swim in the surroundings of the beach, so you can bathe with them together on a sunny nice day. To me, this place looks so special and unusual to the typical beach lanscapes I have even seen.
I muss confess I am a beach fan, and every time I travel I look forward to look at the ocean and enjoy the beach landscapes. South Africa has plenty of amazing, breathtaking beach sceneries. You just need to drive a few kilometers away from Cape Town to see stunning beach landscapes like this one:
The name of this amazing place is the Houts Bay. The combination of the deep blue sea and the mountain bay and sandy landscapes made me feel like in a trance. It is that feeling of forgetting everything, feeling your feet on the crunchy sand, the salty breeze in your face and giving yourself away in the moment.
You actually do not need to drive too far from the city to find spectacular landscape sceneries. Another wonderful place to visit is the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Park. Situated 13 km away from the Mother City, it is one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. It includes a fragance garden, more than 2,500 species of plants and flowers, a medical garden, stunning views of the mountains and much more. It’s a place to inmerse yourself in and forget the rest of the universe. As the days passed by, and as we discovered more and more of the city, my fascination for it just grew.
Last but not least, Robben Island.It was like the cherry on the top of the pie. I have been for a long time a big fan of Nelson Mandela. If you have been in Cape Town, you can realise that his presence is still very strong in the spirit of the city. However, the visit to the Robben Island was something that really made a big impression on me. Being in that island, stepping my feet on the same soil and the same places where he paid most of his prison years, is something that had great significance for me. The experience is not like a safari excursion or an easy day at the beach. But it is a visit worth doing to learn more about the history of South Africa and how the country has evolved ever since.
It´s an opportunity to understand the struggles of the past, the challenges of the present and the optimistic outlook that people have into the future.
Walking in the same patio where Nelson Mandela planted his garden, and where he wrote his biography; seeing with my own eyes that 6 sqm long cell, where he dreamed and fighted for the rights of all black south africans. It´s an experience hard to describe with words. I could not help but feel extremely grateful and honored to have been there and leave a part of my heart and soul there.
Left: Entrance of the Robben Island Prison, Right: The cell of Nelson Mandela
And so like the greatest love stories, what once started eventually comes to an end (for now). And so it came the time to say good bye to South Africa. Not only the landscapes were beautiful and the food delicious but also, I had the privilege to talk with many locals while travelling around and I never met such a whole-hearted, kind and funny people. Always willing to help, always with a smile on their faces. There is a popular saying that just confirmed my experience in this place: “It seems like God visits everyhere else, but definitely lives in Africa”- Will Smith.
By the time I had to go back to the airport to go back Home, I really felt the heartbreak. And the magic scent of the being in love invades my senses. I definitely left my heart in Cape Town, but I am determined to go… and get it back, just to feel that magic, once more.
“If I have ever seen Magic, it has been in Africa”- John Hemingway