One of the biggest advantages of being an Expat in Saudi Arabia is having the ability to travel and see new parts of the world that a typical American work schedule just does not allow. For the most recent EID Holiday we decide to spend two full weeks in South Africa. There are direct flights from Jeddah to Johannesburg (~ 5 hrs flight) and then a short internal connection (~1.5 hours) into Cape Town. In traveling from Jeddah to Cape Town we are leaving the northern hemisphere and flying deep into the southern hemisphere, which meant going from the very hot summer weather in Jeddah to cool and comfortable winter weather in South Africa. Additionally, most of the distance traveled is south and just slightly west and the time difference is only 1-hour, which meant no jet lag to overcome. We spent the first 5 days of the trip (August 9th – 13th) in and around the beautiful city of Cape Town. We then rented a car and drove the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth at a leisurely pace (no more than 3 hours driving a day) with overnight stops in interesting towns (Stellenbosch, Jeffreys Bay, and Knysna) and private game reserves Amakhala and Gondwana along the way. This was our first time ever visiting Africa and we weren’t sure exactly what to expect, but what we found was far better than anything we could have anticipated. The landscapes and animals were incredibly beautiful and the pictures don’t even come close to capturing the real-life experience. The people we met along the way were incredibly friendly and excited to show us everything their country has to offer, and by western standards the cost of the living was surprisingly reasonable. The pictures below are from our Top 9 favorite spots in and around Cape Town, and can give those thinking of traveling some ideas of nice places to visit especially if you are traveling with children.
1. Champs Bay and Clifton Beach
During our 5 days in Cape Town we stayed at a 3-bedroom 2.5-bathroom house overlooking Clifton Beach and the Ocean and in the shadow of Lions Head. The sunset image below was taken from the porch of the rental house and image of Lion’s Head and the moon was taken from in front of the house. Champs Bay was just a short 5-minute drive from our house and was full of restaurants, bars, shops, and of course the beautiful Champs Bay Beach. This part of Cape Town is a little more relaxed, family friendly and has amazing views of the ocean, Lions Head and the 12 Apostles, but what also surprised us was how reasonably priced accommodations are in this area. We were traveling with our two children (6 and 7 years old) as well as my wife’s parents so space in the house was important as well as a place to cook and reheat simple meals especially for the kids, and laundry facilities since we were traveling for 2 full weeks. This house, which we rented via Air BnB, was complete modernized and updated with a big granite kitchen, huge rain shower bathrooms and full-size tub, big outdoor deck with grill and yard space, and garage parking space for our rental van, and all of this was only ~$100/night. We were also a little worried about the water restrictions in Cape Town as well, but did not have any issues with the showers or the laundry in the house. All in all, it was an excellent place to stay and we would definitely recommend Cape Town and hope to make it back again soon ourselves.
2. Lions Head
Lion’s Head is the name of one of peaks in the Cape Town area and next to Table Mountain is one of the most famous attractions in the city. During the week that we were in Cape Town the Table Mountain Cable Car was under going repairs so it was not easily accessible. There are hiking trails but it typically requires about 8 hours round-trip to hike to the top. So unfortunately for this visit we were not able to go to the top of Table Mountain, but I did have the opportunity to take a sunrise hike up Lion’s Head which can easily be done in the morning and only requires about 3 hours round trip. If you have never hiked the area I highly recommend going with a group or local guide as there are a few sections of the trail that are a little challenging and the path is not 100% marked. Also based on weather and other factors, like rock or mud slides, different parts of the trail are closed from time to time and again a good reason to have a knowledgeable guide. I also find it interesting to have a local guide as the can point out and explain different points of interest along the trail, as well as plants and animals. Although I did see a couple of smaller kids (probably around 10 years old) on the trail, I would not suggest bring small children and based on your own personal judgement and the child’s experience level and maturity maybe consider it only for children 10 years and older. As you can see in the pictures there are a few sections of the trail that are fairly challenging, steep, and narrow and with people going both up and down at the same time it can get a little tricky. This is not the place you would want or possibly even be able to be carrying a child safely down. Finally, try to go early in the morning both for the sunrise views as well as the fact that the trail gets more and more crowded later in the morning and you can start to get stuck in longer lines at some of the most narrow and challenging parts of the hike/climb. For this hike I found a local guide online and I joined 3 other hikers in the morning. We started around 7am and were finished and back to the house by 10:30am. The total cost with a tip was around ~$80.
3. Cape Town City
Of course, within the city itself there is plenty to see and do including excellent museums, restaurants, unique neighborhoods and parks. A few specific attractions are detailed in the other sections below, but one specific restaurant and café that we found particularly interesting and worth mentioning was Truth Coffee Shop. Truth has been ranked as one of the best coffee shops in the world and it certainly lives up to it reputation. First and most importantly they have an impressive and excellent selection of coffees. Beyond that though they also offer a full menu of breakfast and sandwich options which were also very good and finally, the décor is truly unique. The restaurant has a steam punk theme which is carried out in great detail across every aspect of the restaurant from the menu, to the waiter’s costumes, to the art, and even in the bathroom. Make sure if you visit not to miss the restrooms and this was actually our daughters’ favorite part of the stop there even getting a higher praise than her “yummy” hot chocolate.
4. Sea Point Park
Sea Point park is not surprisingly located along the coast north of Clifton Beach and west of Cape Town City Center along the Sea Point Prominade. This area has a couple of very large playgrounds and is a great place to stop and let the kids run off some energy while the parents relax with some ice cream or coffee. The Blue Train park as the name implies has a small blue train ride as well as a lot of natural wooden structures for the kids to explore as seen in the pictures below. Next to this park is the Mouile Point Playground which is a more modern designed playground with views of the Atlantic Ocean. Finally, you can also take a walk along the promenade and watch the impressively large Atlantic waves come crashing into the sea wall. These parks are also one of the stops on the hop on hop off city bus route so you can simply catch the bus in Champs Bay and stop at the parks for a few hours and then catch the bus again to head down to the V&A Waterfront or back to home.
5. Oranjezicht Farmers Market
The Oranjezicht Farmers Market was probably one of my favorite places to visit and we ended up stopping by three separate times. Besides of course having an amazing selection of fresh vegetables and fruit there are also a ton of organic food stalls and samples galore for the family and kids. Homemade Chocolates, Cheeses, Jellies, Honey, Snacks, Beer, Wine, and much more. They also have a section of restaurant stalls making different types of food to order using some of the same fresh ingredient’s food within the market. This is a great place to come and sit outside in the sun and enjoy a snack or light sandwich with some beer or wine and watch the Atlantic Ocean waves roll into the beach. Once you are done with your snack its also a short walk from the farmers market to the V&A Waterfront with even more attractions for the family.
6. V&A Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is a large entertainment and shopping area next to Cape Town Harbor. This area has a ton of activities and attractions for the whole family like, Noble Square, the picture frame, Two Oceans Aquarium, Seal Colony, Ferris Wheel, Museums, Shopping Malls, and restaurants. We also ended up coming and spending two full afternoons at the V&A Waterfront and still didn’t see and do everything the area has to offer. It is definitely a must see when visiting Cape Town and somewhere you can easily spend multiple days exploring.
7. Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point
The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point are located in the same large national park area and require a full day to explore. First the drive from Cape Town to this area will require about 1.5 hours and there is sometimes a line to enter the park. Once you arrive there is quite a lot to see and do and we were able to see both Capes in one full day, but if you enjoying hiking and seeing some of the other less visited parts of this park then you will need more than one day. For me this was probably the most spectacular landscapes we saw during the entire visit in South Africa. Unfortunately, the pictures just can not convey the scale of seeing these landscapes in person. Similar to visiting the Grand Canyon the camera can just not capture the raw beauty and scale of the landscape. In the images below what look like relatively small waves are actually 15-20 foot waves that break with such power there is a sound in the air like continuous rolling thunder that you can even feel in your chest. Also, the view from the observation deck at Cape Point several thousand feet up with nothing but the open ocean for miles into the distance in all directions is almost spiritual. Even as you are standing there looking out and seeing it with you own eyes it almost looks fake because it is just so impossibly vast.
8. Chapmans Peak Road and Hout Bay
One the way back from the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point we drove along the Atlantic Coast and through a scenic pass called Chapmans Peak Road and into the town of Hout Bay. This drive looks a lot like some of the iconic stretches of the Pacific Coast highway in California and provides similar spectacular views at sunset of the cliffs falling away into the Atlantic Ocean as it stretches out into the distance chasing the sun over the horizon. Had we not just come directly from the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point this would have been the most impressive landscapes of the entire trip, but despite coming in second to those locations this is still an amazingly picturesque drive and definitely worth the small toll required to drive the pass. Finally, Hout Bay itself is a small beach side town south of Cape Town and a good place to stop and enjoy the sunset and grab a dinner before continue the drive back into Cape Town.
9. Boulders Beach
Boulders Beach is about an hour drive south of Champs Bay and is home to a large African Penguin Colony. This was actually our last Cape Town area stop and after visiting Boulders Beach we began our journey traveling across the country stopping later that night in Stellenbosch. Boulders Beach is a fairly touristy spot and when we visited several large buses of guest had just arrived so the walkway areas were fairly crowded, but it is still worth the visit. You should not need more than 1-2 hours total and this is a good place to stop over and break up a drive as we did on our way to Stellenbosch. It is also one that can be done fairly easily as a half-day trip from Cape Town. You are of course not allowed to step onto the beach itself in order to protect the penguins habitat and nests, but in certain locations they are nesting fairly close to the decks and they routinely walk under them as well so you will still have the opportunity to see them up close and capture some good penguin pictures like the ones below.