If you’re committed to Cape Town as a base but want to take short jaunts further afield, there are plenty of places to explore within an hour or two of the Mother City. On these half-day and day trips from Cape Town you’ll find winelands, shark diving, beaches, penguin-spotting, horseback riding, whale watching, country markets, and even places to go on a Big Five game drive.
1. Wine Tours in Stellenbosch
There are a million companies that can take you to the winelands to do tours or tastings, but one of my personal favorites is Bikes N Wines. They offer bicycle tours of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Wellington (and other places in and around Cape Town too). I did the full-day, 21km Stellenbosch tour, which involved tastings at three wineries and a brewery, and a cruise through the town center. All transfers and lunch are included too. You must have a certain level of fitness to participate (couch potatoes will have a hard time), though this trip is by no means only for expert cyclists. You spent about 30 minutes pedalling between each winery, and though most routes are flat, there are a couple of slight inclines, and some traffic to contend with in the city center. The payoff for your hard work is of course the amazing wines, the views, and the company.
2. Cape of Good Hope
Most folks head to the Cape for bragging rights: you can say you visited the southwestern-most point in Africa (the southernmost is at Cape Agulhas), and take the requisite photo. Many tours to the Cape of Good Hope also include visits to Simons Town and Boulders Beach (#3), and/or Noordhoek (#4). A good option is this full-day Cape Peninsula Tour from VivaSter, for US$135.
3. Simons Town and Boulders Beach
Simons Town is famous for its colony of African “jackass” penguins, which live not only at Boulders Beach, but also at nearby Foxy Beach. When you’re done viewing the playful critters — which get their name from the unique braying sound they make — head into town and visit the Scratch Patch gemstone factory, one of the many museums and galleries, or go on a kayaking or deep sea fishing excursion in False Bay. As we mentioned before, this area is often included in a general Cape Peninsula tour, but you can visit it alone in a half a day or so.
Noordhoek is technically part of greater Cape Town, but it’s worth including on this list because you can spend nearly a whole day there — especially if you like horses and beaches. A popular spot to start is Imhoff Farm, where you can take a 2-hour horseback ride down the beautiful, white sand Noordhoek Beach (with a guide), then afterwards tour the farm, which has camel rides, restaurants, face painting, paintball, a petting zoo, craft stalls and various specialty food shops.
Hermanus is one of South Africa’s most popular and easily accessible beach towns, at just 1.5 hours away from the city of Cape Town. This quaint place throbs with activity (mainly in the summer season), as visitors pour into its numerous restaurants, wineries, farmers markets, nature reserves, beaches and mountain biking trails. In winter whale watching is the main draw, and shark cage diving is always popular.
6. Aquila Private Game Reserve
Aquila is the closest Big Five game reserve to Cape Town, and popular with those who want to see big game, but don’t plan to visit any other parts of South Africa. Located about two hours from Cape Town, Aquila is a 10,000 hectare conservancy where elephants, lions, buffalos, leopards and rhinos roam. There are many options for day trippers to get there, including overland or by chopper. Once you’re there you can do a traditional game drive, a horseback safari, a quad bike safari, or any combination of these. Or if you’re not pressed for time, stay overnight in the plush accommodations, which include rooms, cottages, and family suites.
7. The Overberg
The Overberg region (an hour or two outside Cape Town) is dotted with dozens of quaint farm stalls and cafés that line the lovely country roads in towns like Grabouw, Caledon, Napier and Stanford. In Grabouw one of my favorites is Peregrine Farm Stall, where you can get jars of jam and artisanal sweets in the store, and “casual gourmet” food, coffees and fine wine in the restaurant. There’s a similar cafe in Napier (called, appropriately, Napier Farm Stall) where you can dine on country fare like apple and cinnamon pancakes, oxtail casserole, and meat pies with salad under a canopy of hanging vines, old metal buckets, flowerpots and even an antique bike. In Stanford, which bills itself as “the Overberg’s best-kept secret,” you’ll find the Birkenhead Brewery (where you can do a tasting of six craft beers), the Klein River cheese farm (where you can do a free cheese tasting), hiking and mountain biking routes, and river cruises. There’s also a wine route in the Overberg.
About 100km (60 miles) north of Cape Town on the West Coast, Langebaan is popular with watersports and wildlife enthusiasts. Langebaan Lagoon is a prime spot for windsurfing, kite-surfing, yachting, and fishing, while nearby West Coast National Park is a bird-watchers paradise. In South Africa’s spring, this park comes alive with millions of wildflowers, and if you decide to stay overnight, you can do so on a houseboat!
9. Township tours
Cape Town is surrounded by dozens of townships such as Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Langa and Nyanga, where millions of ordinary Capetonians live. Touring them allows you to see a side of Cape Town that most tourists don’t see, and lets you experience the cultural diversity of the less-privileged areas of South Africa. There are numerous companies which offer safe, informative and eye-opening trips, either by car, or by bicycle. Most take a half day, but some include overnight stays or can be combined with excursions to places like Robben Island or the winelands.
If you have time for an overnight excursion from Cape Town, you might want to head all the way out to Oudtshoorn, which is about four hours by car from the Mother City. This area is known for its scenic semi-desert landscapes, ostrich farms, and malaria-free game reserves. This two-day tour from VivaSter includes a trip to a local ostrich farm, an up-close elephant encounter, a visit to Cango Wildlife Ranch, and a game drive in a Big Five game reserve.
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