As a business journalist a luxury of my job is the chance to travel. I’ve visited countries that I’ve heard so much about, and often find that there is a disconnect between the stereotype image and the truth. Just like watching a film that everyone around you has over hyped, that when you finally watch it your sky-high expectations are inevitably shattered. So I was little nervous about finally making it to Cape Town after hearing many rave reviews, but thankfully this time I was not disappointed.
The stereotype that Cape Town is ‘Africa light’ is a fitting one. The city’s European-style buildings, ensconced in stunning mountainous terrain, are a short walk from its palm-fringed beaches which are lined by trendy boutiques and western restaurants. Cape Town’s leisurely pace is a sharp contrast to Johannesburg’s high-octane tempo, and this has made it a haunt for sandal-wearing backpackers in search of the good life.
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a good place to start sightseeing, and to understand more about the country’s former apartheid regime, a tour of Robben Island is essential. You set off from Victoria Waterfront’s shores on a small boat – which takes about an hour to reach a tiny island that’s 9 kilometres west of mainland Cape Town. The Robben Island prison was closed in 1996 – yet most of its buildings and prisons have been preserved. The guided tour of the prisons are conducted by former inmates, so the accounts are very vivid. The contrast between the beauty of the beach and the brutality of the apartheid regime adds a real poignancy to the tour, but it is worth your while. A word of advice: this tour is very popular, so book online, at least a week in advance.
Back on mainland Cape Town – the other must-see is the Table Mountain. You go up the flat-topped mountain in a revolving cable car. The view of Cape Town at the top is phenomenal. True to its name, the mountain ‘peak’ is nice and flat, so it’s easy to walk around and explore. I spotted some wildlife – tiny colourful birds perched on the mountain’s rocks, and few Dassies (which look like over-grown rats) hidden inside the mountain’s crevices. There are also deer, lizards and a few eagles that dot the landscape – but I didn’t see them while I was there.
By day – the taxis are cheap and easy to flag down. But if you're a woman, the rules change at night. Unless you have a reliable male friend that you trust, do not use any random taxi when night falls. Sexual violence is the ugly underside of gender relations in South Africa, and Cape Town is sadly, no exception. When getting around alone, at night, use a licensed taxi booked by the concierge of your hotel. It’s considerably more expensive but safer. I was lucky as I was always accompanied by a good male friend when I went out at night, which made my life easier.
If you want to sample the night life – I’ve got two words for you: Long Street. I had a fabulous time, and you can find an array of clubs that cater to all kinds of tastes – from hiphop and r'n’b, to highlife, afro beats, rock and chart music. You will be spoiled for choice when you get to Long Street. My friend and I started at a club called 619.. but after that my memories are a blur. The one thing I did note is that as most clubs have no ID checks – clubs are crowded with teens and minors so if you're after a crowd that has already been through puberty it might be worth doing your homework before you head out.
In all Cape Town is beautiful – it has a bit of something for everyone, and it certainly lives up to the hype!
Author: Barbara Njau is the Senior Reporter and Markets Editor of 'Foreign Direct Investment' (fDi) Magazine - A Financial Times publication. She is also the author of Building BRICs: The New Scramble For Africa and can regularly be found on a plane to somewhere fabulous.