Cape Town is dominated by the stately and iconic Table Mountain, harbors African penguins, and is framed by countless wineries.
Most tourists make a bee line to Victoria & Alfred (V & A) Waterfront, a massive district packed with shopping and entertainment venues.
But if you’re heading all the way to Cape Town for the experience of a lifetime, it’s well worth it to venture beyond the brochure.
So take a look at these off-the-beaten track experiences, including visiting a sculpting studio, checking out some ancient rock art, and even hanging with some baboons.
PADDLING WITH PENGUINS
Most people cannot resist cute and cuddly penguins, and you don’t necessarily have to go to the frigid cold to find them. A colony of African (or jackass) penguins live at a cove at Boulders Beach, which is located less than an hour outside Cape Town in the Table Mountain National Park. Many tourists flock to this location, but for a more unique view of the penguins, grab a paddle and kayak near the coastline.
You can watch the penguins from the ocean as they swim around the cove. Sea Kayak offers a two-hour kayak trip that passes Simon’s Town Waterfront and Naval Harbour and visits Boulders Beach. For those who have little or no paddling experience, the company offers double kayaks.
If you join a kayak trip during August to October, you even have a good chance of seeing whales. The trip then stops on a semi-private beach for swimming, snacks and snorkeling. The trip costs about $30 per person. www.kayakcapetown.co.za, 27 82 501 8930
HANGING WITH THE BABOONS
Due to human encroachment on wildlife territory, South Africa’s 250 remaining Chacma Baboons are facing the devastating effects of habitat loss, which have pushed the already spindly population further into urban and peopled areas. Unless something changes, the species could be gone within 10 years. Currently, the Chacma Baboon population is the only protected number of baboon troops in Africa—and they are located in such a place that allows travelers to view and understand their faintly lingering way of life in a less-invasive manner.
In Cape Town’s “Walk with Baboons,” offered by Baboon Matters, you’ll traverse mountain ranges with a professional nature guide who will show you the Chacma and offer valuable information on how ecotourism and awareness can perhaps help maintain the species. You’ll get a chance to witness highly sociable creatures in their natural environment while offering much needed support for the prolonging of the species. The walk costs about $37 per person. 27 21 782 2015, www.baboonmatters.org.za
The downside of primates in the area? Watch Your Wallet: These Monkeys Mean Business.
As Cape Town is the legislative capital of South Africa, the Houses of Parliament offer free sit-ins on parliamentary sessions, occurring between January and June. Members of the public and travelers alike may visit the stately edifice bedecked with classical Corinthian columns and open-air porticos—or take a free, guided tour through parts of the complex dating back to 1885. Session options include listening in on debates from the public galleries in the National Assembly or National Council of Provinces. You may also attend a Public Hearing or committee meeting.
If you fancy a walk after your governmental stint, you can stroll along Government Avenue for a complete repertoire of grandiose buildings, such as the South African National Art Museum and the South African Museum and Planetarium. Though parliamentary sessions are free, you must remember to have your passport and you secure a spot at least one week in advance. 27 21 403 2537, www.parliament.gov.za.
TEA AND CAKES
Because South Africa is one of the most prominent of British colonial enterprises, the country has done an exquisite job sorting out its tea—a virtual necessity of the British lifestyle.
For the perfect cuppa, visit the Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town, a national landmark designed by Sir Francis Macey and Sir Herbert Bake and built between 1910 and 1912. The Memorial designates the area where Cecil John Rhodes, a leader in maintaining the colony, would sit and ponder his future. Resting at the base of Devil’s Peak and within the vast perimeters of the Table Mountain National Park, the Memorial lends panoramic views stretching from industrial Cape Town to the airport and across to the Cape Flats.
If you’re blessed with a cloudless sky, you’ll catch sight of the Helderberg and Hottentots Holland Mountain range off in the middle distance. Tea-time costs $3 to $5 per person. 27 21 701 8692, www.sa-venues.com
If you’re artistically inclined and plan on staying in South Africa for a few months, check out The Bronze Age Art Foundry. The foundry offers an in-depth course on the bronze casting process, covering all the aspects of sculpting, mould making, wax reproduction, casting, and mounting of the bronze sculpture. The course also demonstrates patination—a traditional and favored technique in which treatments, such as painting, enameling and gilding, are used on the sculpture’s surface to create certain colors.
Looking for safari recommendations? Check out Jane Engle of the Los Angeles Times and her Personal Travel Picks.
You and other artists stay at the Artist’s Residency—a building listed as a National Monument—which is adjacent to the foundry gallery. It is located in Simon’s Town, about 20 miles from Cape Town, and it overlooks the Sculpture Garden and Simon’s Town yacht basin. Simon’s Town also has Victorian and Cape Dutch houses. The course lasts for three months and takes place twice a week for three hours at a time. Keep in mind that sculptors sometimes book their stay a year in advance. 27 21 786 1816, www.bronzeageart.com
The Gold of Africa Museum has a collection of about 350 West African gold artifacts and objects from ancient gold civilizations of southern Africa. The museum also houses temporary exhibits from India, Brazil, Mail, and Egypt. At this museum, you not only get to view art, but you also have to opportunity to make jewelry in their Goldsmith’s Studio. The eight-hour course jewelry-making course costs about $90. You can choose to make a pendant, ring, or earrings out of sterling silver. 27 21 405 1541, www.goldofafrica.com
At Cape Town’s Green Point Flea Market, held every Sunday at Green Point Stadium, locals and travelers gather to preen through tents with dusty treasures while listening to music, making crafts, and viewing loads of traditional African art.
Do be aware of your surroundings– some have reported that this place is a pickpocket’s dream. Find more info here.
If you enjoy waking up to rugged landscapes and rock formations, stay for a night or two at the Traveller’s Rest Farm. The farm is located a day’s trip from Cape Town near Brandewyns River, and the owners farm with essential oils, including rose geranium, sutherlandia for medicinal purposes, grenadillas (passionfruit), sweetcorn and rooibos tea.
The rock art—perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the farm—was created by the San who lived in the area thousands of years ago. Visitors may also view the paintings, but make sure to obtain a permit from the Traveller’s Rest Farm in advance. The rock art trail is located along the Brandewyn River, and the Farm also has horse-riding trails. Depending on the trail, the horse rides cost from about $15 to $37. 27 27 482 1824, www.travellersrest.co.za
By Monique-Marie deJong for PeterGreenberg.com.
Check out more cities in our Off the Brochure series.
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