Affectionately known as the Mother City, Cape Town is South Africa’s oldest city and the second largest after Johannesburg. The seat of the Parliament of South Africa, Cape Town has a rich history, cultural diversity and scenic splendour. As if you needed any more convincing, here are 10 facts about Cape Town that will definitely persuade you to visit this beautiful city!
1. Table Mountain
What would Cape Town be without Table Mountain? Known as Hoerikwaggo (‘sea mountain’) by the original inhabitants of this area, the Khoekhoe, this iconic landmark, flanked by Signal Hill and Devil’s Peak, not only provides the city with a spectacular backdrop but provides locals with a handy navigational beacon. Ask a Capetonian for directions and you’ll be shown the way to go with the Mountain as your guide!
As you drive around Cape Town and surrounds, it’s easy to see why – Table Mountain seems to remain visible no matter where you are.
Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountains in the world; it started forming 280 million years ago and, at 1,084 metres at its summit, is still growing! The cableway to the summit was opened in 1929 and is one of Cape Town’s most popular tourist attractions. Fancy catching the cable car to get married on Table Mountain? You can! In fact, at least one couple a week ties the knot on the mountain which has been nominated as one of the new Natural Seven Wonders of the World.
The Castle is the oldest existing colonial building in South Africa. The current structure was built between 1666 and 1679, on the site of the original wooden fort built by Dutch city founder Jan van Riebeck in 1652, using stone quarried from Signal Hill.
Being experts in reclaiming land back in the old country, the Dutch set about doing the same in Cape Town – while the Castle was originally on the shoreline, it’s now inland. The Castle was the centre of early colonial life in the Cape, and remains a ceremonial base for Cape regiments of the South African Defence Force to this day.
Undoubtedly Cape Town’s most famous export – wine! The first Cape wines were produced in 1659, seven years after Dutch settlers arrived in the Cape. In 1685, the historic Constantia wine estate was established by Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, and its Muscat dessert wine rapidly gained a good reputation in Europe.
In the classic novel, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen even recommends “a little Constantia healing powers on a disappointed heart”! Today, South Africa is one of the world’s top 10 wine producing countries – tours of Groot Constantia and other wine estates in the Winelands are a highlight of any trip to Cape Town.
The city is a tale of two oceans – the warm Agulhas current which flows down the East Coast of South Africa and around Cape Agulhas, and the cool Benguela current, which flows down from the West Coast. These two currents are said to meet at Cape Point, an impressive rocky finger of land about 60km from Cape Town.
The influence of the two currents on sea water temperature is significant – on the False Bay side of the Peninsula, water is pleasantly warm, yet icy on the Atlantic side. The Two Oceans phenomenon has also been absorbed into the culture of the city – from the Two Oceans Restaurant and Two Oceans Wine to the Two Oceans Marathon and Two Oceans Aquarium.
5. Watch the whales
Between August and November, Southern Right Whales (and a few Humpbacks) come to the Cape to mate and calve. These beautiful creatures can be seen all along the Cape coastline, but are particularly plentiful in False Bay. Take the scenic drive out of the city along the Peninsula on the Muizenberg Road and you may be lucky to spot them blowing (condensation as they breathe through their blowholes) or breeching (jumping out of the water) – a spectacular sight!
While you’re out whale watching in False Bay, stop off at Boulders Beach. This little rocky cove en route to Simon’s Town is home to a thriving colony of Africa’s only penguin species, the Jack Ass Penguin. From the boardwalks, you can see these charismatic birds at home in their natural habitat. Remember, look but don’t touch! They’re a protected species, so be considerate.
7. Blue Flag beaches
A Blue Flag is an award given to beaches which meet the strict criteria of the Blue Flag Campaign, managed in South Africa by the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA). Amongst other things, Blue Flag beaches must meet certain safety, security, and cleanliness standards.
There are eight Blue Flag beaches in Cape Town, including the trendy Clifton, Camps Bay, and Llandudno (Atlantic Seaboard), as well as the laid-back Muizenberg and Strandfontein (False Bay).
The Cape Town area has a distinctive and unique flora called fynbos, which is found nowhere in the world but in a small coastal belt just 100-200km wide from Clanwilliam in the Western Cape, to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
Look closely, and you’ll see a wide variety of different species; in fact, fynbos is one of the most bio diverse ecosystems in the world. The most well-known fynbos is Rooibos, now harvested commercially to make Rooibos tea, Red Espresso, and skincare products.
9. Cape Baboons
The mountainous topography of Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula is the perfect natural habitat for the Cape (Chacma) Baboon. With human expansion into their natural territories – and increased conflict between them and humans – the Cape Baboons are under threat, facing possible extinction in the next 10-20 years.
‘Walking with the Baboons’ is a project by conservation group, the Baboon Matters Trust, and gives people the chance to observe and learn about these intelligent primates in the wild on 2-3 hour guided walks on the Cape Peninsula. Baboon Matters Trust also train and manage baboon monitors who ‘herd’ baboon troops away from urban and suburban areas.
10. The people of Cape Town
They call themselves Capetonians and they’re an eclectic bunch of people from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, all united in their passion and love for their city!
One of the largest and oldest Cape Town communities is the Cape Malay – the first Malays arrived in the Cape with Jan van Riebeck. Through the years, they’ve maintained their unique identity which can be seen in cultural festivals like the Cape Malay Minstrel Carnival; in residential areas like the Bo-Kaap and in Cape Malay cuisine.
Other strong cultural influences include the Dutch – seen everywhere in Cape Dutch architecture – and the British, the epitome of which must be the Victorian industrial architecture of the V&A Waterfront and High Tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel.