Oh, South Africa, easily one of my favourite places in the world! A great mix of culture, history and cityscapes versus dramatic landscapes. During my six weeks there, I spent around two weeks based at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Although there’s obviously a hell of a lot more to South Africa’s capital, I was docked in one of the two harbours right on the front, so I really got the chance to see and do much of what was on offer.
The waterfront in Cape Town is incredible, and absolutely huge. It has everything you could want – a humongous shopping mall, bars, restaurants, indoor markets, outdoor shows and stalls that sell activities like helicopter rides and shark dives. In fact it’s so good that a number of local people I spoke to said you should save the waterfront for the last few days of your trip to Cape Town as otherwise you may stay get stuck there and not see much of the rest of the city. Opps.
The waterfront is completely car-free, but it is very easy to get everywhere – it should only take you a maximum of fifteen minutes to walk from one end to the other. It can get very congested though, especially near the swing bridge if there is a boat going by, or near the open stage if there is a show going on. Also, expect some of the water-side bars and restaurants to get pretty packed, especially if the sun is out – book tables or arrive early to avoid disappointment!
At my time of visiting (Dec 2015-Jan 2016) the exchange rate was pretty good for pounds, euros and dollars. Therefore we ate out – a lot. Normally eating out is a bit of a luxury when I’m travelling as it can be a big drain on finances, but here the food is so tasty and at such a good price it seems a waste not to experience. One of my favourite restaurants is called Karibu (which means ‘welcome’ in Swahili). This is along the waterfront, with beautiful views of the harbour if you sit outside. I thought it would be very expensive because of this, yet 6 of us had a three course meal and multiple (!) bottles of wine, and it came to less than £15 each. And the food and service was good. We asked our waitress for suggestions of typical local foods and she suggested putu and chakalaka as a side, and koeksisters for dessert. The first is a side dish of tomato relish on top of a couscous like grain, and the koeksisters is a fried doe with syrup – SO good.
The waterfront is mainly made up of shops. Although they are full of potential travel supplies (clothes, toiletries, etc.) be wary – although food was cheap, other items definitely were not. Additionally, whilst there are all kinds of souvenirs for all kinds of prices, almost all of them are mass-produced. If you want something hand-made, you will most likely have to travel further out of the city.
Along part of the Waterfront, between the main mall building and the sea, you can explore the activity stalls. These mainly consist of boat rides, helicopter trips and shark diving. I wish I’d had time for a shark dive, because apparently they are incredible! Instead I did a much less time-consuming helicopter ride. You can read about that experience here.
Lastly, but by no means least, by the clock tower you can find the ticket office for Robben Island. This sobering but highly informative experience is worth the queues. After taking one of the designated boats over to the island you’re taken on a tour of the high security unit (including a visit to Nelson Mandela’s cell) by a former inmate, and given a bus tour of the area. Despite the dark past associated with the island, it is still a visit that you should take, as it gives you an in-depth lesson in political history that we should all be aware of.