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Taking it slow in Cape Town

Cape Town and the art of slow travel

I have lived in Cape Town most of my life and although I have travelled a lot and  spent a few years in other parts of the world, the Mother City, as she is affectionately known (being the oldest city in South Africa), is a hard act to follow! There is just so much for a person to see and do in a relatively small area. As a local, we really are spoiled for choice. But guess what. It is not just us locals that appreciate our home. Cape Town was recently voted the world’s top travel destination on Tripadvisor

Visitors enjoy Cape Town’s laid back attitude. Many who are used to the fast pace of many 1st world cities take a bit of time to adjust, but if you want to get into the swing of things in Cape Town, you have to slow things down a bit.

The reason is simple: There is so much to take in, that if you take it too fast, it all melts into one and you miss the subtleties. Like the blur of looking out of a car window as you drive by at 100 miles per hour.

So my advice to visitors is to stop, take a deep breath re-calibrate and prepare yourself for a fantastic trip.

Taking the slow approach, lets look at Cape Town’s top 5 things to do and look at some fantastically slow alternative:

1)      Table Mountain, this newly appointed “Wonder of Nature” and magnificent backdrop to Cape Town has a wonderful gondola or cable car that will wiz you to the top of the mountain in all of 5 minutes, taking you from 300 metres above sea level to over 1000 metres. It truly is awe inspiring and the views to die for, BUT, why the rush?

If you are of relative fitness and enjoy walking, there is no better way to see the mountain and the city in slow motion than by shanks pony. You can walk Platteklip Gorge, a series of stone stepped switchbacks to the top in less than two hours. You can do it on your own, but I suggest taking a local guide or organized tour which adds so much to the experience. Then take the cable car down so you get the best of both? For serious walkers and climbers there are many different trails routes and options, but always travel with experienced guides.

For those interested in other pursuits on the mountain why not try mountain biking on the lower slopes or even Tokai which is further South towards Cape Point on the Table Mountain Range. Or how about trail running, Cape Town’s fastest growing sport. Or how about walking to the top of Lions Head, at full moon - one of Cape Town’s best kept secrets? If you enjoy walking, Cape Town is paradise found. We have trails everywhere, in the suburbs and all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope.

2)      The Cape of Good Hope, described by Sir Francis Drake in 1580 as "The most stately thing and the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth." It is the South Western tip of the African Continent and is situated in the Cape Peninsula National Park which is the most visited national park in South Africa. It has huge historical and maritime significance and is breathtakingly beautiful. A trip to the Cape is one of the most popular day trips for travellers to Cape Town. The traditional way is to take a bus or minivan tour down to the Cape, which is a great day out.  There are however some excellent slow yet exciting alternatives. How about a trip in a classic World War 2 sidecar with chauffeur? Or, if motorcycles don’t appeal to you how about in a Vintage Car? The views are astounding on this tour and you do get a added sense of history when travelling in a classic. It also makes for plenty of un-scheduled photo stops and a great way to meet people. It is amazing to see how a classic will stop people in their tracks, young and old to get a view of these beauties. Or if you want to get out and get some exercise on your trip to the Cape, then how about doing it by bicycle. Get that fresh air straight from the “Cape Doctor”, the prevailing wind that is renown for clearing chest infections and other respiratory ailments of colder and wetter climates.

3)      Cape Town City Tour – Most first time visitors to Cape Town will enjoy an orientation tour of South Africa’s oldest and most beautiful city. The two main ways of doing this would be on a half day mini van tour or by taking the hop on hop off bust that follows a number of colour coded routes like many other cities around the world. The great thing about Cape Town is that it is small, so in my opinion, the best way to really see it, is to take a walking tour or a cycling tour of the Mother City. In this way, you get to truly unravel some of the complex history of this melting pot of cultures. Originally set up by the Dutch as a refreshment station to re-supply passing ships, with very little regard for the indigenous people who were living here at the time, you delve into the essence of the making of South Africa. It only takes a couple of hours and it is a relatively flat route, so great for the whole family.

4)      The Winelands of Constantia. Within 15 kilometres of the city centre, you will find the oldest and some of the most beautiful wine estates in South Africa. There are at least 6 world class wineries in the Constantia Valley, most dating back to the late 1600’s. Most are open to the public where you can take tours, taste and purchase wine, enjoy outstanding cuisine at a number of top class restaurants and purchase awesome home made products. The Constantia Valley is easily accessible by car or on an organized tour, but for slow travellers, you have the option to visit the area on a bicycle. This is a low impact tour and fitness is not an issue. Just make sure you go easy on the wine tasting or run the risk of falling off your bike J

5)      Township Tour – As you enter Cape Town from the airport, you immediately become aware of the material inequities of the country. All along the highway, you will see what many describe as shanty towns or what are more commonly referred to informal settlements on the outskirts of clearly more affluent residential areas. It is easy to pass judgement as you drive by and observe what appears to be a hopeless and untenable human situation. South Africa has come a long way since mandatory segregation of people by race or “Apartheid” was officially abolished under Nelson Mandela in South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. The best way to find out the real story, is to visit a few of these areas and meet the people who live here. Once again, doing it the slow way is best on an interactive tour which involves walking in the townships with a local guide who grew up in the area. Hearing his story first hand will take you on an emotional roller coaster but will leave you with the sense that there is hope and that South Africa is a living example of what can be achieved if people work together. There is still a long way to go, but the road is mapped out and the foundation laid. Another option is to take a responsible cycling tour through one of Cape Town’s townships or informal settlements.  AWOL’s Community-based bicycle tours provide the tourist with many more opportunities to interact with the community than they would have from an air-conditioned bus.

To complete the story, it is worthwhile taking a trip to Robben Island as this will give more insight into the political history of South Africa. It is also infamous as the island prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated as a political prisoner for 19 of 27 years he spent in prison.