10 reasons Cape Town is the best city in the world

There’s no shortage of places to spend your holiday budget, but then there’s also no city on earth quite like Cape Town. Here are our top 10 reasons why Cape Town is the hottest city to visit this year…

1: The mountain

Let’s get this one out the way first. Table Mountain defines Cape Town. Locals give directions by it, the city is shaped by it, and tourists can’t help but admire it from all angles. If you don’t ascend it, by foot or by cableway, you’re missing out.

2: The ocean

Contrary to popular belief there’s only one ocean – the Atlantic – around Cape Town, but with water on three fronts the big blue defines the city as much as the mountain. Swim in warm False Bay, get glamorous on the beaches of Clifton or admire it from the plentiful scenic cruises leaving the V&A Waterfront.

3: The city

Few African cities have a downtown city centre as cosmopolitan as Cape Town’s. Markets, cafés and pedestrianised streets throng with tourists and locals day and night. Leave the car behind and take a walk.

4: The Test Kitchen

The full gourmand menu at The Test Kitchen – the best restaurant in Africa, and Number 28 in the world – will set you back R1,200. Sound like a lot? Consider this: a similar dinner at Number 29 on the list, Tokyo’s Nihonryori RyuGin, will sting you for R3,700.

5: The food

Speaking of food: Cape Town is the culinary capital of the continent, no question. You’ll find buzzy city centre bistros and chic seaside eateries, cult dive bars and laidback pavement cafés. You’ll never go hungry here.

6: Past and present

Cape Town lives its history. The working harbour that gave birth to the city remains an integral part of daily life, while the Company’s Garden that fed the earliest sailors survives to this day. From the District Six Museum to the colourful streets of the Bo Kaap there’s no shortage of living history to discover.

7: Designed in Africa

Home to the annual Design Indaba, a world-renowned design conference, you’ll find incredible design and products across the city. Pan African Market offers Afro-centric goods from the continent, while the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront precinct showcases top local designers. Also look out for Imagenius, Heartworks and Stable.

8: Arts, Cape

Cape Town will soon be home to arguably the finest art gallery on the continent, when the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (MOCAA) opens at the V&A Waterfront precinct in September 2017. A dramatic architectural conversion by starchitect Thomas Heatherwick has made a fine home for Africa’s leading collection of African artworks.

9: ‘The Prom’

Few cities in the world embrace their ocean setting as well as Cape Town does. The Sea Point Promenade is the place to join the locals in admiring the big blue. This five kilometre promenade is filled with locals throughout the week, and gets especially busy on weekends.

10: Green spaces

Aside from Table Mountain, Cape Town prides itself on its abundance of green spaces. The Company’s Garden is the city’s (much smaller) answer to Central Park, while the likes of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and the Green Point Urban Park make wide open spaces easily accessible.

Want more reasons? Just keep surfing this site!

A world-class mountain bike playground, on our doorstep

The Amphi Bike Park at Paul Cluver Wine Estate isn’t only a top notch mountain biking park, it was also one of the design projects of World Design Capital Cape Town 2014.

The Elgin Valley, a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, is one of the major mountain biking hubs in the Western Cape – and the routes at Oak Valley wine farm, Paul Cluver wine farm, Lebanon and at Cape Pine are rated as some of the best in the country.

South Africa’s premier mountain biking event, the ABSA Cape Epic, put mountain biking in the Elgin Valley on the map, while more recently FNB Wines2Whales has been a major impetus in the growth of the sport, opening up new routes every year.

One of the most exciting developments, however, came in 2014 when Building Bridges @ Paul Cluver was elected as one of the projects for World Design Capital Cape Town 2014.

The project involved cutting down alien trees such as black wattle and blue gum in the Paul Cluver Amphitheatre and turning them into bridges and pathways; the building blocks to a brighter, greener future for both people and nature. The alien trees were replaced with indigenous species and, to the delight of the mountain biking fraternity, the purpose-built Amphi Bike Park opened in February 2014.

Several obstacles reflect the fact that the Amphi Bike Park is located on a wine farm, including a stepped descent of wine barrel lids and the famously intimidating Raka Bridge, which is built from 60 old wine barrels attached to a 50-metre-long tree trunk that is suspended from two other trees.

Dr Paul Cluver himself, a neurosurgeon turned woodworker, built many of the structures in the Amphi Bike Park, including several of the bridges that comprise the Building Bridges project.

How to get to the top of Table Mountain by foot

There is no easy hike up Cape Town’s iconic mountain, but if you are fit and fairly strong you can take one of several well-trodden paths to the top.

The most heavily used path on Table Mountain is the one up Platteklip Gorge, the deep nick in the flat top of Table Mountain that is visible from downtown Cape Town.

The path, which starts about a kilometre and a half beyond the Lower Cable Station on Tafelberg Road, is so popular that it’s nicknamed Adderley Street (after the main street in Cape Town city centre) by the locals. It’s incredibly steep and direct and there is no shade other than in the narrow section at the top, so don’t underestimate it. However, the route is easy to follow and thus provides a good, safe ascent or descent, particularly in bad weather. Take water and be prepared for some knee jarring on the descent. The route is about two and a half kilometres long and will take about 90 minutes one way (probably a bit quicker if you’re coming down!)

The Skeleton Gorge path, which starts in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, is steep but shady, well-marked and of only moderate difficulty. There are several ladders over some very steep sections, which can become slippery when wet. This was the favourite ascent of Field Marshall Smuts, a keen mountain walker, so the final trail on this route is known as the Smuts Track. The route is approximately four kilometres long and will take about two hours one-way.

There’s no shade on the popular Kasteelspoort trail, but it affords incredible views. To get there, park at the top of Theresa Avenue on the Rontree Estate in Camps Bay, then follow the concrete jeep track up until it divides. The start is not well marked but is fairly obvious: stay on the main track, which goes right, and continue up for about 100 metres until you can see a green signpost on the contour path above you. Leave the jeep track at this point and take the narrow path directly up the mountain to the signpost – you will see the cairn marking the way just after a big rock on the left. The signpost directs you over the contour path and up – a distance of three kilometres, about 90 minutes to the top of the trail.

Note that the Skeleton Gorge and Kasteelspoort trails go to the top of the lower, southern plateau of Table Mountain, often called the “back table”. It will take another 60 to 90 minutes from the top of these trails to get across to the upper cable car station on the ‘front table’.

Mountain bike through the vineyards at these wine estates

While there’s plenty of fine food and good wine to be found on the wine estates in and around Cape Town, adrenalin junkies will also be happy to discover superb mountain biking trails there too.

Need to work up an appetite before tucking into the great food and fine wine offered on the wine estates around Cape Town? Saddle up for a ride on one of these three wine estate mountain bike trails:

1. Oak Valley wine estate in Elgin, an hour’s drive from Cape Town, has long been popular for its range of trails that criss-cross the scenic Groenlandberg Mountain. The three trails here range in length from 14km up to 32km, running through oak forests, vineyards and grassy slopes. There’s a happy mix of terrain, with both single track and gravel roads on offer. A big plus are the hot showers and bike-washing facilities at the start/end point of the trail.

2. Delvera Estate, on the R44 outside Stellenbosch, provides the red wine grapes for the nearby Delheim wine estate, but most cyclists head here for the excellent single-track mountain bike trails run by Dirtopia. The Porcupine Trail is one of the best single-track routes in the Cape, while the more sedate Farm Trail is best for beginners. Rental bikes are available.

3. After a major investment in food and wine, the historic Boschendal Estate in the Franschhoek valet has become a favoured winelands destination, and the estate’s handful of mountain bike trails are yet another reason to visit. Exploring the slopes of the Simonsberg, they combine single-track trails with gravel farm roads to offer great views and approachable riding. After your ride, don’t miss the wonderful restaurants in the renovated homestead.

My favourite running trails in and around Cape Town

Long-distance trail runner Andre Gie has won — and set records for — some of the toughest trail races Cape Town has to offer. He lets you in on a few of his favourite places to run.

The unique thing about Cape Town is that you have this big mountain in the middle of the city. The mountain has a special feel to it, with rock formations and vegetation like no where else. You can start running in the city and in a couple of minutes be in a wild environment without anyone else in sight. And you can run from Table Mountain to the beach to the city — all in one morning!

If we expand the parameters outside of Cape Town just a bit, two of my favourite places on earth are the Garden Route and the Cederberg, so it’s not surprising that trails there make it into my selection.

Robberg Peninsula near Plettenberg Bay (a six to seven-hour drive from Cape Town) must be one of the most beautiful seven-kilometre runs on the planet. It is the perfect combination of rocky trails, running along the beach and along cliff-tops above the ocean. You often run along the cliffs above massive great white sharks as they cruise next to the peninsula! There isn’t a boring step on this run and it’s a must-do for any trail runner.

In Cape Town itself, the loop around Lion’s Head should not be missed.

In terms of a medium distance, there is a combination of trails that link together to create a loop around Table Mountain. Start at the cableway and run the contour paths to Kirstenbosch. Then climb up Skeleton Gorge — which looks and feels like Jurassic Park — to the top of Table Mountain. Run past the dams and down Kasteelspoort to the pipetrack and back to your car. This great run gives you the opportunity to see both sides of the mountain, some awesome trails, and a lot of variety.

If you are looking to do a longer distance, anything in the Cederberg (around three hour’s drive from Cape Town) will do. My current favourite is to run from Algeria up Uitkyk Pass, around the back of Sneeuberg, then through the Duiwelsgat ravine, past the Maltese Cross to Sanddrif. It is beautiful and remote running in some big mountains. The bonus is that you end up at Cederberg Wines, which is a great wine farm with fantastic red wines and beer, and a cold river to jump in at the Sanddrif campsite!

Stripy citizens: where to find the Cape mountain zebra

The Cape mountain zebra is back from the brink of extinction. See this stripy horse-like animal in Cape Town, or take a three-hour trip out to an award-winning wilderness retreat to see one of the largest privately owned Cape mountain zebra herds in the world.

Zebras used to roam over most of the Cape’s mountain ranges, but they were hunted close to extinction in the mid-1900s. Nowadays if you want to see the striped, horse-like creatures on your visit to Cape Town you’ll need to head to the Cape Point Nature Reserve, which is within the Table Mountain National Park. Or to De Hoop Nature Reserve, which is about a three -hour drive from Cape Town. You can also see them at the Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, an award-winning five-star game lodge and spa in the Cederberg mountains around three-hour’s drive from Cape Town. Bushmans Kloof is home to one of the largest privately- owned herds of Cape mountain zebra anywhere in the world.

As the name suggests, mountain zebras are good climbers with a sturdy set of hooves for navigating rocky terrain. The mountain zebra is the smallest of the three zebra species and eats mainly grass. One of the things that makes them different to their plain-dwelling cousins, like the zebras you’ll see in South Africa’s savannah regions, is that their stripes are closer together.

The jury is still out on why, exactly, zebras have stripes. Scientists think the stripes play a role in camouflaging them, or also possibly help zebras recognise each other, as each animal has a unique set of stripes, like a set of fingerprints.

Look out for Cape mountain zebras in the early mornings and around sunset, when they’re typically most active.

The Western Cape hosts the ‘Tour de France of mountain biking’

From the slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain to the outlying countryside, this iconic 8-day premier South African cycle race has become known as the ‘Tour de France of mountain biking’, says race founder Kevin Vermaak.

In 12 years the Absa Cape Epic has evolved into the world’s premier mountain bike stage race, attracting top riders from all parts of the globe. Every year Olympic medallists duel with world champions over a Prologue on Cape Town’s Table Mountain, followed by seven stages   through stunning Western Cape countryside.

But it is back in the field where the race’s legend is created: the Absa Cape Epic is unique in that ordinary mountain bike riders who have taken on the challenge of their lives rub shoulders with the very best that the sport has to offer.

In 2016 the Prologue will again take place on the slopes of Table Mountain before the riders head off to Tulbagh, Wellington and Stellenbosch. The Grand Finale (final stage) is the ride to the finish at Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville.

The explosion in mountain biking that followed the founding of the Cape Epic has also resulted in hundreds of trails being built and developed in the province, and the 647-kilometre route for 2016 includes the most gruelling singletrack in the history of the event. More than 110km of trails snake through some of the most rugged parts of the Western Cape. The pleasure that participants take in riding singletrack might, however, be tempered by the fact that the 2016 race will also have the most climbing per kilometre in the history of the event.

The Grand Finale attracts thousands of spectators and fans for a day of fun at Meerendal. Those of a more energetic bent can take part in the Liqui-Fruit Trail Runs or enter their youngsters in the Liqui-Fruit Kiddies MTB Ride  while waiting for their heroes, spouses, family or friends to finish.

Urban safari: the secret lives of Cape Town’s city animals

You need not go on safari to immerse yourself in nature and discover fascinating animals. Belinda Ashton, who runs the Wild Neighbours Urban Wildlife Initiative, explains that Cape Town has plenty of urban wildlife — you just have to know where to look for it.

Cape Town is a city of incredible natural diversity — from the splendour of our fynbos mountains to the rugged coastlines of False Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The magic of living here is that wild life inhabits the most unexpected places.

Visitors to Cape Town are often disappointed by the absence of larger mammals, but our mountains and suburbs still support surprising animal diversity — from buck like the shy grysbok and little klipspringer to hardy rodents like striped mice, Cape gerbils and subterranean mole-rats, as well as small predators such as genets and caracal. It’s hard to believe, but over 80 small mammals can be found across the peninsula!

If you take a trip along Rhodes Drive in Newlands, for example, you might be rewarded with a fleeting glimpse of a shy Cape Fox. Or if you happen to be travelling in False Bay along Boyes Drive at night, your headlights might reveal a porcupine in search of bulbs.

Cape Town consists of an intricate patchwork of green spaces that have been left as small sanctuaries amongst the built environments of our suburbs. These spaces range from parks and greenbelts to the wilder habitats of our mountains, rivers and wetlands.

The shrubby vegetation that characterises fynbos generally supports smaller species, whose habits are mainly nocturnal, so it takes some perseverance to uncover their hidden secrets. The animals often leave clues about their night-time activities. For example, small tracks through the restios (a local grass) reveal a wild cat on the hunt for rodents, while dried scat filled with bits of crushed shell are evidence of an otter’s meal.

Life in the Cape would be infinitely poorer without our wild neighbours. Just knowing they are out there living their secret lives reminds and reassures us of our own sense of belonging within this immense world.