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Beginners Guide to Cape Town

Beginners Guide to Cape Town

From its early pre-recorded Khoi/San heritage, to its discovery by European explorers in 1486 and subsequent colonisation in 1814, Cape Town has a rich cultural heritage that is evident in its architecture, people and influences.  Distinguished Cape Dutch homesteads with original gables and thatched roofs are commonly found in wine regions and small towns.  Traditional Victorian architecture can also be seen throughout Cape Town, as well as French Huguenot influences in some parts of the city. 

Communities such as the Malay Quarter, which escaped forced removals in the Apartheid days, are still largely untouched. Cottages in these communities are colourful, with flat roofs and steep cobbled streets. 
Cape Town’s people, known locally as Capetonians, are a diverse group with mixed heritage that ranges from the original Khoi/San tribes to European heritage.

The main languages spoken in Cape Town are English, Xhosa and Afrikaans, but there is also a strong international presence due to the number of expatriates living in the Cape.  Religious groups include Christian, Catholic, Methodist, Dutch Reformed, Muslim and Traditional African, as well as smaller groups such as Hare Krishna, Buddhist and Hindu.

With influences from Malay, Indian, Afrikaans, Dutch, French, English, Xhosa and many other cultures, Cape Town’s cuisine has developed into a fusion of traditional flavours.  Spicy samoosas, boerewors and biltong, curries, pap and many other delicious dishes are a testament to the mixed heritage of Cape Town.  With such a diverse heritage, it is no wonder Cape Town is considered one of the top luxury South African travel destinations.

Cape Town’s geography is as varied as its culture and it is one of the few places where one can find beaches, mountains, wetlands, forests, flat plains and a thriving city in one single region.

Table Mountain, with its characteristic flat top, rises 1 086 metres above sea level and can be seen from almost anywhere in Cape Town. The flat top is flanked by Devils Peak to the east and Lions Head to the west.

In addition to the majestic mountain, there are also a number of forests across the Cape region. These forests contain indigenous fynbos, as well as alien pine trees, weeds and other flora.

In summer, Cape Town’s beaches become highly popular destinations, offering endless white sands, clear waters, beautiful scenery and a range of upmarket accommodation options situated along the coastline. Popular beaches include Milnerton, Camps Bay, Clifton, Bloubergstrand and Boulders Beach, home to the African penguin.

Geographically, Cape Town is one of the most spectacular regions in the country, offering breathtaking scenery and a wide ecological diversity.  It is still possible to experience a range of weather conditions in a short space of time in the Cape. Summer months in Cape Town start from December, with the hottest months being in January and February.  Winters run from June to the end of August, and heavy rains, wind and cold conditions are common during these months where even snow can be found on the mountains outside of Cape Town.  Spring runs from September to the end of November, and autumn runs from March to the end of May, with both seasons offering mild weather with occasional rain.

Due to the hot, clear and sunny weather in summer, December to February is generally the best time of year to plan a Southern African holiday.   Cape Town residents love being outdoors, and spend as much time in the sun as possible. Beaches throughout the peninsula are always popular in summer, and outdoor cafes and restaurants are thriving with locals and visitors enjoying the warm weather. 

Cape Town offers something for everyone all-year round and while summer months are the best months, winter, spring and autumn offer a different perspective.

Visitors have a wide range of luxury South African shopping experiences available in the Cape, from small traditional markets to huge, luxurious malls stocking high-end designer wares.   The three largest shopping centres in Cape Town are Cavendish Square, Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in the Waterfront area near and the centrally located Canal Walk.  Everything from designer clothing, shoes, handbags, home-ware, books, computer goods and specialist items can be found at these centres. 

For a different shopping experience, there are a number of markets in Cape Town which offer curios, clothing, jewellery and other items, at affordable rates.  One of the largest markets in Cape Town is found at Greenmarket Square in the city centre. This square was originally a slave trading station, and is now a thriving local market offering an array of items.  The most common curios one can find in Cape Town range from Zimbabwean and Malawian wood carvings and jewellery, to the colourful wire sculptures seen across the city, often at busy intersections and traffic lights.

Many streets in Cape Town, such as Long Street, have a range of small boutiques, which offer well-priced items including vintage clothing, books, curios, antiques, jewellery and many other fascinating items.  With such a wide range of items on sale in Cape Town, it is no wonder visitors consider the city a shoppers paradise!

Contact the Southern Africa Travel team to start planning your dream Cape Town vacation, tailored to your needs.

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