Wednesday, June 25, 2014

South African Sojourn: Planning for Cape Town (Part I)

Alright, friendsicles. I am finally tackling a series of posts on my "recent" trip to South Africa in April. I spent the entire journey narrating blog posts in my head (you don't do that, too?) so I must put those thoughts, countless hours spent planning, and hundreds of photos to good use! I also found blog posts to be invaluable in my planning process (see here and here), so I hope to add to the wealth :)

In a nutshell, South Africa (particularly Cape Town) was amazing. Truly stunning. The country and city blew me away and offered such a dramatic contrast to Dakar it was almost depressing. But also amazing.

Let me start from the beginning.

Oh, hey, mountains in the middle of a city.

GETTING TO SOUTH AFRICA (plus a sweet travel tip)

My mom absolutely loves nature and wildlife and has always dreamed of going on a safari in Africa. With me living on the continent for the past four years (!!!), it would seem logical for us to plan such a trip, but alas, there are no safaris in Senegal and travel within Africa is very expensive.

Here comes a major insider secret for anyone living in or already traveling to Dakar. I normally fly on South African Airways when I make trips back to the U.S.; there is a very competitively priced direct flight from Dakar to Washington, D.C. that originates in Johannesburg. I knew I would be flying to the U.S. in May for my best friend's wedding, so per usual, I looked up flights to D.C.

Let's say the Dakar - D.C. ticket cost $1250 (which was the price at the time, I think). On a whim, I added a leg to South Africa before the trip to the U.S. so the itinerary would look like this: Dakar - SA, SA - D.C. - Dakar. Total price? $1500.

That means the trip to South Africa cost only $250!!! Tickets from Dakar to South Africa alone currently cost $1215. That is a saving of nine hundred and sixty five dollars. You better believe I snatched that deal up QUICK!

$250 for this?? Yes, please. On top of Table Mountain.

As a disclaimer, it took multiple searches for me to find that price - I had to play around with the dates and the airports quite a bit, the ticket often came up for between $5000 and $7000. Persevere - its so worth it. Also, we flew on to Cape Town which cost another $200. But still! $450 vs. $1215 for an 8 hour plus flight?!? No brainer!

In conclusion, if you are ever planning to come to Senegal or if you live here already... LOOK INTO THIS OPTION. You won't regret it.

(Sidenote: look into these deals any time a flight comes from or goes on to another destination... this type of crazy deal applied for a trip I took to Morocco as well! It was cheaper to go onto Spain, with a layover in Casablanca, then to fly only to Casablanca. Craziness!)


Onto the fun stuff :) I love planning trips and this adventure was no exception! I relied heavily on TripAdvisor, other blogs posts about South Africa (again, see here and here), and advice from dear friends. We really lucked out because Megan had traveled to SA in December and saved brochures for us, plus another one of my best friends in Dakar lived in Cape Town for two years. She was a wealth of knowledge and really helped flesh out our plans and figure out how to manage our time most wisely. G even teared up when she was telling me about the flora, fauna, and scenic views! I knew then I was in for an amazing trip ;)

With eight days to work with (not enough!), we settled on the following itinerary:

  • Arrive in Cape Town on Saturday morning. (2.5 days in Cape Town)
  • Fly to Port Elizabeth and drive to Addo Elephant park on Monday afternoon (2 days at Addo)
  • Return to Cape Town on Wednesday night. (2.5 more days in Cape Town)
  • Leave Cape Town on Saturday. K leaves on Sunday afternoon. (I got an extra afternoon in Kalk Bay ;)

My mom was absolutely intent on visiting a game park (and I'm so glad she insisted!), so my friend G suggested we fly to Addo Elephant Park, the nearest major game park, via PE so as not to waste valuable time in Cape Town. With more time, we would have loved to drive along the Garden Route and through wine country, but such is life!

With this itinerary in mind, I set out to learn more about Cape Town and the must sees (and where to stay, that is for another post ;). Wow - there is so. much. do. in Cape Town. You could easily spend all 8 days, or more, in the city! G and Megan provided a lot of super helpful information and opinions on what to do and I made sure to write it all down, based on neighborhood.

My mom and I decided these were our TOP TEN must sees, in no particular order:
  1. V&A Waterfront and Robben Island Tour
  2. Bo Kaap and Long Street
  3. Table Mountain (Cableway) and Lion's Head
  4. Clifton Beach and/or Camps Bay
  5. Chapman's Peak Scenic Drive
  6. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
  7. Constantia Wine Valley (wine vineyards in the city!)
  8. Kalk Bay and/or Hout Bay
  9. Simon's Town and Boulders PENGUIN Colony
  10. Cape of Good Hope
I used googlemaps to map out these spots, as well as restaurant and site recommendations from Gina and blog posts. Visualizing the city's hot spots also helped us determine in which neighborhoods we wanted to stay. Mapping everything was essential to me, and I definitely recommend this step to the avid trip planner! Or, you could just use mine ;)

(If you're interested in using this map, I suggest viewing it via this link... it is easier to view and manipulate directly in GoogleMaps!)

We decided to start our trip based in the City Bowl (northern part of the city), and then return to a B&B in Kalk Bay to explore southern Cape Town after our trip to Addo Elephant Park. I highly recommend this strategy of breaking up the city, especially if you don't rent a car - we were afraid to drive on the left side of the road in a major city....not for the faint of heart! I enjoyed the opportunity to explore two different neighborhoods and will share the pros and cons in upcoming posts. However, it isn't that difficult to get around, especially if you utilize the amazing City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off bus system, which I also highly, highly recommend.

I compiled all of this information, the map, links, telephone numbers, prices, and so on in a shared google doc with my mom which made it much easier for us to plan together despite the distance. Right before our trip, I downloaded a pdf version of the document so I could reference it on my phone with or without internet access. So glad I did this!

In the end, we set off for South Africa and Cape Town without a set daily itinerary, just our must sees and a clear idea of timing and geographic placement. Once we arrived, we used this knowledge to plan our days somewhat spontaneously and with freedom to explore, while making sure to hit all the necessary spots. Given the plethora of things to do in Cape Town, I am so grateful I researched this city in advance because I don't feel like we missed out on anything too amazing! Or so I hope...

Next up, our first few days in Cape Town's City Bowl!


  1. If you didn't get a chance on this trip to go and see District 6 museum I highly recommend you go there next time you get a chance. It was very informative and the people working there lived in District 6 when apartheid happened. One of my favorite visits while in Cape Town (but I had just done an extensive research on land grabbing in Cambodia so this is a topic close to me)

    1. Thanks for this tip, I think I would have enjoyed it as well. We drove through District 6 and past the museum on the Hop-on Hop-off bus and listened to a historical explanation of the district and museum... but I would have loved to visit. I plan to talk a little more about my impressions of race relations in some upcoming posts - it was definitely a new (and often jarring) dynamic coming from Dakar.


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