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General Information

Cape Town is one of the few large cities where the periphery is cosmopolitan and developed and the center of the city is actual wilderness. It's an interesting and beautiful variation on the usual city experience, due to the fact that Cape Town nestles up against Table Mountain (3563 ft. high), a wildlife preserve directly in the middle of town.

When you depart the ship, you'll encounter the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, Cape Town's original Victorian harbor, which was redeveloped in the 1990s to be the city's central shopping area. It's a hash of period buildings side by side with retro Victorian malls, but it's a great place to eat and drink, visit a museum, or sit at a café and watch the street performers. And over it all looms Table Mountain, with its cloud cover called the Tablecloth.

Further on in, the city shows you its more urban side with a diversity of building styles reflecting the various colonial powers that have called this place home. Dutch Cape architecture rubs elbows with minarets brought by Muslim slaves from East India. The invading English brought Georgian and Victorian styles. The Botanical Gardens, right by the Town Hall, reflect the English habit of putting beautiful parks in the middle of their metropolises. The old Supreme Court Building was designed by a Frenchman, and reflects it. It is now the South African Cultural History Museum, and well worth a visit.

Although everything can be bought at the Waterfront, you will find some bargains if you make the effort to visit some of the local markets that pepper the city. Cape Town is not especially noteworthy for its art and crafts, so what you'll see in the way of souvenir-worthy items come from elsewhere in Africa, with an emphasis on goods from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Carvings, copper work, fabrics, and embroidered clothing are definitely things you'll want to take back home with you.

After the waterfront and the city center, you'll be faced with a number of alternatives. Want to relax on the beach and swim, or try something a little more active, such as windsurfing? Table Bay is the place for you. If you're insistent on risking your life, then Lion's Head will give you the opportunity; paraglide down to Clifton Beach! If you're a mountain biker, there are trails of every level of difficulty. Just want to commune with nature? Then Table Mountain's your place; it has everything from rock climbing to bunny hiking trails. While you're there, the local wildlife will fascinate you: baboons, dassies (a kind of antelope), porcupines, and a kind of mountain goat called a Himalayan tahr (introduced by Cecil Rhodes and still flourishing).

And all this within the city limits!

But if you consider yourself a "gastronaut," then you probably know already about the quality and variety of South African wines, which are growing in popularity around the world. In Cape Town, it's a matter of fierce local pride to drink wine with your meals so you'll probably have a chance to sample some good ones as a matter of course. However, if you're aware of their quality you're probably already on your way to the Cape's oldest wine lands - the wine country of Constantia. First planted in 1685, the vineyards have been producing wine since 1705, originally on one large estate, now on four smaller ones. The area surrounding them is one of Cape Town's more affluent, with that look of well-tended forest, dotted with riding schools and shopping centers. All four estates are open for touring and wine tasting, so perhaps you shouldn't schedule any wilderness trekking for afterwards.

South Africa being South Africa, its history of apartheid still influences what you'll experience in Cape Town. While it's not recommended to make a trip to any of the shantytowns that are an inescapable part of the local scene, you can get a glimpse of the past and it's evolution to the present with a visit to Robben Island, the infamous maximum-security prison that was home to Nelson Mandela for twenty-five years. By the time Mandela was imprisoned there it had become entirely political in nature, and terribly brutal. Fortunately, reflecting the distinctly different society South Africa has become, it's now under the jurisdiction of the Department of Arts, Culture, Science, and Technology, which runs the place as a museum. You can even have your picture taken in the doorway of the cell that housed Nelson Mandela (just as Bill Clinton did).

You'll bookend your trip with a return to the waterfront, but the wilderness heart of the city is what you'll bring home with you.

General Information

POPULATION

The population of metropolitan Cape Town is 1,000,000.

PORT

Victoria Basin is part of the entire waterfront complex and a major commercial port as well.

CLIMATE

Cape Town's climate is temperate and breezy with summer daytime temperatures averaging in the 80s.

LANGUAGE

There are 11 official languages in South Africa, including Afrikaans, English, and tribal languages.

CURRENCY

South African rand.



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Cape Town
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General Information