This weeks #TravelTipTuesday is from Cathal Teague from Trailfinders. Cathal has more than 10 years’ experience working with Trailfinders and has visited some of the most amazing countries in the world! This week he is giving us his top tips for visiting Cape Town and the Winelands!
Just Cape Town?
Cape Town is my favourite destination in the world to date. Since my first visit over 14 years ago, I’ve returned over a dozen times so I fully appreciate that what I am about to say is somewhat bias. (That and the fact that given the opportunity, I’d go to Sydney for a weekend) However, I would urge people to treat Cape Town as a destination in itself and not just as part of a greater itinerary. Every time I visit, my friends and colleagues always ask me “what else are you doing while you are down there?” to which when I reply “just Cape Town ” I often receive a somewhat perplexed look. Don’t get me wrong, I adore South Africa. It’s a truly unique and beautiful country and I will always describe to my clients the wonders of the garden route, the beauty of Kruger, the majesty of Kwazulu Natal etc. I’ve been lucky enough to visit many regions of the country and they are all stunning but don’t be afraid to sell Cape Town on its own. It has soo much to offer; great weather, food, wine, culture, scenery etc . It’s a long flight but it’s no different to Hong Kong, San Francisco or Cancun. We don’t bat an eyelid if a client asks for a long weekend in Vegas so why not suggest Cape Town.
When to visit?
As you know, South Africa’s seasons are opposite to ours so the end of October right through to April is the best time to visit weather wise.
My favourite time to visit is late Feb / early March. The extreme heat of the summer has passed and the average temperature is a balmy 25 degrees. I am avoiding any major school holidays making flights and hotels more reasonable and I just happen to be in town for the end of wine harvest season so there are various festivals on etc.
Like Chicago, Cape Town is a “windy” city and this can have a serious impact on your trip. Aside from the discomfort of having a serious draft whilst trying to enjoy a glass of cool crisp Chenin Blanc on your sun lounger, various tourist attractions like Robben Island and Table Mountain close regularly due to wind. Whale watching and shark cage diving in the region are often affected too. These strong south easterly winds blow through the city from October to March and are particularly strong from November to January. My advice if travelling at this time is to be flexible. Leave yourself or your clients an extra free day or two which can be used if excursions need to be rebooked due to weather. Let’s face it, you’ll never be bored in Cape Town so having extra time on your hands is never a problem.
In my experience, there are two types of packers in the world: those organised souls who take down the suitcase and start packing a few days before they fly and my kind; chaotically throw things in a bag 20 minutes before the taxi arrives to take you to the airport and hope for the best. “It will be grand” I tell myself. “They’ve shops in Cape Town”
re, I am not the best person to tell you what brand of this or make of that to bring with you on your holidays but I will highlight a few bits and bobs that are essential.
bug spray: the sun in Cape Town can be unforgiving and you will get a few mosquitoes from time to time.
South African adapter: those of you who have already visited will know that the South African adaptor is quite unique and not every hotel will have Irish / European sockets. This type of adapter is not usually included in those handy universal travel adapters many of us have but not to worry; you can usually pick one up in the airport for about €8-€10.
Cash: I always arrive in Cape Town with some South African Rand. You’ll find that ATM’s aren’t as plentiful as say here in Ireland. The South African Rand exchange rate is particularly good at the moment so if you are planning a trip, it might be worth purchasing some now. Cards are accepted everywhere and like many, I find revolut very handy when travelling. It’s so handy for splitting bills and you tend to get very favourable exchange rates.
Where to stay?
For a first time visitor to Cape Town, I will always recommend a hotel in or near the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Yes, it’s the most touristy part of the city but it’s very safe and is a great base for sightseeing. It has an abundance of museums, shops, bars and restaurants. If your clients want something near a beach, then Camps Bay or Clifton are best and if they want something slightly outside the city but with easy access then Constantia (winelands) or Kommetjie (beach) are both great options. One of my favourite hotels in Cape Town is the Belmond Mount Nelson – 5 star colonial style with beautiful gardens and outdoor pools. There’s nothing quite like sitting on their terrace at night with a glass of wine or a cocktail – reflecting on your day and planning the next.
Cape Town receives millions of visitors every year and rightly so! This means things get busy and booked up early. It is essential that you book certain attractions in advance, especially if travelling during peak holidays. Robben Island can book out weeks in advance so be sure to pre book that for yourself / your clients. The same goes for day excursions like whale watching and the Franschhoek wine tram (a must) so book in advance. I would highly recommend the Hop on Hop off bus tour which starts / ends in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. The blue line in particular is great as it takes you to various spots like Constantia, Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens and Hout Bay (always a good spot to jump off for a great view and fish and chips). Make sure to drive down the Cape via Chapman’s peak. It’s one of the most scenic costal drives in South Africa. If you have a car, head north along the coast to Blouberg for those iconic views of Table Mountain.
I don’t drive so I will always find alternative and interesting ways to get from A to B. Renting a car in Cape Town is not essential but I would recommend it for a day or two to do a few scenic drives that you might otherwise miss. Your full Irish driving license will suffice for hiring a car. Many of the major car rental companies have downtown depots so it’s very handy.
Uber will be your new best friend when visiting Cape Town and the Winelands. It’s a safe and inexpensive way to get around and there’s always an abundance of drivers about . Seriously; you need to download the app before you go. I also request an Uber driver to travel the 1 hour journey between Cape Town and Franschhoek which normally costs about €35.
Food, glorious food!
Cape Town has long been considered one of the gastronomy capitals of the world and with very good reason. Indeed, South Africa as a whole is renowned for its mouth watering cuisine but Cape Town and the winelands have such an abundance of choice and flavours; all in close proximity. Its phenomenal! Chefs from all around the globe have flocked to the “mother city“ to open restaurants and cafes combining local and international flavours. Destinations such as Bree St, Kloof St, Franschhoek or Constantia are always a wash with Capetonians and visitors alike, battling for a table at one of the newest editions to the Cape Town food scene. You MUST plan ahead. Do your research and follow various social media pages like “Cape Town Food Guide” or “Food Blog Cape Town” and make your reservations a few weeks in advance. Most restaurants in the area require a significant security deposit; this is common practice so don’t be alarmed! Some of my favourites include The Black Sheep – Kloof St, The Shortmarket Club, Chefs Warehouse and Canteen – Bree St, Harbour House – Kalk Bay (stunning coastal views), Delaire Graff – near Stellenbosch (lunch on their terrace overlooking the vineyards and mountains is a must).
As you know, South Africa is one of the wine capitals of the world. The Western Cape is home to hundreds of vineyards so you won’t be stuck for choice. Stellenbosch, Constantia and Franschhoek are the most popular for wine tasting; the latter being my favourite. The Franschhoek Wine tram is a must! I just love this day out. There are multiple routes to choose from, all visiting several unique and beautiful vineyards. Just choose a route that suits you and go! You won’t be disappointed. I recommend the pink route which visits Boschendal (great for a picnic), Rust en Vrede (wine and Lindt chocolate pairing) and Babylonstoren (organic farm, vineyard and hotel – farm to fork – food is amazing)