By Travel Writer Bradley Fink
Of all the countries I have travelled, South Africa is definitely one of the best backpacking destinations. The country is full of hostels, lodges, and cheap accommodations, from the Jungle Monkey at Port St. Johns, to the Coffee Shack in the beautiful and secluded Coffee Bay. The best way to see South Africa is along the Garden Route, which runs up the coast via the N2 Highway. On the way you’ll pass capes, villages, and flourishing scenery, including the continent’s most spectacular beaches. To make the journey, there is no better place to start than Cape Town.
Cape Town is a city with a bit of everything. It has beaches, mountains, gardens, nightlife, culture and history. The landscape is incredible when you see it from above, which can be viewed from the dramatic plateau of famous Table Mountain. To get to the summit, you can either make the steep, two-hour hike, or take the cable car for 170 Rand (approximately $25 USD). If you do go up, bring water, sunscreen, a hat and a jacket with you, as the weather at the top can be unpredictable.
For shopping and entertainment, make your way down Table Mountain, to the V&A Waterfront which sits on Cape Town’s harbour. This is a popular spot with visitors as well as residents. The Waterfront features an aquarium, a marine museum, various harbour tours, and helicopter rides to the Cape Peninsula. From the harbour you can also tour notorious Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner for nearly 30 years. If you manage to work up an appetite, the Waterfront also boasts some excellent Cape Town restaurants.
To see some local flora and fauna, stop in at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. These are mentioned among the best botanical gardens in the world. The grounds feature plants from every region of South Africa, including rare species, medicinal plants, and a giant baobab tree. The gardens cover 36 hectares on a 528 hectare estate, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife. If you want to spend the day, you can bring a picnic lunch, or have a meal at one of the property’s several restaurants.
Cape Town is also popular for its outdoor water sports, such as surfing, diving, and deep sea fishing. If you plan to scuba dive, you may need to get a permit, as the waters around the Cape Peninsula are a Marine Protected Area. These waters, however, are known for sharks, which you may not want to swim with. Instead you can try the diving at Two Oceans Aquarium, which lets you test your scuba skills in a 2.2 million litre tank. The tank is filled with many types of ocean wildlife, including fish, sting rays, ragged tooth sharks, and a lonesome loggerhead turtle. 30 minutes in this massive tank runs as much as 400 Rand (approximately $60 USD), or 325 Rand for those who bring their own scuba gear.