Cape Town: The Top 25

How do we love the South African center of surf, sand, and style? Josh Dean counts the ways, in no particular order

9. Oceans that kiss

It's a popular misconception that Cape Point, a.k.a. the Cape of Good Hope, is the southernmost tip of Africa. (That distinction actually belongs to Cape Agulhas, a few hours to the east.) Nonetheless, Cape Point, a finger of rocky land 45 minutes south of town, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans abut, is spectacular. To get to the top, you hike 15 minutes uphill or take the five-minute ride on the funicular (look out for--but do not feed--the precocious chacma baboons, which roam free around the area). A lighthouse is one of the only buffers between you and constant 50-mile-per-hour winds, which add to the whole land's-end feeling of it all. Capepoint.co.za, $5.30.

10. Prison for a day

It's impossible to visit South Africa without acknowledging apartheid and its aftereffects. The notorious Robben Island prison, a dusty spit of land in Table Bay where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years behind bars, is a 30-minute ferry ride away. The island became a national monument in 1997; former political prisoners now run 21/2-hour tours that take in, among other things, the maximum-security facility and the garden Mandela started as a way to stay sane. The tours tend to fill up early, so it's best to book well in advance. 011-27/21-413-4220, robben-island.org.za, tour $23.

11. Lobster by another name

Just about every menu in town features "line fish," meaning whatever's fresh off the boat that day. Yellowtail and kingklip are both common, as is crayfish--which is actually what locals call lobster. At the beachside restaurant Paranga, in Camps Bay, succulent tails are chopped and served atop a bed of crispy lettuce. Shop No. 1 The Promenade, 011-27/21-438-0404, crayfish salad $25.

12. Pith helmet not included

Capetonians' colonial heritage runs deep. Nowhere is that more apparent than at The Mount Nelson Hotel, a vast pink complex in the city's Garden section. A longtime haven for rich travelers, it also welcomes rubberneckers to an all-you-can-eat afternoon tea ($17), a mass of cookies, crumpets, and crustless sandwiches. 76 Orange St., 011-27/21-483-1000, mountnelson.co.za, 2:30 p.m.--5:30 p.m.

13. Reincarnated rubbish

Every day, artisans from countries all across the continent gather at the city's largest outdoor market, in Greenmarket Square, to hawk handmade toys, sculptures, and boxes crafted from discarded materials. You might find a radio cobbled together from Fanta soda cans and bits of scrap wire, or a bag made of Amstel beer bottle caps. A couple blocks away, African crafts--masks, instruments, jewelry--are sold in the Pan-African Market, three stories of well-curated miniboutiques (76 Long St., between Longmarket and Shortmarket Sts., 011-27/21-426-4478).

14. Language gaps

People in Cape Town speak English, but it's their own version. One marvelous example: They call traffic lights "robots."

15. Downhill shopping

Kloof Street, starting near the intersection of De Lorentz Street, attracts the stylish set. Browse swank home interiors at Klooftique (87 Kloof St., 011-27/21-424-9458), mid-century modern furniture at Karizma (39 Kloof St., 011-27/21-424-0289), and locally designed men's streetwear at A Suitable Boy (43 Kloof St., 011-27/82-357-5097). Downhill, when Kloof changes to Long Street, the vibe becomes more bohemian, à la San Francisco's Haight Street, with skate shops, used bookstores, and one of the city's most popular bars, Jo'Burg (220 Long St., 011-27/21-422-0142).

16. Umpteen beaches

The Cape is one big peninsula, and every few miles, sandy bays peek out between rocky cliffs. The city's Atlantic coast, called the Cape Riviera, attracts all types: Surfers opt for Llandudno (pictured); the uninhibited go to clothing-optional Sandy Bay; beautiful people spend their lunch break strutting on the promenade at Camps Bay; and hardbodies congregate at Fourth Beach, one of four numerically named beaches in Clifton. Not that the point is to get wet; the water arrives by way of the South Pole.

17. Crocopaccio!

It is entirely possible to vist Cape Town and feel like you're nowhere near the bush--that is, until you enter Khaya Nyama, a restaurant that puts an haute spin on wildlife with unusual dishes like crocodile carpaccio ($5.50) and grilled zebra steak ($14). 267 Long St., 011-27/21-424-2917. #18 Helicoptering qualifies as a sport A fleet of pilots along the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront peddle helicopter tours of the Cape. A 20-minute flight generally runs about $100 and takes in the city, the Clifton beaches, and Table Mountain. Sport Helicopters, run by Ernest McDonald, was the first outfitter around. The hour-long ride is a splurge at $300, but if you ask nicely the pilot might take you for a detour over Robben Island, which helps put its isolation in even greater perspective. 011-27/21-419-5907, sporthelicopters.co.za.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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