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

19. A head trip

Like the nature-loving natives of San Francisco--it's pretty much impossible not to compare Cape Town to San Francisco, by the way--people in Cape Town don't take their dramatic geography for granted. The local tourism website has information about the many trails within city limits. Among the best: the 90-minute hike up Lion's Head. It's hard going, but the 360-degree views of the city and the Atlantic at the top make the haul worth it. Tourismcapetown.co.za.

20. Jewelry makers on house call

Terri van Schaik at Pure Africa works with local artisans to make traditional jewelry with a modern spin--and a conscience: A quarter of the company's profit is reinvested in the artisans' often impoverished communities. Pure Africa's pieces are sold at a number of local gift shops, but Terri will also come to you, bringing her latest line to hotels and inns around town. 011-27/82-370-9694, pureafrica.co.za.

21. A road best driven in reverse

A six-mile succession of hairy switchbacks cut into cliffs above the Atlantic, Chapman's Peak Drive gives the Pacific Coast Highway a run for its money. Rock slides closed the road from 2000 until last year; now, elaborate catch fences and concrete overhangs deflect stray boulders. The road runs from Hout Bay, southwest of the city center, to Noordhoek, and you can drive it either direction, or go both ways (chapmanspeakdrive.co.za, $3 toll). The reverse route from Noordhoek to Hout Bay is best for two reasons: better views from the left side of the road (South Africans follow British traffic rules), and the opportunity to finish in Hout Bay, home of the stately Chapman's Peak Hotel. On a balcony overlooking a horseshoe beach, reward yourself with a cold Lion beer on draft, and calamari seared and served in the same cast-iron pan (Chapman's Peak Dr., Hout Bay, 011-27/21-790-1036, calamari $9).

22. A taste of townships

Residents of local townships Langa, Nyanga, and Guguletu lead four-hour tours that provide an up-close look at South Africa's massive underclass. Amid the overpopulated, tin-roofed, dirt-floored shacks are informal bars known as shebeens, where women stir pots of homemade grain beer that they serve while it's still steaming hot. Daring visitors are invited to pass around a communal metal bucket and sample the beer. Thuthuka Tours, 011-27/21-433-2429, half-day tour $38.

23. Alternative medicine

Every township has a sangoma, or traditional healer, who treats ailments through a variety of herbs, powders, tinctures, and animal skins. Any township tour (see #22) will include a stop at his hut, typically a dim shack that's adorned with skins, critter skulls, and desiccated snakes hanging from the ceiling like the world's creepiest party streamers. Upon request, he'll even treat tourists' ills.

24. Swimming with sharks

Great white sharks congregate in large numbers in nearby waters, which might help to explain how the odd sport of shark diving started here. The idea is pretty simple: You're inside a cage, surrounded by fish entrails and bloody water; the sharks take the bait and gnash at your cage. It's safe--as long as you keep your hands inside--but terrifying. The capital of shark diving is two hours east of Cape Town in Gansbaai, a town that's also known as Shark Alley. White Shark Diving runs full-day trips that keep you underwater for a short but ample 15 minutes, and they'll drive you back and forth from Cape Town. 011-27/21-532-0470, white-shark-diving.com, $182, includes breakfast and lunch.

25. A grape of the Cape

Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes, originated in South Africa. The best place to sample it is Stellenbosch, a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, where more than 100 vineyards blanket the countryside. Stellenbosch is South Africa's second-oldest town, and its beautiful whitewashed Cape Dutch homes are exactly as they've been for the last 300 years. Wine Enthusiast bestowed 89 points on the 1999 Pinotage from Warwick Estate, a Spanish-style hacienda surrounded by clementine groves (pictured). The winery offers free tastings of its Pinotage, along with its bordeaux, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc. On R44, west of Stellenbosch, 011-27/21-884-4410, warwickwine.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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