While many of us are familiar with the term “apartheid” and Nelson Mandela, it was not until my trip to South Africa that I was able to get a firsthand account of this racial divide that had such a profound impact on South African history and culture. Ironically, I had purchased Trevor Noah's Born a Crime months before my trip, however, I didn’t get a chance to read it until I got back to the States. Simply reading this book would have given me some of the background knowledge and terminology to improve my cultural context. For example, when I heard the term “colored” used in South Africa, I was automatically transported to images of the segregated South, however, the term “colored” refers to lighter skinned Africans of mixed heritage. I am a black woman that lives in America, so I am not unfamiliar with racism, but the systematic divisions of apartheid were chilling, knowing that this dark time in history ended as recent as 1994.
Johannesburg was filled with stark reminders of the apartheid era, and there were countless times that my sisters and I were advised to remain inside of most buildings during tours and to not peruse the city streets due to the threats of muggings and/or harm. And while Cape Town on the surface gave the impression of prosperity and the good life, it only took a quick drive out of the touristy areas to “smash and grab” territory to remind you that the economic impacts of apartheid are still thriving in many townships.
Johannesburg and Cape Town are both filled with a seemingly endless amount of rich and powerful history, and my trip only scratched the surface. However, I have outlined some of the activities and/or tours that I would recommend for each city below.
Take a city tour.
One of the best ways to see the top sites in any city, especially if you’re on a limited schedule, is by spending a day or two on the hop-on hop-off bus. Instead of spending your day piecing together your own itinerary and trying to figure out the best methods of transportation, you can buy a ticket for the bus route of your choice and depart the bus at any time to visit those must-see locations on your list. And being that I am a self-proclaimed historian, one of my favorite things about the Hop-On Hop-Off bus is that as it cruises through the city, you are given free headphones to listen to historical facts about the city. Below are pictures of some of my favorite stops:
One of my biggest regrets was not having enough time to fully immerse myself in the history at the Apartheid Museum and/or not paying additional money for a guided tour. If I was to go back to Johannesburg, I would definitely add space into my itinerary for this tour.
Visit Mandela House in Soweto.
Soweto is one of the most historic black townships in South Africa and was home to Nelson Mandela and many other South African advocates and popular figures. For $5 US, you can walk through Mandela House and continue your trek through Soweto to get a taste of authentic “Jo-Berg” culture.
Grab lunch at the original Nandos.
Take a safari.
See Johannesburg from the observation deck of the Carlton Centre, the tallest building in Africa.
The five days that we spent in Cape Town was not nearly enough time to scratch the surface of this beautiful port city flanked by views of the infamous Table Mountain. From the Cape of Good Hope to the wineries of Stellenbosch, there were so many places to go and things to see in and around Cape Town.
Ride the Hop-on Hop-off bus up to Table Mountain.
One of the things to note when visiting South Africa is that it is Winter when the States are celebrating Summer. While the temperatures were not brutally cold, riding up to Table Mountain versus hiking, all while getting a tour of the city and nearby beaches, is a must add to your itinerary. Click here to secure your seat.
Visit Robben Island.
Robben Island is probably one of the most popular attractions for tourists visiting Cape Town and is home to the infamous prison where Nelson Mandela would serve a large portion of his prison sentence. And being that this tour is so popular, I recommend booking in advance to secure your spot on one of the outgoing ferries. Unfortunately, the waters were so choppy on the day of our tour to Robben Island that all ferries were cancelled, and being that our itinerary was super tight, we didn't have the time to move this tour to another day.
Hike Table Mountain.
For adventure and fitness enthusiast, a trip to Cape Town is not complete without hiking Table Mountain. Being that the weather and terrain can be unpredictable, it is always advised to hike with a knowledgable guide. You can click here to book a private hiking tour.
Visit Stellenbosch (or any of the other Winelands).
Cape Town is surrounded by wineries, and the day that we spent in Stellenbosch was one of the best days of the entire trip. There are many ways to visit the wineries from Cape Town, such as the wine tram, the vine hopper bus, group tours, private tours, etc. And there is a winery for every wine connoisseur. JC Le Roux and Mulderbosch made the top of our favorites list.
Sidenote: If you have time for dinner while visiting the Winelands, The Tasting Room is highly recommended.
Take the drive to Boulder Beach and The Cape of Good Hope.
Eat seafood near the beach at Camps Bay.
Visit the townships.
Cape Town is home to Langa, one of the oldest townships and Khayelitsha, one of the largest and fastest growing townships in Cape Town. You can click here to safely visit these townships and others with a guide.
Shop and Dine at the VA Waterfront.
“Where the city meets the sea”
One of the perks of traveling to South Africa, especially is you are from the US, is that your $ go very far. We were able to dine and live the luxe lifestyle on a minimal budget, whether shopping for trendy new outfits or fine dining at one of the many restaurants on and/or near the waterfront.
Sidenote: The Ocean Basket became one of our favorite chain eateries while in Capetown, and there was even a location in the airport for us to enjoy while waiting for our flight to depart.
Pose for pictures in the Bo-Kaap.
The Bo-Kaap, one of the most photographed areas in Cape Town, was previously home to slaves that expressed their love for color through the painting of their homes due to a law that prevented them from wearing colorful clothing. Like many black neighborhoods that have become prime real estate, gentrification is threatening to push out homeowners to make way for new real estate ventures by either buying out residences and/or increasing taxes to a point of in-affordibility for most home owners in that area. This has prompted several protests, causing many tour companies to remove the Bo-Kaap from its list of safe sites for tourists. However, we decided to chance it, and asked a couple of homeowners for permission to take pictures in front of their historical homes.
I would love to visit Cape Town during the summer and enjoy their thriving nightlife, and I can now see why many celebrities like Will Smith own homes in his beautiful city. Have you been to South Africa? And if so, what are some of your favorite things to do, see, or eat while there?
P.S. If you would like assistance booking your next trip, click here.
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