Hi all. I didn't ask any questions here before our South African vacation (I was mostly on the Sabi Sand forum) but I did use TA for the entire trip so I thought I'd post a trip report of the Cape Town part of our itinerary.
Thanks to TA, we chose Atlantic Suites in Camp's Bay for our first stop and we could not have been happier. Besides the hotel being so amazing, we found Camp's Bay to be an ideal location for our base. It was an easy drive from the airport, and once there it's an easy drive into Cape Town, which we did only for dinners. Camp's bay itself is beautiful, the beach is nice (though we didn't spend a lot time there because we were do busy doing other things!) and it get amazing sunsets.
We arrived at 9 in the evening the first day and after traveling 26 hours, we decided to stay in. The next morning, we were still a little out of it haha so we decided to to take it easy and do the Hop on/Hop off bus since it required no thinking. ;) We opted to do the blue route, which spends more time on the outskirts of Cape Town, and I'm glad we did. We got off at two stops, the Victoria and Albert waterfront, and World of Birds. World of Birds was great especially because the workers allowed us inside the owl enclosure during their feeding - and it was awesome. The spider monkeys are also great. (See my review.)
The next day we went to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (an idea we got on the bus tour the day before) because it was rainy on our side of the mountain. It ended up being clear over in Kirstenbosch so it was a great decision. And it was stunning - the views, the incredible gardens, birdwatching. After Kirstenbosch we decided to do Chapman's Peak drive since we weren't in the mood for anything indoors and it was clear in that direction. ;)
On day 3 we hiked Table Mountain. We hired a guide, Pietro, with Table Mountain Walks and he was great. If you plan on hiking Table Mountain for the first time, I highly recommend hiring a guide. There are hundreds of trails and it isn't unheard of to hear of people getting lost. Plus Pietro picked us up at our hotel in the morning, explained the flora and surrounding views the whole way up, and was very patient with my slower pace. We did a half day (4.5 hr) hike and took the funicular down, then a cab back to his car.
On day 4 we did Cape of Good hope. We did Chapman's Peak drive again on the way down, which was still stunning, and then parked at the lighthouses and hiked to Cape Point. Then back to the parking lot for the next hike down to the other point via Diaz Beach. I cannot stress enough that this is the way to do CGH. If you do as so many other tourists do, and drive yourself to the sign saying you're at the southernmost point and then leave, you have missed everything good about this activity. Every person I spoke with before and since that was just "meh" about CGH just did the picture with the sign. The views along the hike, especially if you hike down to Diaz beach on your way, are amazing. Then you hike to the point where you look down and see all the tour buses and tourists swarmed around that sign. haha.
On the way back to Cape Town from CGH we stopped at Boulders Beach for some pictures with the penguins. We love penguins so it was worth it for us to pay the entrance fee (it's part of Table Mountain National Park) just to have the chance to be so close. We didn't stay long - maybe 30 minutes but the penguins really are adorable and we got some great pictures.
Unfortunately, that was all the time we had in Cape Town. We did not hike Lion's head, and didn't do much in the city other than dinners. (I reviewed all the restaurants, but the best for us were Myoga (for fancy) and Savoy Cabbage.) We didn't have time for Robben's Island (the day we were going to go was the morning it was raining.) and didn't do any museums. So we'll just have to go back. :)
There is only ONE negative thing I would say about Cape Town. It's hard to put my finger on so please no one take offense. I travel all over the world on a regular basis (I am an international flight attendant) and so am constantly exposed to different cultures and surroundings. Normally I am very relaxed, probably to a fault, about my safety. I have no problem venturing out alone on my layovers - but Cape Town was one place where I really felt like I had to be on guard and I don't know why.
We were there during the height of the Pistorious stuff - and at the time there were headlines on CNN about how "obsessed" (their wording) South Africans are about protecting themselves and crime. Granted, that's US news reporting on another country so I am taking it with a grain of salt. But perhaps that contributed to my feeling. Granted, crime is everywhere and you always have to be careful and smart. However, being from the US, we are not accustomed to the level of security South Africans go through. Walls around houses, our inn front door was like a vault and we were told it was to be locked at all times, signs for ADT armed security on every home, signs warning you not to leave anything in your car --- the whole time I was there, I didn't feel unsafe, but I felt like maybe I should! Our innkeeper in Franschhoek told us thieves will break the window of your car for an envelope sitting in the front seat. Don't leave ANYTHING exposed in your car (she said.) Between the guys who demand Rand to "watch your car" and the signs plastered on poles all around the city to not leave anything visible in your car, I got the feeling that's a real problem.
So after having this feeling during our vacation, we were ALMOST victims of a scam (I believe) at the end of our trip. (not in Cape Town.) We were driving through Belfast on our way back to JNB to go home. Belfast is the last town before you hop on the highway (a toll road.) A man in a yellow neon vest (I think there must be a yellow neon vest store in every city in South Africa haha because so many people wear them LOL) flagged our car down at a light. We thought we'd been caught in a speed trap because there were other cars being flagged down too.
The man said that due to heavy rains, the computer system for the toll booths was down and this was causing huge backups (hours long) at the tolls. To avoid this we would need to buy the prepay card (sort of like ezpass) to go straight thru. He directed us where to go to buy the pre-paid card. (The tourist office, a few blocks away.) We followed the directions to find another man in an yellow vest there to help us. My husband got out of the car, but his red flags went up when he did not see any tourist office signs - we'd been led to a bank. The new yellow vest man tried to get my husband to put his ATM card into the ATM machine, which he insisted was the machine for the prepay card.
Needless to say, my husband refused. And very nervously walked back to the car, where I was sitting alone. When he realized what was happening, he became nervous for my safety since I was there alone with all of our valuables - he was a wreck. We left - and when we got to the toll, there was no line, and the toll collector took our money just fine. So I am certain that it WAS a scam.
That said, everything was FINE. We survived unscathed. ;) It was just a general underlying feeling that both my husband and I had and we'd never felt that way anywhere else before. Perhaps it would go away the more time we spend there - which we plan to do since we truly loved all our experiences - the whole vacation was really amazing and we can't wait to go back. :)Edited: 2:49 pm, March 08, 2013