The Western Cape, as a province of South Africa, attracts millions of people each year to a seemingly little area when compared to other provinces in the country, but one that is so gorgeous that it can’t help but draw attention. It’s no surprise that it’s one of South Africa’s gems, with the lively metropolis of Cape Town as its capital.
The Western Cape, being at the tip of Africa, is flanked on two sides by oceans: the Indian Ocean to the south and the Atlantic to the west, which adds to its attraction. Despite the untamed Cape Agulhas coast, the Garden Route’s remarkable splendour, and the West Coast’s sparse, wide stretches of sand interrupted only by rocky outcrops and fishing communities, it is not the shoreline that draws the visitors.
The green lakes and indigenous woods of the Wilderness, the sun-drenched vineyards of the Cape Winelands, the majestic passes to enter the interior, and the broad, windswept dry plains of the Klein Karoo all seem to be part of a fantasy world that often defies description.
The city bowl of Cape Town is without a doubt the beating heart of the Western Cape. Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world today, with its own distinct flavour influenced in no small part by the cultural melting pot of Indonesian, French, Dutch, British, and German inhabitants who each indelibly put their mark on the city’s foundations.
The inner city is a jumble of high-rise office buildings, Edwardian and Victorian buildings, and narrow, cobblestone streets that give rise to magnificent specimens of Cape Dutch design. It also has a mix of corporate and independent businesses, which gives it a vibrant feel, especially during lunchtime, when the streets fill up with a mix of lunchtime restaurants, consequent entertainment, and market booths.
The inner city, which is constantly engulfed by Table Mountain’s maternal presence, combines with an easy choice of white sandy beaches, must-see attractions such as Robben Island, Cape Point, and the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, magnificent green areas with rivers, vleis, and dams, a floral kingdom that is entirely unique to the Cape, and an effortlessly warm climate that makes the Western Cape a logical year-round destination.
The colourful coastline, which spans from Lambert’s Bay on the West Coast to Witsand, offers great variation. You will not be disappointed, with sweeping sandy beaches perfect for swimming and sunbathing, where children can splash in the shallows, to stormy narrow shores with crashing waves that test your mettle but provide awe-inspiring views from surrounding cliffs, where some of the country’s best hikes, such as the Otter Trail, pass.
The Cape Whale Coast, in particular, generates quite a stir and attracts a unique intelligent and remarkable species to our shores that never fails to instil a sense of well-being and immense delight in those who come to witness them up close. Whales, such as the Southern Right Whale and the Bryde’s (pronounced ‘broodess’) and Humpback Whales, are frequently seen along the Cape Overberg Coast, from Stony Point at Betty’s Bay to Hermanus, Kleinmond, Onrus, Walker Bay, the De Hoop Nature Reserve, and Witsand’s cliff walks. These gentle giants spend the summer eating around Antarctica, then move thousands of kilometres to our waters to mate and calve in the sheltered coves of the South African coast.
The Western Cape Winelands are another of South Africa’s major draw cards, seamlessly combining the beauty of ripening vineyards, Cape Dutch manor homes, and excellent cuisine in valleys surrounded by indigo mountains, to the point where visitors return to fully appreciate the many wine routes and estates on offer. Many are within easy driving distance of Cape Town, particularly those in Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, and Wellington, but there are others further afield in other wine-producing valleys – the Breede River Valley, the Swartland, and the Olifants River Valley, to name a few – that are equally appealing (see Cape Wine Routes).
Other reasons to visit the Western Cape include the Overberg, with its numerous villages, mountains, and coastline; the citrus-producing Cederberg, with its incredibly intense summers and amazing mountain scenery; and the Breede River Valley, which includes timeless villages like McGregor, Swellendam, and Malgas.
Western Cape Top Destinations
Since the first person saw Table Mountain in Cape Town, it has exercised a tremendous and captivating attraction on everyone who fall under its spell. The path to the summit has never been simple, and only a few brave and enterprising people could claim to have climbed it for ages.
Table Mountain, at 260 million years old, is one of the world’s oldest mountains. Even the Andes, which are only 250 million years old, are younger. The Himalayas are barely 40 million years old, despite popular belief that they are far older.
Several of Cape Town’s more renowned (and presumably less fit) people had proposed the construction of a railway line to the top by the late 1870s. Plans to build a projected rack railway began, but the beginning of the Anglo-Boer war put a stop to them. Now the mountain is one of the top tourist destinations in Western Cape.
Table Mountain National Park
The Table Mountain National Park, located in the picturesque city of Cape Town on South Africa’s south-western coast, comprises the extraordinarily scenic Peninsula mountain chain, which stretches 60 kilometres from Signal Hill in the north to Cape Point in the south.
The Atlantic Ocean in the west and the warmer waters of False Bay in the east circle the tiny stretch of land with its numerous picturesque valleys, bays, and beaches.
The majestic Table Mountain and the famed Cape of Good Hope are both inside the limits of the Table Mountain National Park. This singular land formation, with craggy cliffs, steep slopes, and sandy plains, is a truly magnificent natural, scenic, historical, cultural, and recreational value both locally and worldwide, thanks to its incredibly rich, diverse, and unique flora.
Robben Island, 12 kilometres off Cape Town, has been a destination of banishment, exile, isolation, and imprisonment for for 400 years. Political dissidents, social outcasts, and the undesired of society were all transported to Robben Island by their masters.
Robben Island became notorious for its institutional cruelty during the apartheid era. The purpose of those in charge of Robben Island and the Robben Island jail was to isolate and demoralise opponents of apartheid. For their views, some liberation warriors spent more than a quarter-century on Robben Island.
On a psychological and political level, those imprisoned on the Island succeeded in turning a prison ‘hell-hole’ into a symbol of freedom and personal liberty. Robben Island came to symbolise the triumph of the human spirit over great hardship and adversity, not only for South Africa and the African continent, but for the entire world.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town is world-renowned for the beauty and richness of the Cape flora it exhibits, as well as the grandeur of its location against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain.
Kirstenbosch only grows flora that are native to South Africa. The 528-hectare Kirstenbosch estate is home to a varied fynbos flora and natural forest.
The 36-hectare cultivated garden features collections of South African flora, notably those from the country’s winter rainfall zone. An information desk, a variety of shopping businesses, and a coffee shop are all part of the Kirstenbosch Visitors’ Centre. Plants and other services for the home garden can be found at the Centre for Home Gardening.