South Africa: Top Ten Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in Cape Town
By Petro Kotzé
From colorful suburbs and sunsets over the Atlantic, spending time in one of Africa’s most popular tourist destination does not necessarily mean spending money.
On the stormy southern tip of Africa lies a city wrapped around the rugged edge of Table Mountain, her toes seductively dipped in the icy Atlantic.
Cape Town or, the Mother City, lives up to almost all expectations: From soft, white beaches to all-night parties and world-class art exhibitions.
However, resembling many famous women, this lady wears a hefty price tag. With guests like Victoria and David Beckham calling the city home during 2010 FIFA World Cup, a red card for spending, or splurging, seems unlikely. Nonetheless, some of the best things in life, and even in Cape Town, are still free…
1. Full moon on Lion's Head
Once a month, hundreds of Capetonians tackle the steep hour's walk up Lion's Head, a sandstone-capped crag, covered in fynbos vegetation, between Table Mountain and the ocean.
Armed with torches and tinkling glasses, they ascend to watch the sun set over the Atlantic shoreline. A toast then goes to the full moon that rises over the City Bowl on the other side. The stiff walk from Signal Hill Road is not for the faint hearted, and includes two chains to pull yourself up two vertical rock-faces.
2. Slowing down on the seashore
Life in this city is, indeed, a beach. This game caters to every player’s needs; a dip in the ocean or a mere glimpse of the sand with cocktail in hand. The bold and the beautiful congregate at Clifton's four beaches, while Camp's Bay's bar-lined strip next door is a favorite spot for sundowners.
A more relaxed atmosphere prevails at the southern suburbs’ sandy strips of Muizenberg and Fishhoek, where you’ll find ample opportunity for that embarrassing first surfing lesson. Pros at this sport should head to Noordhoek to compare skills on the waves.
3. The fans go wild for the city's wines
The vineyard-lined freeway towards the southern suburb of Constantia from the City Bowl clearly marks this as wine country. The first Governor of the Cape Colony, Simon van der Stel, claimed his territory here and is regarded by some as the granddaddy of South African wines.
Today a sip of Chardonnay or sultry Shiraz does not need to cost you an arm at a leg. Groot Constantia, the country’s oldest wine estate is a national monument and the finest surviving example of Cape Dutch architecture, dating back to 1685.
To taste five of their world-renowned wines will cost you R25, including a souvenir tasting glass. A listing of all the Constantia Wine Farms can be found at constantiavalley.com.
4. The Company garden
In the heart of Cape Town lies a garden. Where the first European settlers planted vegetables, Capetonians now take time-out from the bustling surrounds. Many transformations have swept through this colorful patch at the top end of Adderley Street in the city centre.
Today, visitors can take their shoes off to saunter through the rose garden or hug the oldest cultivated Pear Tree in South Africa. Downloaded brochures can be found at capetown.gov.za
5. A colorful look at the past
At the foot of Signal Hill lies a patch of brightly-colored houses that rest on narrow cobbled streets. The Bo-Kaap, or Cape Malay Quarter, dresses itself in anything from pink and yellow to orange, with its history the only thing richer than its choice of colors.
Descendants of slaves that were imported from, among other places, Malaysia and Indonesia, the residents are famously proud of their heritage. A walk around the suburb will reveal cravats and mosques, but you will be hard pressed to resist dishing out Rands to tuck into the aromatic Malaysian cuisine. More information may be found a bokaap.co.za
6. The Waterfront
South Africa's most visited destination, the Victoria and Alfred, or in short "V&A Waterfront," is the ultimate goal for spenders. Jimmy Choo shoes, luxurious hotels and lavish restaurants hustle for attention.
But the out-of-pocket also benefit. Visitors can see dove-like yachts and visiting navy ships while ambling down the harbor, which is lined with outstanding heritage buildings of Victorian industrial architecture.
The amphitheater at the shopping center regularly sends (free) music drifting over the waters. Traditional African dancers and weathered old men performing Cape Malay songs often entertain the crowds. More information at waterfront.co.za
7. The Biscuit Mill
Browse through elaborate cupcakes and imported French cheeses with the super-chic and fashionable Cape Town crowd – for the price of a coffee. The market includes a fresh food and clothing section, for anything from trendy baby garb to up-and-coming designer gear.
Some weekends see things liven-up even more with music performances. Part of the city's oldest suburb, Woodstock, the old mill is surrounded by semi-detached, Victorian houses. Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; theoldbiscuitmill.co.za
8. Long Street
Crammed with quirky boutiques, falafel vendors and even dreadlock-makers, no shopping is like window-shopping in this part of town. Around the corner, Green Market Square awaits with more snap-happy opportunities.
At night, the street lights up with restaurants and bars vying for attention. Keep your ears on the ground for free blues bands and other acts scattered up and down the road.
9. The road-trip
Filmmakers and photographers take to the streets for winning scenery. Open windows reveal a slice of vineyard-covered hills and infinite oceans. Follow the M3 to surfer's hotspot Muizenberg and then Cape Point.
Cuddle close to the cliffs towards Kommetjie and Noordhoek before hitting Chapman's Peak drive (a toll-fee applies) and then take half-time on Hout Bay beach. Swing back to Constantia, head straight for Kirstenbosch and hit home-ground on the M3, back to the buzz of the city centre.
Savvy tourists take the World Cup one step further – to the fans. With only a day to spare, donate an afternoon and teach your fancy footwork skills to kids at disadvantaged communities.
Paid-for outings at The Backpackers include historical tours (R600). If dribbling is not your thing, pass on other skills: Visitors can also knit blankets. “A wonderful way to meet the locals,” says manager Brendan Tinsley. backpackers.co.za or capetown.travel.co.za
Eight games will take place in Cape Town, including one of the semi-finals. Teams from, among others, England, Italy, France, Cameroon and the Netherlands will play their hearts out at the Green Point stadium to be crowned the ultimate champions.
Savvy travelers, who spend wisely are sure to get the best out of their trip, and emerge victorious in the battle to beat the splurge.
Petro Kotzé is a freelance journalist based, for most of the time, in South Africa.