At the tip of the Western Cape lies the Cape of Good Hope. It’s the most south-westerly point of the African continent, and a spot where thousands of tourists visit each year to pose in front of the breaking waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wonders of the Western Cape.
The Western Cape is the westernmost province of South Africa. It stretches as far north as the deserts of Bitterfontein on the West Coast and as far east as the ancient forests of the Garden Route. It’s big and diverse, both in terms of geography and culture. It’s a place to meet new people, learn about new ways of being, and experience wide-open spaces that have the possibility to transform the way you see the world. It’s an ideal spot to “get in a good space.”
Whether it’s your first time on the continent or you’re a return visitor seeking to explore more of the region, you’ll find a lot to discover. There’s natural splendour, colourful culture, great food and wine, and some of the best shopping on the continent. And let’s not forget about the game viewing opportunities. Explore our website to learn more and see a full offering of our vacation packages to South Africa.
But where should you start? And just what are the highlights of the various parts of the Western Cape? Let’s find out as we walk you through the wonders of this region.
What is there to do on a South African vacation to the Western Cape?
The Mother City of the Rainbow Nation
Most journeys to the Western Cape start or end in Cape Town, known as the Mother City. Table Mountain stands tall over the stretches of this coastal metropolis, which has one of the world’s most enviable natural locations. The Cape Peninsula stretches out to the south and Table Mountain and the waters of the Atlantic are the constant backdrop. But no matter how impressive the natural setting, the culture is what makes Cape Town so remarkable. This is a city that embodies diversity. You need only go into Bo-Kaap, the city’s Malay quarter, to experience a burst of cultural vibrance and learn how the city has become home to so many communities from far-flung parts of the world. The food scene is delectable. Head to the V&A Waterfront to experience the epicentre of the city’s luxury dining and shopping scene, or venture off into quieter neighbourhoods to discover new culinary favourites. Take the ferry to Robben Island and learn about the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela in the infamous prison where he was held captive for 18 years. If you’re looking to shop, eat, learn, or simply bask in natural beauty, there are few spots better than Cape Town.
The Majesty of the Cape Peninsula
Follow the coastline southwest of Cape Town and the land forms a point: the Cape Peninsula, which tails off into the Atlantic Ocean. At that southwesternmost tip you’ll find the Cape of Good Hope and the famous sign, but along the journey you’ll pass hillsides covered in bush scrub and home to chacma baboons, deep-blue waters breaking across the golden cliffs, and sandy beaches that are perfect for afternoon swims and sunset strolls. At Boulders Beach you’ll also find adorable African penguins, curious little birds that waddle around and thrive in the waters despite the relative warmth of the area. As you round the cape and head north again, winelands dot the path back to the city. It’s an area to enchant on a trip to South Africa.
If you like wine, look east of Cape Town and bask in the glory of the Cape Winelands. There are 17 official wine routes in South Africa, but the Western Cape is home to two of the most famous: Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Stellenbosch is an attractive university town with trendy cafes and art galleries in old buildings constructed in the Cape Dutch style. Franschhoek is equally attractive and has a French heritage going back to the 17th century. Between the towns stretch centuries-old vineyards backdropped by mountains kissing the clear blue skies. Spend your days sipping your favourite South African vintages under the sun and spend your nights in gorgeous restaurants and cosy accommodations away from the bustle of the city. Sounds like an ideal weekend escape.
The Flavours of the West Coast
The West Coast that stretches north of Cape Town all the way to the deserts of Bitterfontein is arguably the region’s best-kept secret. Follow the coast and you’ll pass old fishing villages, small towns that make for great photo stops, and the sorts of abundant spring flowers that would make the most ardent gardener jealous. Eventually, you’ll reach Paternoster, a small coastal town that happens to be home to one of (perhaps even the) best restaurants in the world. Wolfgat is internationally celebrated for its seven-course meals sourced from local ingredients and prepared to showcase the diverse flavours of the region. Just book ahead to make sure you get a spot.
The coastline southeast of Cape Town curves gently south like a crescent moon. On either side of this moon lie two of the world’s best bases for aquatic wildlife viewing. Hermanus in the north is perhaps the world’s best centre for whale watching. In the winter months (June through November; remember, South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere), southern right, humpback, and Bryde’s whales migrate through the waters in large numbers. You can book a cruise out onto the water to watch them during their journey and delight in the magnificence of these wise ocean mammals. Gansbaai in the south trades mammals for fish as it’s the nation’s hub for cage diving to see Great White Sharks. It’s quite the adrenaline rush to share the waters with these giant hunters, even from the safety of a cage, but it also speaks to the breadth of experiences available in the Western Cape.
A Kingdom of Colour
As you make that journey south on the coast, you’ll likely pass through Grootbos, which is known as the gateway to the Cape Floral Region. There are five floral kingdoms around the world and the Western Cape is home to one of the most remarkable, a compact area boasting over 9,000 native species of plants, including some of the world’s most beautiful wildflowers. To put things in perspective, that’s more native species of plant than exist in the entire United Kingdom! Crown-like proteas and the pinks and purples of Erica heather steal the show. Any budding florist needs to make this floral kingdom a stop on their journey through the Western Cape.
The Oldest Forests in the Land
As you reach the eastern edge of the Western Cape, you pass into the Garden Route, one of the most appealing and leisurely parts of South Africa. Here you’ll find some of the oldest forests in the entire country as well as dramatic inlets and bays that offer endless opportunities to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. Hiking, camping, scuba diving, surfing—heck, you can even go spelunking into the ancient caves, such as the Cango Caves north of Oudtshoorn. Oudtshoorn itself is a fascinating place. It’s known as the Ostrich Capital of the World, so you can bet you’ll see the world’s largest birds when you visit. Down on the coast you’ll find Knysna, a town set alongside rocky coastal cliffs and sweeping forests and rivers. It’s one of the nation’s most appealing resort towns.
Reset in Wide-Open Spaces
About as far from Cape Town as any spot in the Western Cape, the northeastern reaches of Cape Karoo offer an ideal retreat from city life. This is a land of desert and brush and wide open spaces where animals abound. The towns offer a taste of life that’s quieter and more in-tune with its surroundings than in most parts of the world. Prince Albert has its burgeoning restaurant scene. Matjiesfontein has its preserved 19th-century architecture that transports you two decades into the past. Cape Karoo also has some of the most astounding night skies in the world. It’s full of dark sky reserves, so head outside of town and look up on a clear night to watch the Milky Way put on one of the most spectacular light shows you’re ever likely to see.
As you can see, the Western Cape is bursting with life: natural life, cultural life, the life of the sky and the sea and the wind. It’s a place to “get in a good space” and enjoy the bounties of what life can offer. Consider heading west to the Western Cape. And when you’re ready to plan, get in touch with a Goway Destination Specialist.
15 Feb 2023, 5:25 p.m.