I guessed that this trip to South Africa would have been nice ..... The reality was also better than the imagination, with so many confirmations, and pleasant discoveries. In this article, I would like to share the travel experience and the strong emotions experienced in my first South Africa.
Cape Town, and Western Cape (South Africa): a journey report
I went to South Africa to windsurf, but also to visit Cape Town and the surroundings. The article will therefore be interesting not only for water sports enthusiasts, but also for all those who want to visit this country for tourism.
I immediately warn you: South Africa is addictive, and carries the risk of suffering from "Africa's sickness" upon your return.
Practical advice to organize the trip
The first thing to think about in time, of course, is the flight. And here the positive notes begin. You will discover that reaching South Africa costs less than flying to go to other destinations. At least from Europe. I spent 560 euros (excluding equipment transport), with Turkish Airlines in the second half of January, booking in October. If you opt to go during the Christmas holidays (excellent choice, to escape from the rigors of winter in the northern hemisphere), plan it in time, let's say about at June. Being the most popular period, if you book too close to the Christmas period, you will pay at least double.
Many people fly with Emirates (stopover at Dubai) taking advantage of its generous policy regarding hold baggage. In fact, in addition to the maximum weight of hold baggage that can reach 30 kgs, Emirates tolerates rather large dimensions. The total sum of the baggage dimensions is 300 cms, and, as mentioned, the allowed weight (economy saver class) is 30 kgs. Respecting these limits, the boarding of the equipment is free, in place, however, of the hold baggage (otherwise, they are at least 160 dollars more - prices 2018). A bag for windsurfing equipment (240 x 60 x 40 cms), exceeds the total limit of 300 cms. They generally do not to control, and many people run the risk (the checks seem to be approximate) .... To avoid the second luggage in the hold for a fee, you have to put almost all the clothes in hand luggage, or wear almost everything ..... and, above all, at the start from Cape Town, with 30 celsius degrees, it is not an easy solution....
A good alternative is to fly with Turkish Airlines (as I did), doing a stopover at Istanbul. The prices are convenient, and 1 hold baggage of 30 kg is allowed. Windsurfing equipment costs 90 € each way, from Italy to South Africa (180 € A / R), with dimensions of 240 x 60 x 40 cms and weight of 32 kg (even in this case, approximate checks) .
The Italy-South Africa route is also served by KLM and Lufthansa, which, however, have prices, in general, less cheap, and more inconvenient timetables.
The flight takes about 17 hours, stopover included (Turkish stops in Istanbul, Emirates in Dubai). Traveling at night, you will better bear the trip duration, even if, do not have illusions: unless you are traveling in Business class (and then have a real bed), you sleep bad on a plane, because of other people roaring, chatting, snoring, babies crying, ecc. But, anyway, the adrenaline on the way to destination will let you get to Cape Town wide awake.
To enter South Africa, you need an electronic passport (see photo below). The non electronic passport is not allowed. Local authorities are increasingly firm in denying access to foreigners who do not have a document with these characteristics. The visa is necessary for stays longer than 90 days. Up to 90 days of stay in the country, the touristic visa is issued directly upon arrival at the border. For stays longer than 90 days, it is necessary to apply for an entry visa to the diplomatic-consular network of South Africa in your country. For European tourists, the driving license according to the European Union model is accepted (i.e. police accept it), but in order to rent a vehicle an international driving license is required. However, contact the car rental company beforehand, because some still accept the license of your country (as happened to us). For detailed information, we always invite you to consult the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your country.
Renting a car in South Africa is cheap. We opted for the "Budget" company, spending 147 euros for 10 days, for a VW Polo (in which we managed to put all the windsurfing equipment inside). Many rely on "Rent a cheapie", which rents VW Golf of 70s, but does not have a deposit at the airport, and offers a shuttle service from the airport to their headquarters, at about 10 euros each way. Many, finally, opt for "Kenings", which hires Toyota pickups, with large trunk volume, which are an excellent solution, if you travel in two / three people, with many equipment with you.
In South Africa, alas, you drive on the left. But always keep in mind, in any situation to stay to the left (eg when you start driving in a side street with no center lines, or at cross roads), and you will see that you will get used to it quickly enough.
Drive carefully. Nonetheless on the Lonely Planet guide, it is written that in South Africa they drive badly, we have found, on average, kind and helpful people, but you can also meet someone who does risky maneuvers, every now and then. For example, in South Africa you have a rule according to which, at an intersection, where everyone has the stop, who first came to the stop, first has the right to proceed. Thanks to the kindness of most people, the rule is respected and it works without problems. Another thing to note regarding the driving habits is that, when you go to Paternoster along the R27 (a one-lane and fast-lane road, with long straights), you will soon experience another habit. When you are reached by a faster car from behind, you are invited to facilitate your overtaking by moving to the emergency lane. They will thank you by making the 4 turning lights blinking, and you, if you want, you will respond with a brights flash.
For those ones interested in windsurfing, in South Africa, we point out that we - our weight about 70 kgs - have brought a wave board, 3 sails (3.7, 4.2 and 4.7), two masts and a boom. As for the board, in particular, we think that a board of 10 liters more than the rider's weight is ideal, better if with a trusther fin set up. On the shore, the wind can be gusty, and to overcome the first foams, or the first breaking waves, of big size sometimes, it is better to have some volume under your feet, and a fast board. As for the rig, better to have tough equipment (we had Ezzy, a guarantee from this point of view), because you may run the risk of breaking something; but, the game is worth of running the risk, really!
Regarding the use of the mobile phone, unless you have a particularly advantageous contract with your operator (inform yourself, before departure), we suggest to buy a Sim Card from a local operator. Vodacom and MTN are the main ones. On Lonely Planet guide, they advise not to buy cards at the airport, because they would cost more. In shopping centers, at least in the larger ones, you can easily find a store of one of these operators (for example, in Table View you find MTN).
As for cash, we simply withdrew at the airport with our credit card. A tip: do not withdraw too much, unless you are used to spend lots of money .... With 100 euros/dollars, you can get for a long time in South Africa, because you will be pleasantly surprised by how little life costs here. And this is another added value of the country. A full tank of petrol for a VW Polo costs around 30 euros; petrol costs about 60 euro cents per liter!
Eating at the bars/restaurants in the evening is cheap; if you take a single course (taste the Malaysian cuisine of the Cape, maybe at Moyo at Big Bay, admiring the sunset), and a medium beer, you'll spend 150- 200 rand (about 9-13 euros). And even if you treat yourself well, you will struggle to spend the money we spend in Europe / North America. Of course, if you go to a luxury restaurant in Camps Bay (exclusive neighborhood of Cape Town), and you get a nice bottle of local Shiraz, you could also succeed in emptying your wallet.... But also in Camps Bay, if you take a meat or fish course, or a salad and a beer, at lunch time in one of the many pleasant bars on the seafront, you will not spend more than 20 euros.
As for accommodation, Cape Town offers options to suit all wallets, from the Guest House or camping sites at cheap prices (10-20 euros per day per person), up to the luxury villas or hotels, at prices corresponding to the offered level. Windsurfers/kitesurfers generally choose Table View, a quiet neighborhood in the North-West area of Cape Town (which also offers excellent services, and shopping centers), or in the nearby agglomerations (Sunset Village, Blouberg, Big Bay), because they are very close to most of Cape Town spots, and because they are barycentric, compared to the other more distant spots (spots of the Cape Peninsula, Yzerfontein, and Paternoster), from which are at 1/1.5 hours away by car.
What we visited (and what we would also have liked to visit)
On our vacation, we were lucky enough to have some days (the first ones), without good wind to practice our beloved sport. And so we had the opportunity to discover a fantastic country. A country that leaves you open-mouthed at every corner of the coast, at every village. Also Cape Town, give good vibrations. But let's go in order.
Surely, the landscapes that have impressed us the most were the ones in the Cape of Good Hope Peninsula: wild and immense as we like. It seems you are in Scotland, Cornwall, or Brittany, but with the climate and blue sky of the South African summer. How much time we spent looking out over the parapets of the coastal roads, to admire the white sand strechtes of Witsand, Platboom, Scarborough (west side of the peninsula), washed by an emerald ocean, which breathes incessantly, with smooth and regular waves that always reach (even when there is no wind) the shore, and in which we happened to see seals dancing. And only those who do windsurfing, kitesurfing, or surfing, can understand the fascination that can have so perfect waves (read the report of the session at Cape Point, on the 26th of january 2019). Behind the beaches, the steep coast, with its slopes of reddish rocks, because rich in iron, punctuated by a low and bright green vegetation, in which you may happen to see a baboon peeping out. About the latter ones .... They are nice and curious, but also spiteful. Keep the cars locked (they can open them), and if you're eating something outdoors, they might come up with some resourcefulness. In case, do not be afraid, run towards them and shout: they are more afraid of you, than you are of them ...
Even the east side of the peninsula is fascinating. Walking on the endless beach of Muizenberg, losing track of time, will fill your day with great sensations. The water of the Indian Ocean is warmer (about 18 degrees) than that of the Atlantic (13-15 degrees). If you are not particularly cold, here, you can take a cooling bath, even in bath suit, under the watchful protection of the Shark spotters, who will launch the alert in case of shark sighting (more frequent on the Indian than on the Atlantic, where there has never been an attack on a windsufer in many years).
But the emotions will continue along the coastal road that leads from Muizenberg to the Cape of Good Hope (Cape point), passing by the villages of Fish Hoek, and Simon's Town.
Boulders beach, and the beaches around, deserve a stop. In Boulders, there is the opportunity to admire a colony of African penguins, and, in a nearby beach (always included in the reserve), you can swim in a small cove, maybe with some penguin swimming around. This stretch of coastline, like others in the area, will also impress you with the magnificence of the seaside villas, mainly with modern style, clearly designed to best enjoy the outdoor summer life.
After passing Boulders beach, and, even more, after entering the Table Mountain Park (which extends up to Cape Point), the landscape becomes increasingly wild, and really stunning. The entrance to the park costs 303 rands, about 18 euros/20 dollars (for one person with car - prices 2019), but it is definitely worth of paying. Pay by cash, as they charge commissions fee in case of pyament by credit card.
Peaks covered with green vegetation overhang in the deep blue of the ocean.
I must say that, in these days of exploring, it has always been difficult to start returning to the Guest House around 7.00 pm, because around the corner there was always a new wonder to discover.
Even the stretch of Peninsula closest to Cape Town offers views worthy of note. First of all, I would like to highlight the majesty of Noordhoek Beach, another boundless beach, where it is nice to walk during the day, or admire the sunset.
A brief statement regarding the climate. Going from the European or North American winter, to the South African summer, is a big deal... You immediately get used to wearing a T-shirt, Bermuda, or a swimsuit, and flip-flops, or sandals. Generally, the climate is warm, and sometimes hot, but dry, and if some wind is blowing, the air coming from the colder ocean keeps the daytime temperature between 22 and 30 Celsius degrees. But watch out for the sun. Protect yourself appropriately with suncream with high protection factor and with a hat, because the sun is strong, and by the mid-afternoon you risk being already stunned by the radiotion intensity. And also keep in mind that you come from winter, and therefore you do not have that minimum of tan that you gradually acquire thanks to the spring sun. If instead there is no wind, the ocean's coolness is limited only to the shoreline. In Cape Town, the thermometer of our car on the highway was able to reach 35-38 degrees Celsius.
Dry climate...., but it's always a nice temperature ....
Continuing the coastal itinerary, it is definitely worth paying the toll (47 rands - 3 euros/5 dollars approximately), the road that goes from Noordhoek bay to Hout Bay, or stopping in Llandudno (although it is not easy to find parking here), a small beach surrounded by spectacular granite boulders (with the usual row of villas on the hill).
Speaking about Cape Town, the cableway ascent to Table Mountain is unmissable (330 rands - 19 euros/22 dollars A / R in the morning, 290 rands in the afternoon). Better if you go early in the morning, both to avoid the crowds, and because it is still not too hot (at the top you will be at about 1000 meters, but the sun can be even stronger, at higher altitude). Check the weather forecast carefully. The South East wind (the so-called Cape Doctor) should not be expected, when you go up, because otherwise the top of the mountain is covered with clouds, and you will find yourself in the fog, without being able to admire the magnificent views that explain why it's worth of getting up there.
From the summit of Table Mountain the view sweeps over the entire city below, and on the coast stretching to the north, but also on the Cape peninsula. And in my opinion, the most exciting views are those on the peninsula coast, and those on the beaches of Camps Bay, and Clifton just below you. On the top of the mountain, it is also possible to follow a series of itineraries: we followed the one for Maclear's Beacon, that is the real Table Mountain top. We recommend it, because, in addition to giving you magnificent views of the coast around, it allows you to get away from the crowd that sometimes stands at the area of the cableway arrival station. But if you want to do some serious trekking, or even dedicate yourself to climbing, ask at the Park Information Office, because Table Mountain offers beautiful paths, even to the nearby peak of Lion's Head, or to the Cape peninsula.
Cape Town. Cape Town deserves to be visited, and, if you're not too tired, even in the evening (at least in the Waterfront area, where you can go for dinner). I would like to premise that it is not as beautiful as the best European cities, which are also rich in a thousand-year history (I think to Lisbon, Paris, or many Italian cities, just to quote a few). But, anyway, it is a pleasant city to visit. We especially liked Waterfront, and Camps Bay. At Waterfront, a lot of restaurants and other businesses, as well as the Mandela Gateway (embarkation for Robben Island), and the Aquarium, arise around what were the the old industrial port basins. In Camps Bay, you will find a wonderful beach, where you can surf, or relax (it is always sheltered from the wind). Here, however, you have the Atlantic Ocean, and the water is pretty cold for bathing in bath suit (not for the local children ...). City Bowl (the commercial area in the Cape Town center) is too modern to fascinate, but anyway, a brief walking to have a look is worth doing (from the west of Waterfront, following the signs, you can get there in half an hour walking time).
Boo-Kaap, honestly, seemed to us even too much praised by the guides. Yes there are different colored houses, but the neighborhood is rather rundown. Moreover, this is the area in which we have often been approached for an alm request. On this point I will return later. We have tipped generously, but when you receive a request every 5 minutes, it can be a bit annoying. The Company's Gardens are pleasant but we have seen better in elsewhere.
We have not been able to see it all yet, and Cape Town will surely still hide some surprise. Kirstenbosch Garden, Signal Hill, Wineland, and Stellenbosh, will surely be the destinations of our next trips.
And then, back on the coast, there are all the wonderful beaches on the North side of the Western Cape. The first is Sunset Beach, where you can enjoy, perhaps, the most spectacular view of Table Mountain in the background. It is the closest to the residential neighborhoods of Sunset Village, and Table View (quiet areas to stay outside the city center), but it is already a paradise. Here, when the Cape Doctor blows, the wind is really strong, expecially in the afternoon. But if you go early in the morning, or on days when there is no wind, it will enchant you instantly!
After Bloubergstrand, a favorite spot for the kiters, and a very beautiful beach, but where the building speculation has a little disfigured the coast (for my tastes), you get to Big Bay, which is a place that I soon learned to love.
Despite the name, the bay is not that big. The charm of Big Bay does not depend on the landscape beauty, but on the perfect balance between a natural landscape, still evocative, and services and buildings at the sea front. In fact, close to the beach, you have a series of bars / restaurants where you can relax and enjoy the sunset on Robben Island, which is immediately opposite, while you quench your thirst with a beautiful Castle Lager. Even in Big Bay, several residential complexes have been built, but they are generally graceful, and there are no high palaces as at Blouberg.
Big Bay has also proved to be an excellent spot for windsurfing (read reports of our sessions here), safe and with waves of excellent quality, with the added value of the convenience of parking close to the spot, and some lawns near the beach where you can mount your equipment.
If, on the other hand, you really loves wilderness, from Big Bay to the North a series of beaches begin, accessible from the car parks along the M14, where you will only have the dunes, the sand, and the ocean dominating the scene (Haakgat is the one favored by windsurfers).
For our windsurfing trips, we headed north to Paternoster (about 1.5 hours drive from Cape Town). The spot is a lot of fun (read the spot review), but the beach is beautiful even for those who do not practise windsurfing (if the wind does not blow too strong). Here again, nature prevails.
Paternoster is a village of low white houses and villas. There is a border post atmosphere. There is not much, but walking through the narrow streets among the houses and on the beach was very relaxing for me. Paternoster is famous for lobsters, which boys will try to sell you along the street, even while you're driving.... According to the Lonely Planet guide, care must be taken to buy them from street vendors, as they are often the result of illegal fishing. We can not point out some fish shops, but in Paternoster there are several restaurants where, if you want, you can taste them already cooked (look for them on Google Maps or Tripadvisor). The stretch of coast, immediately south of Paternoster, is Natural Park (West Coast National Park), with very picturesque stretches of coastline.
Finally, if you have some days of time available, a safari in the natural parks within the country, is another goal not to be missed (which we still lack).
The habits, and the relationship with South African people
I leave this theme as last, because I consider it the most important.
While South Africa will conquer you more and more with its landscapes, the contact and the relationships with the people who live there will enter your head and heart, and above all they will be a reason for reflection.
You will soon get used to a change of scenery compared to many countries in the Northern emisphere world: the whites here are a minority, and you, as such, are part of that minority. But beyond the numerical ratios, what will be evident after a few days, is that the legal Apartheid ended in 1994, but there is still an economic apartheid, which, however, is now widespread, in various forms, in all the world.
The contrast between the almost exaggerated wealth of a small part of the white population, which transpires from the villas of Boulders, Camps Bay, Llandudno, and the poverty that still characterizes a large part of the black population, is a stomach punch that will often confuse you. It's hard to believe it.
A part of the black population is gradually emerging, and several have managed to conquer a decent lifestyle (those who have a stable job, or who even managed to start business activities). But the road for black people to get to dignified conditions is still really long. When you drive by car, you will pass by one of the different Townships on the outskirts of Cape Town, and you will be quite impressed.
That said, however, I want to be quite clear in saying that, personally, I have never felt in danger, and that I willingly came into contact with both the white and the black population. Of course, I did not go looking for risky situations, like going around in the evening alone in outlying areas of the city. But, what I want to say is that you do not have to worry about dangers from guys trying to help you at parking lots, which you will find punctually in every street, and parking, or sellers at intersections (but keep the windows not too low, otherwise they will stick in everything ....), porters to the airport; in short, all those black people who will offer you a service in exchange for a tip.
In the end, I often gratified them with a tip of 20 rands (to the porter who helped me bringing my windsurfing equipment inside the airport, with 38 degrees, I gave 200). For me, it represented the precise desire to give him a hand. And moreover, 20 rands are 1 euro, and if you need 1 euro to tear up a smile (or maybe a protection of your car), do not think about it too much.
If you know how to open your mind, with the right prudence, South Africa will also give you beautiful opportunities to meet people, and some beautiful stories to be heard. Do not lose them. At the beach, the children will approach you while you rig your windsurfing equipment at Paternoster; a photo will become an opportunity to get to know the story of another tourist coming from Zimbabwe; at the end, you will enter in confidence, perhaps, with some parking boy, or with a waiter in a restaurant, where you will come back often.
To close our report, two words on the tip. In South Africa, it is basically mandatory! Therefore, if you pay in cash at the restaurant, include it in the amount paid (or, they will directly hold the rest ...). And if you pay by credit card, you will hear: "You know that tip is not included?" So, adapt to that custom.
In short, just after taking off from Cape Town airport, you will be already planning the next trip here the following year ..... to relive these intense emotions again, and the memory of the trip will cheer you for a long time, on your return.
Have a nice trip. Fabio Muriano
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The video of the journey
The video of my friend Alessio