THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN (UNMISSABLE!)
Last Update: December 2019!
What to do in Cape Town, 10 crazy fun things tested (with photos!) and recommended by Tomas Degenaar, my good friend from Stellenbosch – South Africa – A guy who knows what he’s talking about!
So you want to know what are the things locals like to do in Cape Town? You’re in luck! I’m Tomas, nice to meet you! Born and raised in Stellenbosh, I’m here to tell you that I have discovered some amazing, adventure-packed activities and other things to do in Cape Town THAT ARE ALMOST A SECRET FOR THE TOURISTS!
South Africa and Cape Town, in particular, are so well known, that you’ll find at least 200 guides and articles and blog posts on the “Best Things To Do In Cape Town”. With probably always the same (still worth it) activities:
Table Mountain (the usual path) and sunset option
Wine Tasting (In my home town Stellenbosh of course!)
Visit The art Galleries on Thursdays
Climb Lion’s Head
Visit Robben Island
See the Penguins
Take Surf Lessons
Check out Long Street
Day trips to the Kruger Park for a Safari
This list could go on and on of course. As a local, I obviously know all these amazing things and so many others, and it’s the “Many Others” the real fun part!
Yes, if you are a tourist visiting for the first time, I understand that you want to know what to do in Cape Town during your holidays and you wouldn’t want to miss out on some of these activities.
Clelia suggests that it would be like telling people to go to Rome and not mentioning the Colosseum, so yes, I get the point 🙂
You also want to know the MUST SEE THINGS IN CAPE TOWN, and then… spare at least 2-3 days because I have a good surprise for you and for once you might be doing some real local stuff!
So join me as I take you through some of the most unusual (and secret) things to do in Cape Town.
I’ve added also some of the more “common” things but some of the chapters are seriously just for locals and funny enough, after publishing this article for the first time, no one would talk about those, and now I’ve seen them mentioned in much newer posts of non-locals… mmhhhh let me guess where they got all this info! 😀
INDEX: UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
Click on the activity you want to read about and skip the rest!
1 |Rock Jumps & Kloofing at Crystal Pools
2 |Cape Town’s abandoned canal system
3 |Into the Kalk Bay Caves – Ronan’s Well
4 |Camping at Dapat se Gat – Kogel Bay
5 |Try the Canopy Tours in Cape Town
1 | CLIFF JUMPING AT CRYSTAL POOLS
Are you an adrenaline junkie? The thrill of facing a lion during a Safari is just not enough for you anymore? Then cliff jumping is something you’d like to try when visiting South Africa!
The Crystal Pools are some of the most spectacular nature reserves in South Africa, only a 40 minutes drive from Cape Town. They are located within the Boland Mountain complex, a UNESCO world heritage site.
So are the pools really worth it? I’d definitely say yes! I am a thrill seeker and decided to try the hike. Armed with hiking shoes, towel, and costume, I set off towards the mountains for an adrenalin-packed day trip. The drive to Steenbras gorge is beautiful, with the Pacific Oceans’ blue waters sparkling in the sun on your left.
TIPKeep your eyes wide open and your camera ready as If you’re lucky, you can even spot a few whales!
It takes roughly 45 minutes to get to the first pool and an additional 15 minutes to get to the second. The hike to reach the first one is fairly easy, even for beginners and people of all ages.
The hike to the second and third pools is for more advanced hikers only as you have to literally climb the rocks to find a suitable place to jump.
Even if the hike is easy, always be careful as the path is quite tricky with some loose rocks, so you need to be aware of your steps.
From the first pool the highest cliff to jump is around 15m, being the first pool it is usually quite crowded so either you put up with the crowds or move on to the next (there are some lower jumps here).
The second one is obviously less crowded, as it’s more challenging and dangerous to get there. If you feeling very confident, there is a jump from the second into the first pool (you can check it out for yourself on the video of my jump, scary times!).
IMPORTANT NOTE: read the section below with the recommendations as cliff jumping can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions.
Awesome shots of the jumps, pure adrenaline!
Watch the amatorial video where I jump into the first pool!
WATCH OUT FOR BABOONS “WILDLIFE”…
Yes, sometimes cliff jumping is not the only attraction you will find at the Crystal Pools! The place is well known for its Baboons (watch out for your food!). They usually relax near the pools up against the mountain.
When I went there, I was witness to an obscure scene, where The alpha male after giving a couple of loud barks, found himself a throne on one of the rocks overlooking the pools and then proceeded to have noisy baboon sex in front of everybody. It’s not like I haven’t seen this in South Africa before, but never on a pedestal like that, have they no shame at all?
Now I get the true meaning of “Wildlife”.
MORE INFORMATION ON JUMPING INTO THE CRYSTAL POOLS:
Crystal Pools are set in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. The hike starts at the Steenbras River mouth and you’ll need to walk along the river into the gorge to reach the beautiful rock pools. They are part of the Kogelberg Nature Reserve so you’ll need to pay an entrance fee of R60 p/p (around $6), from a local office at Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West.
Please note that the natural park allows only a certain amount of visitors per day, so it’s a smart move to book your ticket in advance.
Crystal Pools are closed during the winters and open 1st November until 31st April. Gates open from 7:30am – 16:00pm.
Take the N2 out of Cape Town towards Sir Lowry’s Pass (30min), turn right onto Sir Lowry’s Pass road until you get to a T-junction. Turn left onto the R44 and keep going until you get to a bridge with Sunbird Resort on your right.
After the bridge, you can park your car in the parking on the right. Walk across the road and you’ll see the gate with a little hut in front of it.
-The DO’S and DON’Ts when cliff jumping-
I DO RECOMMEND:
- Taking sunscreen, as you will spend most of the day in the sun.
- Comfortable hiking shoes.
- Refreshments and beverages.
- A garbage bag. There are no garbage bins up in the mountains, and please don’t leave any rubbish by the pools.
- If you want to try the jumps, wait for someone to go first (someone who knows where to jump).
- You need to be fairly fit for the hike.
I DO NOT RECOMMEND:
- IMPORTANT: Do NOT dive into the pools.
- If you have never jumped before, don’t try to jump from the higher cliffs, you could seriously harm yourself.
- Feeding the animals.
- Wandering off the designated footpath.
- Making any fire on the mountain is prohibited. Cape flora is extremely flammable.
This is probably one of the most fun and unusual things you could ever do in Cape Town. Not very popular amongst tourists or even the locals, this walk is definitely a unique experience.
Since we decided to try the experience without a guide (please read more on safety and precautions at the end of this chapter), we had to ask around to find the entrance of the tunnel, which is located next to Upper Buitenkant Street at the foot of Table Mountain.
The tunnel channels the freshwater from Table Mountain and some run-off from the streets into the sea down by the V&A Waterfront (another top spot in Cape Town).
Our mission was to literally cross the city, until the end of the tunnel at the pier, with no idea of how to get there! But hey, what is an adventure without a bit of mystery, right?!
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THIS ADVENTURE?
Below is my experience, as usual: always be careful when taking on these kinds of adventures.
The tunnel at the entrance is circular and about 1.5 meters high, so we had to walk with our backs bent and legs spread to avoid stepping in the little stream flowing down. Quite a back cracker! Making our way deeper into the city (literally), the architecture of the tunnel started changing.
At some point, the tunnel started losing its circular shape and became more oval-like, and built from old stones. We assumed we were under the Castle of Good Hope (one of the most popular attractions in Cape Town) and carried on walking until the tunnel split in three. We didn’t have a clue of where we actually were at that point. Decisions, decisions…
After (not so) careful consideration, we decided to go with the 3rd one on the right, thinking that it might lead us in the direction of the sea. The water became deeper and darker and numerous kinds of fish started brushing against my legs. A good sign, that meant that we took the right turn, after all, the sea was getting closer!
When the water reached my tights, I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and for once, not in a metaphoric way! Toward the exit the water was getting too deep to continue. We could now see a few boats floating in the harbor and hear the screams of the seagulls.
We made it through! Great success! Turning back with smiles on our faces, we chose the closest manhole and climbed up to the surface onto private property. You should have seen the perplexed faces of the security guards, who saw us resurfacing through one of the manholes in the ground. We casually strolled past them and got a taxi to get back to the car.
What an amazing experience, I recommend it to everyone. If you decide to try it and are not enjoying yourself, you can always turn back and climb to the surface through one of the manholes (you will find several during the walk).
MORE INFORMATION ON THE UNDERGROUND CANALS IN CAPE TOWN:
Some parts of the canal and river date back to 1654. The tunnels used to supply the company gardens and passing ships with fresh water from Table Mountain. Later it became such a pleasant “Gentleman’s Walk”, that it was named “Little Amsterdam”, but by 1895 the rivers got too dirty and unpleasant that they were arched and forgotten about. Now the tunnels once again only convey freshwater from Table Mountain and some Spring Water into the ocean.
HOW TO GET THERE:
If you want to take the organized tour, head to the Castle of Good Hope. I have read that the tunnel has been closed to the public, but we easily entered at the start of the tunnel in Upper Buitekant Street with no problems.
-The DO’S and DON’Ts when walking inside the abandoned canals-
I DO RECOMMEND
- Take water and some snacks.
- Shoes that can get wet or boots.
- A flashlight is a must.
- To anyone keen for an unusual adventure.
- Want to do something different and learn about the history of the Cape (Guided Tour).
I DO NOT RECOMMEND:
- If you have any case of claustrophobia.
- If you are scared of cockroaches and spiders.
- If you don’t like getting your feet wet.
- If you are not accompanied by someone who did this before.
- DO NOT GO if it’s raining.
FURTHER READING: Best Restaurants in Cape Town (After such adventure you deserve a meal right?!)
3 | SQUEEZE INTO THE KALK BAY CAVES
-Ronan’s Well: Less famous than Boomslang Caves but way more hazardous–
Apparently this is the mother of all the caves in the region and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted, as you can see from the pictures. It consists of two caves (Ronan’s Well and Robin Hood) that links up with each other via a narrow tunnel called “The Narrows”.
In preparation for this adventure, we met a girl who is an experienced caver (spelunken). She was the first one to mention this cave and she told us that we just had to keep going straight and we could not miss The Narrows and that the average time inside the cave is about 3 hours.
Following her suggestions, we kept on going for more than two hours through some very narrow passages. We had to literally squeeze our way through, bending in some seemingly impossible positions.
As we continued going deeper and deeper into the womb, the cracks and tunnels started getting narrower and narrower. Each new crack we completed we convinced ourselves that maybe THAT one was the Narrows.
Even the chambers started getting smaller and smaller. Some could not even fit my brother and me. For the first time on this adventure, uncertain thoughts started to surface. “How sure am I that this is the way?” and the scariest of all, “Could we be lost?”
THE WAY BACK
At some point, I could not turn my head to look back, nor expand my chest to take a breath. The cave decided for us. We had to admit that we were completely lost, running out of the water and couldn’t go any further, It was time to turn back.
Two and a half hours of struggle later, we saw an orange glow ahead. Painful, bruised and tired we resurfaced back to the fresh colorful outdoors. The sun was just about to disappear behind the horizon, giving us enough light to get back to the car. Smiling out of exhaustion and relief, we made our way down the mountain and back home.
A few months later, we returned with the girl who mentioned the cave to us, and we completed it.
MORE INFORMATION ON KALK BAY CAVES:
Ronan’s Well is one of about 85 caves found in the Kalk Bay’s mountain range. Hiking up the mountain there are signs directing you to some of the more popular caves. Most of the caves are small and suited for beginners, and the hike alone is beautiful through the Cape flora with views of False Bay.
Take the train from Cape Town to Kalk Bay, then climb up to Boyes Drive and find the sign indicating Echo Valley. This will take you up the mountain with numerous signs directing routes to the more popular caves.
-The DO’S and DON’Ts for the Kalk Bay caves-
I DO RECOMMEND:
- Taking some snacks, a decent amount of water and a head flashlight (and new batteries with you).
- Wearing old clothes and long pants or jeans as you will be often on your knees.
- Very Important: Go with a guide or a person who has done it before.
- Always tell someone where you are going and letting them know when you are safe again.
- Doing other caves in the area including Boomslang Cave which is the most popular.
I DO NOT RECOMMEND:
- Doing this cave without a guide.
- Taking a big backpack: it would be highly frustrating (sometimes impossible) taking it through the narrow tunnels.
- If you are claustrophobic or do not like being isolated from the outside world for 2+ hours.
- Quite a big person, as the Narrows got its name for a reason.
- Going later than midday to do the cave, because it may take longer than expected.
I am a bodyboarder and this is my local beach, which means that I know the area quite well. I had so many experiences there, including having my bag stolen by baboons looking for food, swimming with dolphins and being chased out of the water by sharks.
As a top experience, I definitely recommend camping on the beach.
Not only can you have the beach to yourself, but also watch the sun turning the sky orange as it vanishes behind Cape Point across the bay, which makes for an unforgettable sunset!
After enjoying the sunset, take a walk on the shore and you might notice the glowing of phosphorus beneath your feet and in the water. Whenever it is disturbed it lights up with a magical blue glow.
I had an amazing experience while camping and bodyboarding at Kogel Bay: I noticed phosphorus in the water and I decided to have a (quite risky) night session with a friend. In an attempt to catch a few waves, we ended up entirely covered in blue lights all over our bodies. It was everywhere, in my hair, on my board, whenever I made a movement the water lit up. An experience out of this world!
Located in False Bay, at the foot of the Hottentots Holland Mountains, this is definitely my favorite beach in the world. Secluded from the city, it’s the perfect place to come for a relaxing getaway. The beach is very popular amongst bodyboarders and surfers because of its amazing waves.
Dappat se Gat (Dappat’s Hole in English) was named after a livestock thief named Dappat. Cattle farmers use to graze their cattle around the area. Dappat would go steal some cattle and lead them into the cave down by the beach. When the tide came in it cut off access to the cave and wash away the footprints, leaving farmers very confused. Later he was discovered when a fishing boat spotted smoke coming from the cave and asked the police to investigate.
HOW TO GET THERE
Take the N2 out of Cape Town towards Sir Lowry’s Pass (30min), turn right onto Sir Lowry’s Pass road until you get to a T-junction. Turn left onto the R44 and keep going until you see Kogel Bay Beach. Park at the first parking on your right, and there will be a sign that reads Dapat se Gat. Just follow the little path all the way down to the beach.
-The DO’S and DON’Ts at Kogel Bay-
I DO RECOMMEND:
- If you go camping, take down firewood and a sleeping bag. A tent is not necessary, be a little adventurous and sleep on the beach.
- Go in the summer, as during the winter the storm swells wash away most of the sand on the beach.
- Finding a spot as high as possible on the beach to sleep.
- Taking a rubbish bag, as there are no bins down there. DO NOT LITTER on the beach.
- Taking a flashlight for exploring the cave on the beach, and for at night if you camping.
I DO NOT RECOMMEND:
- Do Not go for a swim far out. The currents can be very hectic and, unfortunately, many people have drowned there before. Not to mention that the risk of meeting sharks are quite high. Always stay in the shallow water.
- Do not leave valuables in the car for the night. Take them down to the beach with you.
- Do not make fires near anything flammable, the Cape is quite a flammable place.
- Do not feed the baboons. They are not your friends, and feeding them only makes them want for more.
STONY POINT PENGUIN COLONY
Stony Point is a rocky point in the small town of Betty’s Bay. It is home to a colony of Jackass penguins that spend their days fishing in the kelp filled waters, or just enjoying the sun on the rocks. Along the way, there are some informative signposts about the penguins, other cormorants in the area and history on the old whaling station that was stationed there.
CANOPY TOURS – ZIP LINE
The Zip line tours that have recently become more and more popular around the world, has come to the Cape! In the mountains near Grabouw, you can now zip from platform to platform over massive ravines. Highly recommended to adventure seekers. Don’t forget your camera (even better a GoPro). When I go back to South Africa, I am definitely doing this!
DANCE AT THE TRANCE FESTIVALS
If you are a fan of trance music and the outdoors, then these festivals are for your. The Trance scene in South Africa has grown massively in the past couple of years. The organizers always go out of their way to give an amazing visual experience. We have some great DJ’s that have been invited to play all over the world. If you want to meet some down-to-earth people, I recommend checking it out.
LOCAL LIFE: KAYAMANDI TOWNSHIP
Enjoy a day experiencing day-to-day life in the Kayamandi “sweet home” township. Within the tour, you can meet and talk to the locals, and meet a Xhosa Mama. She will welcome you into her home and tell you stories about life in the township. You will be served some traditional food and ginger beer (Non-alcoholic). I highly recommend it.
MOON RISE AT LION’S HEAD
According to me, this is one of the most beautiful hikes in the Cape Town area. Best to do on the day of a full moon, as you can enjoy the beautiful sunset in the west, followed shortly by the full moon rising in the east. The view is a spectacular 360 degrees, including Table Mountain, Cape Town’s city lights, and the famous Robin Island where Nelson Mandela was held captive.
The Garden was coined the most beautiful garden in Africa, and it truly lives up to its reputation. Set on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, this garden is devoted to displaying the vast array of flora that southern Africa has to offer. On Sunday evenings (during summer), you can watch local and international acts performing, whilst lying on the grass enjoying a nice picnic.
SO, ARE YOU READY TO DISCOVER THE CAPE TOWN SURROUNDINGS LIKE A LOCAL?
If you have some more suggestions to add, or you need additional information on the activities listed, leave a comment below!
PIN IT FOR LATER!
Wow, Cape Town seems beautiful. This article really helped put the location into perspective. I look forward to seeing more about Cape Town or other locations like it. Overall great post!
Some of these I had no idea about. Thanks
That’s why I asked a local to write it 🙂
On our travels, we enjoy immersing ourselves in the local cultures. We are thinking about one of the township tours. My hesitation is that I would feel intrusive in these communities. Any thoughts?
Tricky question Kathleen… It depends (I think) on the tour you choose, how reliable they are and the rules for such tours. Sometimes in the name of money, they will allow you to do way too much and invade the local’s privacy. On the other hand, these communities agreed to these tours and are somehow happy to welcome you to their houses even! They love interacting with other culture usually. It is up to us to be conscious and responsible and avoid invading their spaces if not expressly invited and respect their culture and costumes. All in all, I recommend it as it’s an enriching experience for both parties if done properly.
Great Post..!! Looks truly amazing. Your fantastic photos really bring it to life!
Thanks a lot!
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Cape town is the best place to see in South Africa, great read! Thanks
I can’t believe I’ve been in Southern Africa for 2 months and I couldn’t visit it! Such a shame!!!
Wonderful article! All your readers who have Cape Town, South Africa on their bucket list now knows very well about various sorts of activities that they can take up. The detailed description about the list is very useful for them. Thanks for sharing this stupendous post with us.
Thanks Sayli! Im glad to see that people are finding this article very useful 😉
The plankton is very beautiful. It has been on my travel list since so long.
Indeed it is! I didn’t see it in SA but in the Philippines. Surreal!
I love your tips! Travel buffs will surely find these very handy for their South African getaway and Cape Town adventures. I’m gonna use it definitely when I get my chance to step foot on this marvelous place.
Thanks David, glad you found it useful 😉
Great pics, i likes your blog and i regularly follow your post, every time you give us useful information that help us lot, thanks for sharing your views. Cape Town is awesome!
Thank you 🙂
Thank you for list:) very useful and loved the images of the guys squeezing into the caves!
Though there are a lot of things to do in South Africa, this list is truly very enjoyable as it’s done by a real local, well done!
An unusual list 😉
Very helpful post! So much to do and so much to see as well. Thanks for sharing in detail.
More on Southern Africa coming up soon, as I’m leaving for an epic trip in just one week 🙂
I jumped 10 meters in Bali and that was good enough for me, lol.
Very detailed post btw, it was a fun read 🙂
10 meters?? WOW… Kudos to you. I am afraid of heights and I get scared to jump 2 meters 😀 Glad you like the post! I had a very good and slightly crazy/adventurous local source 😀
Cape Town is the name of heaven on the earth. Ocean, island, wild life, animals and so on are the best part of this locality. Especially wild life is close to you. So anybody who like to explore about wild life together with ocean and island, get ready to journey to cape town. Don’t worry all the facilities such as residential and security is available. Just think about to visit to cape Town, South Africa.
I’m going to tell you if I agree with you or not very soon! 😉 But my instinct tells me that you’re right!
This article definitely makes me want to visit Cape Town! I think that if I had to choose one thing though I would want to see the Plankton. If pictures make it look that good, in person must be amazing!
The Plankton must be an amazing experience indeed!
What a fun post! South Africa is on our radar so I’ll definitely be reverting to this post again. The sight of all those plankton on Dapat Se Gat must have been incredible. Does that happen every night or is it more a seasonal thing? Thanks for sharing all these great adventures. 🙂
Hey! Thanks for your comment!
I’m not sure about your question, as this post was written by my South African ex-boyfriend, so you should wait for him to reply if he sees the comment.. (lazy bum!) 🙂
Glad you liked the post! South Africa must be a beautiful place and I’ll definitely pay a visit one day!
Update: It seems that I’m finally fulfilling my African dream and I’ll be heading to Southern Africa in about a month with a quick visit to Cape town. CAN’T WAIT and I’m beyond excited for my new adventure 🙂
Thanks for the great post! We really want to do the camping-where can I get more info on this?
Hi There Maggie,
Thanks for your comment 🙂 Depends who this “we” is you are referring to.
If it is you and a few friends, I would suggest Dapat Se Gat, but there are no real facilities there (other than a shower).
If it is you and your family, I would suggest the main camping area just about 200 meters down from Dapat se Gat.
You can get more information at this link: https://www.capetown.gov.za/en/SportRecreation/Pages/KogelBayresort.aspx
Hope this helps! Enjoy your adventure 🙂
Thank you for the info Tomas.
I gave them a call, couldn’t get too much information. Did you literally camp on the beach? Or is the camp site just close to it?
I’m noticing a lot of bloggers going to South Africa at the moment. And with this incredible list I can understand why.
I feel like going now.
I know…I am still missing South Africa, but it’s high on my wish list!maybe I’ll see you there, who knows? 🙂
Cape Town is jampacked with activities for the adventurous. So much to do and so much to see as well. Thanks for sharing in details. Very helpful post!
Thanks Vasnessa! Glad you liked it. I seriously can’t wait to visit South Africa one day. Must really be an amazing country!
We spent 10 nights in Cape Town after our 43 day safari. It was a great place to relax and sleep in a real bed. We did a handful of these while in town!
Wow Hannah, 43 days of Safari? must have been an awesome adventure! I can’t wait to discover Africa! Did you also have a chance to see the penguins? I was quite impressed to know that they live there basically all year round! so cute!
Oh wow, did not realized there is somuch things to do in Cape Town. The cliff jumping looks awesome, but extremly high – or does it look high only in the photo?
I love the camping and plankton – we have done something similar in Oman – we were amazed and just stared at the blue water… It was just surreal!
Hi there Nina.
Thanks for the comment!
Cape Town has so much more too offer than the everyday tours and sights. It is a beautiful city and has a secret pocket full of adventures for the tourists in the know.
Haha! Yeah, there are some high cliff jumps for the extreme adrenaline junkies, but also lower jumps from like 1 meter for all to enjoy.
I am also a big fan of camping! No better way to experience a place than camping or sleeping outside.
Oman sounds amazing. Will be sure to check it out when I am in that part of the world.