1 Oct 2017

Two Weeks in South Africa: Mountains, Markets, and Pajama Donkeys

What We Did

Day 1: Land in Cape Town, get groceries, fall asleep (super) early

Day 2: Walk to Company’s Garden, take a bus to the Old Biscuit Mill for lunch at the Saturday market, take a bus to V&A Waterfront to walk around and enjoy shops and restaurants

Day 3: Visit Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Day 4: Hike up Table Mountain, take the cable car down

Day 5: Visit vineyards in Stellenbosch with the Vinehopper tour

Day 6: Ferry and tour of Robben Island and V&A Waterfront

Day 7: Simon’s Town with a stop for fish and chips, then visiting the penguins at Boulder’s Beach

Day 8: Walk through Bo Kapp, rest, and do some planning for South America

Day 9: Old Biscuit Mill Take II and a gin tasting at Hope on Hopkins

Day 10: Visit Hout Bay, including the Bay Harbour Market, walk along the Seapoint Promenade, Climb Lion’s Head (it was supposed to be for sunset but we were foiled by clouds)

Day 11: Relax, do laundry, and pack

Day 12: Overnight Premier Classe train to Johannesburg

Day 13: See Ferdinand’s new apartment, sunset drinks at The Living Room, and have dinner in Maboneng

Day 14: Visit the Apartheid Museum, walk down Vilakazi street in Soweto past Mandela’s House and to the Hector Pieterson Memorial, dinner at 86 Public, drinks at Kitchener’s in Braamfontein

Day 15: Walk around Constitution Hill, walk to Chancellor House and to Ghandi Square, dinner and drinks at Zoo Lake Lawn Bowling Club, including a Klippies and Coke (per our friend’s insistence), trip to The Great Dane for drinks and dancing

Day 16: Neighborgoods Market for lunch and drinks, The Great Dane Take II, and a dinner of Mexican food in Maboneng

Day 17: Depart for Brazil


South Africa was a great way to kick-off our year our year of country hopping. Between Cape Town and Johannesburg, we got a feel for two very different cities. Cape Town was more tourist-friendly, had more green space, and was easier to get around on public transportation. Johannesburg was a bustling city full of energy, new development, and gave us time with a friend from university. In both cities, inequality was stark and segregation apparent but from what we saw and heard from friends, Johannesburg seemed to be making exciting progress toward integration and building pathways into the middle class in a way that Cape Town isn’t.

Our absolute favorite thing from Cape Town was the early morning hike up Table Mountain. We’ve quickly identified that any activities that get us outside and active are a safe bet for making us happy travelers.

The first day and night of our 28-hour train trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg was another highlight. Nate had planned long-ago for us to splurge on a somewhat fancy (luckikly no tuxedo and evening gowns required like on the Blue Train) train trip. We departed with a champagne toast; rolled through beautiful countryside with mountains, vineyards, desert like terrain, and plenty of small towns; dined on a 5-course meal; and enjoyed a cozy private cabin. The second day left something to be desired with a very chilly wake-up and a much less enthusiastic staff than on the first day but overall the trip was worth all the time and money we invested in it.

A small but not insignificant point of enjoyment on the trip was when a South African woman who was around 70 years old tried to explain to two other American tourists on the train about the “pajama donkeys” (i.e. zebras)that could be seen out the train window.

In Johannesburg, getting to catch up with Ferdinand was without-question the best part. Getting to see friends along the way will be one of the best parts of travel. Plus it will keep Nate and I from going crazy with just each other for company every day. Beyond being his usual wonderful self, our friend also introduced us to some of his friends, his favorite haunts (including two trips to the Great Dane in as many days), and Bunny Chow (a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry). It was a whirlwind of a trip but we packed about as much fun as we could manage into it.

What We Might Do Differently

We should have prioritized hiking Lion’s Head for sunset when the weather was nicer early in the week. By putting it off to the end, we didn’t have an alternative when the clouds rolled in and ruined any chance of a nice sunset. We still hiked but the bottle of wine I carried around all day did not turn into sundowners with a view. Instead we just hiked up into the cloud and then hiked quickly back down.

When our Uber driver was intimidated away from our pick-up location at Ghandi Square, we should have walked back to Chancellor House to get a car rather than walking all the way to our friend’s apartment. Like in most places, Uber is taking market share from traditional taxi drivers and those tensions have caused problems around train stations and major malls in Johannesburg. We didn’t know we were on taxi turf but should have moved back into the area we were familiar with rather than ending up walking through an area where our hosts always avoid.

How We Did with Our Budget

Cape Town was less expensive than we had anticipated. Going grocery shopping (Pick’n’Pay for staples like bread and cheese, Woolworths for prepared food and vegetables) we could feed ourselves breakfast and dinner for the 11 days we were in Cape Town for $99.12. That also included some toiletries in addition to the food. In Johannesburg, we ended up eating out more which drove up the food budget but spent more time catching up with friends rather than doing tours.

In the end, we spent just over $2,000 on 15 days in South Africa, including a special treat Premier Classe train trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Going in, we budgeted for about $15 per day per person for food and another $15 per day per person for entertainment ($920 total). We ended up spending only $837 on food/wine/entertainment, which will help us offset the higher-than-expected costs of booking Machu Picchu for November (look forward to a post on that ordeal eventually…).