I am sure I’m not alone when I say Cape Town in South Africa is one of the most beautiful and instantly recognisable cities in the world, nestled closely against its backdrop of towering mountains. The most famous of these is the world renowned Table Mountain, so named for its strikingly flat surface when viewed from a distance.
The plateau, flanked by Devil’s Peak to the east and by Lion’s Head to the west, becomes almost instantly familiar during a visit to the city. In fact for most visitors, climbing to the top of the mountain will feature highly on their ‘must-do’ list.
The mountain itself presents a number of options for scaling it. For those with some time to spare and a fair level of fitness, you can choose to walk up. It is rare to find such natural beauty this close to a city so easily reached by foot, with the climb taking just a few hours depending on the route chosen. The South African National Parks service has created a useful guide to each route available if this takes your fancy.
When I visited in November 2015 we were unfortunately pressed for time which didn’t allow us to walk up. It did however enable us to take the fantastic cable car, known as the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, up to the Observation Station on the summit of the mountain. The five minute journey as you ascend the mountain is unusual: unlike many cable cars where the view is easily blocked by others or you are restricted to one aspect, a rotating turntable in the middle of the floor offer panoramic views both up the mountain and down over the city below, giving everyone in the car the chance to enjoy the changing scenery on the way up or down. At the time of visiting, a return Cableway ticket cost R240 per person (approximately £10).
Once at the top, you can enjoy some of the best views in South Africa, with a 360 degree outlook stretching from the Waterfront round to Camps Bay and beyond. A circular pathway at the top offers a fantastic route to amble round, with different outlooks and perspectives over the city and surrounding mountains around every corner. For an insight into exactly what you are looking at, the Table Mountain team offer free 30 minute guided tours on the hour, subject to the season.
The mountain is a great spot for nature lovers as it is home to an incredible diversity of flora, with more than 1,400 species of plant growing. You will also find some great wildlife, with lizards, insects and even dassies, which look like a giant tailless rodent or perhaps a small capybara (although apparently their closest living relative is the elephant).
There is no limit to how long you can spend at the Observation Station. In fact, there is a well-stocked restaurant with bar and a shop which make a great place to just stop and absorb the view, or dependent on the weather, wait for the clouds to pass! The cableway operates into the early evening, making it a fantastic place to watch the sunset over Cape Town before heading down to carry on your night.
As you can see from my photos, we picked a slightly over-cast day to visit, but regardless of the weather, the views over Cape Town are incredible and display the unique setting of this beautiful city perfectly. Make sure it is on your Cape Town itinerary!
Here are my top tips for Table Mountain:
- The open top tourist buses have a scheduled stop at Table Mountain, making a visit very easy. Alternatively, if you have a hire car there is parking available, although it gets very full during the busy summer months.
- Don’t rely purely on the weather forecast to determine your visit as believe me, the weather moves in so quickly. We quickly learned if you can see the Observation Deck, then this is the time to go!
- According to the official site for Table Mountain, afternoons are the quietest time to go. Pre-booking tickets is possible online to skip the queues, however there is the risk of picking an overcast day.
- Keep an eye on the Aerial Cableway website, as it tells you whether the cable car is running or not. If it is too windy, the cableway will close for safety reasons. Helpfully for those who have not pre-purchased tickets, it also tells you the average waiting time for the cable car both going up and heading down.
- Take a jacket or jumper with you: while it might be bright and sunny down below, there is a surprisingly fresh and cool breeze that can catch you by surprise at summit.
- For an unusual memento of your trip, write and send a postcard from the top of Table Mountain as there is a postcard at the top.
- Looking for an alternative route back down the mountain? If you are really feeling brave, you can even abseil down!