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With the Hyraxes

Cape Town, South Africa

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Nearly everyone agrees that if you're only going to visit one place in South Africa you should make it Cape Town. Nestling beneath the grandeur of Table Mountain it's a city of almost unparalleled beauty and style, from the elegant Cape Dutch buildings with their whitewashed gables to the Eastern minarets of Bo-Kaap. Capetowners - or at least the wealthy whites - know that few people have it so good and look down rather pityingly on anyone who has to live elsewhere. Cape Town has a stunning coastline, with beautiful beaches, the mountain and amazing wildlife, fine historic wineries, superb food and a great jazz scene.

Table Mountain dominates the city - wherever you are, you can look up and see it watching over you. When conditions are right a 'tablecloth' of cloud forms over the top of the mountain - legend attributes this to a pipe-smoking contest between a pirate and the devil. The devil lost, and the cloud is there to remind him of his defeat. Despite being practically surrounded by the city Table Mountain is a fantastic wilderness area. In summer the slopes are carpeted with flowers and although lions and zebras no longer roam there you'll still be able to see antelopes, baboons and the cute ‘dassies’ - rock hyraxes. There over three hundred trails leading to the tabletop - the route via Platteklip Gorge is nice and easy. Start or finish in the Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens if you can. The gardens are planted entirely with Southern African species including the fabulous king protea flowers, which look like giant sea anemones. If you're not feeling that energetic a cablecar will get you there in minutes, with 360 degree views on your rapid ascent. Once you're on the plateau there are well-marked trails you can follow to discover hidden streams, wildlife and more and more unbelievable views. Capetowners love to come up here in the evening with a picnic and sit sipping a glass of chilled Cape wine while watching the sun set.

In the city itself the Malay quarter of Bo-Kaap is particularly attractive, with cobbled lanes and old Dutch and British architecture. The minarets and the spicy scent of curry remind you that this historically this district was home to Muslims brought from the East as slaves. There are a couple of museums worth a visit. The Gold of Africa Museum is not really about mining history, it's a collection of the exquisite artwork of mainly West African goldsmiths. If the craftwork on offer in Greenmarket Square doesn't capture your fancy, get your souvenirs here. The District Six Museum is very different. It's a memorial to one of the city's most vibrant, if impoverished, multicultural neighborhoods. District Six was declared a 'whites-only' area in 1966. The mixed race community and the African and Indian residents were forced to flee as their homes and churches were razed to the ground. Such outcry followed that the planned luxurious villas were never built. The museum has a huge map of the area, old street signs and photographs, mementos and stories of life there contributed by former residents.

An excursion to Robben Island - where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated - should be on everyone's itinerary. No wonder the island seems so forlorn - people have been imprisoned here since the 17th century. The Maximum Security Prison exhibition on 'cell life' is haunting. So too is the harshness of the limestone quarry where Mandela and the other inmates spent their days in hard labor, the glare of the white stone in the bright sun has caused former prisoners including Mandela to suffer eye disorders. Perhaps the most desolate place on the island is Robert Sobukwe's house: he was kept in solitary confinement for nine years. He couldn't speak to the other political prisoners, nor they to him, so sometimes as they walked past he would trickle sand through his fingers in a gesture of solidarity with other sons of African soil.

The Cape's beaches are legendary. The Atlantic Bay side has chillier water, but great sunbathing. Blouberg and Long Beach are great for surfing. On the False Bay side the highlights the St James Cove and Fish Hoek - the best beach for swimming. Cape Town is the adventure capital of the universe. Come here and abseil off Table Mountain, learn kite surfing, go surfing, windsurfing, sea-kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, cycling, rock climbing, paragliding or skydiving- you name it, Cape Town will come up with the goods and then some. Perhaps the highlight is kloofing (canyoning) down Kamikaze Kanyon, boulder hopping, swimming, and jumping through waterfalls and abseiling - whatever it takes!

Cape Town has everything you could ask for in a holiday destination: its city sophistication and urban cool in an African Eden of awesome beauty.