Cape Town: a picturesque South Africa coastal city with a lot of charm and character. Table Mountain, 2010 FIFA World Cup, southernmost Cape of Good Hope, African Indigenous culture, and jackass penguin are the keywords that pop up in my mind when I was planning my visit. Of course, Table Mountain is the first on my list and I am sure everyone would tell you it’s a place not to be missed.
The Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain and a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town. Nelson Mandela once declared Table Mountain ‘a Gift to the Earth’, on World Environment Day, in 1998. Table Mountain (among others like Ha Long Bay, Komodo, Iguazu Falls…) is declared one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. True, Its unique shape and flat surface form a perfect backdrop to the city’s skyline. It could be seen basically anywhere in the city, even from the plane… given that the mountain is not covered by clouds.
The best time to visit, and… the Table Cloth Effect
Once we landed at Cape Town International Airport, we took our rental car and in merely 20 minutes we were in the city center, checking in to the Airbnb apartment we booked. The apartment is a charming building on Strand Street surrounded by cafés (I will talk about that later) and local shops, and the highlight was a balcony with two chairs facing the Table Mountain!
It was May and Cape Town was a bit chilly when the sun was not coming out. When I was on the balcony I was thinking: “Oh, shoot!” The Table Mountain was covered with thick clouds since we arrived and I had pre-purchased the Aerial cableway tickets in the afternoon online.
It was my strategy: pre-purchase the ticket and go to the Table Mountain first day I arrive. Not only because the Table Mountain is the number one attraction in town, but also in case if any “accident” happens (like weather), we would still have time for a plan B. There are lots of discussions in travel forums regarding the best time going up the mountain… and honestly, my day could not turn out any more perfectly.
In summary, I have a few tips about visiting the Table Mountain:
Best time of the year
Well, it’s difficult to predict weather and I am sure there’s always be a chance of a gorgeous day any time of the year. I visited in May and it was a bit chilly up there, but it wouldn’t be a problem if you are dressed warmly. I was told that December is the busiest month of the year. In general, the best time of the year would be from March to May, and from September to November (a.k.a. Autumn and Spring). These shoulder seasons boast enviable weather, fewer crowds, and lower prices.
Best time of the day
The “Table Cloth Effect” is caused by the winds from the Southeast in summer. The moisture condensed on a cold layer at the height of 1000m, forming thick clouds that cover the peak of the mountain. Actually, Table Cloth Effect could happen any time of the day, usually in summer, depends on windiness.
The mountain’s steep and thick sandstone layer is North facing, and the “City Bowl” is located on the north side of the mountain, thus visitors would always enjoy the city view with great lighting, no matter in the early morning of late afternoon. To beat the crowds, I recommend getting there in the early morning (there are tours valid as early as 7:30 am) or late afternoon – particularly late afternoon, because the sunset was absolutely magnificent.
The Table Mountain Cableway offers South African pensioners and students a concession every Friday – therefore it’s not the best time for tourists as the station could be quite crowded.
Unless you are planning to go up the mountain on foot, pre-purchase the tickets online and it would save precious time standing in the line for tickets at the ticket office. If you are lucky, you might find special offers or discounted deals on the site from time to time.
Table Mountain Cableway website: http://www.tablemountain.net
Use free shuttle service, if parking is a bitxh
Finding a parking spot near the station at busy hours could be a nightmare. We were lucky enough to find a parking spot as soon as we arrive the station. But in case if you have no luck, instead of driving up and down waiting for a spot, consider parking at the Lower Tafelberg Road parking and then take a free MyCiti shuttle to the station.
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway
The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is an easy way to go up the mountain. The cableway officially opened to the public in 1929, and it had a major upgrade and redesign in 1997, which new revolving cars were installed and each cabin could hold up to 65 passengers. Starting from the Lower Cable Station (363m), it slowly ascends to the Upper Cable Station (1067m). Don’t worry, the cabin would rotate as it goes up and so all passengers could enjoy a panoramic view from the ride.
The top of the Mountain is well paved with walkways that cover different sides of the mountain. The Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, Robben Island, City Bowl, Table Bay, and Devil’s Peak could be viewed on the north side; and the “Back Table” (a rugged plateau that is an extension on the south side of the Table Mountain), and the Twelve Apostles, could be viewed on the south side. In between, is home to a large array of fauna and flora.
The Table Mountain is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom and home to an astonishing 1,470 plant species in an area of 57 square kilometers: Blue Disa, Cluster Disa, Erica, Watsonia, Yellow Margaret, Cape Reeds and more. More, it is also home to a variety of fascinating animals which depends on each other: like southern rock agama, black girdled lizard, klipspringer, Verreaux’s eagle, rock kestrel, and of course, the rock dassie – an absolutely adorable creature freely roaming in the Table Mountain walking trails.
Lion’s Head and Signal Hill
Coming back down from the Table Mountain, we also visited Lion’s Head and Signal Hill, right on the west side of the Table Mountain. These mountains are very close to the city center and they are part of the city’s dramatic backdrop. There, we enjoyed an intimate sunset at the Atlantic Ocean, while watching the adventurous ones went for tandem paragliding.