Escape to Cape Town: Waves, Wines and Lions - United Hub

Escape to Cape Town: Waves, wines and lions at the "bottom of the world"

By Bob Cooper

The reasons world travelers give when calling Cape Town their favorite African city are as abundant as the African Penguins (about 3,000) that waddle the beaches of Table Mountain National Park. Besides that park, which stretches from the city to the southwestern tip of Africa, these reasons include a wow-worthy waterfront, great restaurants and easy access to wonderful wineries.

Cape Town becomes more accessible beginning in December 2019, when United is due to become the first U.S. airline to offer nonstop flights to Cape Town, subject to government approval. The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flights will depart New York/Newark on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and return from Cape Town on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. They will reduce travel time by at least four hours and allow one-stop service to Cape Town from more than 80 U.S. cities.

Settling in

Colourful Beach Houses in South Africa

Every accommodation type can be found, from quiet B&Bs to chic urban hotels. Central Cape Town and waterfront hotels are ideal if you want the convenience of being close to restaurants and shopping. Simon's Town district guesthouses bring you within waddling distance of penguins and False Bay beaches. Table Mountain views are relished at Gardens district hotels. Then there are coastal hideaways like Monkey Valley Resort, wedged between a milkwood forest and a beach, and The Twelve Apostles, a seaside hotel named for the mountains that tower above it.

Under the Table

Penguin at Boulders Beach Penguin Colony

Table Mountain National Park is as diverse as the flora and fauna that populate its 85 square miles. The piece of the park within city limits is a stunning swath of evergreens that soar up to the flat-topped, 3,500-foot namesake peak. The day hike or cable car ride to the summit is an exhilarating use of a few hours to shake off your jet lag. The two other main sections of the national park are Tokai Park, filled with birds and baboons, and Cape Peninsula, which extends along the Atlantic Ocean (including the Boulders Beach Penguin Colony) all the way to the Cape of Good Hope at the "bottom of the world."

On the waterfront

Table Mount Cable Car in Cape Town South Africa

It's hard to beat simple pleasures like hiking up Table Mountain or Lion's Head, lazing on Cape Town's beaches or visiting the world-class Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. But, visitors should also spend time on Cape Town's Table Bay waterfront, home to a dizzying array of restaurants, shops, museums, galleries and attractions. Zeitz MOCAA houses the world's largest collection of contemporary African art in a 10-story former grain silo that was repurposed in 2017. Also on the waterfront are the Two Oceans Aquarium and ferries that whisk you to Robben Island, where the museum tells the inspiring story of Nelson Mandela's journey from prisoner to president.

Wining and dining

Vineyard in Cape Town Constantia grape wineland countryside landscape background of hills with mountain backdrop in Cape Town South Africa

The Cape Winelands, among the world's leading wine regions, is within 40 miles of Cape Town, centered around the 17th-century towns of Stellenbosch and Paarl. Excellent restaurants are found at many Winelands wineries (as well as in Cape Town), but perhaps the best spot to wine and dine is even closer to the city — Groot Constantia, where wines have been produced since 1685. Visitors can enjoy tastings or food pairings of the award-winning wines; tour the Manor House, wine museum and history museum; and dine at one of two restaurants.

Lions, leopards and rhinos

Zebras in Cape Town

Several game reserves within a three-hour drive of Cape Town allow visitors to see African wildlife in their native habitat. The 25,000-acre Inverdoorn and Aquila reserves each offer half-day safaris on which you may spot all of the "big five" — lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalo — as well as cheetahs, giraffes and wildebeests, from open-air vehicles. The Sanbona Reserve is even larger (but a bit farther out), while the Grootbros Reserve specializes in boating safaris that deliver sightings of southern right whales, great white sharks, bottlenose dolphins, African penguins and Cape fur seals.

When to go and how to get around

Chapman's Peak Drive near Cape Town

The first United nonstop flights and South Africa's summer both begin in December. Rain is rare from December to March, when high temperatures are typically in the high seventies, so Cape Town is a perfect warm-weather escape. Once you arrive, Uber, taxis, rental cars (driven on the left side), sightseeing buses and trains and are all convenient transportation options. And oh yeah, South Africans speak English.

If you go

You can purchase tickets now at united.com or on the United app for three weekly nonstop flights from New York/Newark to Cape Town beginning December 15, subject to government approval. Redeem MileagePlus® Rewards points to cover your hotel and car.

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