Escape to Cape Town: Waves, wines and lions at the "bottom of the world"
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
If you can't get to Mars, what's the next best thing? Apparently Iceland. A team of renowned explorers and researchers recently journeyed to Iceland to test a Mars analog suit in a Martian-like environment.
The United sponsored expedition, led by The Explorers Club — an internationally recognized organization that promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space — and in partnership with Iceland Space Agency, involved the team venturing inside the Grímsvötn volcano and across the Vatnajökull ice cap. The group traveled to the remote location and lived for six days in the Grímsvötn Mountain Huts and endured harsh weather conditions and unstable terrain.
Helga Kristin Torfadöttir, Geologist and glacier guide, using the LiDAR system to map the ground and test the suit's capabilities on the glacier.
The objective of the mission was to explore the potential of concept operations at the Grímsvötn location while testing the suit in an arctic environment similar to what would be found on the surface of Mars. "This mission was an important test of the design of the MS1 suit, but it was also incredibly helpful to understand the how to conduct these sorts of studies in Iceland," said Michael Lye, MS1 designer and NASA consultant and RISD professor. "No matter how thoroughly something is tested in a controlled environment like a lab, studying it in a setting that accurately represents the environment where it will be used is absolutely essential to fully understand the design."
The suit was designed and constructed by faculty and students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with input and guidance from members of the HI-SEAS IV crew and NASA's Johnson Space Center Space Suit Engineering team. At 50-60 lbs, the suit is similar to what a planetary exploration suit would weigh in Martian gravity. The suit was originally designed to be used in the warm climate of Hawaii, however the martian climate is much closer to what would be found on top of the glaciers in Iceland. The data collected will inform the future of habitat and spacesuit design that can be used to train astronauts on Earth.
Today, we remember the colleagues, customers and every single victim of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
I know each of us in the United family marks this difficult moment in our own way. Still, we all share a common commitment to honor how our brothers and sisters left us and also celebrate what they gave to us during their lives. We remember their professionalism and heroism. We cherish their camaraderie and friendship. We carry with us the examples they set forth, especially in the heroism and bravery displayed by so many on that terrible day. Above all, we understand a simple truth: While thousands of our fellow human beings lost their lives in New York City, Arlington and Shanksville, the attacks of September 11th were aimed at all people of peace and good will, everywhere. They were attacks on the values that make life worth living, as well as the shared purpose that make us proud of what we do as members of the United family: connecting people and uniting the world.
We may live in times scarred by discord and disagreement, and we know there are those around the world who seek to divide us against one another. But, on this day – above all – we come together, as one. We affirm our core belief that far, far more unites us as citizens and fellow human beings than can ever divide us.
Let us embody that belief as we go about serving our customers and one another – on this day and every day – as we continue to help building a world that's more united. Let that be our memorial to the sisters and brothers we lost, eighteen Septembers ago.