Cape Town might be on the bottom of Africa geographically, but it is atop the continent when it comes to economics and tourism. This cultural melting pot (with African, European and Asian cultural influences) has one of the world’s most recognizable skylines, with the steep slopes of Table Mountain providing a natural backdrop for the urban scenes of the city.
Aside from the accolades for its unique culture and attractions, the city has received recognition for some of its sustainability practices. The wine-lands, rural Western Cape areas, and Table Mountain are popular with eco-tourists, but there are plenty of green features within the city itself. The green movement can be witnessed everywhere from state-of-the-art hotels to eco-themed shopping centers to grassroots recycling programs that collect refuse to be reused by artisans and craftspeople.
Cape Town can serve both as a base for eco-travelers touring the Western Cape region and as a green destination itself.
The newly built Blaauwberg Beach Hotel in Cape Town’s upscale northern suburbs is an impressive 14-story structure with several notable green features. This was one of the many hotels built ahead of the FIFA World Cup, which will take place this summer in cities across South Africa. Of all these fresh four- and five-star inns, the Blaauwberg is the greenest. In addition to the usual “environmentally friendly hotel” lineup of low-flow faucets, energy-efficient appliances and nontoxic cleaning products, the hotel relies heavily on solar power. The building’s panels provide much of the energy needed to power appliances and water heaters. In addition, recycled glass and wood were used during the construction process.
There are also environmentally friendly sleeping options outside the city. The Western Cape region is home to some of the country’s most popular safari and adventure destinations. Many of these places, either by choice or because of necessity, have adopted sustainable practices.
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The Cape Flats district of Cape Town still carries some reminders of the segregation of South Africa’s apartheid era. Though apartheid has ended, the mostly nonwhite residents in these densely packed townships still live in poverty. Despite this, some of these neighborhoods have embraced tourism. So-called “township tours” have become a popular addition to visitors’ itineraries.
The Flats is also home to the Rondevlei Nature Reserve . This area is one of the best bird watching spots in South Africa. Over 200 different species have been sighted along the two kilometers of trails and six “bird hides” allow visitors to get up close with the park’s winged residents.
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Table Mountain makes Cape Town one of the more visually stunning cities in the world. The steep slopes dwarf the tallest buildings and give the city an utterly unique skyline. Because of its size, it is an omnipresent part of the Cape Town experience.
An aerial cableway is the fastest and easiest way to summit the mountain. However, this is not a look-but-don’t-touch attraction. The peak includes two kilometers of trails that lead to scenic overlook spots. The flat mountain peak is home to more than 1,500 species of plants and the mountain’s unofficial mascot, the dassie, (formally known as the rock hyrax), a small rodent-like creature that is actually related to elephants .
The Cape Winelands produce some of the most well-known wines in the world. Many area vineyards and wineries offer tastings and tours. Numerous wine tours, offered by Cape Town-based guides, combine stops at several wineries into a single day. The grape-growing is centered around the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. These places can be reached by train, making wine tasting one of the few outlying attractions that doesn’t require a car. For those who want to go totally carbonless, South Africa Ventures, a Cape Town-based company, offers bicycle wine tours that include stops and tastings at several of the most notable cellars in the area. The Stellenbosch organic market is an additional attraction for eco-buffs. This Saturday morning institution is a popular stop because of its organic produce and hearty breakfasts.
The greenest wineries in the region receive the IPW (Integrated Production of Wine) label from South Africa’s Wine and Spirits Board. This label means that the operation meets a high level of sustainability.
210 on Long is a retail center that recently burst onto Cape Town’s green scene. It was a visibly aging commercial space before being renovated using recycled building materials. All the venue’s tenants have environmental themes. One shop sells handmade footwear, while others bear self-explanatory names like the Green Shop and the Hemporium. Perhaps the most notable space in 210 will feature the work of photographer Galleria Gibello. The images of Africa hung in the gallery are printed on recycled, handmade paper.
The Neighbor Goods Market takes place every Saturday morning in the Woodstock area of Cape Town. Vendors hawk organic eats including meats, cheeses, veggies and baked goods. Some of the highlights include freshly shucked oysters and fresh, handmade cheeses.
Cape Town does not have a good public transportation system. It is inconvenient, at best, and dangerous (especially for tourists), at worst. It is possible, however, to get a good introduction to the city on a tourist bus. The Open-Top Bus Tour passes all the major sites in central Cape Town and also offers hop-on-hop-off service, so savvy tourists can use the bus as a way to hit all the major sights in a single day.
Cape Town is one of the more accessible tourist destinations in Africa. Its green features, both in city and in the surrounding region, make it a good destination for eco-conscious travelers who want to support green businesses of both high-tech and grassroots variety.