The Cape of Good Hope is one of Africa’s most evocative destinations, a feast of staggering landscapes and peculiar history.
Flowing from Table Mountain to the southwestern tip of Africa, the Cape is a World Heritage Site and one of Africa’s most popular visitor destinations.
Most visitors to Cape Town spend a day at the Cape on a guided tour. However, it is possible to travel independently as well.
This definitive guide to the Cape of Good Hope will explain all the things to see and do on the Cape Peninsula. It will show you how to plan a day trip and how to beat the crowds.
Wait? Is it the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Point?
Pay attention here because it gets really confusing!
The Cape of Good Hope is a promontory on the southwestern tip of Africa. It is the point where ships from Europe stopped sailing south and started heading eastwards.
Cape Point is less than three kilometres away and is the actual tip of the peninsula. Note that it isn’t the southernmost point in Africa, which is actually Cape Agulhas.
The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve is located inside the Cape Peninsula National Park. Everyone must pay an entrance fee to visit this park.
Even more confusingly, Cape Peninsula National Park is part of Table Mountain National Park!
All these names are used interchangeably by both visitors and locals. Even tour guides merge everything into one.
To make things simple, this guide covers the entire Cape Peninsula, from Table Mountain south to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. It will cover each destination and its attractions individually.
Why is it called the Cape of Good Hope?
The name is wrapped up in myth and legend. Bartolomeu Dias was the first European explorer to sail around this Cape. He used it as a navigational beacon but struggled against the wind and ravaging waves.
Dias named it the Cape of Storms. Almost 100 years later, King John II of Portugal renamed it the Cape of Good Hope (Cabo da Boa Esperança).
At the time the Cape offered good hope, as it indicated the hope of connecting Europe with the Indias. If a ship could sail around the Cape of Good Hope, it was halfway on its mission to India.
Why is this Cape Town’s Most Popular Day Trip?
The simple answer is that it is beautiful, very famous, and there are penguins. Plus, the Cape of Good Hope is such an easy tour to book. This is what is in store.
A dramatic road hugs the coast as it winds south towards the Cape of Good Hope. Table Mountain stands majestic, a kilometre above the road. Down below you can see frothy waves and roaring surf.
After the fishing village of Hout Bay this road is even more impressive. It is literally carved into the mountain, a remarkable engineering feet from a century ago. There are viewpoints galore and a dozen iconic photos to take.
After Chapman’s Peak Drive the road twists onto a mountainous peninsula plateau. You pass springbok and baboons. Africa’s wild beauty extends in all directions and you look out on the ocean’s enormity.
Now entering Cape Peninsula National Park you can sense this is the end of a continent. The Atlantic surges to your right, the Indian Ocean to your left. Remote and deserted beaches can be glimpsed beneath the cliffs. Fynbos provides colour and charm.
There are yet more viewpoints before you reach the Cape of Good Hope and bask in its splendour. Two lighthouses stand sentinel on Cape Point and you can walk between them, feeling the wind whizz past your ears.
After or before the Cape Peninsula there are other highlights. Such as penguins at Boulders Beach, surfing in Muizenberg, and the seals of Hout Bay.
All these destinations are easy to combine in a single day, hence the popularity. So let’s recap: it’s incredibly beautiful, there is plenty of wildlife, and you can see half a dozen destinations on a single tour.
Destinations to Visit on the Cape Peninsula
When people speak of going on a Cape of Good Hope tour they usually mean a full-day trip that visits many different points on the Cape Peninsula.
All guided tours include Boulders Beach and the actual Cape Peninsula. Most will also include two or three other destinations. They are all explained here in a anticlockwise loop traveling south from Cape Town.
The Cape Peninsula starts (or ends) at the majestic front face of Table Mountain. However, you will not have time to combine the mountain and the Cape of Good Hope in a single day.
Think of Table Mountain as an activity for a separate day, ideally your first full day in Cape Town. Why? Bad weather.
Even when Cape Town is baking beneath the sun, Table Mountain may be coated in cloud. On most afternoons a tablecloth of cloud rolls across the summit, obscuring the views while making it stupidly cold.
Leave Table Mountain until your last day and you can be outdone by the weather and cloud. So it’s better to do the mountain at the first available opportunity. Plus, from the summit you can get a good idea of Cape Town and its surroundings.
At the top, on a clear day, you can gaze all the way down the peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope, and see the two oceans blurring together.
After leaving Cape Town it is a stunning 20-minute drive to Hout Bay. This is an old fishing village with an old harbour that’s been slowly overtaken by marauding sand. Sometimes dunes cover the road and traffic backs up halfway to Cape Town!
In Hout Bay you can go on a seal watching tour. Sometimes you can see seals basking on the concrete harbour. Kayaking with seals is another option.
The main harbour-front area is a terrible tourist trap, with shops selling overpriced junk and paraphernalia (mostly to tour bus crowds).
The Bay Harbour Market nearby is filled with independent popups and boutiques. It also has a superb and very lively food section, along with live music through the day. Bay Harbour Market is open Friday evenings, then from 09:30 to 16:00 on Saturday and Sundays.
Chapman’s Peak Drive & Chapman’s Peak
This toll road is the most impressive and inspiring section of the route. For many it is the highlight of a Cape of Good Hope tour.
When cruising along it is impossible to imagine how such a road was built, especially 100 years ago. There are a number of viewpoints before and after the peak, each offering stupendous views over Hout Bay and then the Cape.
Most tours simply drive through with a couple of photo stops. Independent travelers should consider hiking Chapman’s Peak. At 593 metres, this mountain is quieter and easier than climbing Table Mountain. However, the views are just as good.
From the summit you can peer over the edge at steep cliffs that tumble straight into the ocean. Or you can look south, across Noordhoek to the Cape of Good Hope and the end of a continent.
Noordhoek, Kommetjie & Scarborough
These three villages have incredible white sand beaches. Most tours do not stop at any of them.
The sand is usually empty, other than for a few dog walkers and surfers returning from the waves. All three are lovely places for a stroll.
Come off the sand and you will find a handful of cafes and restaurants. These are more authentic and better value than restaurants in Simon’s Town, where all the tour buses stop.
Cape Peninsula National Park
Beyond Scarborough there is only wilderness. You enter through a park gate and have to pay a steep conservation fee.
In November 2018 the authorities doubled the cost for international visitors to ZAR 303 (around USD 20). Note that the cheapest tours found online rarely include this conservation fee.
Once inside you will soon be surrounded by flourishing fynbos, with over 1100 indigenous plants stretching around the Cape. Over 250 bird species can be seen, along with dangerous Cape cobras and various antelope.
You can see springbok, bontebok, grysbok, eland, zebra, ostrich, mongoose, and rowdy troops of chacma baboons (read more here about these baboons and their conflict with people in the Cape).
This is a spectacular landscape. Most tours just drive through on the one main road. However, it is easy to make detours if you have a vehicle.
While the crowds gather around the two lighthouses, there are trails aplenty in the national park. Stop at Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre and you can purchase (cheap) maps showing six different hiking and cycling routes through the park.
Cape of Good Hope
Countless sailors and ships met their depths at the Cape of Good Hope. It was a menacing obstacle to sail around, especially when fog obscured rocks jutting from the water.
From the car park is a 15-minute hike up a well graded path to a series of lookout points. A more adventurous hike is the one-hour trail down to Dias Beach, where you can really feel the power of Mother Nature (note that the trail back up is very steep).
Also consider the Olifantsbos Shipwreck Trails, where you can get very close to wildlife and ship ruins. All the trails start at Olifantsbos (look for a turn off on the right, just before the Cape of Good Hope).
26 ships have sunk around this narrow pinnacle of ravishing cliffs. The Thomas T. Tucker trail crosses rock pools before ending at a US WWII warship wreck (1 ½ hours). The Shipwreck circuit passes three different wrecks and takes 2 ½ hours. The Sirkelsvlei Circuit takes 3 ½ hours and passes half a dozen ruins and wrecks.
Cape Point is essentially just the two lighthouses on the tip of the continent. The first lighthouse wasn’t built high enough and often disappeared in fog.
A second, revolving, lighthouse was constructed in 1914 and still functions today. It is reached by a ten-minute walk upon a stunning yet crowded slither of cliff.
Standing at Cape Point is spectacular and the lighthouses make for good photos. Do note that it will be crowded with tour groups. If you want wilderness try the other trails. If you want to tick an iconic destination off your list then visit the lighthouses.
Simon’s Town & Boulders Beach
Simon’s Town is a 20-minute drive east from the Cape of Good Hope, but this can take an hour when you travel around midday in peak summer season.
The town is dominated by an ugly naval base. Less than two kilometres from South African warships is a huge colony of African penguins that live on Boulders Beach. Most people do Cape of Good Hope tours purely for these penguins.
The Boulders Beach conservation fee also doubled in November 2018 and is now ZAR 150 for international visitors.
After the entrance it is impossible to miss a wooden boardwalk that is raised above the sand. Take a stroll along it and you will see hundreds of penguins on the beach, as well as hundreds of tourists fighting for photographic vantage points.
There is a second boardwalk that is not signposted or advertised. After the entrance gate turn immediately to the right. You will see a small entrance between the bushes, besides the toilet.
This boardwalk takes you through the penguins’ nesting site. You will see dozens of flightless birds waddling back to their nests. Keep walking and you will find a quiet viewpoint perched above the beach.
Keep walking even further and the boardwalk descends onto the beach. There is a second entrance gate so keep your ticket handy and show it here to gain access.
Rather than watch penguins from a boardwalk, this second entrance takes you directly onto the sand. You can sunbathe behind some boulders, as penguins waddle and dive just a few metres away.
Unlike the main boardwalk, you share the sand with the penguins’ antics and it can seem like the birds are everywhere!
Simon’s Town is a very popular lunch destination, even though the restaurants are crowded and overpriced.
Muizenberg is 20 minutes further along the coast and has a far better selection of places to eat, notably restaurants offering stunning views over the waves.
With its vibrantly painted beach huts and gorgeous beach, Muizenberg is always worth a stop. It is also the best place in South Africa to learn surfing.
The waves are consistent and frothy, which is ideal for beginners. Various surf schools offer group and private lessons, with most people standing up on their first time in the water.
The better surfers paddle past the foam and ride the back line of bigger waves. You can watch them from the shore with a packet of fish and chips, or from a first-floor Muizenberg restaurant.
After Muizenberg the most direct route back to Cape Town will take you inland, beneath the western frame of Table Mountain. Without traffic it takes 30-40 minutes to reach the city centre.
Constantia is roughly halfway and is one of the mountain’s secrets. Vines cover the slopes and vineyards invite you to taste.
Most of these close at 5pm. Steenberg provides a good introduction to South African wine. Klein Constantia has the most revered wine, but is a little expensive. Buitenverwachting is a local favourite and superb value. Groot Constantia is the most famous and where the coach tours stop.
Constantia Glen has a stunning location and serves up legendary cheese and charcuterie platters. Beau Constantia has average wine but one of Cape Town’s best restaurants – Chef’s Warehouse.
Planning a Cape of Good Hope Tour
Booking a group tour
Most visitors choose an organised group tour. You get picked up from Cape Town, see the different sights, and get caught up in the crowds.
These group tours range from nine passengers in a minibus to 50 passengers in a coach. Smaller group tours are more likely to sidestep some of the crowds and go beyond the standard stops.
There are literally hundreds of tour companies and private guides offering this trip. Every Cape Town guesthouse and hotel can recommend a company they regularly use. Plus you can find hundreds of these tour companies online.
Pay careful attention to the number of passengers and inclusions. The more passengers on board, the more time it will take every time you stop.
Some tours initially seem cheap, but they don’t include conservation fees (ZAR 303 + 150) or lunch.
More expensive tours offer a more niche experience. For example, tours with mountain biking, or even driving a vintage sidecar down to the Cape of Good Hope.
Traveling independently to the Cape of Good Hope
Unfortunately there is no public transport to the Cape of Good Hope. You will need your own wheels.
One option is to rent a car and make your own adventure. For two people this usually works out cheaper than going on a group tour.
A widely overlooked option is to charter a taxi for the day. Expect to pay ZAR 1200-2000 for a full day with a private driver. Taxi drivers will be happy for the work, you just need to negotiate a good price.
Do this and you can plan a tour like the locals would do, bypassing crowds and seeing more than just two lighthouses on Cape Point.
Avoiding the crowds on a Cape of Good Hope tour
Unfortunately almost all the tours travel anticlockwise and visit the attractions in the same order. So the same crowds follow each other around the Cape. Traffic jams are common from November to March and the wilderness just isn’t the same with so many people.
Hout Bay is packed in the morning. Boulders Beach is packed around lunchtime. The Cape of Good Hope is packed with people from 1-3pm.
There are two easy ways to beat the crowds when traveling independently. You can choose to do the route in a clockwise direction. This still means crowds at the Cape of Good Hope but less traffic and people elsewhere.
Another approach is to get up early and drive directly to the premier attraction – the Cape Peninsula. Arrive here before 10am and you can have the entire park almost to yourself. Then you can comfortably visit everywhere else (other than Hout Bay) on the road back to Cape Town.
Choosing the best day to go
It was called the Cape of Storms for good reason. The weather can be atrocious at the Cape of Good Hope: foggy, rainy, windy, drab and colourless.
Whatever the forecast predicts, subtract five degrees. The Cape Peninsula is completely exposed to all the elements and strong damp winds make it genuinely cold.
Fog and mist also means you cannot enjoy the beautiful views. When it rains the cloud comes so low it is hard to see past your own nose, and you certainly can’t see to the end of a continent.
Instead of booking long in advance, plan your Cape Point tour when you arrive in Cape Town and see an up-to-date weather forecast. Just plan your tour on the first available day of good weather.
Also note that the Cape of Good Hope is a popular day trip for Cape Town locals. Other than the summer holidays (mid-December to late-January), the locals visit during the weekends.
Saturdays and Sundays are much busier than midweek days and you should leave an hour earlier when traveling independently.
Final Word on the Cape of Good Hope
This is where we give you the name of a reputable tour operator and make some commission on you booking a tour.
Erm, no. That’s not how we do things at Africa Freak. Our site is all about celebrating the magic of Africa and helping people connect with their wild side.
So there is no need to book anything right now. Travel to Cape Town and you will find a way of traveling to Cape Point, whether on a tour or in a rental car.