One of the things I love most about Cape Town are the mountains. Everywhere you stand you seem to be surrounded by them. If there is one thing you do while in Cape Town, hiking should definitely be it. Whether you are a novice or seasoned hiker, there are so many trails and peaks to choose from that there really is something for everyone.
“There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going“Beverly Sills
Table Mountain is one of the most famous and most popular mountain hikes in the world and it is not hard to understand why. This prominent South African landmark looks out across the city of Cape Town with views that stretch for miles and miles. There is now a cable car that can also take you to the top of Table Mountain as well, but unless you have a broken leg I would say there is no reason why you should. The views are just as good when you hike up, it will take you less time to hike than it will to stand in that queue, and you will save money, burn calories and feel great for the walk!
Fun Fact: Table Mountain is the only natural site in the world to have a constellation of stars named after it – Mensa, which means “The Table”
How high? 1086 metres above sea level
Which Route? There are several different routes to take to the top but one of the best is the Platteklip Gorge route. This was the route taken by Antonio de Saldanha on the first ever recorded ascent of the mountain in 1503! This route is challenging enough to give you a serious sense of achievement at the top, but manageable enough for all different fitness levels. It is a steep and unrelenting incline but you make fast progress and have a stunning view through the crack of the gorge the whole way up.
How long?* I had read in several places that the route can take an average of 2 hours up and 2 hours down (4 hours total). But we managed to make it up in 1 hour 15 minutes and down in about the same, so it really doesn’t take as long as you might think. Other routes (such as the Nursery Ravine, Skeleton Gorge and the Twelve Apostles Pipe Track) can take up to 4/5 hours one way though because of the shallower incline.
The hike up Lion’s Head was our favourite hike during our stay in Cape Town. It is a short enough hike to do before brunch and its 360 degree views over the city and the Atlantic Seaboard are something to write home about! The hike to the top is particularly popular during a full moon as you can get a great view of the sunset and the moon rising before hiking down by flashlight, or moonlight if you are confident enough with the trail.
How High? 669 metres above sea level
Which Route? There is a recommended route which is clearly sign posted from Signal Hill Road. The route is reasonably easy going for the majority of the hike along a gravel road and a rocky single track. The hike ends with a steep rocky section with chains and ladders to pull yourself up some of the boulders. The diversity of the track leading to the summit makes for a fun and interesting hike.
How Long?* This walk will take about 1 hour up and 1 hour down. If you have some extra time, why not take a slight detour from the recommended route to visit Wally’s Cave (rather than ascending the first ladder on the trail, take the well-trodden path to the left and follow it round).
Fun Fact: There are written records that lions and leopards were found roaming the mountain in the 16-1700s!
Silvermine Nature Reserve
Silvermine is a 20 minute drive out of the city centre and is totally worth the journey. Unlike the previous 2 hikes, which are free, you will have to pay to enter Silvermine National Park (R50 per adult) but there is so much to do that you will easily spend a whole day here (which actually makes it quite a cheap day out!). There’s hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, great picnic spots and a stunning mineral water reservoir for cooling off after all the activity.
How High? 927 metres above sea level (but you will only hike half of this as your starting elevation is around 450 metres)
Which Route? In my opinion, there is really only one great hiking route to take from Silvermine and that is to Elephant’s Eye Cave. The trail start is clearly signed from the car park and is a very gentle walk with only a short steep incline at the very end. The cave itself is so much bigger than you expect and you will want to spend a good 20 minutes admiring the moss covered walls on the inside as much as the view on the outside, and fuelling up on some peanut butter sandwiches.
How Long?* Again, this is a short and relatively easy route and should take about 1 hour to the cave and 1 hour back.
Travel Tip: If you are going to hike during the Summer months in particular, make sure you are up and ready to start your hike as early as possible after sunrise (5:30am). The later you leave it, the busier the tracks are going to get (which can be terribly frustrating) and the hotter it is going to get! It is far easier to make it to the top in a breezy 18degC temperature at 6am rather than leave it till 9am when it will be up to 23degC!
And so many more…
These are just some of my favourite hikes from our trip to Cape Town this year, but there are so many more that you can choose from: Devil’s Peak, Cape Point, Chapman’s Peak, Muizenberg Mountain, Newlands Forest and so on. Do some research and decide for yourself which hikes you will enjoy and cram in as many as you possibly can!
What will you need?
Plenty of water – you want to carry approximately 1 litre of water per hour of hiking per person.
Some sandwiches or energy bars to give you a boost when needed.
A flashlight or head torch if there is a chance that you will be hiking in the dark.
Plasters (just in case).
Some sturdy footwear and practical clothing – you are going to get hot and sweaty in the summer and will be shivering in the winter so give some thought to what you are going to wear.
A hat and/or sun cream – don’t be fooled, the morning sun is intense in summer and you will get burnt! Make sure you have lathered up on sun cream and/or take a hat to protect your face at the least.
A clear day with as little wind as possible. If the weather begins to change as you are hiking, it is best to turn around and make your way back down.
Some hiking buddies. It is best not to hike alone, especially not out of season when the paths are quiet, so make sure you have 1 or more hiking buddies with you for company, someone to share the views with, and to look out for each other.
A fully charged mobile phone and a note of any useful emergency contacts (they will be printed on the sign boards at the start of the hiking trails). Cape Town Emergency Services: 021 480 7700.
Respect for the mountain and your fellow hikers.
The best camera you’ve got because you are going to want it when you reach the top!
Make sure you add 15-20 minutes onto the hike times if, like me, you enjoy pulling your camera out every 10 metres to take another awesome photo!