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Five of the Best for Cape Town Backpackers

You won’t find these suggestions in any guide that I know of, but make sure to include them in your plans.

  1. Bo-Kaap Pakistani Chicken. There is a secret archipelago of Pakistani barbecues all over Cape Town and its suburbs – sort of like an unbranded franchise – but only one in the city centre. Brothers Irfan Muhammed and Ahmed Arshad set up their booth at the corner of Wale and Rose Streets (diagonally across from the Bo-Kaap museum, which you will find in all the guide books) in 2001. Apart from the incredibly tasty chicken – just like the street food in their native Lahore, they say – the best part about the operation is the hours it keeps: 11am to 10pm most days, and even later on Fridays and Saturdays.
  2. Lion’s Head by moonlight. Hiking the chain of mountains in the Table Mountain National Park is a popular feature of any stay in Cape Town. But at night? A walk up Lion’s Head by moonlight is a wonderfully mystical adventure for a cool eve. Get hold of a southern-hemisphere lunar calendar, find the date of the next full moon, and the time it’s due to rise. Pack a knapsack with baguette, cheese, fruit, water, a drop of wine and good flashlights. Begin your ascent about 2 hours before sunset , if you want to catch it, or just at sunset, if you want the full full-moon experience. You can approach the Lion’s Head summit from Kloof Road as it winds down to Clifton (map), or from Top/Head Roads in Fresnaye (map) – either way yields great scenery. When you hit the top, have supper in the remaining light, wait until the moon is nice and strong, and then begin the slow, silent, eerie descent.
  3. Boabab Books. There are nearly as many book stores in Long Street (map) as there backpackers’. One of the best (and most well-hidden) is Baobab Books, in the Baobab “mall” (it doesn’t really deserve the term), diagonally opposite The Dubliner at Kennedy’s pub. The eclectic shop’s charming proprietor, Juile Aitchison, has a book for everyone, and, every second week, she hosts a current South African author for a reading, wine and snacks.
  4. Sea Point Taxi Ride. The most colorful part of greater Cape Town has to be Sea Point – a narrow strip of a suburb along the city’s Atlantic Seaboard, stretching for several highly varied kilometres until it runs into the suddenly posh and exclusive Bantry Bay. It has dozens of internet cafes (much cheaper than those in town), hundreds of restaurants (ditto), and is great fun to explore on foot. To get there, take a minibus taxi ride down its Main Road (map). Catch the taxi on Strand Street downtown (map). (You can’t miss the taxi – a man will be screaming ‘Sea Point!’ from its side window.) Pay your R3.50 per rider, and you’re off! Tell the driver to stop when you see something interesting – but don’t stop too early, wait until you get to Sea Point proper (about 10 min into your ride) before you bring the taxi to a screeching halt.
  5. R&R With Dr. Lin. Is the backpacking life getting you down a bit – too many aches and pains from the schlepping and the 24-hour schedule? Call (021) 761-7742 and make an appointment with Dr. Lin Feng-Shao. But beware: he will put needles in you. Dr. Lin is South Africa’s top acupuncturist, with a needle for every ailment, and a 5-star pedigree of thousands of extremely satisfied patients. (He’s particularly good with, ahem, gout.)