It’s South Africa’s most popular city, home to iconic Table Mountain, gorgeous coastline, and stunning beaches. It’s also as far south as you can go on the African continent and is steeped in a rich and often turbulent history. With wonderful wildlife opportunities not too far away either, Cape Town is a great place to visit before you embark on a safari to Kruger National Park. To help you learn a bit more about the “Mother City”, here are 10 interesting facts about Cape Town.
The perfect destination for a beach holiday
1. Cape Town was the first city outside of Europe to see its beaches certified as Blue Flag, meaning they meet high environmental and quality standards. In 2016, 10 of the city’s beaches were awarded Blue Flag status thanks to their cleanliness, water quality, facilities, and safety.
2. An area of around 194 hectares of land, known as Foreshore, which today comprises the main Cape Town railway station and the civic centre, was reclaimed from the sea in the 1940s. It was known as the Cape Town Foreshore Plan and was seen as a better option than trying to build further up the slopes of the mountains which encircle the city.
3. After years of apartheid, it was the balcony of Cape Town City Hall where Nelson Mandela made his first public speech in decades. He spoke just hours after being released from prison on 11 February 1990. This was the beginning of a new era for South Africa, which endures today.
4. Robben Island lies off the coast of Cape Town and is best known for the prison which housed Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years spent imprisoned. Today the island is a museum, reflecting on Mandela’s years here. In Afrikaans “Robben” means “seal”, and the island is also an important site for both seals and African penguins. It was also used as a leper colony in the 19th century and as a base by the British army during the Second World War. Today it is one of the most popular attractions in Cape Town.
A city powered by youth
5. Cape Town is one of the world’s youngest cities. The average age is just 29 years, compared to 40 in Brussels and 36 in London. And the 2011 census revealed that 43% of the city’s population is under 25.
6. Table Mountain is home to more than 2,200 plant species. These plants developed millions of years ago when Table Mountain was once a small island cut off from the mainland by higher sea levels. Then the Ice Age started, and much of the world’s water got locked into ice caps. This caused sea levels to fall and modern Cape Town to rise from the waves! For this reason, much of the mountain’s plant life is endemic – it can be found nowhere else in the world.
7. The world’s first successful heart transplant took place in Cape Town in 1967. Terminally ill patient Louis Washkansky received a new heart at Groote Schuur Hospital in the city. Although the operation was a success, Washkansky sadly died from pneumonia just 18 days later.
Put the ring away mate, there’s a queue!
8. Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most famous landmark. And it’s a popular proposal spot too – it is estimated that two couples get engaged on the mountain every month!
9. A large colony of around 3,000 African penguins can be found at Boulders Beach, just outside Cape Town. African penguins are endangered. They are only found in the wild in a few locations along the coast of South Africa and Namibia. For this reason, the Boulders Beach colony is heavily protected. African penguins are the only penguins found on the African continent and are commonly seen in zoos around the world. This is because they can adapt easily to warmer temperatures. In fact, they are easy to breed in these zoos, and this captive population acts as an insurance for the dwindling wild colonies.
10. Cape Town is home to the only nuclear power plant in Africa. The Koeberg Power Station opened in 1984 and accounts for around 5% of South Africa’s energy.
No trip to South Africa would be complete without spending at least a few days in Cape Town. The city was voted as the best in the world for seven years running by readers of The Telegraph 2013 – 2019. Whether you’re looking to traverse the Garden Route or head for a wildlife adventure in nearby Kruger, Cape Town must form a part of your trip.
If you’ve enjoyed these 10 interesting facts about Cape Town, then check out our range of South Africa tours and safaris to start planning your visit.