6 Reasons to Plan — Not Cancel — a Trip to Cape Town Right Now

Travel to Cape Town, South Africa has a lot to teach us, even — or especially — during the historic drought.

If your favorite ritual is taking a daily leisurely bubble bath, then Cape Town may not be the place for you — for now, at least. But for any other intrepid would-be traveler seeking exorbitant amounts of natural beauty and wildlife in the form of penguin-packed beaches and panoramic mountaintops, fabulous shopping, world-class wine and innovative, mouth-watering cuisine, the city at the southern tip of South Africa is most definitely the place for you. Yes, even in these wild times of ominous Day Zeros and droughts. Here, six reasons to visit Cape Town, South Africa right now.

That is, if you can resist the hype that’s been driving some tourists to cancel their planned holidays. It’s undeniable, and quite evident while being there, that Cape Town has faced an epic drought this winter (their summer, remember), which forced officials to release a date to scare its residents into drastically reducing their water consumption so that they don’t run completely out of water. The ultimate threat: a day, originally early in the spring, in which taps would stop working, and locals would have to line up at facilities daily for an allocation of just about six and a half gallons per person.

That apocalyptic-sounding news quickly made the rounds to every major newspaper and travel magazine in the world and, as I was told on a February trip, began to scare people away. (Tourism is a huge part of the local economy.) And while they’re not out of the weeds just yet, the looming date has been pushed back several times to the point where it’s just been deemed not likely to happen at all in 2018. Water-conserving efforts are still majorly in effect, but in reality they hardly have any affect on travelers.

1.  A fancy fine-dining meal you would have in Manhattan or San Francisco will cost you just a fourth to a third of the price in Cape Town.

So you can actually afford to live the foodie adventures of your dreams — or of celebrities’ realities. Because of the strength of the U.S. dollar, the most incredible meals in Cape Town can be had at what we see as near bargain-basement prices. The value is incredible. If you think the food is inexpensive, take a look at the wine list. Because the famed winelands — Franschhoek and Stellenbosch — are less than an hour away, vino is sold, even in restaurants, at absurdly low prices. (Not so in SF, huh?) A few of the splurge-worthy eateries that are barely even a splurge include The Test Kitchen (but you must book way ahead), The Shortmarket Club, Roundhouse, Chef’s Warehouse, and Nobu (yes, that Nobu).

2.  Tourists aren't nearly as affected by the Day Zero regulations as locals.

The rules about water usage are more directed at Capetonians — with suggestions about how often to do laundry and how to wash dishes — since they make up the vast majority of the people using water. It's not like you, as a visitor, needs to think about hoarding or storing water for July. In all hotels, bathtub plugs are conspicuously missing, but any hotel worth its stars will give it back upon request (that is if you don’t feel too guilty and extravagant fill up the tub). They also now have signs asking that you request sheet changes, as opposed to automatically doing it daily, because who really needs that?) You’ll notice restaurant and hotel restrooms are equipped with waterless sanitizer, but they mostly also still have soap. It’s up to you whether you want to adhere to the bathroom suggestion of, "if it's yellow, let it mellow." 

3.  It’s an excuse to drink more of that wine.

Restaurants and bars are using the H2O strain as a marketing tool for selling more booze. It’s not uncommon to see chalkboards and signs proclaiming, “Drink wine, save water!” And while no one is suggesting zero water intake at all — and actually the bottled water you’d be drinking anyway has nothing to do with the dam supply — it’s extremely tempting, and fun, to let wine flow like water while on vacation. Go for rosé all day by the pool at One&Only Cape Town or day trip to the source for Pinotage, Syrah (or Shiraz), Sauvignon Blanc, bubbly and many more varietals at the likes of Leeu Estates, Babylonstoren and Mont Rochelle.

4.  You’ll learn indelible lessons about the importance of conservation.

And those lessons will likely be all the more meaningful and lasting because you've experienced the effects firsthand. Even though you don’t have to be personally worried about water scarcity while there, it’s hard not to think about how much of the resource we waste, needlessly, every day. The truth is many places around the world are experiencing more radical droughts and weather and nothing should be taken for granted. And you might even feel inspired to take home some of the tricks you’ve learned, like freezing fruit like watermelon as ice, a genius way to save on precious water invented by the innovating mixologists at The Botanical Bar, a hip new spot serving local gin–based concoctions.

5.  The animals are still there.

And they're OK. The adorable African penguins on Boulders Beach are still playing in the surf, waiting for you to take once-in-a-lifetime photos for Instagram, and the wild baboons, zebra, ostrich and other creatures are still roaming Cape Point. The Table Mountain cableway is operating as usual, and the epic drives and overlooks are waiting to be explored.

6.  You can still get your fill of water in the pools — and ocean.

Yes, the ocean's cold and the beaches sometimes windy, but all the gorgeous swimming pools are just fine. It's not so dire that they're sitting empty or anything of the sort. The one at the glamorous pink Belmond Mount Nelson — where Charlize Theron, Alicia Vikander, and Katie Holmes have all overnighted — is surrounded by an expansive lawn where guests can have chairs reserved all day, while the rooftop pool at the most luxurious and gorgeously designed boutique hotel in town, The Silo, can only be described as spectacular. One end is clear, and the 360 views are mesmerizing.

Photos: Kathryn Romeyn

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