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Destination of the Week: Cape Town, South Africa

by on July 13, 2012 · 35 comments

in British Airways, Carlson, Chase, Delta, Destination of the Week, Hilton, KLM, Priority Club Rewards, skyteam, Starwood, Ultimate Rewards, Visa

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Though much of its history has been plagued by hardship and controversy, in the wake of its World Cup hosting success (and a star turn on The Bachelor), South Africa has quickly become one of the top jetsetting destinations in the world. That’s why for our Destination of the Week, we’d like to take you to a place where visitors can see the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, enjoy a cornucopia of fresh and interesting cuisine, witness the aftermath of one of the world’s great struggles for racial equality, and visit world-class wine regions. We’re heading to Cape Town.

WHAT TO DO
Cape Town’s history dates back to the 17th century when it was originally founded by Dutch traders. It is one of South Africa’s three capitals (the legislative one) and is the country’s second largest city after Johannesburg, with a population of about 3.5 million. It’s located near the Cape of Good Hope where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, and set against the dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain.

A view of the city and Table Mountain from the harbor.

The climate there is Mediterranean and mild, so though it might be cloudy during their winter, it’s usually in the 60’s during the daytime. In summer, temperatures usually get up into the 80’s during the day and dip into the 60’s at night.

Most folks spend a day at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, which is part working port and marina, and part hotel and shopping development as well as home to the Two Oceans Aquarium. It’s also where visitors can catch the ferry to Robben Island, the infamous prison off the coast where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years. Travelers can also hop ferries to Hout Bay, Simon’s Town and the Cape fur seal colonies on Seal and Duiker islands nearby.

The city’s waterfront, where you’ll find tons of shops, museums and the aquarium, as well as ferries to Robbin Island.

Colonial-style Cape Dutch architecture is famous around the world, and to see some premier examples of it, head to the Central Business District to check out the government buildings, or to the town of Constantia, a well-to-do suburb with superb examples of the style, where you can also taste some vintages from South Africa’s burgeoning wine scene. If wine’s your thing, consider spending a few days outside the city in the nearby Cape Winelands, including Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl.

Visit the nearby suburb of Constantia to see prime examples of Cape Dutch architecture and to taste some of South Africa’s famous wines.

For a different perspective on life in South Africa, consider a tour of the Cape Flats Townships, once called the “dumping ground of apartheid,” and a grim legacy to that decades-long policy of institutionalized racism. Here you can take walking tours with companies like Siviwe Tours and Meljo Tours that include visits to schools, community centers and even pubs. Those who want the full experience can even spend the night in a Township at a b&b.

Though the city is fascinating enough, it is surrounded by spectacular natural scenery. Many tourists either hike or take the Cableway up Table Mountain for views of the City Bowl (where Cape Town itself is situated). The Chapman Peak Drive is another popular excursion for a jaunt out in the countryside and panoramic coastal views, and the drive south past the beachy town of Camps Bay to see the stunning peaks of the 12 Apostles is another good day trip.

Be sure to visit the Cape of Good Hope where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.

Of course, many folks also come just for the beaches. The ones along the Atlantic coast, like the one at Clifton, are more developed, though Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town is the place to see African penguins in their native habitat.

YOUR EXPERIENCES
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.

GETTING THERE

South African Airways is a member of the Star Alliance.

While Cape Town has its own airport, Cape Town International Airport, another option is to consider flying into Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, which is only a two-hour flight to Cape Town. However if you want to avoid connecting on the return from Cape Town, British Airways flies non-stop to London-Heathrow (in both directions), KLM to Amsterdam, and Air France to Paris, and South African Airways has one of its hubs in Cape Town–so you’re covered when it comes to redemption options in all three alliances.

Since Johannesburg is a much larger airport, another option is to fly your preferred carrier into there and then redeem 7,500 Avios for a flight to Cape Town on British Airways’ South African airline partner, Comair.

Only 7,500 British Airways for Johannesburg to Cape Town on Comair, which is British Airway’s South African airline partner.

If you signed up for the British Airways Visa (remember, the current 100,000 Avios offer expires July 18!) and were considering using those Avios to get to South Africa, you should think long and hard about it since, because you’ll have to connect in London, you’ll be hit both with huge taxes and fuel surcharges, as well as a double mileage whammy due to the distance-based Avios formula. For instance, flying roundtrip from New York JFK-Cape Town via London in economy would cost 90,000 Avios (180,000 in business) + $700 in taxes and fees ($1,585 in business).

Perhaps a smarter Oneworld option is to fly Cathay via Hong Kong using Alaska Airlines miles (Starwood transfer partner) for just 140,000 miles roundtrip in First Class.

If you’re a Star Alliance flyer, or have been racking up those Chase Ultimate Rewards points on your Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold, you can also (in addition to transferring them to BA for Avios) transfer them to United and redeem them for flights on South African Airways. Check out this post for a list of award charts to see how many miles your program charges for travel to South Africa.

Unfortunately for SkyTeam flyers, Delta revised its award chart up so it now costs 100,000 miles in economy or 140,000 miles in business class roundtrip to get there from North America, so you’re looking at higher redemption pricing as well.

HOTELS

Carlson

Heated Infinity pool at the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront.

Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront Cape Town: This hotel is located on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and has sweeping views of Table Mountain, Robben Island and Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. There are 177 guest including 11 two-bedrooms suites, and business class rooms which come with a complimentary breakfast buffet. Guests can relax at the Quantum Spa, featuring a vitality pool as well as a fully equipped fitness center. The hotel also has a heated rim flow swimming pool. The main restaurant here is Tobago’s Restaurant, which serves both local and international cuisine and has a wide selection of South African wines. There is free high-speed, wireless internet access is available throughout the hotel. The hotel’s concierge can help arrange a variety of activities such as water sports, hiking, mountain biking and paragliding. When searching for availability in July, it notated that all standard rooms are undergoing refurbishment so the lowest rate available was 2,950 ZAR ($350) per night for a business class room, though free night redemptions would normally be 50,000 Gold Points since this is a Category 6 hotel.

There’s also a new Park Inn by Radisson at Cape Town Foreshore where rooms start at 28,000 Gold Points for free nights.

Hilton

Guest room at the Hilton Cape Town.

Hilton Cape Town: This hotel is set at the foot of the Table Mountain, yet close to many of the shops and businesses as well as nearby wineries. It has 137 guestrooms and suites with wood floors, plasma TV’s, walk-in showers, as well as complimentary WiFi. There is an Executive Floor with an Executive Lounge serving complimentary breakfast, refreshments throughout the day, and complimentary canapés and a full bar in the evening. Dining options here include the hotel’s Indian restaurant, Mezbaan, or the Mediterranean-style Bistro 126. There is a fully equipped gym, sauna, and steam room as well as a deck area with a swimming pool. The hotel also provides a complimentary shuttle to points within five kilometers. The lowest rates in July start at 1,600 ZAR ($195) per night. This is a Hilton HHonors Category 4 Hotel so free nights start at 30,000 points per night.

Priority Club

The Holiday Inn Express Cape Town is located in the city center.

Holiday Inn Express Cape Town: Located in the city’s business district, this hotel is close to the Cape Town International Convention Centre. This 14-story hotel has 173 modern guestrooms with flatscreen TV’s and white bedding. They offer all guests 30 minutes of complimentary wireless internet and a daily complimentary breakfast. There is also a decked terrace where guests can unwind after a long day of sightseeing. Rates in July startat 680 ZAR ($80) per night or 15,000 Priority Club points per night.

Starwood

Exterior view of the Westin Cape Town.

Westin Cape Town: This property has 483 guestrooms and suites with standard Westin amenities such as Heavenly Beds and Heavenly Showers as well as 32-inch LCD TV’s, and complimentary wireless internet access There is also the Westin Executive Club serving complimentary continental breakfasts and evening canapés, which SPG Platinum members receive access to. The hotel has a 19th-floor Arabella Spa, with an infinity indoor lap pool, and a WestinWorkout gym, all with views of the Atlantic Ocean. The dining options here include Thirty7, which is a modern brasserie with Asian and French influences as well as Louis B’s, which has an outdoor terrace. Rates in July start at 2,000 ZAR ($240) per night. This is a SPG Category 4 hotel so free nights start at 10,000 Starpoints per evening. SPG Cash and Points is also available for 4,000 Starpoints plus $60.

Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.

Guest room at the One and Only Cape Town.

One and Only Capetown: Guest rooms have 42-inch flatscreen TV’s with satellite, iPod Docking Stations, complimentary WiFi throughout, and bathrooms feature rain showers. There is the One&Only Spa, which is located on its own private island in the middle of the resort, as well as a fitness center. Restaurants on the property include Nobu, which is Matsuhisa’s first restaurant in Africa, Reuben’s and the Vista Bar and Lounge. Amex Platinum members are eligible for a room upgrade, inclusive continental breakfast, 4pm late check out and two 50-minute massages in the spa. Rooms in July start at 4,800 ZAR ($585) per night. This is also a Visa Signature Hotel (see below), so holders of Visa Signature cards are also eligible for a raft of benefits when booking through Visa Signature Hotels and paying with a Visa Signature card.

The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa features open-air spa gazebos.

The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa: This property has 70 well-lit guestrooms including 15 suites all in a contemporary African style. There is a heated infinity swimming pool with ocean views, and the hotel also has its own spa offering treatments in open-air spa gazebos. There is even a private 16-seat cinema on the property screening movies throughout the day. Dining options include Azure restaurant, which uses local and organic ingredients, as well as the The Cafe Grill, which serves food 24 hours a day. Amex Platinum Members are eligible for a room upgrade, inclusive continental breakfast, 4pm late check out and complimentary lunch or dinner for two. Rates in July start at 3,400 ZAR ($405) per night.

Luxury guest room at Cape Grace.

Cape Grace: Located in a private quay overlooking docks of mega yachts, this resort features 120 guestrooms. The rooms have fresh flowers, flatscreen HDTV’s, iPod docking stations, French windows with marina views, marble bathrooms have separate bath and showers, and the suites even have X-Box 360’s.  The Cape Grace Spa is located on the top floor and has several treatment rooms, steam room, and sauna.  Guests can relax in the 15-meter outdoor heated swimming pool and terrace. At Signal restaurant, guests can look out at Signal Hill while dining on dishes made with local ingredients. Children are welcome and the hotel offers them special kids turndown, gingerbread decorating and African story time. Amex Platinum Members are eligible for a room upgrade, inclusive continental breakfast, 4pm late check out and complimentary dinner for two. Rates in July start at 4,800 ZAR ($575) a night.

The 209-room Mount Nelson hotel is also part of the Fine Hotels & Resorts.

Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One VentureCiti Hilton HHonors, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.

 

Exterior view of the Taj Cape Town.

Taj Cape Town: This hotel has 176 guestrooms and suites in a blend of heritage buildings and a new modern tower. In addition, the hotel has club rooms with access to the private Taj Club Lounge serving breakfast, evening canapés and cocktails and butler service. Bombay Brasserie, is the hotel’s fine dining restaurant serving Indian cuisine. The Mint is a more casual establishment serving all day-dining. There is a full Jiva Grande Spa, fitness center and indoor heated lap pool for guests to enjoy. Rates in July start at 1300 ZAR ($155) per night.

Here is the full list of the Visa Signature Hotels in Cape Town where cardholders receive complimentary continental breakfast, automatic room upgrade upon arrival if available, 3pm late check-out, $25 food and beverage credit, and free in-room internet or valet parking. Just for reference, however, they include: SteenbergEllerman HouseCape GraceTwelve Apostles Hotel and SpaThe Last Word ConstantiaThe Last Word Long BeachOne and Only Cape Town,and The Table Bay Hotel.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Frugaldude1

    Isn’t there a way to fly cx via hkg for really little mileage in premium classes?

  • http://michaelwtravels.blogspot.com/ Michael W Travels

    You can go cage diving with great white sharks less than an hour away.
    Go to Boulders Beach to see thousands of Jackass penguins

  • Guest

    Uhh, you say to redeem on SAA using United miles but then you cite (and link to) the SAA award chart and not the United award chart. This will be incredibly confusing to newbies.

  • Zheng87

    Yes, the award chart is not relevant to United miles.. its cheaper

  • thepointsguy

    That was an editing error- fixed

  • thepointsguy

    Have you done the cage diving? That must be an unreal experience

  • thepointsguy

    You can fly Cathay via Hong kong using Alaska miles. I’ll add that

  • TrAAveller

    The cage diving is a great experience. Nothing else like it. Highly recommend it.

  • McGregor

    I’d highly recommend the sunset table mountain cable ride. The sunset views from the top are amazing.

  • Jennifer

    This is my favorite place! I just spent 4 months working there towards the end of 2011.

  • Jlhoelzel

    Is persol safety an issue. Violent city?

  • Jennifer

    @Jlhoelzel As with traveling anywhere, you have to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk by yourself at night, whip out your iPad or wallet as you walk down the street, etc. Really just common sense things. I never had a problem when I was there. It really is a beautiful city filled with amazing people.

  • http://michaelwtravels.blogspot.com/ Michael W Travels

    I have done the cage diving. The water was a bit murky but it was still awesome. You wouldn’t believe the smell in the air coming from Seal Island.

  • Deb

    The actual cape where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet is Cape Agulhas. Geography major, sorry.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/53B4RXPUWQNKR4ZYLHUOKEVHRI Geremy

    I booked a NYC to JNB through ATL w/Delta on an M class fare for 3700 pp, plus 50k miles, leaving in November. Was totally unable to get an awards ticket on delta for less than 300k miles pp. Curious if anyone’s had any success w/delta or skyteam. Seems like a difficult route to find cheap points fares…

  • SkyGuy

    A business trip took me to Cape Town from Boston, MA two weeks ago, I’m a Delta Diamond Medallion member so I was keen to add some miles!

    I was pleasantly surprised to see KLM had direct flights between AMS and CPT, the 10.5 hour journey is within the same time zone so you’ll lose most of the day getting there. I recommend not flying directly after an overnight flight from the States, I was pretty wrecked when I arrived :-(

    Where to stay: In addition to the excellent list provided in the article above may I also recommend The Southern Sun, The Cullinan”. This beautifully restored and well-maintained historic hotel is located near the waterfront, filled with lots of old-school charm this property provides travelers with all the modern amenities. I’d stay there again :-)

  • Hazvinei

    I’m glad somebody pointed this out, it irks me that this fallacy is perpetuated. Cape of Good Hope is where the ships seemingly “turned the corner” towards India or perished due to the crazy weather and terrain. Have someone to go into the water at the Cape of Good Hope and they will confirm there is no Indian Ocean there.

  • Keith W.

    Cage ‘diving’–though not really diving at all–is pretty great.

    For the more active folks, I also highly recommend doing the cycling+winery combo Bikes ‘n Wines, where you train out to Stellenbosch and then ride mountain bikes between (and through) the vineyards, with tastings throughout.

  • Melody

    Any recommendations for a cage diving company? I’m headed there in 2 weeks!

  • Simonfkj

    I’ve been to CPT a few times for work and rugby. I live on the east coast of the states and go through London each time. I’d rather do the redeye and not be time whacked, get the miles, and frankly speaking BA club world is just nice.

    Some stuff that is worth seeing if you can do it…. take in lunch at the Groot Constantia Winery. It’s the oldest winery on the cape and their Rood blend is one of the best I’ve ever had. Also take in a walk around Newlands. It’s an amazing stadium that you’ll never find in the states in terms of accessibility and stature. Right next door is the SA Rugby hall of fame (you need to get the key to enter from the gym next door….very different than the states) which is worth a look to understand the impact of sport on the SA culture. Also the helicopter tours out of the V&A Wharf are worth the go. They claim a high price up front, but the joking strength of the SAR against the dollar and their lack of shrewd negotiation tactics means you can usually catch a break. Also by the wharf is the stadium that was built for the soccer world cup. Lastly Portofino, an Italian joint in the mall on the wharf, is worth the trip. Owner and head chef is a former consulate worker from NY that relo’d back to SA.

    Lastly the Commodore Hotel is not a bad place either. Right by the Wharf and very good service and view of Table Mountain from the rooms.

  • TopGunner

    Best hidden secret about Cape Town in South Africa, avoid the hotels and points, stay in a Guest House and you will never regret it!

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  • http://www.destination360.com Destination360 Travel Guides

    What happened to all the tips of mileage cards are cards tightening up?

  • Wferfer

    I would assume it is and wish there would have been some tips on this point.

  • http://www.horizoncottages.co.za/ Capetown Holidays

    Whilst Cape Town has a wide selection of hotels, one can make your holiday both more affordable, and more enjoyable, by lodging in one of the many professionally rn guest accommodations or b’n b’s where you will be able to get to know the locals. Added benefits include personal advice on what to see and do, often not found in the guide books.

  • Carpetbagger

    My girlfriend and I are going to Cape Town in August. We both got tickets from IAH to CPT via AMS on KLM for ~$1,100 apiece. I’ve seen fares as low as ~$800 per person this past March, too – there are great sales if you catch them at the right time. They didn’t allow us to use miles to upgrade to business class, but I’m assured enough EQMs to have some sort of status on Delta for years.

  • Rich A

    For all those who have been, is personal safety at night an issue? Have been told it’s not adviseable to be out in the streets at night. Thanks —-

  • Bethodonnell

    I really admire the way you easily weave extremely useful tips, like booking through Visa Signature Hotels, with the individual hotel overviews. Embedded gems.

  • Jfish1000

    I booked NYC – CDG – CPT on delta/air france, 3 of 4 legs in business for 280K miles a few months ago. it was an extremely difficult task, and required heavy work with KVS tool. taxes and fees like 250.

  • Jess

    I am in Cape Town right now! Got a 140,000 mile business redemption through CDG to JNB, then a separate BA flight for about $200. I second or third the guest house recommendations — I am sure the big chains are very nice, and I was skeptical that I would like the small size and extra attention, but Derwent House, where I have been the last few nights has been beyond great — amazing breakfast, roaring fire in the common area, lovely wines set out every night, and perfect suggestions about what to do each day. Also spent a couple of nights in Stellenbosch, doing wine tours, at Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel, which I think might be the most perfect place I have ever stayed — heated floors in the bathrooms, best shower ever, roaring fire in the downstairs living room, excellent wine and the most wonderful staff ever. I am sure it is even more beautiful here in summer, but so far my winter stay has been amazing. Also, no safety issues in Cape Town as of yet — I have walked around alone in the day time and with friends at night, in the main tourist and residential areas, and it has been just fine. I wouldn’t go too far off the beaten path at night or by myself, but that’s true anywhere. With the mountains surrounding all sides but the ocean, Cape Town has to have one of the most beautiful locations for a major city anywhere in the world.

  • http://twitter.com/TXN60613 Tim

    I spent two fantastic weeks in Cape Town (and Vic Falls, Zimbabwe). Really one of those once in a lifetime trips. Cape Town is so beautiful and the people are so welcoming. Cape Town is really a melting pot of world cultures, so the food is quite amazing. I put together a full report on my recent trip including hotel reviews and other activities. If I had the opportunity, I would be on a flight back to Cape Town tonight.
    http://landtt.blogspot.com/2011/08/african-trip-review-introduction.html

  • YankeeinDFW

    Can anyone suggest an efficient route from DFW to Pietermaritzburg? Thanks

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  • Trevor

    People seem to consider a trip to the winelands to be a big trip, but it’s only 45min away, so don’t feel like you need to go only once or stay there (though this is great due to scenery and location).

    Fairview is a great wine estate with lovely lunches in the Goats Shed, The Bery Farm is fab for lunches/teas etc. if wanting to detox for an hour – it’s on the Franschoek end of Hell’s Hoogte Pass which leads to Stellenbosch.

    On the Other end of Stellenbosch, on the R310 leading to the N2 is Spier, an all-rounder kind of place with wine tatsing, picnicking, market stalls, cheetahs, and the fab dining experience, “Moyo” restaurant – ask for your own treehouse. This is definitely highly recommended.

    If you’re the adventure type, a couple of less known things are paragliding off Lion’s Head, and “kloofing” (jumping into waterfall plunge-pools) on the Riviersondereind, behind Grabouw. It’s a great day-hike known as “Suicide Gorge”. I’d also recommend a walk up Table Mountain rather than the lazy cable way, the easiest and most common route being Platterklip Gorge, further along the contour road from the lower cable station. Depending on fitness, it should take you less than 2hrs.

    A boat trip from Hout Bay harbour to the seal islands is also good, as is a drive around the entire pennisula. Further afield you have Hermanus, a lovely little town known for whale watching (Sept/Oct best).

    So many things to do there and of course I have skipped so much. One could easily spend 2 weeks in Cape Town and not get bored!

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