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For Justin's daily travelogue, including specific hotel, restaurant, and nightlife suggestions in Cape Town and the surrounding countryside as well as an upscale safari at MalaMala game reserve, visit GPS.OutTraveler.com/Africa.
It doesn't take long after stepping off the plane in Cape Town before the awe sets in -- this is Africa. Not the stereotypical huts and famine and celebrity babies that saturate the popular mind-set, but a truly modern Africa, cosmopolitan and progressive, brimming with hope while simmering with sins of the past.
As the richest sub-Saharan country, South Africa gleams like a beacon of possibility on a continent yet to come into its own, an incredible testament to what optimism and hardscrabble determination can accomplish, especially in the arena of gay rights: LGBT people there have employment nondiscrimination, marriage, and adoption laws on their side. It takes a village to raise a Rainbow Nation, and its nickname reflects its intricate multiethnic society -- with blacks, Dutch-descended Afrikaners and other whites, "coloured" people (a nonracist term for those of mixed race), and Asians -- and its 11 official national languages.
At its crown: Cape Town.
With beaches, vineyards, and wildlife both urban and animal all within 45 minutes of downtown, Cape Town is a city practically made for Sunday drives. With hills and valleys and panoramic views around every corner, the quaint seaside suburbs of Hout Bay, Fish Hoek, and Muizenberg and the wooded, vineyard-laden Constantia are every bit as opulent as the suburban strip malls are predictable.
Get your bearings from 3,500 feet with a cable car ride or lung-bustin' hike up flat-topped Table Mountain, where windswept, panoramic views reveal the geographic grandeur and diversity of the Western Cape. Sheer cliffs give way to sandy beaches as city skyscrapers blend into miles of bleak, shanty-filled townships. Off in the distance, the more than 200 verdant vineyards of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch tempt with their abundant, award-winning sauvignon blancs while the rocky tip of the Cape Point peninsula taunts as the popularly misconstrued mingling spot of the Atlantic and Indian oceans (Cape Agulhas to the east claims that title).
Back down in the city, the stunning contrast of physical beauty abutting gritty urbanism makes for a vibe both laid back and neurotic. Think SoCal in South Africa. Gabled Cape Dutch?style buildings abut glass-and-steel condos. Signal Hill's Noon Gun -- a cannon that used to herald the arrival of Dutch East Indies ships, now fired daily, lush Company Gardens, and candy-colored bungalows of the largely Muslim Bo Kaap district recall colonial times, while a massive soccer stadium rising in preparation for the 2010 World Cup strides toward the future. Abject townships speak to lingering problems; Cape Flats strip malls speak to middle-class progress (there's even a gay bar there, Star Gayzer in Parow).
Part One | Part Two