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Cape Town

penguins in cape town

Iconic Table Mountain is the image most closely associated with Cape Town. Almost always blanketed by a "tablecloth" of clouds, the mountain bisects the city and offers views of Table Bay, Robben Island, the Cape Flats and Cape Peninsula. If you wish to snap the quintessential photo of Cape Town, take the five-minute cable car ride to the summit of Table Mountain. Go whenever the weather is good because clouds can roll in at any time. This entire area is part of Table Mountain National Park, and you'll find hiking trails to suit all ability levels, several viewing platforms, a souvenir shop and a cafe.

To learn more about South Africa's apartheid-tainted past, visit Robben Island. This outpost in the Atlantic Ocean served as a prison from the late 17th century through the apartheid years (1948 - 1990), when racial segregation was enforced by law. Nelson Mandela was sent to the prison and treated brutally, and you can see the cell where he spent 18 years. Today, former prisoners lead guided tours of the island, explaining what it was like and discussing the strides South Africa has made since banishing apartheid in 1990.

Animal lovers might consider checking out the Cheetah Outreach project at the Paardevlei development in Somerset West, 30 minutes east of Cape Town, where you will be introduced to an adult cheetah. If the animal is in the mood, you will be able to get up close. In addition to the world's fastest mammals, the center is home to caracals, servals, bat-eared foxes, jackals and meerkats.

Photos: 10 Best South Africa Experiences

See African penguins in the wild. In 1983, a pair of penguins showed up at Foxy Beach/Boulders Beach. Within a few years, the population had grown immensely. Today, there are around 2,000 penguins in the Boulders colony, near Simon's Town (40 minutes south of Cape Town). The best viewing spots are Boulders Beach, where you can mingle with the birds, or Foxy Beach, where you'll view the colony from a raised boardwalk.

Head to False Bay in Simonstown, and meet up with African Shark Eco-Charters for the ultimate shark cage diving tour. Not that adventurous? No problem. You don't have to get in the cage; you can simply watch the drama unfold from on deck. You'll hold your breath in awe as great white sharks approach the vessel (within inches of the divers in the cage) and even breach the water. A once-in-a-lifetime experience! This is a popular pastime, and you'll find many operators offering similar trips. See Viator for a variety of options.

Kirstenbosch bills itself as "the most beautiful garden in Africa." Located on the eastern side of Table Mountain, the garden displays more than 7,000 species of local flowers, plants and trees. Don't miss the canopy walk for a bird's-eye view.

Learn about a dark chapter in Cape Town's history at the District Six Museum, which educates visitors about the forced removal of the non-white citizens of this neighborhood throughout the 20th century.

Another interesting museum is the South African Jewish Museum, offering a look at the history of the local Jewish population.

Did you know that the world's first human heart transplant was performed in Cape Town? Learn all about it at the Heart of Cape Town Museum, which tells the story of this medical breakthrough in interactive fashion.

Learn about the history of slavery in South Africa at the Slave Lodge, housed in a building where some 9,000 slaves, convicts and people with mental illnesses lived between 1679 and 1811.

Discover Cape Town Tours and Activities with Viator

Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns Viator.

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