South Africa Recap: 4 Things We Wish We Knew Before Visiting Table Mountain National Park
Today we’re sharing about our visit to Table Mountain National Park in Cape Town South Africa. It’s the first in a series of recaps of our February 2019 trip to South Africa. While it’s a bit of a departure from our typical National Park Service posts, we had an amazing experience in Africa and want everyone to know how easy and accessible it was to travel there. We also want to share more about South Africa’s national parks and how they compare to our own. To see our complete 14 day itinerary, check out our post here: http://www.parkchasers.com/2019/01/our-14-day-south-africa-itinerary/
A Visit to Table Mountain National Park
Not sure what it says about our vacation habits, but we were on the ground in South Africa for less than 12 hours before heading to our first national park.
We were treated to a full sunshine view of Table Mountain when we opened the curtains of our AirBnB that first morning. We exchanged a few high fives that morning for such a great location to start our trip. In reality, we’d later learn there are very few places in Cape Town without a spectacular view of the park.
Towering some 3,000 feet above the city, it’s hard to miss.
Table Mountain is central to every part of city life here. Tourism, the way the traffic flows, the weather, the history. Everything about Cape Town is connected to the landscape. Some other nifty things about Table Mountain: It’s part of the Cape Floral Kingdom UNESCO World Heritage Site; it’s known as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the Modern World; there are more than 1,400 endemic species protected in the park.
All these things about Table Mountain had us itching to see it for ourselves. What we didn’t know before we left is that nearly 1 million people climb or take the aerial cable car every year.
Here’s what we wish we knew before we joined all these others on our trek up the mountain:
4 Things We Wish We Knew Before Visiting Table Mountain National Park
1. Buy Tickets in Advance.
We both cringe just thinking that “Buy Tickets in Advance” even ended up on this list. How it happened to us as experienced travelers is a bit beyond us. Buying tickets ahead so you don’t stand in line is a bit of a no-brainer. And this time we paid for it by standing in a horrendous line to take the aerial cable car up the mountain.
Not knowing how we’d feel after 20+ hours of traveling to get to Cape Town, we opted to loosely plan our first day there. That meant we did not purchase advanced tickets for the Table Mountain Cable Car. Instead, we hopped a bus up to the lower cable car station and purchased tickets there.
When we arrived, we found two lines for the cable car “Purchase Tickets” and then “Ticket Holders”. We had to wait about 45 minutes in the “Purchase Tickets” queue to get up to the ticket window and then once we had tickets we had to go to the end of the “Ticket Holders” line and wait for our turn to take the cable car. Had we purchased tickets in advance we could have skipped the first line and went straight into the “Ticket Holders” line, saving about an hour of time waiting.
The line moved steadily, but in the end it was completely avoidable had we been prepared!
2. Timing is Everything. Travel in the Afternoon if You Can.
Given how long we stood in line watching the crowds, it also became fairly obvious that our mid-morning timing was the BUSIEST part of the day to visit Table Mountain. We arrived around 10 AM and were in the thick of the crowds.
Arriving a few hours earlier when the cable car first opened, or waiting until mid-afternoon (around 2-3 pm) to go up the aerial cableway would have made a huge difference in wait times.
3. Watch the line to go back down the mountain.
The aerial cablecar has two cars that go up but all passengers wait in one line to come back down the mountain. Because we went up with a giant crowd, we also had to wait in line with the same crowd to come back down. Planning a visit an hour or so later and we likely would have been in a much shorter line.
In hindsight, we wished we would have hiked around a bit longer, keeping an eye on the length of the line down the mountain. We could have spent a bit more time enjoying the scenery instead of waiting in the longest part of the line.
4. Research the history of the park before you go.
This being our first visit to a South African national park, we anticipated there would be similar amounts of signage as parks here in the United States.
Not so much.
Since many visitors to Table Mountain travel with an organized tour guide that provides the history, there’s far less signage and exhibits that we were used to in a national park.
We wish we’d done a bit more research on the history of the park, the endemic species, and some hiking options around the top of the mountain. In the end we navigated just fine, and we were able to look up the answers to our questions later. There was just less information available than we planned for.
In the end…
Despite these few “wish we would have…” moments, our visit to Table Mountain National Park was still one of the highlights of our trip to Cape Town. We would 100% visit again on our next trip to South Africa.
Next time we plan to allow enough time for the hike up Table Mountain, a ranger-guided hike at the top, or a sunset hike up Signal Hill or Lion’s Head (two points off the end of the main Table Mountain area). From the top of the mountain we could also see some people paragliding off the top of the mountain out towards the ocean. That might just have to be the next view of Cape Town we get!
Here are some other favorite photos from Table Mountain National Park: