Table Mountain is the most significant feature of Cape Town. It’s even portrayed on the city’s flag and an official logo. In my perspective, Table Mountain is one of the top places I’ve ever been to. So, I decided to write down all the important facts and even some useful tips for you to know before you go.
Quick facts check:
- Table Mountain is located on the Cape Peninsula in Cape Town.
- Its highest point, Maclear’s Beacon is 1 085 m (3 560 ft) high.
- Table Mountain is actually a National Park since 1998.
- It has two other local names: Tafelberg in Afrikaans and Hoerikwaggo in Khoikhoi.
1. How to get to the top?
Climb up the Table Mountain is a must when visiting Cape Town. Of course, there are two options: cableway for lazy sissies and hike for adventurous visitors. I and my wife decided on a compromise, so we climbed up the mountain and took a ride down the cableway for more views.
The cableway up to Table Mountain is modern and also quite cheap, so that might persuade weak-will people to choose the easier way. But believe me, you’re missing a lot not trying the hike. Anyhow, the cable cars offer a 360° panorama of the north slope over Cape Town, which is pretty awesome too.
- The cableway operates from 8:30 or 9 am to 3.30 or 4 pm, according to the actual season.
- The cars go up approximately every 15 minutes, but it’s better to buy your ticket online to avoid the queue (at least from December to February, when it’s the peak season).
- Always check the official websites, as the cableway doesn’t operate in case of strong winds or bad weather.
- Adult one-way ticket costs 12 EUR (10 GBP / 14 USD).
- The return tickets price varies according to age and time of the day. There are discounts for children, students, and seniors, for more info check the official websites.
Table Mountain Hikes
There are more than 200 routes all over the Table Mountain National Park. That makes a great pastime activity in case you’re staying in Cape Town for a longer time. All of the trails are available on alltrail.com, including the routes fit for small children as well as the hard-ass ones. The time range is from hour and half for the shortest one to half-day trip if you decide to explore the whole mountain. I just recommend searching for reviews and information in advance as there might be some kinds of people you really don’t want to meet.
The most direct, and therefore most popular, route up to the plateau is Platteklip Gorge. That’s exactly the one we took when we were there. We climbed this almost 3 km (1.80 mi) long route for an hour or so, including many stops to take the perfect Instagram pics. However, from December to February it may be quite challenging for some less fit hikers as the sun beats you down the whole route. Prepare steady shoes and adequate water supplies. We were there in May when it’s fall weather in South Africa, so I’ve got no hot sweaty shirtless picture for you, sorry. But here’s a map of the route at least:
2. When is the best time to visit Table Mountain?
There’s really no bad time to visit Table Mountain. It’s beautiful in all seasons. The best time is in fall or spring though. The temperatures are ok and if you’re lucky, it’s also sunny. It’s best to head out there early in the morning because the traffic is insane if you get there later.
Table Mountain is also famous for the tablecloth of clouds. Every time the south-eastern winds blow from the coast, the thick clouds form all over the slopes. It doesn’t mean it will rain necessarily. The mist and the clouds usually disperse after a few minutes. I must say it feels magical being there, and that’s something coming from me. Naturally, there’s a myth related to this phenomenon.
The smoking contest:
Legend has it that there was a smoking contest between a Dutch pirate living on the east side of Table Mountain and the devil. Once, when the pirate was smoking outside his hut, the devil appeared out of nowhere and challenged him about who can create more smoke. So, if you ever see the tablecloth covering the mountain it’s these two idiots’ fault.
3. Try to climb up or abseil the mountain for the ultimate experience
Rock climbing up Table Mountain is just another way to experience the most of it. There are plenty of multi-pitch routes from very easy ones to the most challenging. Most of the routes are to be found on Africa Ledge, a north-east side of the mountain facing the city, or on the Fountain Ledge towards the Atlantic seaboard. If you’re not too experienced, I recommend finding a guided rock-climbing tour. There are several to choose from, the best rated being Cape Town Climbing and Manawa.
4. The Table Mountain on a wheelchair? No problem
This is quite surprising, but Capetonians are obviously very friendly and bend over backward to welcome all the visitors, including the handicapped. There’s lift access to the cable car, disabled parking lots, and even a specially adapted pathway on the top. Look, they even issued a special wheelchair map with points of interest and directions.
5. The Table Mountain is older than dinosaurs
Yep, believe it or not, Table Mountain has been here longer than the Queen of England. It’s 600 million years old. To give you an idea, compared to the Himalayas it’s six times older and four times older than the Alps. However, the oldest mountain range on earth lies on the other side of South Africa at its borders with Swaziland. It’s called Barberton Greenstone Belt and it’s estimated to be 3.5 billion years old. Thanks to the unique geologic value, its variety of endemic species, and the monumental profile Table Mountain was included in the list of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
6. Why is Table Mountain flat?
I don’t know, it just is. Nah, just kidding. Talking about Table Mountain history, most people are curious why is it flat on the top? To put it simply, imagine a stack of pancakes. These pancakes represent different types of rocks the mountain is made of. A solid sandstone on the top and the granite beneath it. During the ice age, there were ice plains that eroded the sandstone forming the flat top. When the continents split up, the granite held the mountain together instead of crushing inwards. For the following centuries, the erosion has been taking bits of the mountain from the sides, but not from the top made of massive sandstone. That means the sides of the mountain are crumbling down while the top stands still.
7. Don’t even think of taking the drone with you
Drones are strictly prohibited in National Parks in South Africa. So, that means no killer drone footage from your vacation. It’s also prohibited to make a fire there, excluding the marked campsite areas.
8. There are over 8 000 species living on the Table Mountain
Table Mountain National Park is home to the Cape Floral Kingdom. A unique biome made of thousands of species, some of them endemic to Table Mountain. It’s so huge, you feel like on different planet. Just imagine the species from every corner of Africa on one place. The cool thing is, this biome is endemic only to the West Cape, so you won’t find it anywhere else on the planet. If you want to see the flowers in bloom, come here in February and March, when most of the flowers blossom, including South Africa’s national flower King Protea.
The mountain is also home for many animal species like endemic ghost frog, various snakes, lizards and mongooses. If you’re lucky you can also spot the dassie, unofficial mascot of Table Mountain. I guess, they were shy when we went there, so the only animal on Table Mountain was me.
9. You can see Table Mountain up in the sky
Did you know, this particular mountain is so inspiring it even has its very own constellation? In fact, it’s the only place on earth so interesting that someone decided to name the stars after it. It was Nicolas de Lacaille, a French astronomer from 18th century, who named the constellation the “Mensa” (meaning “the table”) during his stay in Cape Town. If you’re in South Africa in the middle of July, you can see it right under the Orion belt around midnight.