A Visit to Table Mountain

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront with Table Mountain background

A trip to South Africa is not complete without a visit to the magnificent Table Mountain. It is the most iconic landmark of the country and also the most photographed attraction. Its famous 360-degree cable car has taken millions of people to the top to admire the views of the city and landscape, and to go hiking in the national park on top. What can you expect from a visit to Table Mountain?

Let’s start with some facts. The flat top peak of the mountain reaches 1,086m above sea level but looks even taller because it is right next to the city and flat ocean. Table Mountain makes up the northern border of the Cape Fold Mountain range and is flanked by Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head. It’s hard to imagine, but the mountain’s distinctive three-kilometre flat plateau was once the bottom of a valley! Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountains in the world. The rocks of the mountain are approximately 600 million years old, which makes it 6 times older than the Himalayas.

A Really Unique Place

Table Mountain is so extraordinary that it can hardly be overstated how unique this place is. It is much more than a scenic place where you can take a breath-taking photo of Cape Town (although it sure is that too). There are about 2,200 species of plants found on Table Mountain and 1,470 floral species, which is an astonishing number of species on such a small area. And the stunning fact is that many of these plants and flowers cannot be found anywhere else on the planet! A blanket of clouds often covers the mountain. They float over the top, start falling down the steep slope and then just suddenly disappear without ever reaching the base.

The clouds keep trying but never succeed to get over the mountain

The Table Mountain Cable Car

The easiest way to get up the mountain is the cableway. It has attracted more than 24 million visitors since it first opened in 1929. No worries though, the entire thing has been renewed since then and is maintained very well. The cable-cars can now carry up to 65 passengers per trip (mostly it is much lower number though). The journey takes about five minutes and the cars rotate through 360 degrees during the trip, giving you a spectacular view of the mountain and the entire area around it. If you are afraid of heights, like I am, I recommend you to go anyway. The view is just too good.

Cars depart from the lower cable station on Tafelberg Road every 10 to 15 minutes. Expect to spend a fair amount of time in the queue during peak season though. So it is a good idea to buy your ticket online before you go and to skip the line. The cable cars do not operate if the wind is too strong or the visibility too poor, so you may want to check in advance what the conditions are that day. Ticket prices vary between morning and afternoon. Check and buy them here.

View of the city and hiking trails from the top

Hiking Up Table Mountain

While the cableway is convenient and fun, you’ll get a much richer experience by hiking up or down yourself. Platteklip Gorge, a prominent gorge up the centre of the table, is one of the most popular routes up the mountain. It is quite steep but the ascent is pretty straightforward and takes about an one hour if you’re fit, or one to three hours if you are taking it easy.

A trickier route starting on that side of the mountain is India Venster, which requires you to scramble a bit more. Hiking this route will take between two to four hours. But do not go here if you are not fit. The easiest and most comfortable route is Kasteelspoort on the Atlantic side of the mountain and it offers incredible views of Camps Bay.

There are also longer routes to the summit from the Southern Suburbs. Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge both start in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. From Skeleton Gorge, you can hike along Smuts Track to Maclear’s Beacon, which, at 1086 meters above sea level, is the highest point on Table Mountain. From Constantia Nek, you can take a longer, milder walk up the jeep track to the dams at the top of the mountain. Click here for more info on the different hikes.

Hiking Tips

  • Never hike alone. Always tell someone where you’ll be and how long you expect to take.
  • Make sure you have plenty of water, snacks, waterproof clothing, and a mobile phone in case of emergencies.
  • By all means: use sunscreen! Apply it regularly. Those who forget will suffer for days.
  • Wear appropriate shoes.
  • Pick a route best suited to your fitness level and experience. Preferably hike with someone who is familiar with the route.
  • Don’t take shortcuts or stray off the path.
  • If visibility is poor, don’t continue climbing. Find a spot that offers some sort of shelter.
Jan Willem Plug hiking up Lion's Head with Table Mountain in the background
Hiking up Lion’s Head with Table Mountain in the background

At the Top

The cableway station at the top of the mountain has a shop where you can stock up on snacks, and also a nice restaurant. The restaurant terrace offers an amazing view of the mountain top and national park. If you take the cableway up the mountain, but still want to do a little walking, there are three easy walks on the plateau – the Dassie Walk, the Agama Walk, and the Klipspringer Walk. There are also free guided walks that depart – on the hour – from the Twelve Apostles Terrace. The views of the area around the mountain, of the valleys, the ocean, the city are absolutely unforgettable.

View from the top of Table Mountain
View from the top
Jan Willem Plug on top of Table Mountain
Endless views wherever you look

Sightseeing When You Visit Table Mountain

If you are hiking up the mountain, the five dams at the top make for great picnic spots. If you head over to the Woodhead Dam, completed in 1897, you can visit the quaint little Waterworks Museum, which houses items used during the construction of the dam, including an old locomotive.

For the more adventurous, there is the option to jump off a cliff – Well, sort of – with Abseil Africa. The abseil experience – 112 meters down a sheer cliff – takes about 45 minutes in total and includes a demonstration, the abseil, and a short hike back up to the top. The guys selling this experience usually sit close to the entrance/exit of the cable car on top of the mountain.

Daredevils can go abseiling from the top

Whichever way you get to the top when you visit Table Mountain – you will never forget the views you have on top. Both the mountain itself and the top national park as well as all the surrounding area are spectaculair. I spent many hours hiking all around the flat top and did not get bored for even a minute. Table Mountain really is one of the seven wonders of the world.

Right next to Table Mountain is a unique peak called Lion’s Head. I climbed it and will tell you all about it in my next article about South Africa. In the meantime, you can watch my Instagram story of the experience here.

Jan Willem on top of Table Mountain with Lion's Head in the background
Lion’s Head peak in the background

If you want to prepare your trip to Cape Town and find all the best places to eat and stay, I recommend this guide to Cape Town and its surroundings.