Top Five Places to Celebrate Responsible Tourism in Cape Town

by Kaylee Morrison

Responsible tourism is a relatively new concept, clamoring to gain footing in an industry dedicated, coincidentally, to forgetting all responsibilities. Because of the very nature of the tourism industry, finding destinations that are socially conscious and environmentally friendly generally ranks a distant second to tourists having an awesome time. Fortunately the two can easily overlap, as is proven by Cape Town, South Africa’s tourism industry.

Penguins in Africa!
Penguins in Africa! Photo by Kaylee Morrison

In 2002, Cape Town held the world’s first Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations, where the city decided that its tourism industry would work hard to respect local cultures and create environmentally sustainable destinations. Since then, tourism in this beautiful city has only gotten better! Here are the top five places to celebrate responsible tourism’s growing success in the city:

1. World of Birds

For lovers of birds, quirky animals, and the conservation of endangered species, World of Birds is pretty much paradise. World of Birds offers guests the opportunity to walk through one hundred different aviaries, each housing bird species that you can walk right next to and greet face-to-face. Many of the birds are local species, and many are rare or endangered. In the back of the zoo there is an eccentric but entertaining collection of other animals, including a honey badger, an alpaca, baboons, and a meerkat colony. There’s even a monkey enclosure where you can let a tiny monkey climb your arm if you want! It’s a great place to bring the kids for a day of fun—or to satisfy your own inner child!

2. Township Tours

During the apartheid era, racial segregation forced people classified as “black” into townships, poor neighborhoods located outside the major cities. These townships still exist today, and so does the poverty that persisted during apartheid. However, lately these areas have been doing everything to turn their situations around—everything including community-based initiatives to bring tourists into the neighborhood.

While touring a poor area may sound like non-awesome responsible tourism, the tours focus less on poverty and more on opening visitors’ eyes to the rich cultural heritage of the people who still live in the townships. In Langa township, for example, the majority of residents are of the Xhosa ethnic group. A township tour here might include drinking traditional beer, watching a live musical performance, and visiting a museum dedicated to Xhosa history in South Africa. You’ll learn about political, social, and cultural past and present in the townships, and will leave with a much more in-depth knowledge of South Africa than you could ever get from just a museum. And of course, all money paid to the tours goes back into the community to help them continue to fight their adverse situations.

3. Boulder’s Beach

If you love penguins, but hate seeing them cooped up in zoos, Boulder’s Beach is the missing puzzle piece in your life. A short drive up the coast from Cape Town, Boulder’s is home to a wild colony of African penguins. For a small fee, which goes right back to conserving the penguins, you can walk along a boardwalk and observe the penguins in their natural habitat. You can take as many pictures as you’d like, and feel confident that you’re not disturbing the penguins one bit. 

4. Bo-Kaap

Cape Town’s cultural history is quite diverse, and one area of the city where this truly shows is Bo-Kaap. Set high on a hill overlooking the city center, Bo-Kaap is home to many of the Malaysians still settled in Cape Town, whose ancestors were brought across the Indian Ocean as slaves for the city’s European settlers. Generations of mixing Malaysian and South African culture have given rise to Cape Malay cuisine, which is quite similar to Malaysian and Indian food apart from a few substituted ingredients based on what’s available in South Africa. A popular tourist activity in Bo-Kaap is home cooking classes, where you can actually visit a home in Bo-Kaap and pay to learn to cook Cape Malay food. Both your stomach and your mind will leave satisfied; not only will you eat a delicious home-cooked meal of curry, rotis, and samosas, but you’ll be able to appreciate directly compensating your teacher in return!

5. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Set on the slopes of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch as an area to preserve the natural environment of South Africa was an inspired vision by a conservationist which only became a reality after his death. The gardens are the largest botanical gardens in all of Africa, and house many of South Africa’s endangered plant species, showing off the area’s natural biodiversity. You can get great pictures of the country’s national flower, the king protea, go hiking on some of the routes which lead up to Table Mountain, or even just wander around smelling the flowers. Again, profits go straight back to conserving more plants, so a trip to the gardens is completely and totally responsible.

Even the most passionate of activists will find it difficult to think about social and environmental justice while on vacation. Why not travel somewhere that makes it easy? Cape Town has boldly struck out on the path of responsible tourism, and there’s no reason for you to miss out on this amazing city and its opportunities.