Visiting Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

Table Mountain, recently named one of the new 7 wonders of the world, is the incredibly iconic mountainside that rises prominently over Cape Town. No matter where you go in the city, you’ll almost always be able to catch a glimpse of this prominent mountain. In addition to the sheer beauty, what really makes Table Mountain a special point of interest is how easy it is to access for the masses. Within minutes you can go from hanging out at sea level to roaming among the swirling clouds atop Table Mountain. So here’s what you need to know for visiting Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

Hike or cable car?

The vast majority of people are going to take the cableway up to Table Mountain but hiking is an option. We didn’t do the hike up for a few reasons, but looking at the reviews, it seems like hiking up to Table Mountain would definitely be worth it. 

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
A hiker making his way near the top of the mountain.

Depending on the route you take it could take 4 to 5 hours to get up there. I’d recommend booking a hike with a guide  because the trails can be pretty dangerous and there have even been quite a few deaths. (Riaan seems to a unanimous winner of a tour guide.) If you’re a very experienced hiker, a guide might not be necessary but if you’re at all questioning your hiking/navigating ability I highly suggest going with a guide.

Taking the cableway

For those who don’t want to make the hike or just don’t have the time, the cable car system (“cableway”) is a perfectly good option for making it up to the top of the mountain. To get there, you’ll need to either schedule a tour or drive yourself to the building where the cableway begins. The building is very easy to get to from Cape Town City Centre.

Search in your GPS or Google Maps for “Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, Tafelberg Road, Gardens, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa” and that should take you to where you can park at Lower Station. It’s like a 15 minute drive from the heart of Cape Town, so it’s extremely easy to get to. Most likely you’ll have to park on the shoulder of Tafelberg Road (where locals will likely be trying to help you find a spot for some cash).

When we visited in the evening in September, there were plenty of open places to park but in peak-season, you might have to do a lot of walking to make it to the cable cars and you might not even be able to find a spot. Here are more details for directions and parking at Table Mountain. If I were visiting in summer I’d probably just book a tour or hire a taxi to save the headache of parking.

Once you’re there at Lower Station, you can purchase your ticket and then get ushered in where you’ll wait to be taken up. (You can also buy tickets online.) Again, we visited in September in the evening and the queue (line) was nonexistent. However, I know the lines can be a major issue here during peak season, so be ready to wait if you’re visiting during that time. You can always check the wait times for Lower and Upper Station on the website here

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Watching a cable car come down.

The staff will stuff a lot of people into the cable car, so it does feel a little crammed. As you begin the ascent, don’t feel the need to fight over the best view of the area because the bottom of the cable car rotates, allowing everyone equal opportunity to soak in the views on the way up. At least one window panel was open on our cable car allowing us to get photographs without bad reflections/smudges, but I’ve seen photos of other cable cars with multiple panels open, so it probably depends on the season/weather.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Open window on the cable car.

If you’re afraid of heights obviously ascending to 3,000 feet plus might be an issue. But I will say that the cable car ride was smooth and felt very sturdy. Just try to relax and remember that it’s actually a very safe method of transportation (or at least I assume it is).

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
The view starts emerging about half way up.

As you go up, you get closer to the cliff side and you’re able to appreciate the massive scale of the boulders on a whole new level. These granite rocks are approximately 600 years old — that’s 6 times older than the Himalayas!

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

As you get better views of the rocks you can almost sense the ancientness of the geology.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

The rocks are truly enormous.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Massive rocks.

Just as impressive as the rocks are the clouds that roll across the top of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak, pictured below.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Devil’s Peak.

Finally, at the top, you get your first glimpse of Cape Town and the ocean, with beautiful Lion’s Head protruding on the left.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Amazing view of Cape Town from Table Mountain.

Exploring the mountain

Once you’re up on the mountain, there’s plenty to see. You’ll find endless ledges to explore and meandering trails to wander down.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
The entrance to the upper cableway.

At each ledge, you’ll have a slightly different view to take in, with plenty of interesting foreground to frame the view.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

Some areas have brick alcoves and interpretive panels to check out as you admire the view.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

The photograph opportunities are endless and it’s a lot of fun to experiment with a bunch of different compositions. 

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

As I said earlier, Table Mountain is one of the new “7 Wonders of Nature” after the results were revealed from a global poll that allowed anyone in the world to vote via telephone, text messages or social media networks. It’s unique topography and perfect placement with Cape Town and the nearby surrounding peaks definitely makes me feel like the honor is well-deserved. Not many places in the world can compare with the natural beauty you’ll find here. 

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
New 7 wonder of nature.

It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places on the planet. No question.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Amazing views from Table Mountain.

We visited about an hour to an hour and a half before sunset, so it started to get pretty chilly once we arrived to the top. The wind also picked up and started blowing clouds over the mountain so that clouds were literally sweeping through us as we stood on top of the mountain. It was an amazing sight but it also got blistering cold when the wind picked up and those clouds rolled through us. In order to stay out there taking photographs for a long time I would have needed a thicker coat, pair of gloves, and a beanie.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Clouds rolling over Table Mountain.

Although it did get super-cold, one of the highlights was watching the clouds fall over Table Mountain.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Clouds forming over Table Mountain.

It was a lot of fun taking photographs of such dynamic scenery. 

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

The wispy clouds changed shape and thickness every few seconds, sometimes blanketing the entire view with a wall of white. Then, after a few seconds, the clouds would start to dissipate, slowly revealing the rocky outcroppings in  dramatic fashion.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Dramatic cloud covering on Table Mountain.

There was plenty of drama to capture on top of Table Mountain.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Black and white of clouds over Table Mountain.

The views looking out over Cape Town and the Atlantic Ocean were great as well.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
View of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain.
Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Lion’s Head with misty clouds breaking up.

With a decent zoom lens you can get a close-up of City Centre and probably locate your hotel.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

Again the beauty is overwhelming and the more you admire the view the more you realize how special of a place Cape Town is. 

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
The “city bowl.”

The weather on Table Mountain

Summer temperatures range between 15°C and 27°C (59ºF and 80ºF for my fellow Americans), while Cape Town winters average between 7°C and 20°C (45ºF and 68ºF), so you should be fine in the summer without the need for outerwear (though maybe something to deal with the wind would always be a good idea). But if you’re visiting in the winter be prepared for conditions to be much colder and windier than they are at sea level.

The good news is that there are multiple places on top of the mountain you can go into for shelter and food and drinks. There’s The Table Mountain Cafe, which serves up breakfast and lunch until about 4pm. This cafe is next to The Shop At the Top, which is the main gift shop of Table Mountain. Unfortunately, this places was closed when we visited. 

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
The Table Mountain Cafe and gift shop.

There’s also the Wifi Lounge located on the second story of the Upper Station. It’s easy to miss but just look for the stairs next to the mini gift shop and follow them up. Inside, you’ll be able to warm up with hot chocolate and some snacks like muffins or if it’s really hot outside it’s probably a nice place to cool down. The Wifi Lounge is always open so long as the cable cars are still operating. Finally, they also have kiosks that pop up where you can get snacks and beverages.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Warming up with hot chocolate and muffins!

Dealing with weather

The cableway will not operate in bad weather. Thus, you can’t book time slots ahead of time. I suggest checking in with the cableway on their social media pages for real-time updates if you think there’s a chance they might be closed. This also means that if you plan on hiking up the cableway may not be open to get you down, so always check a reliable weather forecast for the day before embarking on a hike. 

I think the best time of day to visit Table Mountain is about two hours prior to sunset. The crowds are known to be more thinned out later in the afternoon and Table Mountain is one of the best places anywhere in the world to catch a sunset. You can checkout the sunrise and sunset times here.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Sunset of Table Mountain.

The clouds came in so thick in front of the setting sun, that it cast this otherworldly orange glow and made it feel like we were standing on Mars. It was pretty surreal and I’d never seen anything quite like it. 

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
A trippy Table Mountain sunset.

It’s definitely one of the best places to catch the sunset in South Africa, though.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Table Mountain at sunset.

After spending close to an hour and half up on the mountain, it was time to come down. I’m pretty sure that you can stay up there as long as you want (until they close, at least). For the average person, I think allocating two hours of time to explore and grab a snack would be sufficient for Table Mountain (but don’t forget about the waiting times to get up there). 

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Heading down on the cableway.

As we prepared to head back down, more clouds fell off Table Mountain and it looked like we were going to ascend into the oblivion.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

But thankfully it cleared back up a little bit and we caught the awesome pink and orange glow over the ocean.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

It’s such a cool sight to see when those clouds fall right off the side of Table Mountain.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

Once you finally make it back down to Lower Station, there are some outstanding views of the city.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

It’s really one of the best views I’ve ever seen.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Cape town at twilight.

I didn’t have any issues bringing my tripod up to Table Mountain, either. So if you’re a photographer, I say go for it. 

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa

Tickets

If you’re looking for tickets prices and opening times for the Table Mountain cableway you can find those here. Again, make sure to think ahead about parking as that can really be a big issue for a lot of people.

Final word

Even if you’re very averse to doing “touristy” things, I think a visit to the top of Table Mountain is absolutely still worth it. It’s such a spectacular view at sunset and one of the more memorable things I’ve done. If you’re into photography, the possibilities are endless up there as you can play with foreground all day long to capture unique shots. My only regret was not being prepared for the cold, as I could’ve stayed out there longer if I had just had a thicker jacket and/or a beanie and gloves. So if you’re visiting in winter make sure you’re prepared and you’ll be just fine.

 

 

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