Focus on Cape Town's best beaches - Western Cape, South Africa

In the southern hemisphere January is the time to go to the beach and Cape Town is the place to do it. Whether you are into baring everything or keeping your clothes firmly on, retreating behind a rock or strutting your stuff, there is a beach along the Cape Peninsula to suit you.

You can ride a horse, fly a kite, watch penguins, sail a hobie-cat, walk your dog, surf the waves, explore a shipwreck, snorkel in the shallows, dive in the deep or just lie in the sun. Your choice of beach will depend not only on the activity you want to do but on which way the wind blows. A howling south-easter can make sunbathing a misery on an exposed eastern beach but might be just the thing for an exhilarating windsurf.

Cape Town lies on the Atlantic west coast where a dip in the cold fresh water leaves you zizzing like a mentholated mint. The water may be icy but the sand is hot and the beaches are more sheltered from the renowned ‘Cape Doctor’ south-east wind than those on the east.

The drive from Cape Town along Victoria Road to the western peninsula beaches of Clifton, Camps Bay, Llandudno and Sandy Bay provides magnificent views of the jagged peaks of the twelve apostles. But for one of the most spectacular marine drives in the world continue onto Chapman’s Peak Drive which skirts the Atlantic 600 metres above sea level. The popular resort of Hout Bay lies at the start of this drive while at the southern end is a breathtaking view of Noordhoek's long white beach caressed by an unnaturally blue sea. Less accessible and consequently very appealing are the beaches in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve which are surrounded by more indigenous plant species per square meter than anywhere else in the world.

BEST WESTERN BEACHES (from north to south):

BLOUBERG - Big Bay and Little Bay.
Best for: swimming, windsurfing, hobie cats, paddle skiing, family outings, kite flying and Table Mountain views.
It is from these popular long sandy swimming beaches 20 kilometres north of Cape Town that you can photograph the classic view of Table Mountain. A strong south-easter gives the wave-jumping windsurfers and colourful hobie cats a chance to show off. Beyond the breakers Robben Island - Nelson Mandela's island prison - can be seen 13 kilometres offshore.

View Property in Blouberg

Best for: seeing and being seen, sunbathing and watching paragliders land.
The glamour of beautiful bodies and the romance of cruising yachts moored in the shallows attract a lot of visitors here. Granite boulders divide the four white sandy beaches of Clifton sheltering them from the south easter and offering safe bathing with a somewhat strong undertow. Do not be surprised to see rainbow-striped paragliders floating down towards you. They take off from the top of Lions Head and catch a few thermal updrafts before coming in to land on the lawns of La Med bar at the Maiden's Cove end of Clifton Beach.

View Properties in Clifton

Best for:family fun, sunbathing, beach volleyball, surfing, windsurfing and diving nearby.
The long stretch of fine sand and palm dotted lawn is perfect for a shady family picnic. The busy road lined with shops and restaurants that runs along the whole length of the beach is fun to stroll along but parking can be frustrating. The beach is a little exposed during a persistent south-easter but experienced surfers and windsurfers love the hard-breaking waves near the rocks at the northern end of the beach. There is no resident lifeguard and the strong backwash means care must be taken if braving the chilly water. Scuba-diving amongst inquisitive seals in Justin Caves on the road to Llandudno, is superb and can be arranged at several schools in Camps Bay.

View Properties in Camps Bay

Best for: body boarding, sheltered sunbathing, sandcastles and sunset picnics.
20 kilometres south of Cape Town this is the perfect romantic spot for a sheltered sunset picnic after some serious sunbathing. A narrow road winds its way down through a concealed hillside suburb where there is not one shop. The charming spotless beach is tucked between huge granite boulders and is beautiful from any angle. There is a resident lifesaving club but beware of the strong surf and backwash.

View Properties in Llandudno

Best for: getting an all-over tan.
This unofficial nudist beach is backed by steep dunes and mountain slopes and the only way to get to it is a 20 minute walk from the car park or a clamber over rocks from the southern end of Llandudno. Narrow paths lead off the track, seaward to favourite sunbathing spots or inland to high sand dunes.

Best for: swimming, paddle skiing, boogie boarding, fresh seafood and family entertainment.
This leafy village with its kilometre long, safe swimming beach and large fishing harbour offers everything you could want from a day by the sea. It gets pretty crowded but you can always find room. Launch trips to Seal Island are available and a San Franciso-style 'Mariners Wharf' houses gift and curio shops, restaurants and bars. As the headquarters of the cray fishing (rock lobster) fleet and home of the June/July Snoek Festival the seafood here is delicious.

View Properties in Hout Bay

Best for: horse riding, kite flying, long walks and serious surfing.
This gorgeous 8 kilometre horseshoe curve of fine white sparkling sand is quite unspoilt and deserted. It is the Cape's widest beach with plenty of room for kite flying, horse riding, jogging or just strolling barefoot with the dog which every resident of the area does every day. About half way along are the remains of the ‘Kakapo' shipwreck, preserved in the sand since 1900. The captain was so confused by the deceiving foggy coastline, that he turned towards the beach by mistake and came so far onto it that the crew hardly got their feet wet as they stepped off. A dip in the cold Atlantic is probably all you will want to cool off because there is a strong backwash and just too cold to truly enjoy. You can fish at the southern end of the beach towards Kommetjie and prize black muscles off the rocks at low tide – just check with the locals first because of poisonous algae. There are some patches of quicksand near the dunes when the winter lagoon starts to recede, but you can feel where the sand feels wobbly and easily avoid it.

View Properties in Noordhoek

Best for: unique flora and fauna, rock pools, beachcombing and birds.
This long unspoilt beach is great for exploring rock pools. The surrounding dunes and rocky slopes are covered with fynbos of which there are 600 species of Erica's and 368 types of Protea including South Africa's National flower the King Protea. Bird watchers will not be disappointed - black oystercatchers, avocets and brilliant coloured sunbirds are common. Watch out for sly baboons who lurk around the car park to steal tasty morsels out of open cars.

The eastern shores of the Cape Peninsula which form one side of False Bay, are lapped by warmer waters, which some people will tell you is the Indian Ocean. Oceans are given boundaries by man, but the warm Indian Ocean current and cold Atlantic swell do meet and combine off the South African shores, close to the southern most point off Cape Agalhus, some 200kms east of Cape Town. The beaches of False Bay take the full force of the south-easterly wind which keeps Cape Town's air clean but can ruin your hairdo. Fringed by long stretches of sandy beaches and seaside towns False Bay is linked with the centre of Cape Town by a scenic railway. The track reaches the coast at Muizenberg, the start of Sunrise Beach where the sand runs for 40 kilometres east all the way around False Bay to Gordon's Bay. There is a wonderful view of Muizenberg beach with Gordon's Bay and the Hottentots Holland Mountains in the distance from Boyes Drive running high along the coastal hills between Muizenberg and the fishing village of Kalk Bay. The train offers the most relaxing way to experience this coast and it stops at all the little seaside towns and villages along the way.

BEST EASTERN BEACHES (from north to south):

Best for: swimming, learning to surf, young families and walking.
Popular among families and young surfers the long gentle waves are perfect to learn on and swim in. Characterised by a parade of brightly coloured bathing boxes, there is also a beach pavilion and children’s play area. Plenty of shops, cafes and people but a little exposed and murder in a south easter.

Best for: safe swimming, sailing, sunbathing, boogie boarding and family fun.
The warmer waters of False Bay and the safest swimming beach in the Cape make this very popular. Nimble little hobie-cats with colourful sails are often launched and fishing boats can sometimes be seen coming and going. At the popular end is a café, children’s playground, bench seats and plenty of people. At the other end are the boogie boarders, dog owners and solitary sunbathers. It is only a short walk from the station and the bustling little town has everything you might need - except off-sale liquor! Fish Hoek has been 'dry' since 1810 and remains so except for a few restaurants that have recently been granted licences.

View Properties in Fish Hoek

Best for: penguin watching, sheltered swimming and learning to snorkel.
Simon’s Town is a delightful quaint old navy seaport at the terminus of the railway and the last town before Cape Point Nature Reserve. Boulders beach is a few kilometres on from the station and taxi buses are frequent. It now comes under the auspices of the National Parks board so a small fee is charged to enter this delightful cove. Giant granite boulders form several little secluded beaches and as you walk along the path towards Foxy Beach you may be forgiven for thinking that a donkey is being massacred in the bushes. It is in fact a Jackass Penguin living up to its name. About 800 of these little dinner-suited birds watch you while you watch them. Previously you could walk amongst them but now a new raised wooden walkway gives you a good view and protects them from clumsy feet and enthusiastic photographers. This is the most accessible breeding colony of jackass penguins in the world and a sight not to be missed. When the south-easter is taking a break, scuba divers should explore Castle Rock a few kilometres on from Boulders, to see spectacular drop offs, lots of corals and surprisingly colourful fish.

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