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Table Mountain - Cape Town

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Table Mountain - Cape Town

Travel Update: Most destinations are open — check the official websites and read our crucial BEST TIME tips below to help you AVOID CROWDS (Travel with at least 15% off | booking.com)

 

When Is the Best Time 

Table Mountain is truly magnificent and it’s a must to get to the top when in Cape Town, South Africa. The iconic landmark offers stunning views of Cape Town and its surroundings. For a spectacular view of Table Mountain hike to the top of Lion’s Head. Table Mountain can be visited year-round. However, we are happy to provide you with the best daytime, tips, and details about the best months.  [This guide was updated in March 2020 after our fifth visit]

When to Go

Table Mountain view from Lion's Head Car Park

The best time to visit Table Mountain is from October to March. Those are the driest months, as most rain falls between May and September. The perfect time of day to go up is in the morning before it gets busy and too hot. Either take the first cable car (8:00 am / 8:30) or start hiking early. I also love the evening for a stunning sunset from the top.

Read more details below about the cable car operating times, time of day tips, getting to the top, weather, and why we would visit in the winter months as well.


Opening Times - Cable Car Operating Hours

Table Mountain is 'open' and accessible 24 hours each day throughout the year. However, don't hike in darkness - safety first! But you can spend a night on top of the plateau of table mountain. More about it in the description below. The aerial cableway starts to operate after sunrise but always until sunset. Either take the cable car up and down or what we prefer; hike up, watch the sunset and take the last ride down. Below are the operating hours but keep in mind that during poor weather, especially strong wind the cable car won't operate. If you aren't sure about the weather conditions on a certain day and if the cableway is running call the hotline: 021 424 8181

Cable Car Operating Hours 2019/2020
 First Cable Car upLast Cable Car upLast Cable Car down
16 Dec - 15 Jan8:0020:3021:30
16 Jan - 31 Jan8:0019:3020:30
1 Feb - 31 Mar8:0019:0020:00
1 Apr - 30 Apr8:0018:3019:30
1 May - 31 Aug8:3017:0018:00

Detailed Time of Day Tips

Table Mountain - View to Cape Town

  • If you plan to hike to the summit via Platteklip Gorge, start early in the morning. That way you'll avoid busy areas and dodge the heat as well in the summer months.
  • If you use the cable car to get to the top, also be there early. Arrive as soon as they start operating in the morning. That way, you'll avoid long waiting lines of 1.5 hours during midday. For operating times, fee for the cable car, and buy ticket online; click the official link (then scroll down): Cableway - Rates - Hours
Getting to the Top | Hiking Trails and Cable Car

View from the cable car to Lion's Head and Signal Hill

  • Cable Car (Cable Way): You can get up and down via cableway. Please keep in mind, that it doesn't operate when the weather is bad, the visibility poor, or the wind is too strong. Find rates and operating times here: Cable Car Table Mountain - Official Site. Getting to the cable car itself is not difficult: Cableway - Getting There | Official Site. The easiest way is to book the combo tour (see the tours section below). 
  • Hiking:  An even better experience is hiking. There are many different routes to get to the plateau of Table Mountain. However, most visitors choose to hike up and then take the cable car down or vise versa. If you plan to hike up and take the gondola down check the wind forecast first. You can find a detailed description of our 5 favourite hiking trails around the Table below. There are two alternative routes for hiking if the cable car is closed;  Platteklip Gorge and India Venster. Both hiking trails are spectacular taking 1.5 up to 2 hours. The first one is more challenging and well maintained, the second one more strenuous and not marked. The best choice hike one way up and the other down. Never hike alone due to safety reasons!! During quieter times security is lacking.
     
Weather and Seasons in Cape Town
Summer (November-March)

The Pride of Table Mountain endemic to the Table Mouintain Plateau

November feels already like summer reaching 25°C. January and February are the hottest months with almost 30°C. March is still warm and dry. Nights are refreshing cool ranging between 15°C to 17°C. The summertime is the driest time of the year with 9-11 sunshine hours daily. The sea is refreshing at 20°C from January to March. During summer, the southeaster, often called "Cape Doctor" by the locals, can blow for days on end. Always bring a suitable jacket or layer of clothes. However, showers occur even during this season. The Table is also famous for endemic flowers and plants like the pride of Table Mountain. The "disa uniflora" is an orchid that blooms from January to March at waterfalls and streams of the plateau and the Twelve Apostles. December to February is the busiest season; prices for accommodation are the highest, especially during the Christmas Holidays. Advanced booking is recommended.

Autumn (April-May)

Table Mountain view from Lion's Head in the evening with the tablecloth on top

Decreasing rainfall in April but still warm during the day around 25°C. May though a little cooler but pleasant above 20°C. Nights are colder, on average 15°C and below. May experiences already rain on nine days on average. Therefore, it’s less busy in Cape Town; more accommodations are available.

Winter (June-August)

Clouds in Cape Town during winter

You won't experience any extremes, which results in a mild winter. That means winter isn't a bad time to visit Cape Town! But keep in mind that it's colder at the top of the Table and windier. Day temps are still around 20°C and nights, on average above 10°C. Most rainfall (almost 80%) throughout the year happens from May until September though June to August are the wettest; expect precipitation on average on ten days. A little snow can occur on the Table but already melts away during the day. Usually, winter is the low season, but during the summer holidays in Europe, it’s a little busier. Plenty of accommodations are available, and some are closed for maintenance.

Spring (September-October)

Table Mountain - View from V&A Waterfront

Rainfall decreases in September, temps are pleasant above 20°C; for me, the best time of the year. Roughly mid-August starts the flowering season along the coast and in the desert. Southern Right Whales are here with its peak from July to October. October is already warm, and rain is still decreasing. It’s not too crowded in Cape Town, hikes around Table, and the cable car are still not super busy.

Accommodations (Hotels, Lodges, B&Bs) - Our Top Tip

Excellent Lodge in Hout Bay

There are tons of lodges, cottages, private houses, B&Bs, and hotels in Cape Town. It's rare that Cape Town is fully booked. However, we always book these accommodations in advance. First, rates are lower and we only choose the safe and better rated self-catering cottages or B&Bs. Usually, 80% of the accommodations are already booked a couple of weeks before during the peak season. Check out booking.com for the best rates and read the recommendations first. Bookmark the link for the lowest prices. If you click on the picture above you get to our last accommodation close to Cape Town in Hout Bay on Mount Bay in summer 2020. The view was fantastic, the sunrise spectacular, and even a gas BBQ was available.

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    Hiking
    ZA
    Where  
    South Africa, Cape Town
    Review and Tips 

    The awe-inspiring Table Mountain, one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature, estimated to be 240 million years old the rocks even 600 million years. The first cable car operated in October 1929, with a capacity of 20. Nowadays, the capacity is 65 people in a 360° rotating cable car. The journey up or down takes just 5 minutes, departing every 10-15 minutes. Nevertheless, in the summer, you may line up for quite a while. The Table's popularity is always increasing, having more than 1 million visitors each year now. The name comes obviously from the resemblance to a table. The highest point is Maclear's Beacon on 1.086 m elevation. Table Mountain National Park has an outstanding array of plants, first of all, fynbos and wildlife.

    There are many activities possible from hiking, mountain biking, abseiling, free guided walks, and watch the spectacular sunset here. We planned to watch the sunset in March but just one day before they stopped operating for an indefinite time because of covid 19.

    5 Top Hikes at Table Mountain

    Breakfast Rock - Top of Skeleton Gorge

    There are plenty of hiking trails to the plateau of Table Mountain at least 11. We like to describe our 5 most favourite hikes around TM. These hikes are more trafficked, which makes hiking safer here. Nevertheless, never hike alone and not in darkness. Robberies occur around the Table hiking trails. Next to the cable car are two spectacular routes to the top of Table Mountain and one short hike for great views if you can’t make it to the top or for a brilliant sunset. When climbing to the top of Table, always have in mind you may end up in the tablecloth - a mist of clouds. Also, don’t count on the cable car always expect to hike back. The indicated hiking time is always the way up, not down. At the end of the article, you can find our personal packing list.

    1. Kloof Nek is one of the best short hikes in Cape Town.

      Cape Town City Lights from the top in the evening

      The Kloof Nek Trail takes max half an hour one way for spectacular views to the cliffs of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, and the beautiful city. Trailhead and Parking before the cable car but fills up early in the morning. It’s also popular for an awesome sunset.
       
    2. India Venster starts next to the cable car.

      View from Table to Lion's Head and Signal Hill

      This incredible hike takes roughly 2 – 2.5 hours. It is steep but manageable and has a bit of everything; smooth walking, climbing, staples, and chains. However, you shouldn’t have any fear of heights.
       
    3. Platteklip Gorge starts 1.5 km after the cable car.

      View down from Platteklip Gorge

      It is one of the most popular routes, therefore well-maintained. Go early to avoid the midday heat. The trail starts roughly on 390 m elevation with steep steps on rocks, then leading zigzagging to an altitude of 1050 m. The gorge path narrows the higher you get. Depending on your fitness level, you may need 2 – 3 hours to get up. It took us less than 2 hours, but we live in a mountainous area used to steep and exposed trails.
       
    4. Skeleton Gorge starts in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden on the Eastern Slopes of TM.

      Beginning of the Skeleton Gorge Trail to Table Mountain

      We did this route to the top of TM already twice. The advantage of this route to the summit it leads through shaded, native forest, which is well needed during the hot summer so you can also start a little later. First, you hike through the beautiful Botanical Garden direction Fragrance Garden until you find the first signs “Smuts Track”. This track leads to the challenging gorge up to the top of the plateau. In the beginning, an easy walk winding up through the forest. Then you have to climb a couple of wooden ladders to overcome some very steep, huge boulders.

      Ladder climbing in the Skeleton Gorge

      Afterward, it’s a bit tricky climb and scrambles up on huge rocks. This part is not marked; you have to find your own way out. After heavy rain and in winter the trail might be inaccessible or slippery and slightly flooded. After this strenuous part of climbing the trail winds up on a small path for roughly half an hour before you reach the dams on the Table Mountain plateau. This route is quite strenuous and took us 2 hours.
      Essential to know are the opening hours of Kirstenbosch if you plan to hike down from the summit.
      Opening Hours Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
      September to March     8 - 19 
      April to August               8 - 18
       
    5. Constantia Nek starts in the south on 200 m elevations, the longest track of all roughly 9 km, which takes 5 h to get to Table Mountain Cable Car.

      Trailhead Constantia Nek

      You need roughly 2 hours from Constantia Nek to the dams. Also, this trail is pretty popular; some hike to the top while others walk from here to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. Though this makes the path safer, however, there is never a guarantee. There is plenty of space to park your car but choose the right trailhead. There are two different ones at Constantia Nek, one to the right, which is the hike to the top, and one to the left. At the trail to the left, a sign indicates “restricted access area” where a permit is needed. When you start hiking, you can either walk the Jeep Track the entire time or take a left shortly after the beginning direction Eagle’s Nest. This trail makes more fun and passes by the Camel Rock, which is worth a photo stop. The Constantia Nek Track is rich in variety, offering spectacular views. During spring, many fynbos and proteas are in bloom. The track is pretty long but less challenging. You only have to cope with the heat during the day; therefore, start early. Usually, people start the hike already shortly before sunrise.
       
    Top Tip

    The famous Diving Board on Table Mountain close to the old cableway

    There is one more trail I like to mention but we haven't down it yet. Kasteelspoort is the easiest route to get up. Parking on Theresa Road or start at Pipe Track. Hike this track in the morning and enjoy the shade. It gets hot from midday onwards on this trail. Most picturesque and known from social media is the "Diving Board" close to the old cableway.


    Packing List - Essential to Know

    The dams on the Table Mountain Plateau - girl with hat to be protected from the sun

    • Windproof jacket – Usually, it’s windy up on the top. You may end up in the famous tablecloth, misty clouds. So if your jacket protects you also from drizzle even better.
    • Midlayer – Typically, it is hot at the bottom of the Table. When climbing up, you will sweat, and with the cold wind on top, it’ll be necessary.
    • Sunscreen and hat – Most of the hikes are exposed except Skeleton Gorge, but latest on the plateau, you may need sunblock.
    • Proper hiking shoes – Comfortable shoes with a good grip are essential. It depends on what you are used wearing. I only hike with barefoot shoes, which are best for me.
    • Plenty of water and energy food – It doesn’t matter which hike you plan to do, except the short one they are all sudatory. The food on top in the restaurant is a little pricey. Depending on where you start, it’s a long walk to get there.
    • Don’t carry your valuables with you – We always leave our passports, credit cards, and valuables in our accommodation. We always only have pocket money and our debit card (transfer wise) with a small amount on it with us. You need money for the cable car, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, and additional beverages.
    • Hiking App on your mobile – We always check our route with Locus Pro and never got lost. Just a map is not enough. The trails are not sufficiently marked.
       
    Accommodations on Table Mountain Plateau
    • If you like to stay on top of Table Mountain in a group you can book the Overseers Cottage via SanParks. The price is more than 3.000 ZAR for six or fewer people but can accommodate up to 16.
    • Another alternative is the basic Table Mountain Hut close to the Kasteelpoort Hiking Trail managed by MCSA.

    Leaflet with more information about the Table Mountain National Park

    Some pictures are provided by our friends Umamisky

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    Comments

    Jul 17, 2015

    The botanical garden is really worth visiting. We've been there as well.

    Sep 10, 2015

    Hiking at Table Mountain and Twelfe Apostel is terrific.