By Shivya Nath
Living and working from Cape Town as a digital nomad, two things caught my attention again and again: Its incredible natural beauty, and its incredible inequality. While most travel articles dwell on the former, they simply gloss over the latter. Over my 2.5 months in the city, I tried to challenge this narrative by seeking community-led travel experiences in Cape Town that ensure that the benefits of tourism reach a broader cross-section of locals. In the process, I ended up with some of my most memorable cultural, food, music and outdoor adventures!
Community-led experiences in Cape Town
One of our most unforgettable afternoons in Cape Town came from fighting our inhibitions about independently visiting Khayelitsha – a township that carries labels of violence and drugs – to participate in a monthly music event call Ghetto Sessions. To get to this community-led event, we had to go through multiple reluctant Ubers till we finally found a cabbie who agreed to drive us!
On a cordoned-off street, music lovers from across Khayelitsha gathered to hear South African legend Sibahle Sky Dladla perform with her self-made bow and marimba instruments. Local talents in the audience then took to the stage, performing poetry, rap and Rastafarian music to great fanfare. Alongside, vendors sold everything from Khayelitsha wines to self-crafted accessories.
Chapman’s Peak on a bicycle
Chapman’s Peak Drive is on many Cape Town itineraries, but Mhinti Pato, the founder of Impilo Yethu, an inclusive tourism social enterprise, offers it in a more adventurous way – on two (electric) wheels. The steep and spectacular mountain path overlooks the shimmering Atlantic Ocean below, making it one of the most exhilarating Cape Town bike tours. I can still feel the mist and wind in my hair as I remember that afternoon!
10% of all profits from this Cape Town bike tour go towards the Sakhisizwe Youth Development Project, which helps upskill local youth in the Imizamo Yethu township near Hout Bay.
Ubuntu and traditional Xhosa food
Back in the dark times of Apartheid, communities from across the Western Cape were displaced and forced to share tiny four-roomed houses on the outskirts of Cape Town. 4Roomed Ekasi Culture in Khayelitsha is an ode to those times, drawing on “Ubuntu” – from the Nguni language of South Africa – to remind us of our shared humanity.
It offers a traditional Xhosa food experience and was ranked among the world’s 30 best restaurants! Traditional Xhosa diet has options for vegan travellers like me, including baked butternut, umngqusho (samp) with tarragon, pap (corn meal), gently spiced curry and steamed bread.
Note: The restaurant is only open for dinner on Friday and lunch on Saturday / Sunday. Make a reservation (recommended) on 4Roomed Ekasi Culture’s website.
Community-led projects in Khayelitsha township
Having grown up in a country where poverty porn is a sad reality of tourism, I consciously avoid experiences that tend to put other cultures and ways of living on display. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Uthando, a social enterprise that offers travelers a township tour of Khayelitsha, to learn from community projects of social and ecological importance for its residents. Our group had the privilege of meeting the passionate souls behind an innovative, organic community garden that invites local students to cultivate their own patches. We watched mesmerizing theatrical performances at a neighborhood shack theatre that offers after-school training to local youth, and listened to soul-stirring music by a Xhosa women’s gospel choir.
I walked away with a deeper insight into Khayelitsha’s living culture. In addition, I’m grateful that a large part of Uthando’s tourism revenue is channeled into 50+ such small-scale community-led projects.
Jazz in the Native Yards
Living a while in Cape Town, we soon learnt that the city is exploding with local music talent – and following indie events is a great way to discover lesser-known neighborhoods while meeting budding musicians. Jazz in the Native Yards curates Jazz nights, featuring both – the city’s finest Jazz musicians and up-and-coming talent – with music nights held in people’s backyards and community centres in the Langa and Gugulethu townships.
Shivya Nath is an award-winning travel writer, with a focus on slow, meaningful and conscious travel. For nearly seven years, she lived out of two bags, working on the go, experiencing the planet’s epic natural beauty, and living with local communities around the world. She recently founded Climate Conscious Travel, an impact consultancy that works with the tourism industry to accelerate climate action. Connect with her on Instagram, or her blog, The Shooting Star.