If you ask me, Cape Town is a city best explored on your own. Here, the roads and highways are clearly marked and easy to navigate, and the locals (like me!) are super-friendly and always happy to help. But if you’re on a tight schedule, have very specific interests, or are just too overwhelmed and prefer to leave your trip planning to the experts, there are a whole host of top-notch local companies that will give you an up-close look at the city and its surroundings. When people ask me for my recommendations, I generally guide them toward these five operations: some have off-the-beaten path itineraries (a revolutionary tour, or a jazz safari), some have vans with free Wi-Fi, and others will take you on indulgent excursions tours through the Winelands. Whatever your interests and travel style, one of these companies will help you fall in love with Cape Town (I used Micato Safaris on my first trip and look at me now!).
Cape Fusion Tours
Pam McOnie began Cape Fusion Tours as a way of showing visitors her favorite aspects of Cape Town—from the food to the wine to the history. Her personalized itineraries take you on culinary tours of the brightly colored Bo-Kaap neighborhood, and deep into lesser-known, independent wineries that pepper the region’s countryside.
If you're looking to get to know the "real" Cape Town, removed from the glossy tourist circuit, then Coffeebeans is your best bet. While their tours take you to all the favorites (the Peninsula, Table Mountain, and Robben Island), they also have itineraries encompassing the local jazz, reggae, and hip-hop scenes, a "revolution route" that teaches about Cape Town's freedom fighters, and a trip into the peripheral townships.
I'll always be partial to Micato, because I traveled with them on my very first trip to South Africa. The level of unparalleled access they have has made them favorites with the likes of Princes William and Harry, and football-star David Beckham. On my visit to Robben Island, I was able to unlock Mandela's cell and step inside, while all other visitors had to file past, staring with envy.
Escape to the Cape
Aside from the popular city, township, and winelands tours, this luxury operator can take you shark-cage diving, abseiling, and sandboarding, as well as on religious and cultural itineraries. The plush vans come tricked out with air conditioning, charging stations, and 3G Wi-Fi, allowing you to comfortably tweet your whole trip.
Bites & Sites Stellenbosch
While the town of Stellenbosch, shaded by snowcapped mountains and leafy oaks, is best known for its wine estates, it's also a great culinary hub: something founder Hanli Fourie was determined to share with travelers. Enjoy a walking food tour through the town, a Cape Malay cooking lesson (roti bread; tomato and onion sambal), or a traditional Xhosa lunch in the Kayamandi township.