If the unbelievable geography, waterfront restaurants, and nearby vineyards aren’t reason enough to visit Cape Town, South Africa, consider this news from Damian McGrath, the founder of tattoos.com: “Tattooing down there is sort of what tattooing was like 15 to 20 years ago in North America. There are lots of emerging artists, and the scene isn’t as mainstream.” Sounds great, right? Well, that’s the reason McGrath has planned Southern Ink Xposure, a weeklong event for international artists that culminates with a three-day convention at the Cape Town International Convention Center.
The convention (January 23–25, 2009) will feature a lineup of local bands, Paul Booth’s traveling Art Fusion experiment; a presentation on the history of South African tattooing by Lyle Tuttell; and numerous local artists, including Manuela Gray and Reverend Simon of Wildfire Tattoos in Cape Town and Milo Marcel of Mr. Lucky’s in Johannesburg, South Africa. It’s enough to keep you inside for three days straight; but the whole thing takes place at the height of South Africa’s summer, so you’ll have to tear yourself away to enjoy the sunshine and visit some of the city’s natural treasures.
Start with a cable ride to the top of Table Mountain, the 500-million-year-old block of sandstone that serves as the city’s iconic backdrop. Once you’re up there, check out the streets of Cape Town spread out 3,000 feet beneath you, then scan the cliffs for dassies, foot-long rock hyraxes that look more like rabbits than the elephants they are most closely related to. If you have another day, take a 40-mile scenic drive to the jagged cliffs of Cape Point, which serves as the unofficial meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, or head north to the Cape Winelands, where nine out of 10 vineyards offer tours—and tastings.
Back in the city, don’t miss the touristy action at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, home to 400 shops, 80 restaurants, and enough street performers to keep you entertained (if you’re into fire eaters and mimes). When it’s time to eat, move to Long Street, which is buzzing with new clubs, bars, and restaurants. One of the best is Fork, which features a menu of oversized tapas like grilled tiger prawns wrapped in pancetta, and slivers of ostrich filet.
There’s no shortage of places to stay in Cape Town. If you want to hang with the tattoo fans in town for the convention, rent a condo by the night at Urban Hip Hotels’ Icon or Circa locations, where most of the out-of-town artists will be staying. If you’re looking for luxury, try the Cape Grace hotel, which has the cushiest rooms in town, a heated pool overlooking the marina, and more than 460 whiskies from around the world at the Bascule Whiskey Bar.