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Cape Town

Cape Town is one of South Africa's two capital cities (the other is Pretoria) and is most famous for its mountain, aptly named Table Mountain because of its flat top. It is estimated to have a population of about 2.7 million (estimate from 1996 census).

It was founded by the Dutch East India Company to be used as a replenishing station for ships sailing on the trade route to Indonesia. The location was chosen for its sheltered bay which formed a natural harbour. The seas around Cape Town are notorious and it was referred to as the "Cape of Storms". However the Dutch displaced the Khoi and San who were the native inhabitants. The Dutch imported slaves from Asia, which became the Cape Coloureds. Later the English conquered the Dutch to gain control of this strategic port.

Today, Cape Town is a popular tourist destination, offering the visitor a wide variety of activities such as water sports (including diving, surfing and sailing), angling, wine-tasting, shopping, scenic drives, mountaineering, hiking, kite-flying, hang-gliding and parasailing, and bird- and whale-watching.

The most popular time for visitors is the summer from October to March, though some visitors from more temperate climates might find the height of summer (December and January) uncomfortably hot. The city also becomes very crowded then as the local holidaymakers descend on the city for their summer school holidays. The Victoria & Alfred waterfront[?] development is a popular shopping venue with thousands of shops, a fine hotel, a world-class marina and an aquarium. Boat trips can be undertaken from the V & A marina to visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

Local wineries[?] offer tastings and informative tours are available. August and September are the best time to visit the west coast, because the desert comes to life after the winter rains and the wild flowers bloom in profusion.

A cable car system takes visitors to the top of Table Mountain, though it only operates in good weather as gale-force winds can make it dangerous or clouds can obscure the view from the summit.

The area is also famous for its unique plant life: Fynbos (an Afrikaans word meaning "fine bush"), a semi-desert plant family to which Proteas[?] belong and which occurs nowhere else but the Cape coastal belt. These plants are so adapted to their arid environment that they are used in dried floral arrangements.

See also: Cape of Good Hope

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