Khayelitsha — which means “new home” in Xhosa (one of South Africa’s 11 official languages) — is the largest township in Cape Town. In South Africa, townships are the often underdeveloped, racially segregated urban areas that, from the late 19th century until the end of apartheid, were reserved for “nonwhites.”

Although Khayelitsha hasn’t always had the best reputation and is known to be one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Cape Town, the area has started to emerge as vibrant center of culture, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.  

A testament to the changing vibe is the fact that a new luxury hotel recently opened in the township. The Spade Hotel & Spa — owned by former flight attendant Annette Skaap, who grew up in the township — opened its doors in Khayelitsha on Dec. 5.

The hotel wants to give guests the opportunity to experience the other side of Cape Town. 

“What sets us apart is that we are going beyond the norm,” the hotel’s website states. “We are changing the narrative and challenging the status quo to say, come and experience cultural diversity, vibrant and lively township life while tucked in class and opulence at grass-root level.” 

Skaap talked about the opening of her new hotel on local radio station Cape Talk. She said: “I sat down and I thought … let me put Khayelitsha on the map and also let me change the narrative that nothing good can come out of the township and that township people don’t deserve luxury.”

The four-star boutique hotel has 13 suites, all with en suite bathrooms, air conditioners, unlimited WiFi, complimentary tea and coffee makers, smart TVs, hair dryers, safes and fully stocked minibars. The hotel also features a gym, spa, restaurant and business services facilities and a complimentary shuttle service.

The hotel is the perfect location from which to discover the vibrant township and soak up South African culture. Travelers can discover the township by bike or on a walking tour. Cape Town Tourism suggests Juma Mkwela’s walking tours, saying these tours are well known for not only showing people around the townships, but also getting visitors involved in helping to create sustainable, positive change in the community through the planting of vegetable gardens and even by creating street art.

Many people find that exploring by bike rather than by car is a great way to reduce the cultural barrier and enjoy a more immersive experience. Walking and cycling tours often include visits to local families, art groups and music bands as well as a stop at Lookout Hill, the highest point in the township, known for its impressive views. 

In terms of attractions, the 18 Gangster Museum is also a must-see. First launched as a pop-up museum that formed part of the Together Against Crime Festival in 2016, the museum is housed in a shipping container. Travelers can see a replica of a prison cell in Cape Town’s notorious Pollsmoor prison. The museum is curated by ex-offenders who share their experiences of gangsterism and prison and share insights into how they turned their lives around. This innovative living museum aims to help South African youth to better understand the treacherous path that too many in their communities take into gangsterism and, ultimately, prison. More importantly, the 18 Gangster Museum seeks to offer a positive alternative.

Another favourite stop among tourists is the Khayelitsha Craft Market, situated at the St Michael’s church in the heart of the township. The market features anything from pottery, beadwork, baskets, paintings, curios, and many other hand crafted items made of everything from plastic shopping bags, soft drink cans, wire, stone, scrap metal, and traditional beadwork. Visitors can also grab a bite to eat, with vendors selling traditional food at the market.

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