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Situated on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula in South Africa, the Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland known for it’s stunning scenery. We visited during our travels through South Africa and we loved it!

If you want to know more about the Cape of Good Hope history, read on.

Who discovered the Cape of Good Hope?

The Cape of Good Hope history

It is believed that Bartolomeu Dias (c. 1450-1500) discovered the Cape of Good Hope. He was a Portuguese navigator, and first spotted the cape in 1488. He was returning to Portugal at the time, after embarking on a voyage to determine the southern limits of the African continent.

Apparently at the time, Dias named it the Cape of Storms. In Spanish this is “Cabo Torementoso”. Not much is known about Dias himself – he is said to have descended from the pilot of Prince Henry the Navigator, though this isn’t entirely proven. He was a squire in the royal household, which is a fairly modest role.

The discovery of the Cape of Good Hope ultimately came about because of Prince John, son of King Afonso V. John was supervising Portugal’s trade with Guinea as well as exploring the western coast of Africa. He wanted to close the area to foreign shipping, so when he accessioned in 1481 he ordered some new voyages. 

Dias was entrusted with one of these voyages: to find the southern limit of Africa. His ship was named São Cristóvão. With him were some leading pilots of the day as well as his associate João Infante and Dias’s brother Pêro. It is said that Dias departed in August 1487, spotting the Cape of Good Hope (or the Cape of Storms, as he called it) on his homeward journey in late 1488. Dias died at sea in 1500.

Renaming of the cape

John II of Portugal, the same John who was supervising the country’s trade with Guinea, renamed the cape. He chose the name we know it as today: the Cape of Good Hope. The Spanish term is “Cabo da Boa Esperanca”. He chose the name because its discovery was ‘a good omen’ that Indian could be reached by sea from Europe. 

Known by some as The Perfect Prince, John II was born in 1455 and died in 1495. He was king from 1481 until his death, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest rules Portugal has ever had.

For some fantastic footage of the Cape of Good Hope, watch this short video.

Alternative Cape of Good Hope history

Of course, there may have been other discoveries prior to the documented European discovery. Some sources say that Chinese, Arabian or Indian explorers may have already visited the area. Old World maps such as Kangnido and Fra Mauro (made before 1488) may provide evidence of this.

The Kangnido is actually an abbreviation of the Honil Gangni Yeokdae Gukdo Ji Do. This translates as “Map of Integrated Lands and Regions of Historical Countries and Capitals”. It was produced in Korea, and is a world map made by Yi Hoe and Kwon Kun. It dates back to 1402. The surviving copies that exist all have later revisions included, so the original version of the map is uncertain. However, the Kangnido is regarded as one of the most important pieces of historical material when it comes to reconstructing the map of 14th-century China.

The Fra Mauro map is a world map too. It was produced in Italy in 1450, by cartographer Fra Mauro. Its creation marked the end of Bible-based geography in Europe, with a switch being made to a more scientific way of making maps. At the time it was the most detailed accurate representation of the world that had ever been made.

There were also Stone-Age hunter gatherers present in the Western Cape area in around 100,000 BC. They survived the Ice Age and, according to fossil discovery, by around 8,000 BC they had developed bows and arrows. By approximately 2,000 BC tribes from further inland had allegedly brought skilled agriculturalists to the area so the current inhabitants started to grow crops.

Visiting the Cape of Good Hope now

Cape of Good Hope history
Visiting the Cape of Good Hope with my daughter, Isla

The Cape of Good Hope is one the most beautiful places in the world. It has a natural beauty that rivals many other areas and can often look quite dramatic due to the wild and unpredictable weather. It is often cloudy and windy at the Cape of Good Hope, but the occasional glimpse of sparkling sunshine and pale blue skies make up for it by providing a landscape that wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery.

You can climb up to the lighthouse in order to get the best views. There are three different routes to do this: along the coastline itself, from the carpark or via the Flying Dutchman Funicular. 

The Cape of Good Hope is just 70km away from Cape Town. This is around a 1.5hr drive by car. We decided to break up the journey by combining it with a trip to Boulders Beach to see the African penguins. You can also see even more stunning scenery en route by travelling via Chapman’s Peak and Nordhoek.

There is a fee incurred when visiting the Cape of Good Hope, as it is a section of the Table Mountain National Park and therefore managed by SANParks. The costs are as follows:

Fee for international visitors

Adults (aged 12 and over): R303 per day

Children aged 2-11 years old: R152 per day

Fee for SADC Nationals (with passport)

Adults (aged 12 and over): R152 per day

Children aged 2-11 years old: R76 per day

Fee for South African Citizens and Residents (with ID)

Adults (aged 12 and over): R76 per day

Children aged 2-11 years old: R39 per day

You may also spots some baboons at the Cape of Good Hope, and apparently they’re pretty confident. There are also plenty of varieties of birds in the area, as well as grasshoppers, ostriches and even whales.

Now you have a history of the Cape of Good Hope and some brief information about visiting the area, you may want to plan a trip. We have a guide to visiting the Cape of Good Hope, too, so check that out!

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