Cape Cod Travel Information

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The flexed bicep
Cape Cod Lighthouse Cape Cod is shaped roughly like the arm of someone flexing a bicep. It is divided into four regions: from west to east, or from the "shoulder" to the "hand": the Upper Cape, the Mid Cape, the Lower Cape and the Outer Cape. Each region is made up of towns, and most towns include several "villages." The Upper Cape town of Bourne, for example, is made up of seven villages: Sagamore, Bournedale, Buzzards Bay, Bourne, Monument Beach, Pocasset and Cataumet.

To the north of the Cape, enclosed by the arm to the south and east and by the mainland to the west, is Cape Cod Bay. To the south, between the Cape and the islands of Nantucket and Marthas Vineyard, is Nantucket Sound. To the southwest is Buzzards Bay, and to the east is the Atlantic Ocean. Thanks to its low and sandy profile, the Cape has countless inland marshes, rivers and ponds, many of which are great for swimming, canoeing and fishing.

Three major thoroughfares traverse the Cape. Route 6 is a four-lane highway for much of its length and extends all the way to Provincetown on the tip of the Cape. Route 28 is a slower road that ends at the "elbow" of the Cape; its many stoplights, bargain shopping opportunities and restaurants make it a parking lot on summer weekends. Route 6A, also known as the Old Kings Highway, runs parallel to Route 6 along the Upper and Mid Cape, but is closer to the shore. Its graceful turns through picturesque neighborhoods make it a favorite scenic route.

Historic villages
The Upper Cape refers to the area around the western "shoulder." The Cape Cod Canal cuts through here, connecting Buzzards Bay in the southwest to Cape Cod Bay in the northeast. Two bridges, the Sagamore and the Bourne, connect the Cape to mainland Massachusetts. Built in the 1930s, they are backed up for hours on weekends in the summer.

The Upper Cape has some very old towns. The oldest is Sandwich, founded in 1637. Native Americans have contested claims on the town of Mashpee as recently as the 1970s, and it is still the home of many Wampanoag Indians. Falmouth, on the southern shore, was founded by Quakers in 1661.

One of the villages in Falmouth, Woods Hole, is on a tip of land that extends into Buzzards Bay. Home to the world-famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, it is also one of the busiest ports on Cape Cod. With its mix of scientists, students, locals, and tourists, this is the Capes funkiest and most cosmopolitan village outside of Provincetown.

Shops and tourists
The Mid Cape is the "bicep" and includes the towns of Yarmouth, Dennis, and Barnstable. The village of Hyannis, made famous as the summer home of the Kennedy clan, is in Barnstable. This part of the Cape is the destination of many summer vacationers, who return year after year to enjoy the soft sand and warm waters of the Nantucket Sound beaches. Other features include the tourist attractions and shopping in Hyannis and the unabashed campiness of the miniature golf courses, T-shirt stands and obnoxious road signs along the (poorly zoned) section of Route 28 that runs through the Mid Cape. The Barnstable County Airport is located here, as well.

The quieter Cape
The "elbow" is called the Lower Cape and includes the towns of Harwich, Chatham, Orleans, and Brewster. Similar in feel are the "forearm" Outer Cape towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro. The Atlantic waters of the Cape Cod National Seashore, which runs the length of the eastern side of the Outer Cape, are colder and less protected than either Cape Cod Bay or Nantucket Sound, and the wild beauty of the dunes and marshes is very different from that of the calmer Mid Cape beaches. The many islands and inlets, while beautiful, make for treacherous navigation, and the Capes most scenic and photographed lighthouses are here, including the Cape Light in Truro and Chatham Light.

Although tourism is a major part of the economy of the Lower and Outer Cape, the towns here are generally quieter than those elsewhere on the Cape. The exception is Orleans, which has beaches on both the east and west shores and is the site of sport fishing in Rock Harbor. It is also where Routes 6A and 28 end as they merge into Route 6 in feared and busy rotaries. To capitalize on the traffic, there is more shopping in Orleans than elsewhere in this part of the Cape.

Provincetown (often called P-town) is on the very tip of Cape Cod, more than 60 miles on Route 6 from the Sagamore bridge. The Pilgrims landed here in 1620 before moving on to Plymouth, on the mainland, where they found fresh water and better soil. In the intervening centuries, artists and writers have flocked to P-town, inspired by the huge dunes and what has been described by painters as the unique quality of the light. It has also become a mecca for gays, who are able to be very open in a welcoming atmosphere. With all of these influences and attractions, plus whale watching, ferry boats from Boston, and scores of shops, restaurants, and galleries, its no mystery why P-town, like the entire Cape, is packed in the summer with families, couples, tourists and students from all over the world.