Cape Town – Kaapstad
Nickname : Mother City
Population : 4,000,000 (Metro area as of 2016)
Racial Makeup : Colored 42%, Black African 39%, White 16%, Indian/Asian/Others 3%*
Language : English is mostly spoken, followed by Afrikaans and Xhosa. Other South African and foreign languages are also often heard
Religion : 78% Christians, 13% Muslims, 1.5% Hindus, 1.5% Others, 6% Irreligious
Climate : Mild, moderately wet winters and dry, warm summers
Electricity Plug Type : South African (Special adapter required)
Major Airport : Cape Town International Airport
* In South Africa, the words ‘Colored’ or ‘Black African’ are not derogatory terms. It is used normally in official terms to describe the different races and racial population of the country. This is why the country is nicknamed ‘Rainbow Nation’.
If you have already read my other posts on Cape Town, you might be wondering why it says on the title ‘why you should visit Cape Town’? Because if you already read my other posts, you would for sure, need to explanation to that. Still I’m doing this for two reasons :
1. If a new reader or visitor decides to check out this post first, it can be quite informative for her/him/them
2. This post is also meant to serve as your Cape Town ‘Guide’. Things you should know about to make your visit to this beautiful city as smooth and safe as possible. So even if you have read other posts, I suggest you read on to help you guide your way through the important stuff when you are in Cape Town. 🙂
When To Go
It depends on your taste in weather. You can choose to go either during warmer or cooler periods. If you are from somewhere in Europe or North America and would love to escape the (freezing) cold, then you should head to Cape Town between December and February, when its summer down there. I’ve been told that summers in Cape Town can be around 30 to 35°C hot but due to low humidity it is apparently comfortable.
Unfortunately nowadays it can get annoyingly hot during summer here in Europe. Thanks to global warming, temperatures of 40°C or more like in the Middle East is not uncommon in Europe now… I am absolutely no fan of such weather. For people like me, June to August can be the best time to visit Cape Town. Though it can be wet and rainy, cold and foggy during these months, it’s not really as bad as Europe! Average temperature is usually between 5 to 15°C, sometime even 20+°C!
The winter in Cape Town is really not as bad as it sounds! I was there in August and in just 6 days, I was lucky enough to experience all kinds of weather! I arrived on a rainy day, the next day it was a mixture of sun and cloud. My third day was rainy and quite windy but it all got better from the 4th day – sunshine all day long and it remained that way until I left the city! The unpleasant thing about going there in winter is that sometime the view of Table Mountain can be blocked by clouds or fog. And strong winds or rough sea can result in cancelling your plan to go up the mountain or visit Robben Island. Not to worry though, the validity of your tickets allow you to visit another day without paying extra 🙂
…so when is the best time?
For those wanting to avoid both hot and cold, the perfect time to go would be between September and November, when it’s spring. The autumn and winter months of March to May and June to August can be great for budget travelers as there are great deals on accommodation, food, and tours! Unfortunately for those wanting to enjoy the warmth of sun and sea during southern summer months, you would have to save up a bit more or expect lighter wallets 😉
How to get there?
For those flying in from abroad, Cape Town International Airport is your gateway to the city. South Africa’s second largest airport is well connected with flights from major European airports (London-Heathrow, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Paris) as well as from Dubai, Doha, Singapore, Istanbul, and other regional (African) airports.
Within South Africa from other cities, you can either fly in with one of the budget airlines or take the train to Cape Town. From what I heard, the train service isn’t bad and can be quite safe too but it will take you ages! I would prefer taking a cheap flight to Cape Town and be there in just about two or so hours honestly. For those who love the road, there are several buses everyday from every major city in South Africa to Cape Town.
No Visa Required : For citizens of most ‘First-world’ countries (except New Zealand), Turkey, Jordan, Malaysia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and citizens of neighboring countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Tanzania. All other citizens will need a visa, which can be applied at most South African overseas missions.
Getting to the city from airport
You can take either the bus or taxi. Obviously the cheaper option is the MyCiti shuttle bus service, which should cost you maximum R65 (€ 4,50). The buses are available between 5:00 am to 10:00 pm at 20-min intervals. The final stop for the bus is at the Civic Center bus station in downtown, which is the hub of Cape Town’s MyCiti bus service.
Taxi services from and to the airport are usually reliable and safe. Make sure that it is a metered taxi with ‘official’ company markings on it. Average fare from the airport to your accommodation in the city should be between R 200 and R 250 (€ 13 – 17), sometime even less if the driving time is faster. This is the more comfortable and stress-free way to get directly to your destination, especially after a long flight. Alternatively, check with your hotel or hostel whether they provide a pick-up service!
Best way to get around?
If you are staying in and around Long Street or the CBD area, then you can pretty much walk everywhere in the city center. But most Cape Town attractions are outside the central areas so you will definitely need some kind of transportation. Same goes for if your accommodation is located in another neighborhood outside the city center. If you possess a driving license and can afford renting a car, then you should definitely go for it. For those who meet neither criteria, here are my tips.
Bus : MyCiti Bus system is the newer and more reliable bus service (the other being the older ‘Golden Arrow’) and make sure you use only this! The network covers most important spots in the city area such as V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain, Camps Bay, Green Point etc but it won’t take you further if you want to visit the townships or Cape Point for example. There is no ticket system, instead a contactless ‘cash card’ which you can buy and load money onto at bus stations, at the airport, and authorized shops.
Taxi : Taxis are cheaper than European standards and easily available almost everywhere. A very convenient way to get around Cape Town especially if you want to go ‘door-to-door’. But always make sure that the taxi is a metered one and the car doesn’t look too dodgy. Expect to pay around R10 (€0,60-0,70) per km. For example, a ride from V&A Waterfront to Long Street or vice versa shouldn’t take more than R50 (€3 – 3,50). After evening/dark, it’s better to use taxi than walking or riding a bus just to be on the safe side.
Hop-On Hop-Off : Sounds too mainstream? Don’t get me wrong, this can perhaps be the best and cheaper way to visit in and around Cape Town. I mentioned more about this on this post (see # 4).
Tours : While you can visit most of the places in the city completely by yourself, there are other must-see spots where you will need to book a tour in order to visit. These include Robben Island, Cape Peninsula, Simon’s Town and Cape Point tours, Township tours, and tours to Stellenbosch and Franschoek. Of course if you rent a car, you can drive to these places as you please but otherwise a tour is necessary. Nearly all of these group tours provide transportation from/to your accommodation so that’s a big plus!
Trains : There are suburban trains in Cape Town, which can also take you to Stellenbosch and Simon’s Town. Although a very cheap alternative, the trains can sometime be a hotbed for crimes and therefore unsafe. The line to Simon’s Town is supposed to be the safest, but it is definitely not recommended to use the train at any lines after 5 or 6 PM. If you really must take the train, then act like a local, don’t flash anything expensive, and stay alert! 🙂
What to visit and do in Cape Town?
The list for this is probably neverending. But here are 8 things you have to do in Cape Town before you leave! Make sure you check out each individual posts on the link 😉
Eating and Sleeping in Cape Town
Here are some of my recommendations where you can eat at a budget in this ‘foodie-heaven’ city.
I stayed at the Long Street Backpackers hostel and even wrote a review about it. The rest is up to you – if you like the hostel, then go ahead and book! Otherwise don’t forget that Cape Town offers hundreds of hostels, guesthouses, Airbnbs, and cheap hotels.
Currency Exchange and WiFi Connectivity :
Unfortunately it’s quite hard to find a currency exchange service in Cape Town where you can get good rates. There are currency exchange services at the airport where you can change money after you land. Plus many banks provide exchange services as well. But the rates at these places can be unsatisfactory. If you do exchange at banks or exchange office, make sure to keep your receipt! You will need it when you exchange Rand for Euros or Dollars before leaving South Africa. If you would rather prefer taking money out of an ATM, there are plenty of them available but be very vigilant during your transactions! If you don’t prefer carrying much cash, not to worry. Fortunately Cape Town is quite ‘card-payment’ friendly; you can pay with your credit or debit card in almost every shops and restaurants.
WiFi-lovers might find Cape Town to be unfriendly towards them. Apart from your accommodation, free WiFi out in the public is not easy to get by. Although many cafés and bars provide WiFi, they are usually password protected. But you can enjoy free WiFi access at the V&A Waterfront as well as in McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Nando’s. 🙂
Last but not least, make sure to buy a South African adapter from a shop (in Cape Town) if you need to charge your devices.
7 Reasons you should visit Cape Town
1. You don’t have to go far to search for a ‘National Park’, there is one right at the heart of the city. The city itself is perched between two oceans and mountains.
2. It is the oldest city in South Africa with a cultural heritage of over 300 years. A great place to learn South Africa’s history from colonial times to troubled Apartheid era. The city has its connections to the great Nelson Mandela as well.
3. South Africa is nicknamed ‘Rainbow Nation’ but it is exactly in Cape Town where you can experience the ‘rainbowness’ of this amazing country. The city has an influence of Cape Dutch, Cape Malay, and traditional African cultures.
4. Cape Town has a fair balance of the racial makeup of its population. Although Coloreds* make up a significant ‘majority’ than other races, people from every race and religion has large presence in the city. While Christians make up a large majority of the religious population, Muslims are the largest minority. In fact almost one-third of South Africa’s 1.6 million Muslims live in and around Cape Town. And this was actually where Islam first arrived in South Africa brought by the Cape Malays. Because of this, it is very common to hear church bells and Muezzin’s azan (call to prayer) simultaneously. This is a very beautiful phenomena in this multicultural city.
* Again, not a derogatory term but a ‘racial classification’ in South Africa.
5. Attractions, attractions, attractions! Cape Town is full of natural and man-made sights which you can’t have enough of. Don’t limit yourself to just Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, V&A Waterfront, and Robben Island but also go out of the city for wine-tasting to the winelands in Stellenbosch and Franschoek. Nature’s paradise is right around the corner in Cape Town – very unique for a city!
6. Boredom? Nope, this definitely doesn’t exist in Cape Town. This is a city to have adventures. Whether you are a hiker or a surfer, diver or a party-animal, you will find everything to your taste here.
7. Food. One of the many reasons why I fell in love with the city. Not only you will get to taste mouth-watering South African and Western Cape dishes, but the portions you get are really value for money! Perhaps you fancy dishes from other parts of the world? Cape Malay, Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Italian, Greek, Ethiopian, Arabic, Mexican cuisine are in plenty!
How safe is Cape Town?
Perhaps the most important question of any traveler planning a trip to South Africa. Sadly, this breathtaking country has a bad reputation of crimes and violence and even Cape Town is no exception.
Did I scare you already? Don’t be! As long as you are careful like in any other large city and follow some of the precautions below, you should be completely fine. After all, I never felt myself at danger there for once (thank God) 🙂
– Leave valuables like passport and tickets at the hotel or hostel you are staying at. Carry only the necessary stuff you need.
– Beware of pickpockets and/or scammers. They are usually both, pulling a trick to take your attention away while they rummage through your pockets. Famous scams include ‘shoe scam’ (they compare your shoes) and ATM scam. Check your surroundings always, especially on Long Street.
– Unless you are in touristic areas with people around (or natural areas with few people around), it’s best to keep your SLR camera inside your backpack. Wallet and phones should be also kept inside a bag or jacket pocket.
– You will find beggars bothering you a lot, especially in Long Street. It’s best to ignore them or just simply say “no” and move on.
– Most townships (suburbs) have very high crime rates. Don’t ever go there all alone by yourself, whether it’s day or night. You will only put yourself in danger. There are township tours and these are your safest bet to visit a township, which can be quite interesting!
– At night, only walk on well-lit busy streets like the Long Street. But if you are in doubt, it is best to take the taxi if you are going somewhere out of Long Street/CBD area.
Hopefully if you stick to these ‘rules’, your trip in Cape Town should be quite smooth and stress-free! Don’t let the negativity or bad reputation get the best of you; after all every place in the world has its positive and minus sides. You just have to look beyond the bad reputation and enjoy the best of every beautiful creations of God and mankind in this world. But also keep in mind that you have to be careful and stay alert wherever you go. And remember, when it comes to ‘safety issues’, people sometime exaggerate a lot on the internet, but things in reality are much different, and usually turn out to be better! 🙂