Nestled beneath the imposing Table Mountain, Cape Town is perhaps one of the most striking cities you will see anywhere in the world. Visitors to South Africa usually find themselves in the city, making a stay of 48 hours in Cape Town quite common.
Perhaps it’s a cliché, but this city is truly one of contrasts. The multicultural faces of Capetonians, the buzzing business district, the cool hangouts of Sea Point and Camps Bay, the shanty towns of Gugulethu and Mitchells Plain and the windswept wilderness of the Cape of Good Hope.
For most, a trip to Cape Town will be too short by at least half.
Prices in this article are quoted in Rand (ZAR). As of October 2018 the South African rand is roughly 18 to GB£1 or 14 to US$1.
To make the most of your stay it is very helpful to have a car. Car rental in Cape Town starts at around ZAR200 a day (US$14/GB£10).
The minibus taxi is the standard way to get around, a shared minivan which picks up and drops off passengers as it goes. This is also the cheapest option.
There are also bus services which serve both the city and surrounding areas. Check the MyCiti website for details of routes, timetables and prices. Fares are worked out by distance and payment is best done using the myConnect card which costs ZAR35 and is available in the airport and at various shops, kiosks and retailers in the city.
But having a car means you’ll be able to explore at will and get to certain spots without having to mess around waiting for the minibus taxes.
Where to Stay
Cape Town has a good selection of budget digs such as hostels. Most of these are clustered in similar areas, such as the Observatory area in the east of the city. You’ll find hostels and dorms in South Africa are generally of a pretty good standard so bed bugs and dodgy geezers shouldn’t be too much of a worry. Green Elephant Backpackers is one of the most popular options with rooms from around ZAR165.
The city centre around Long Street is also home to several cheap and popular hostels such as Urban Hive and Long Street Backpackers. The Backpack at 74 New Church Street is a vibrant option very close to the Malay Quarter, rooms from around ZAR380 per night in an 8 bed dorm.
You’ll also find hostels in trendy Sea Point and Green Point for around ZAR170-300.
If you have a bit of cash to splash then hotels and apartments tend to start from around ZAR550 per night. And of course the sky is the limit, although 5 star hotels are quite affordable in the city. If you’re looking for a good 5 star option, check out Beachside in Camps Bay which starts at ZAR1285 a night (GB£70/US$90).
You’ll probably have heard all the horror stories about South Africa. As with everywhere, taking sensible precautions is the best way to stay safe. Don’t wave money around or display your expensive gizmos, don’t walk around on your own late at night and listen to local advice.
When using ATMs try to use the machine inside a bank or inside a respected store or area. Card theft is common (from first hand experience here).
South Africa has a lot of wildlife. Shark attacks do happen but are relatively rare, especially for swimmers. Once again take heed of local advice if you are going surfing or swimming. If you head off on a safari, listen to your guide, do not leave your vehicle and do not provoke any animals no matter how docile or harmless they may seem.
First things first, you’ll need to head up to the top of Table Mountain and take in that magnificent view. Adult tickets cost ZAR 255 return in the cable car, which takes under 10 minutes and is an experience in itself.
Once at the top you’ll be able to wander the network of footpaths spotting local wildlife such as the ubiquitous rock dassies (like big rodents but cuter).
Be warned, this is a mountain and the weather can change quickly. Its often advisable to bring a jumper or jacket, especially in later afternoon or early evening.
It is also possible to walk up the mountain on a day trek. There are websites, books and even tour guides who can tell you more.
Home to a large colony of African penguins, Boulders Beach is one of the most popular tourist attractions in CT, and for good reason.
Watching the penguins go about their daily business is fascinating. This one is a must if you have kids in tow. You can also relax on the beach although you’re not supposed to get close to the penguins as there are designated view points.
Entry is ZAR35 for adults or ZAR10 for kids under 12.
Cape Of Good Hope
Although not the southernmost tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope is where the Indian Ocean clashes into the Atlantic Ocean and is a great spot for some bracing sea air (obviously).
The area is a nature reserve and you’ll likely spot tortoises, zebras, baboons and around 250 species of bird. There are also several cafes and museums in the park as well as an old fort.
Entry to the protected area is ZAR135 for adults or ZAR70 for kids under 12.
Victoria And Alfred Waterfront
Yes it’s a tourist attraction, but you’ll find plenty of locals taking a stroll around here too. The views of the city framed by the mountain are spectacular and there is a glut of shopping, dining and entertainment options.
In the summer you’ll find bands playing al fresco, young people hanging out, outside cinema events and pop up markets. If you come in the winter then there is plenty to do in the sprawling complex to keep away from the rain and wind.
You’ll find bay cruises and ferries to Robben Island departing from here too.
South Africa’s Alcatraz, this island complex was where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for the majority of his time in prison.
The crossing from V&A waterfront takes about half an hour and tours of the island take around 4 hours. Many tours are conducted by former inmates of the island. A fascinating look at the horrors of the apartheid regime.
Tickets including the ferry ride are ZAR230.
Around 15km north of Cape Town proper, Bloubergstrand is a small town with picture postcard views of Table Mountain. The beach is nothing incredible and in fact it has the main road running right behind it, but for a stroll or picnic with a view it definitely makes a great excursion.
Head here at dusk for some incredible silhouettes of the mountain with the twinkling lights of the city.
The beach here is also great for watersports such as wind surfing, kite surfing and run of the mill wave surfing.
One of the world’s best beach cities, there is a great selection of places to plant your towel and have a dip.
Clifton beach is where the beautiful people tend to hang out for the day and Camps Bay, a little further down, is a very upscale neighbourhood with a great wide beach. Being wide open, Camps Bay can get quite windy so check the forecast.
Be warned, at peak times all of the inner city beaches can get packed, although this can be part of the fun.
Beaches on the False Bay side can often be quieter, for example Fish Hoek. The town itself is relatively sleepy with many cafes and options to go whale watching (see below).
The South African Winter-Spring (July to December) is peak time to go whale watching. Head to Simons Town or Fish Hoek to take a cruise out into False Bay to see what you can see.
Prices should be around ZAR1200 for an adult on a 2 hour whale watching trip.
Bo-Kaap (The Malay Quarter) & The Townships
Just outside the CBD, Bo-Kaap is home to many quaint and colourful houses. The museum here is a fascinating look at the colonial history of Cape Town and the Muslim community that was and still is based in the area.
Another option is to see Bo-Kaap as part of a Township tour. This can be a fascinating way to see the non touristy side of Cape Town. Township tours are normally offered at hotels and hostels and can be a great way to provide a bit of tourist money to the areas traditionally away from the main hub of the city. Expect to pay between ZAR550-12500, depending on if you take a full day or half day, timings etc.
When visiting the townships, remember that this is a place where people live, so don’t treat it like a safari. Experience and engage with people and their culture, don’t just stand back and take photos.
Getting Out of Town
Although a lot of Cape Town’s major attractions are in the greater metropolitan area, by venturing a little further afield you’ll find even more awesome experiences.
As you’re in South Africa, you’re never far from a safari. Aquila Safari Park is around 2 hours from the city and can be done as a day trip. Most of the big 5 are in attendance as are the ubiquitous zebra, giraffes, springbok and hippos.
If you’re a wine buff then a trip to Stellenbosch is a must. The town sits at the centre of South Africa’s wine industry and there are tours aplenty. In fact there are even hop-0n/hop-off wine bus tours such as Vinehopper. This is a great way to see the area, visit lots of vineyards and taste plenty of the local produce. Prices from ZAR320 with wine tastings an extra ZAR25-55.
No matter how long you spend in Cape Town you’re bound to be captivated by the charm of both the surroundings and the locals.