Visit Cape Town

Cape Town is the best place in Africa and the World to visit according to The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph in 2014 Cape Town is the second most populous city in South Africa after Johannesburg and also the legislative capital of South Africa.

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About Cape Town

Cape Town is the legislative capital city of South Africa. Cape Town is on South Africa's southwestern coast close to the Cape of Good Hope, and is the southernmost city on the African continent. It is the gateway to the globally renowned Cape Winelands which includes the towns of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl.

 

Cape Town is nicknamed the Mother City within South Africa. Compared to the more business oriented Johannesburg it is known for its relaxed and leisurely atmosphere. Some jokingly claim that the reason it is called the Mother City is that it takes at least 9 months to get anything done in Cape Town! Compared to other parts of South Africa Cape Town is also distinctly more "western", and South Africans from other provinces sometimes jokingly say they are traveling to Europe when visiting Cape Town.

 

Geography

Cape Town is located at latitude 33.55° S (approx. the same as Sydney and Buenos Aires and equivalent to Casablanca and Los Angeles in the northern hemisphere) and longitude 18.25° E. Table Mountain, with its near vertical cliffs and flat-topped summit over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) high, and with Devil's Peak and Lion's Head on either side, together form a dramatic mountainous backdrop enclosing the central area of Cape Town, the so-called City Bowl. The metropolis of Cape Town is spread over a wide area, from Somerset West and Durbanville in the east to Atlantis in the north and Cape Point in the south. The city centre is situated in a fairly small area between Table Bay and Table Mountain.

 

Climate

Cape Town has a warm Mediterranean climate (Köppen "Csb"), with mild, moderately wet winters and dry, warm summers. Winter, which lasts from the beginning of June to the end of August, may see large cold fronts entering for limited periods from the Atlantic Ocean with significant precipitation and strong north-westerly winds. Winter months in the city average a maximum of 18 °C (64 °F) and minimum of 8.5 °C (47 °F) Total annual rainfall in the city averages 515 millimetres (20.3 in) although in the southern suburbs, close to the mountains, rainfall is significantly higher and averages closer to 1000 millimetres (40 in). Summer, which lasts from December to March, is warm and dry with an average maximum of 26 °C (79 °F) and minimum of 16 °C (61 °F). The region can get uncomfortably hot when the Berg Wind, meaning "mountain wind", blows from the Karoo interior for a couple of weeks in February or March. Spring and summer generally feature a strong wind from the south-east, known locally as the south-easter or the Cape Doctor, so called because it blows air pollution away. This wind is caused by a high-pressure system which sits in the South Atlantic to the west of Cape Town, known as the South Atlantic High. Cape Town receives 3,100 hours of sunshine per year.

 

History

Before the European colonial era what is now the Western Cape was inhabited by Khoikhoi and San groups, whom the Dutch called "Hottentots", "Strandlopers" and "Bushmen" (terms that are now considered racist and offensive). From the late 15th century, European ships (primarily Portuguese) started to visit the area, firstly for fresh food and water, then later for whaling and trading with the locals. Cape Town's colonial history started in 1652, when founder Jan van Riebeeck established a trading post there for the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC), as a stopping point on the Cape Route. Even though South Africa is the part of Africa located furthest from Europe, it was the first, and up until the 19th century only place which was substantially colonized by Europeans. The reason is that the Cape, while being furthest from Europe, also is relatively far from the equator.

Cape Town aerial view from the Western Cape Gold Club, South Africa

Getting In

  1. By Plane; Cape Town International Airport > This is South Africa's second biggest airport (O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg being the biggest) and the third busiest in Africa. About 20 km east of the city centre, it is easily accessible via all national roads and is situated directly at the N2 near Bellville.
  2. By Train; All scheduled South African passenger trains are run by PRASA (the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa), which has different divisions for long distance (intercity) trains and commuter (suburban) trains. Shosholoza Meyl operates intercity trains and MetroRail operates commuter trains in major cities.
  3. By Car; Most roads in Cape Town and its surroundings are in excellent condition, which makes getting around in a car a straightforward task. However, there is a risk of getting carjacked when it is dark or while you stop at the traffic lights. It is not quite as dangerous as the media will make you believe, but you should take care. Ask the staff in your hotel or anyone who knows the city well about the safe and unsafe areas of Cape Town.
  4. By Bus; Every major bus company has intercity connections from Cape Town, taking you to other areas in South Africa and to Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Every day up to six buses run to particular cities.
  5. By Boat

 

Getting Around

  1. By Foot; Cape Town is not the most pedestrian-friendly city in the world. There are areas that are ideal for walking, such as the St George's Mall and Greenmarket Square areas in the city centre, the V&A Waterfront or some beach areas. Care needs to be taken when walking in other parts of the city, as the roads can be busy, and having pedestrian right of way does not necessarily mean that vehicles will cede to you. Pedestrians normally cross when the road is clear, regardless of red pedestrian lights.
  2. By Bicycle; It is possible to get around by bicycle. There are some bike lanes in the center.
  3. By Car; Many car hire companies are based in the airport as well being found all over town. Note that South Africa is a left-hand traffic country. Visitors from countries where traffic moves on the right-hand side may need to take some time to get familiar with the different road rules. Getting a car with automatic transmission at some rental services is not always easy so try to reserve a car in advance if you prefer an automatic.
  4. By Metered Taxi; Metered taxis are controlled by the city council and can be considered safe and reliable. The price per kilometer is around R8-R10 and can often be read at the taxis side door. You can also set a fixed price with the driver, especially when going to a far away destination such as the airport which is about 21 km from city center and the fare can be bargained down to R180.
  5. By Ride Hailing Services; Ride hailing services are widely available across Cape Town, in particular Uber and Bolt.
  6. By Minibus Taxi; Minibus taxis are used widely by locals but tourists are usually discouraged from using them, except for the Green Point - Sea Point - Clifton - Camps Bay route that is frequently used by tourists. They cover most of the Cape Town Metropolitan Area and are very cheap, Some minibus taxi operators have noticed the upsurge in the tourist market and are starting to provide safe and legal alternatives to the traditional minibus taxis. They are more expensive than traditional minibus taxis, but still far cheaper than metered taxis.
  7. By Train; Cape Town has a commuter rail system called Metrorail, though it is the locals that primarily use it. They have put in a lot of work to improve comfort and safety on the trains though it doesn't match up with the best in the world. As such, it is advisable to go on first-class. Cape Town's main station is located in the city centre on the corner of Strand and Adderley Street. The suburban network of lines is fairly good with over 120 stations. You can go on a picturesque ride to Simon's Town along the Cape Peninsula's east coast.
Getting in and Around Cape Town using Cape Town International Airport
Image of Cape Town N2 Highway, used to Get in and around Cape Town City
Attractions (What to See)
  1. Bo-Kaap (Malay Quarter); This neighbourhood, on a hilly area southwest of the city centre, is where historically Malay Muslim descendants of slaves had lived. It is a popular location to shoot films, since there are bright and colourful buildings, mosques. quaint streets, stunning views of Cape Town and delicious street food sold along the side. It is worth exploring the quarter for about an hour, and then visiting the Bo-Kaap Museum, showing how a wealthy Malay family lived during the 19th century
  2. Castle of Good Hope; Popularly called 'The Castle' by locals, it is the oldest surviving building in South Africa, having been built from 1666 to 1679. The castle displays a vast range of historical military equipment and tools, an art collection and the William Fehr Collection, which includes antique Cape Dutch furniture. Visitors can buy wine and eat at the café or restaurant within the Castle.
  3. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden; See the beautiful and highly diverse flowers and plants of the Cape in one of the most stunning botanical gardens in the world. Plants from every South African bioregion are displayed. These include a huge baobab tree, rare succulents from the Richtersveld, as well as fascinating medicinal species. Several paths meander throughout the garden. There are also many restaurants, an indigenous nursery and a gift shop located here. At certain times of the year there are concerts and performances in the open air amphitheatre. There is art frequently on display, including large Shona stone sculptures from Zimbabwe. The gardens are also home to the National Biodiversity Institute. The garden is special because it changes dramatically every season. You will see different birds, new flowers, etc. In the summer, sunset concerts feature excellent international and local music acts in various genres.
  4. Rhodes Memorial; Built on the lower slopes of Devil's Peak, the memorial was designed in recognition of imperialist politician and business magnate Cecil Rhodes. The wooden bench that Rhodes used is placed under the memorial. This memorial is a wonderful spot to have a picnic. It is a starting point for the bike and hiking trails that head towards Devil's Peak, which have now become very popular.
  5. South African Houses of Parliament; Cape Town is the legislative seat of South Africa (the presidential seat is in Pretoria while the judicial seat is in Bloemfontein). A tour of the Houses of Parliament will acquaint you with South Africa's modern history and political system. The tour includes visits to the National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces and the old apartheid-era assembly now only used for caucus and committee meetings. Tours are offered a few times per day in various languages.
  6. Two Oceans Aquarium; You can come and watch the sharks be fed every Sunday at 15:00. There is an extensive series of events calendar for each month. Scuba diving with the sharks is also offered. A walk around the aquarium takes about an hour.
  7.  Victoria and Alfred Waterfront; A huge shopping and entertainment area in the harbour. It is very popular with tourists, because of the high density of shops, restaurants and amusement possibilities, like the Aquarium or the Marine Museum. Harbour tours and trips to Robben Island start from here, as well as helicopter flights to the Cape Peninsula.

 

Things to Do

Almost everything is possible in Cape Town, from a nice guided city tour through shark cage-diving. The easiest way to get an overview on things to do, nice restaurants, clubs, tours etc. is to walk into one of the visitors centres which are in several areas (V&A Waterfront, City Bowl, Green Point, etc.)

  1. Cable Car to the top of Table Mountain; The cable car and the pathways on top of the mountain are wheelchair accessible. A separate lift entrance and friendly staff will help accessibility visitors. Weather conditions at the top of the mountain are not the same as at the bottom so always take something warm to wear when going up the mountain, even if it is a nice toasty 30˚C at the bottom of the mountain. Wear sunblock and carry a water bottle (there is also a free drinking fountain at the top near the cable station). There is a cafe with a limited range of snacks, coffee, beer and wine at the top. Table Mountain is the home of a small animal, the rock rabbit (known locally as the 'Dassie') whose closest relative, DNA-wise, is the elephant, and you can see them running around on the rocks at the top of the mountain
  2. Climbing Table Mountain; Platteklip Gorge is the most accessible and therefore the most popular route for climbing up Table Mountain. You start from Tafelberg Road and proceed up a steep gully to the top of Table Mountain. It's a steep two hours but well worth the effort and you can jump in the cable car back down to spare your knees. The cable car does not operate in strong winds so you need to check before departing. Remember to take water, sunblock, a hat and jacket. Climbing the mountain in the heat is a grueling task.
  3. Cape Peninsula; Go to the Cape of Good Hope via Simon's Town and the African penguin colony at Boulders. Visit Cape Point in the Table Mountain National Park, maybe have lunch there before taking a hike in a quieter part of the reserve to immerse yourself in the essence of the landscape.
  4. Swimming; Beaches on the False Bay side of the peninsula are the most popular with swimmers as the water is warmer. St James has the most picturesque tidal pool on the stretch between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay, while Clovelly and Fish Hoek beaches wrap around a sheltered bay with soft, white sands. Fishing boats, hobie cats and kayaks launch from here too. Brave hearts can sun-worship and swim naked in the freezing water of the isolated and breathtaking nudist beach Sandy Bay near Llandudno.
  5. Surfing; Cape Town is one of the best places to surf. Muizenberg is a good place for beginners to learn to surf, Gary offers reasonably priced lessons from a shop facing the beach.
  6. Kite surfing; Cape Town is one of the most popular kite surfing destinations in the world. The two oceans combined with the windy conditions make for a great kite surfing experience. Some of the most popular kite surfing hot spots are Dolphin Beach in Blouberg Strand, Muizenberg and Langebaan Lagoon
  7. Sunset cruise. On visiting Cape Town take the opportunity for a sunset cruise from one of the services lined up along the V&A dockside. Well worth seeing the sunset but also the view back towards the town and Table Mountain from the sea
  8. Winelands. Tour the beautiful Constantia Valley wine estates Groot Constantia, Buitenverwagting, Klein Constantia and Constantia Uitsig before checking out the Cape Winelands around Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek. Stellenbosch has the added attraction of being an historical university town and Franschhoek, well established as the food capital of the Cape, is home to three of the country's top ten restaurants. The views are extraordinary.
  9. Safari (Wildlife and City Tours)
  10. Kayaking
This neighbourhood, on a hilly area southwest of the city centre, is where historically Malay Muslim descendants of slaves had lived
Image of the House of Parliament of South Africa in Cape Town
Image of the City of Hall of Cape Town, South Africa
Aerial view of Clifton Beach in Cape Town, South Africa
Where to Stay (Accommodation)

Accommodation in Cape Town ranges from hostels (of which there are many) to luxury accommodation. Actually, there are so many hotels, B&Bs and guest houses that it can be difficult to decide where to stay! Staying in the city centre often works out cheaper as all the attractions are nearby, but stick to one of the neighbourhoods next to the central area for better prices and a quieter night's sleep. The area around vibey Kloof Street in Gardens/Tamboerskloof with its young cafe culture and hip shopping is a good choice. You could consider sleeping in one of the suburbs. It is normally quieter and there is less traffic than in Central Cape Town. The suburbs in the south, like Muizenberg, Fish Hoek or Simon's Town, or near the winelands (see Cape Winelands) are ones to try.

Image of the Victoria & Aalfred Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa

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