Cape Town

Quick facts

  • Population: approx. 3.5 million
  • Language: Afrikaans, Xhosa, English (almost everyone speaks English)
  • Currency: the Rand (approx. exchange rate as of April 2009: £1 = 13 Rand)

When to go: December/January is high season. Not just popular with tourists, all the South Africans are on their summer holidays too. This means the beaches and main attractions are pretty much packed every day of the week, but it does provide a lively carnival atmosphere. March and May are often thought of as the best months to visit, as most of tourist have left, the South Africans have gone back to their day jobs, and the wind drops leaving calm, mild weather. From June through to September the Cape can be quite windy and rainy but the big plus is it’s whale-watching season, and it’s one of the best places in the world to spot these majestic creatures.

Introduction

Cape Town is one of the most visually beautiful cities in the world, situated at the tip of the African continent and overlooked by the iconic Table Mountain. Along with its drier, more frenetic counterpart Johannesburg, it serves as the first port of call in South Africa for most foreign tourists. Unlike Joburg however, many choose to stay a while and take in some of the sights and attractions the city has to offer. There is so much to do and so much going on, you could spend anything from 2 days to 2 months here and you’d still be able to fill your time easily.

How to get around

The V&A waterfront area and city centre can be got around on foot quite easily, but trekking around the city at night on foot without local knowledge is not recommended. A lot of the central areas are fine, but you don’t want to stray down the wrong street. The best way to see the city at night is to meet some local South Africans who can take you to all the best haunts.

If you can afford it and have a driving license printed in English, rental car is the best way to reach all those out-of-the-way places. Roads are decent and well sign-posted, petrol’s cheaper than the UK, but expect parking to be a bit of a mission in high season. Those whose wallets don’t stretch that far, a more economic alternative exists in the form of the Rikkis cabs, cheaper than taxis and operate 24hrs on weekends.

For those looking to travel further after their visit to Cape Town, look no further than the Bazbus, which provides a bus service specially for backpackers all the way up to Joburg and the Kruger along the south coast.

Main attractions (how long have you got?)

Table Mountain

The starting point to any visit to Cape Town surely has to be the city’s most striking landmark. You can choose to jump in the cable car, or climb it if you are feeling more adventurous (only takes a couple of hours and well worth it). Always check the weather before you do because clouds do gather at the summit quite suddenly (called the ‘table cloth’) and you won’t get much of a view surrounded by water vapour! Try Skeleton Gorge for an alternative route to the top through forest and rocks.

Boulders beach

There are not many places in the world where you can take a swim with penguins, so bring your goggles to watch these graceful creatures glide under the water. Do remember that the water is a little chilly… oh and the little critters do create quite a stink, but it’s worth braving for an unmissable opportunity.

Robben island

The site of the infamous apartheid prison, and where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for twenty years. Boat trips from the V&A waterfront leave daily but are subject to the Cape weather! If you aren’t interested in South Africa’s history at all, you may want to save your cash.

Camps Bay

If you just fancy a hanging out with the young and fashionable, or just swigging a beer and people watching, this is the place to go! Don’t be surprised to see camera crews or photo shoots on these pristine white sands (for something a bit less busy try Llandudno, which is a bit further down the coast, just as beautiful and popular with surfers). Also don’t be surprised by the freezing water. It really is bone-chillingly cold. For more comfortable swimming, head to the beaches on the other side of the peninsula, like Muizenberg.

Great whites!

South Africa has an interesting relationship with this much-feared and little understood beast. Up until a while ago there were shark nets protecting all the main beaches of Cape Town, but as the nets only served to trap and kill large proportions of marine life, they were taken down. While this may seem like a scary prospect, you’re pretty much safe as long as you don’t swim out past the breakers. The adventurous can go cage-diving with these huge sharks, and Gansbaai is one of the best places to do it.

Green Point Market

A huge market just outside Green Point stadium held every Sunday. You can pick up some good bargains as well as the usual African tourist trinkets.

Bits ‘n pieces

  • South Africans eat meat and a lot of it. Vegetarians be prepared. It’s getting more vegetarian savvy by the year though, so you should find at least one vegetarian meal on the menu.
  • While you’re in Cape Town try some of the world famous wines. Or just hammered on Witblits!