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We had so much fun the last time we visited Cape Town in 2015. We went on the Etihad Christmas special.
Jennifer of the blog, From Mississippi with Love, who previously wrote about Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nice and Cote d’Azur, France, Lebanon, Bhutan, Nairobi, Tel Aviv, Namibia and Victoria Falls, recently went and here are her practical tips to Cape Town.
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We’ve all heard it before. “Cape Town is the most spectacular place ever.” “You have to go to Cape Town.” “I just fell in love with the city.” Cape Town was worth every compliment lauded its way.
Cape Town International Airport is clean efficiently run, and all-in-all, a good airport to fly into and out of. Connections to Johannesburg are offered throughout the day on regular and budget airlines. Many countries are visa-exempt, including the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, and most of the EU. The visa is valid for 30 days.
The southern halves of South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana are not in climates suitable for malaria, so there is no need for malaria prophylaxis. Proof of yellow fever vaccination will be required at Cape Town if you are traveling from any other African country.
The South African Rand (~14 ZAR to 1 USD) is used throughout Cape Town. ATMs are located throughout the country, though definitely carry cash as you may not be able to easily withdraw money.
Uber has made it to Cape Town and is an extremely efficient way to get around a city where public transportation is not readily available and taxis are unreliable. Alternatively, you can also rent a car, which we did my first trip to Cape Town (pre-Uber). This allowed us to do excursions further out without having to book a tour, but note that you will be driving on the left side of the road and most rentals are manual.
English, Afrikaans, and Dutch are widely spoken.
No single article could ever do Cape Town justice in terms of what to do, but below are a few suggestions that are highly recommended.
- Table Mountain: The iconic National Park, Table Mountain offers stunning views over Cape Town. You can hike up / down or take the cable car up / down (R255 return, R135 one-way, with discounts for children, seniors, and students). Be warned that the cable car does not operate if it’s too windy and the weather may get much colder at the top. Additional activities are available at the top.
- Lion’s Head Sunset Hike: One of the most beautiful hikes to watch a sunset I’ve ever done. It takes roughly 1.5 hours to climb and offers spectacular panoramic views of the city and Table Mountain.
- Robben Island: This island, located off the coast of Cape Town, was used during apartheid to hold political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. The guided tour will take you through the barracks, the prison area, and a tour of where Nelson Mandela stayed. Ferries run at 9am, 11am, 1pm, and 3pm (weather permitting), and tickets are R230 for adults and $120 for children.
- Chapman’s Peak Drive: The iconic stretch of road full of winding bends and turns where almost all the famous car commercials are filmed, Chapman’s Peak Drive will also take you through Hout Bay and Camps Bay.
- Cape Point & Cape of Good Hope: Commonly mistaken as the southern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope is where a ship begins to travel more eastward than southward when following the western African coastline. In the waters off of the Cape, the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean.
- Boulders Beach: There is an African penguin colony you can visit at Boulders Beach for R70 for adults and R35 for children; however (pro tip!) if you go to the beach just next to the colony, you can often find penguins in the wild.
- Diving with Great White Sharks: Only a few places in the world offer this, and Cape Town offers it. The place is in Gansbaai, about 2 hours drive from Cape Town. While offered throughout the year, visibility is best from March to September. (Editor’s note: If you become easily seasick, you may want to reconsider doing this. From our experience, this was by far the roughest boat ride that we ever went on and we don’t even get seasick.)
A few other events of note include Hout Bay Market, First Thursdays, and Mzoli. While this list is by no means exhaustive (been to Cape Town four times myself and still can’t get enough!), it is a start. If you’re itching to continue exploring outside of Cape Town, check out neighboring Namibia or the big game drives in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Cape Town is full of a variety of accommodation choices from chic apartments and villas to mainstream hostels and boutique hostels. AirBnB, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Hostelworld, and Hotels.com are all reliable in Cape Town. Some of the livelier neighborhoods in the city are Camps Bay, Clifton, Green Point, and De Waterkant.
For clothing, Cape Town is not unlike a beach city in the United States. Flip flops, shorts, t-shirts, and sundresses are commonplace in the summer months (November through February), and jackets and trench coats are needed for winter months (June through August).
Food & Drink
South Africa is most famous for their braais, which is just a name for their barbeques. While most braais are hosted at home, at parks with friends, or local, no frills restaurants not catering to tourists, Mzoli’s in Guguleti is a township butchery and braai place that has recently become popular tourists. Definitely not a high-end restaurant!
A cuisine specific to Cape Town is Cape Malay curry. Bo-Kaap refers to a neighborhood in the city that is marked by colorful homes lining the cobbled streets. Historically, the neighborhood was known as the Malay Quarter, a former township that was inhabited by political exiles, slaves, and convicts from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and the Indonesian Archipelago beginning in the 1700s. The inhabitants became known as the “Cape Malays.” In the 1950s, this township was declared a Muslims-only area and people of other religions and ethnicities had to leave the area. The famous Cape Malay curry rose from this amalgamation of cultures, and you can taste the fusion of flavors in most of the restaurants in the area. A particular favorite of mine is Bo Kaap Kombuis.
Cape Town is also home to some of the finest and most beautiful vineyards in the world, which produce world renowned wines. Stellenbosch is approximately 45 minutes away from Cape Town by car, and Franschhoek is 15 minutes further. This is worth a day trip, and be sure to try the Pinotage and Chenin Blanc, which South Africa is famous for! Organized tours can be booked for approximately $80 per day.
South Africa requires all SIM to be registered – this means, they will require an ID (passport) and proof of address. Some stores will not take your hotel registration as proof of address — if they do not, try a different official store (Vodacom or MTN are the two biggest mobile phone companies in South Africa). Your phone must be unlocked for the SIM to work, and data will cost ~$20 for 2GB. Some bars and cafes will offer free internet as well as most hotels. If you are comfortable without continuous internet access, this type of intermittent access will allow you to accomplish most things, and if all else fails, McDonald’s down by the V&A Waterfront has free wifi.
Cape Town is a safe place, but do take care of yourself and be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets frequent crowded areas, and avoid walking alone after dark. Knife attacks do occur but most of that risk can be mitigated by not wandering off in the dark and making sure to take a taxi or Uber between places after dark.
About the Author
Growing up in rural Mississippi, Jennifer always dreamed of exploring the world. Since those days, she’s developed irresistible wanderlust and called a number of places home: US (San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Philadelphia), England, Malawi, Liberia, Israel, Kenya, and most recently, France. She’s in love with her sports teams (the New Orleans Saints and Manchester City), running (currently training for the Berlin marathon), and adrenaline sports (skydiving, cliff jumping, bungee jumping, sandboarding). One day, she hopes to utilize her love of cooking and sports by opening up her own Southern-style boozy brunch sports pub. Follow her on her blog, From Mississippi with Love or @jennnnnwong on instagram.
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