Travel Guide "Cape Town"
The whole world in one country! South Africa is blessed with an incredible natural diversity and beauty, untamed wildlife, significant cultural icons and myriads of leisure activities and attractions. And then there is Cape Town, the mother city - and if you dream of a long distance destination, but once being there, don´t want to travel too far to take in a maximum of exciting and memorable experiences, then you will love Cape Town and the Cape Region at the “most beautiful end of the world”.
Cape Town, nestled at the foot of the majestic Table Mountain, is consistently voted amongst the top cities in the world to visit – and with the endless beaches of the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean meeting just below the vibrant, scenic city and staggeringly beautiful rural areas such as the Cape Winelands and the Gardenroute nearby, the possibilities for tourists are indeed unlimited.
Cape Town is where Europe and Africa met 350 years ago – and modern South Africa had its beginning in 1652, when the Dutch East India Company established its first outpost in the Mother City. Today, Cape Town is the third largest city of South Africa, right behind Johannesburg and Durban. 3.2 million people live in Greater Cape Town: 1.5 million Coloureds, 1.1 million Blacks and 0.6 million Whites. 11 official national languages co-exist in the Rainbow nation. English, Africaans and Xhosa are the most popular ones, with English being understood everywhere.
Fascinating historical remainders, the abundance of incredible natural beauty, rare flora and fauna, cultural icons, and the myriads of attractions and leisure options for tourists from all over the world allow for a very personalized memorable holiday. However, no matter if you plan on spending 2 weeks or 2 months, one visit will just not be enough.
Cape Town is widely promoted as a “winter sun destination” to Europeans, and indeed: if you have spent time in the Mediterranean then you have experienced Cape Town´s climate just with reversed seasons. The summers are generally hot and dry, while winters tend to be wet and cool, with neither season experiencing extremes of temperatures, thanks to prevailing winds and sea breezes.
The average daytime temperatures in the summer months between November and February are very pleasant, ranging between 22°C up to 30°C. On most days you will have 11 hours or more of sunshine, extending into warm evenings with very occasional rain showers.
The famous Cape Doctor, a south-easterly summer wind cleaning the air, has not been as prevalent in recent years, but when it is, it can certainly spoil your game of golf.
During winter months (June to August) daily temperatures range between 7°C to 20°C, but the bracing sea breeze can make the temperature feel colder, and this is also the rainy season. Even snow can fall on the highest mountain peaks of the Cape Region.
The best visiting time is from November to March. But be careful: During Christmas season between December 15th and January 15th, thousands of South Africans flock into the Cape Region for their annual summer holidays – so be sure to book your villa, rental car or guided tour well in advance.
Should you intend to combine your Cape Town stay with other South African provinces, we recommend spring (September / October) and autumn (March/April), as the temperatures in the interior can be unpleasantly hot in full summer time.
1. Table Mountain
The world-famous Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountains on earth, 6 times older than the Himalayas and 5 times older than the Rockies. Whether you walk up in about 4 hours time or take the cable car from Switzerland, you need to visit 1086 m high Table Mountain, a World Heritage Site. Just make sure that no clouds spoil the incredible experience – and take warm clothing as the summit can be chilly, even on summer days.
The revolving cable car offers you a breath-taking 360° view of the city and mountain – and also on top of the mountain, you will find countless stunning photo motives. There are many hiking trails open to the public on the mountain and the footpaths have recently been upgraded. When admiring the flora, know that Table Mountain is home to more plant species than the entire Britsh Isles – 1470 in total!
2. The Victory and Alfred Waterfront
Opened by Queen Victoria and her second son Alfred, over 140 years ago, the V&A Waterfront is still very much a working harbor harbor as well as being an amazing entertainment district. With over 400 shops, 40 restaurants and pubs and some fine hotels, it is no wonder that the Waterfront is a very popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Besides all kind of reguar free performances, live music and theatre taking place in the open arenas, it is also a good place for kids with plenty of stimulation. There is an IMAX cinema, the Two Oceans Aquarium with 3.000 living animals – and the colony of fur seals living at Berties Mooring. The Waterfront is also the departure point for various adventures including harbor and sunset cruises or helicopter trips. The ferry to Robben Island departs from the Nelson Mandela Gateway based in the Clock Tower Centre dating back to 1882.
3. Robben Island
Robben Island became infamous during the reign of the Apartheid government in South Africa. A number of political prisoners were incarcerated here – including Nelson Mandela. Since 1997 it is home to the Robben Island Living Museum. Regular tours are run to the Island where visitors are taken through the disused high security prison, limestone quarry and get the opportunity to meet one of the ex-prisoners. The ferries depart from the V&A Waterfront in the Clocktower precinct.
4. Long Street
One of the favorite night-time entertainment destinations for both visitors and Capetonians alike is the famous Long Street which offers a multitude of music styles to suit all tastes and a myriad of culinary choices, from The Royale which serves SA´s best variety of burgers to Caroline´s Cape Kitchen, one of the city´s many fine dining experiences. An eclectic assortment of unique shops, craft markets and boutiques are certain to entice you to linger on Long during the daylight hours too. It is here, among beautiful Victorian architecture that you will get a taste of the city´s culture and heritage, the coffee shop culture and authentic and unforgettable experiences.
5. Arts & Craft
The South African art scene is dynamic and picking up on pace as the artists gain more international recognition. The flagship art musem is the South African National Gallery with displays of South African, British, French, Dutch and Flemish art. On the photographic front visit 3rd I Gallery, who showcase young and emerging artist. For a contemporary experience Bell-Roberts Art Gallery is the place to go – and the Everad Read Gallery is the place to go for wildlife and landscape picutes.
6. Cape Town´s Beaches
Head out for some serious sun and sea experiences in the Mother City. Each beach has its own personality. In Camps Bay you will certainly find the trendiest beach. Go there to be seen and enjoy the incredibly beautiful scenery – and visit a cool cocktail venue or classy restaurant to round off the day. Clifton Beach is made up of four adjoining beaches at the bottom of rather steep steps. Because they are sheltered from summer winds and because the party people adore these beaches, they are a popular destination. Sandy Bay is one of the city´s most beautiful beaches and also Cape Town´s only nudist beach. It takes about 20 minutes to walk to this secluded area. Llundudno is mainly used by residents and surfers. Annual summer parties are held on the beach at night.
7. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Kristenbosch Botanical Gardens is situated on the scenic eastern slopes of Table Mountain and is an unforgettable celebration of Cape flora. About 20.000 indigenous plant species are on display, among those 250 different species of the Protea, South Africa´s national flower. Kirstenbosch is also very child-friendly and a wonderful place for peaceful strolls and picnics. In summer they also host annual sunset concerts.
8. Cape Point
The Cape of Good Hope, situated about 45 kilometers south of Cape Town is part of the Cape Point National park, inviting its visitors to hike and marvel. Most visitors are attracted by the scenic lighthouse with its breath-taking views, but it is also a wonderful area to picnic, barbeque, bird watch and relax on the beautiful beaches.
It is the most westerly point of Africa and boasts the freshest air in the world, straight from the Antarctic. The national park is also home to about 1100 indigenous plant species, some of which occur nowhere else on earth. Much admired and at the same time feared are the notorious baboons, who specialized in stealing the tourist´s lunch from the plate and out of pack packs. Also look out for a variety of buck, for zebras, ostriches and other animals – they are never far away.
9. Chapman´s Peak
Famous Chapman´s Peak, which joins Noordhoek and Hout Bay is one of the most spectacular roads in the country and a definite must on any travel itinery. Originally built as a tourist attraction, it was opened to the public in 1922 for the first time. Besides the spectacular views of the ocean and the coastline, the road is a masterpiece of construction. Rockfalls in recent years have seen major renovations to the road, which caused the city to give way to charging for taking this memorable scenic road.
10. Constantia Wine Route
Constantia Valley is the birthplace of the wine farming industry in South Africa. In 1865, the first Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, chose this beautiful valley with its moderate climate and rich soil for his farm, Constantia and made Constantia wines world famous. Until today, Constantia is acknowledged to be the most perfect wine-growing area in South Africa. Due to prime conditions, superb red and white wines, and wonderful dessert wines such as fine Cap Classiques are produced. Constantia’s world-class wines win accolade upon accolade for their excellent quality. But Groot Constantia, Buitenverwachting and Klein Constantia are also well-worth a visit for their exceptionally beautiful setting, their Cape Dutch architecture, their excellent dining facilities and of course their wine-tasting, cellar tours or wine museums.
The vibrant metropolitan City offers countless options for young and old to experience all kind of unusual, exciting and relaxing things including those things you have always dreamt of doing. Lifestyle connoisseurs, beach lovers, shopping fans, party people, nature lovers, gourmet experts or culturally interested guests can indulge extensively in their favorite pastime activities.
Beach life is definitely a compulsory leisure program for every Capetonian – and as Cape Town is located on a peninsula there is plenty of inviting white palm-fringed beaches, inviting for tanning, swimming and surfing.
Camps Bay is one of Cape Town´s most beautiful and most popular sun-bathing beaches, go to Clifton Beach to be seen, and a little further south on Sandy Bay Beach at Llundadno you can even jump naked into the ocean. Still, especially with children you might want to drive further down the coast as the water temperatures on the Atlantic ocean side are considerably cooler than on the False Bay side, where the influence of warm Indian ocean provides for much more enjoyable water.
Fishhoek is possibly the best family beach with loads of space and parking. Kommetjie is t h e meeting place for kite and windsurfer, while endless Nordhook Beach attracts people keen on long walks, horse rides or runs. At Boulder Beach a colony of jack-ass penguins has its permanent home – and although you are not allowed to swim with them anymore, there are cozy beaches nearby. In Muizenberg you will find the colorful bathing cabins – and driving down the scenic coastline to Strand or Gordon´s Bay is as rewarding as there are also fantastic beaches there.
Cape Town´s outdoor options are as numerous as they are manifold. Surrounded by two great oceans, beach fun and water sports as sailing, surfing, kite-surfing, deep sea fishing or diving certainly range on top of the local´s favorite list, but hiking, cycling, horseback riding and golfing also enjoy high popularity. Friends of adrenalin sports can indulge in sand boarding, rock climbing, abseiling, parachuting, hang gliding, bungee jumping, shark cage diving and many more inspiring experiences.
Another recreational activity for locals is outdoor braiing, the South African way of doing a BBQ. Holding the “Braiing” championship title, the whole nation loves to braii at home or on the beach– and you will stumble over amazing facts and arguments about the ideal, tasty fire wood and best braii recipes.
There are over 400 golf courses to choose from and South Africa has produced a number of golfers of the highest calibre, including Gary Player, Bobby Locke, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, major winners all. The leading courses are generally located in the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, with a few gems sprinkled throughout other parts of the country.
The majority of Cape Region golf courses compare favourably with anything the world has to offer. The difficult part is deciding which courses not to play and how much golf you want to sacrifice in order to build some sightseeing into your programme. The great thing is that sightseeing and golf really go hand in hand unless you want to play 36 holes every day.
There is usually no handicap required unless you want to enter a competition. Greenfees can be paid with all major credit cards, but it is advisable to book in advance, as popular golf courses can be quite crowded especially during the holiday season and many golf courses have reserved a day or afternoon a week for their members only or local tournaments.
Beauty & Wellness
Cape Town is also a perfect destination if you need to give yourself some special time to treat yourself, your mind, your body and your soul. Wellness, Health and Beauty services have become very popular among foreign tourists. Almost any kind of holistic treatment is available at incredibly reasonable prices
And there is another booming market: cosmetic and beauty surgery. Cape Town hospitals and clinics are amongst the finest in the world, with the most up to date equipment and facilities. Quality of care, coupled with the low prices, privacy and the great variety of interesting holiday options to recover anonymously have become an open secret.
No trip to South Africa would be complete without seeing the amazing wildlife and the remote, unspoiled, untamed and often spectacular scenery on a real safari. About 2 hours from Cape Town two private game farms promise to create unforgettable experiences for everybody – but the real big safari experiences lie further afield.
South Africa boasts 20 beautiful National Parks, with Kruger and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park counting to the world´s most renowned wildlife reserves. And you will probably never come closer to heaven on earth without having visited one of the breathtaking and awe-inspiring private game reserves in South Africa. There is just no better place to relax and to rejuvenate than at one of the numerous luxury lodges usually situated in unique scenic settings with finest game viewing options and other unique wildlife activities. Ask us for our fly-in recommendations, if you think of extending your stay beyond your Cape Town experience.
Cape Town is a shopper´s paradise. Large shopping malls as Canal Walk with over 400 retailers under one roof are an irresistible shopping experience attracting 20 million shoppers a year. Add to those the trendy shops and boutiques tucked away in side streets of the city, which coexist with a mass of street traders selling arts, crafts and anything else profitable – or head for the better known shopping areas in the city centre with their fleamarkets and eclectic mix of shops.
Special purchases include gold, diamond and semi-precious stone jewellery, leather, suede and fur goods, ceramics and crafts. The imaginative handmade goods created by craftsmen and women from rural areas are especially sought after, so be sure to experience authentic Africa by browsing through the arrays of local craft markets. Local wine and brandy directly from the vineyard are cheap and usually excellent. General shopping hours: Mon-Fri 09.00-20.00, Sat 09.00-16.00, Sun 09.00-14.00 although there is an increasing trend to open later and all weekend.
In summer there is regular open-air concerts and parties, craft markets and festivals – and particularly in and around Cape Town there is always a reason to celebrate life. There is annual big celebrations when the wildflowers bloom, when the whales return to the coast, when the wine is harvested or when the oyster season starts.
Jazz lovers might want to attend the famous Cape Town Jazz-Festival every March – or look out for regular open-air Jazz-Events, organized by renowned vineyards.
Many visitors to South Africa are overwhelmed with the wide array of cuisine available. From the deliciously diverse flavours of local cuisine to fusion food from around the world – eating in Cape Town is definitely a mouth-watering experience.
Cape wines are immensely popular, hugely affordable and of good quality, as are sea foods such as mussels, oysters, crab and crayfish or South Africa’s famous marbled beef and fragrant Karoo lamb. Exotic offerings such as warthog, crocodile, ostrich, kudu and guinea fowl place South African fare firmly within the context of the African continent. The influx of immigrants from around Africa has resulted in an explosion of African flavour and the legacy of the early Dutch and English Settlers and later Portuguese, combined with the open-fire (barbeque/braai) method of cooking adopted from the indigenous populations, make for a kaleidoscope of tastes befitting a rainbow nation.
Indulge in fine dining at one of the award-winning venues or go for pizza, pasta, sushi or curries, choose an elegant eatery with sophisticated ambience or a laidback restaurant offering an accompaniment of live music – and expect to pay about a third of what you would anywhere else for a gourmet meal.
When it comes to relaxing and enjoying time out in the evening, Cape Town has something for everyone. The mother city offers a variety of cinemas, concerts, theatres, restaurants with life-music, pubs and many other hot night spots. The nightclubs and discos rival the best in the world and Cape Town has a party vibe all of its own, with options to fit every budget and all tastes. Dance, trance, drum ‘n bass, R&B, jazz or classical – whichever melodies move you, they’re here. And if gaming gets you going, maybe you might want to visit the awesome Grand West Casino in the outskirts of Cape Town?
Most flights from Europe are overnight and the direct flights between Europe and Cape Town or Johannesburg take about 11 hours. Besides the international airports, there are 10 national and another 700 smaller airport and airstrips.
The domestic flights are numerous and connect most of the major towns and cities. It is a good option to fly, if your time schedule is time. Besides South African Airline, there are several domestic airlines operating in the country, as well as a number of affordable smaller charter airline companies for fly-ins. Kulula.com and 1time offer cut-price flights on the more popular routes, between Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit and George.
Passport and Visas
For the majority of foreign nationals who travel to South Africa for vacation, entry is straightforward and hassle-free. All visitors to South Africa must be in possession of a valid return ticket and a passport, which must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the intended stay in the country, and have at least one unused page for endorsements in order to enter the country.
Travellers from most Western European and Commonwealth countries, as well as Scandinavia, Japan and the USA, do not need to formally apply for a visa. Upon arrival in South Africa, the tourists will automatically be given a free entry permit sticker that outlines how long they may remain in the country. This automatic entry permit is usually for a maximum of 90 days, though the immigration officer may tailor the time period according to the airline tickets held.
Money and Currency Exchange
Currency is the South African Rand, which is divided into 100 cents. Coins come in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5, and notes in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200. You don´t need to change money before arrival. From the moment you step off the plane you'll start seeing banks, bureaux de change and automatic tellers all over. All major credit cards can be used in South Africa, with MasterCard and Visa enjoying better universal acceptance than American Express and Diners Club. Travellers cheques are valid at most banks and hotels. One anomaly - you always have to pay cash for fuel!
In Cape Town and surrounds you will get along fine with English. Out of the 11! official South African languages, the other two widely spoken languages in the Cape region are Afrikaans and Xhosa. German might rank forth.
South Africa is a safe destination with good levels of hygiene and drinkable water. Medical facilities in cities and larger towns are world-class, but you will find that in rural areas the clinics and hospitals deal with primary health needs, and therefore do not offer the range of medical care that the large metropolitan hospitals do. Trained medical caregivers are deployed round the country, so help is never far away. It is advised to have travel insurance since quality healthcare is not cheap for foreigners.
Crime & Safety
The scars left by the apartheid years are slowly healing, but have left huge inequalities between rich and poor. As a result the crime rate in the townships is still high, but with a little common sense, travellers can have a perfect, safe holiday. As pick-pocketing and thefts from easily-identifiable hire cars are quite common, take the usual sensible precautions. Know where you're going before you set off and don´t walk alone in doggy areas, particularly at night. If in doubt always call a taxi to or from the restaurants (you will find all kind of useful numbers in your luxury Hideaway), watch your possessions and lock your doors at night.
You should be careful when changing money and never count it in the open. Avoid wearing visible jewellery or carrying cameras and bags over your shoulder in non-tourist areas. Keep mobile phones and wallets tucked away where no one can see them. It is not advisable to hitchhike or to use local commuter and metro trains and we also strongly advice against visiting any township on your own. If you are mugged, do not resist - hand over your valuables, and wait until your assailant is out of sight before heading for the nearest phone.
Food and Water
As a rule, tap water in South Africa is high-quality, palatable and safe to drink from the tap as it is treated and free of harmful microorganisms. Sometimes, the water contains humic acid, which stains the colour of diluted Coca-Cola – this is absolutely harmless, and the water is wonderful. In restaurants and nightspots, the standards of hygiene and food preparation is top-notch. It is safe to eat fresh fruit and salads and to put as much ice as you like in your drinks - a good thing, too, after a day on the beach.
Tipping is common practice in South Africa for a range of services. In restaurants the accepted standard is around 10% of the bill and barmen are tipped a similar percentage. Petrol stations are manned by attendants who will expect a tip of two or three Rands for filling up, checking oil, water and tyre pressure and cleaning windscreens. Hotel porters are tipped two to five Rands. It is also appropriate to tip taxi drivers, tour guides and even hairdressers. If a street security guard asks whether he can watch over your car, he in return should be paid a small fee from two Rands upwards
South Africa has a well-developed communications infrastructure, with extensive landline phone networks and extremely good mobile phone coverage. South Africa’s international country code is +27. Overseas visitors can use their own mobile phone with 'international roaming' enabled, but this can be extremely expensive. A much cheaper (and easy) option is to switch to using a local provider during your stay in the country – or to take advantage of our mobile phone service. All our Luxury Hideaway villas are usually equipped with a landline telephone.
Most of our Luxury Hideaway villas have wireless LAN, but Internet cafes can be found in every small town, as many South African citizens do not have an own computer and use the cafe to browse the internet and send e-mails. Although connections can be frustratingly slow in some places, many of the larger shopping malls have modern internet cafes, which tend to charge by the quarter or half hour.
As in Middle Europe South Africa's electricity supply is 220/230 volts AC 50 Hz. (Exceptions are Pretoria (230 V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250 V). Most plugs have three round pins but some plugs with two smaller pins are also found on appliances. Adaptors are available in all Luxury Hidaways and can also be purchased in any supermarkets.
Tax Value Added Tax (VAT) at 14% is levied on most goods and services, but as a foreign national you may reclaim VAT on non perishable goods you bought for over R250 to take out of the country unused. To claim your VAT refund, you will need to present your receipts, together with your shopping items ready for proof, passport and flight ticket home, at any VAT Refund Office at the International Airports or in the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, or the Sandton City Shopping Mall in Jo´burg. The claim is processed while you wait, and you are issued with a receipt and in most cases, a VAT refund cheque. The VAT Refund Office at the airport has to validate both before you can cash the cheque in for foreign currency at the airport banking facilities.
Taxis and Minibus Taxis
Taxis are usually ordered on demand by the restaurant or hotel. At major touristic places you may find some waiting for passengers, but especially in rural areas they are very rare. Taxi rides are usually regarded safe, but ask the expected fare before getting in. For safety reasons minibus taxis are best avoided by foreign visitors. They are the main form of transportation from the townships. They are often booming with music and shouting passenger touts, they drive like lunatics through main thoroughfares and pull out and stop without warning. Beware of them on the road as well.
No vaccinations are required by law to enter South Africa. If you are traveling from a country where Yellow Fever is present you will need to prove you have had the inoculation by presenting a valid international yellow fever inoculation certificate. Both Typhoid and Hepatitis A vaccinations, are recommended and it might be a good idea to get up to date with your measles vaccine too, there have been recent outbreaks in Cape Town and a few other areas in the country.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world so please take precautions if you are planning to have sex. Another common source of infection amongst travellers may be contaminated or unsterile medical equipment, so in case you need medical treatment in lesser developed rural areas, please watch out yourself that disposable medical equipment is not reused.
Most of the main tourist destinations in South Africa are malaria free, making South Africa a particularly good destination to travel to with kids. The only areas where malaria is still prevalent are the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal including the Kruger National Park. Malaria transmission is at its highest during the warmer and wetter months of November through to April. From May through to October the risks are reduced. In endemic areas, always use mosquito repellent, wear long pants, closed shoes and light long-sleeved shirts at night, and sleep under a mosquito net as mosquitoes carrying malaria, operate almost exclusively after dark.