Cape Town Travel Guide
With exquisite restaurants, unique scenery, pristine beaches and a Mediterranean climate, Cape Town encompasses everything travellers could need in a holiday destination:
Located at the southern tip of Africa, Cape Town is an eclectic blend of cultures and traditions, and one of the world's most beautiful cities. Its many attractions include postcard-perfect beaches, excellent restaurants and a lively nightlife that attracts many celebrities.
Visitors can sample local life by enjoying traditional South African braai or shisa nyama (barbecue) at township restaurants like Mzoli's, or catching a rugby match at the historic Newlands Stadium. They can also go on a pub crawl down Long Street, or browse the wares at one of the city's delightful craft and food markets.
The nearby Cape Winelands have much to offer wine lovers and gastronomes.
Best time to visit Cape Town
December to February (summer) is peak season for Cape Town, although the weather can be lovely in spring and autumn, when days are often crisp, clear and ideal for sunbathing and sightseeing. The December holiday season can be uncomfortably hot at times and tends to be crowded with local tourists. Winters in Cape Town can be cold and rainy and are usually avoided by travellers.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round, three-pin plugs and round, two-pin plugs are standard.
South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu, and Sotho. English is widely spoken.
Health regulations in South Africa require that travellers from areas infected by yellow fever must carry a vaccination certificate; otherwise no vaccinations are required. There is a malaria risk in the low-lying areas of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga (including the Kruger National Park), as well as northeastern KwaZulu-Natal, and precautions are advised when travelling to these areas, especially between October and May. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. There is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Tap water is generally safe in urban areas but sterilisation is advisable elsewhere, as there are periodic outbreaks of cholera in the poor communities of rural South Africa, particularly in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo provinces.
Medical facilities in South Africa are good in urban areas, but medical insurance is strongly advised as private hospitals expect cash up front and public hospitals are best avoided. Medication is readily available in urban areas, but those travelling outside of major cities for an extended period should bring a basic supply kit for emergency self-treatment.
Tips of at least 10 percent are expected for good service if a service charge is not included in the bill. Tipping for services rendered is widely anticipated by porters, taxi drivers and petrol attendants. Golf caddies should be tipped accordingly. 'Car guards' operate in the city centres and tourist spots and will offer to look after parked car; they are usually immigrants from neighbouring countries looking for work and will expect anything from R8 upwards on the driver's return, depending on how long the driver will have been away.
Safety is an issue and visitors to South Africa should be aware of the country's high crime rate. Violent crime tends to be concentrated in pockets throughout the country and travellers should do some research to find out which areas to avoid. For instance, Berea and Hillbrow in Johannesburg are high-risk areas, and township areas in general are dangerous for foreigners.
There is a risk of petty, opportunistic crime in all urban areas and armed robberies are fairly common in Johannesburg. Travellers should always be aware of these risks and exercise the necessary precautions. Carjackings and smash-and-grab robberies are common in major cities, and doors should be locked when driving and bags and valuables should be kept out of sight. Travellers should not walk alone at night in any area, and should be vigilant when using ATMs. They should not display signs of wealth (e.g. mobile phones, money, expensive jewellery, cameras) on the streets. Credit card fraud is on the increase and travellers should be vigilant and never allow their card out of their sight.
It is worthwhile noting that the South African authorities do give high priority to the protection of tourists. Although crime rates are high in South Africa, popular tourist sites and the main hotel areas tend to be safe and most visits are trouble-free.
South African culture and etiquette in urban areas is very Western. While standards of dress vary, beachwear should generally not to be worn off the beach, and nude sunbathing is only permissible in a few designated areas. Homosexuality is legal and accepted in urban areas without much fuss, but it is frowned on by some conservative South Africans and can be a problem in township areas. Although locals may complain loudly about the country and government, they will take offense if a foreigner is critical. Racism is a sensitive issue; however, interracial relationships are now common and widely accepted. South African racial terminology differs from what is acceptable in North America: the terms 'black' and 'white' are appropriate for those of African and Caucasian descent, respectively. 'Coloured' refers not to black Africans, but those of mixed African and European descent and is not considered an offensive term. South Africans are friendly and hospitable, and will often go out of their way to assist tourists who need help.
From museums and historic sites to scenic drives and beaches, Cape Town has plenty to offer visitors in the way of attractions and excursions. The open-top, hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses operate two routes, visiting sights in and around the central city. The routes also go further afield in the suburbs, providing an easy way to see many of the city's top attractions in one day.
The city centre is easy to navigate on foot, with Table Mountain and the city's gentle slope towards the sea providing points of reference and making it difficult to get lost. At the very least, visitors usually include a trip up Table Mountain in the cable car and many make time for an outing to Robben Island, Cape Point, the Winelands, and, of course, any one of the city's many magnificent beaches.
Summertime visitors rarely come to Cape Town without at least one day spent enjoying its Blue Flag-rated beaches, whether lounging with bronze gods in Camps Bay and Clifton, or snorkelling with penguins in Simonstown. There are many active pursuits available in Cape Town as well, including kayaking with whales in the Atlantic Ocean, hiking up Table Mountain or in the Tokai Forest, and paragliding from Signal Hill to Camp's Bay.
For those with a bit more time, there are many interesting museums that offer a glimpse into the apartheid era, such as the District Six Museum. An increasingly popular excursion is to one of the predominantly black townships which usually includes a look at community projects, a visit to a craft market and a drink at a local shebeen (township pub).
Foodies will appreciate the quality and variety of restaurants in Cape Town. Regarding menus, they will find a wide variety of international fare, along with many restaurants that offer local Cape Malay dishes and traditional African cuisine. Seafood is extremely popular too. Fine diners and families with young children will find they are equally well-catered for, and vegetarians and vegans will also feel at home.
Camps Bay and the Waterfront have a wide variety of restaurants, but many of the better ones are outside these tourist hotspots. The town of Franschhoek is just 40 minutes outside Cape Town and is considered the gourmet capital of South Africa. Many of the wine farms in Constantia and around Stellenbosch have fantastic establishments for long lunching over a bottle of the superb local wine.
Visitors to Cape Town during the winter months should take advantage of 'winter menus' offered by most restaurants. These are astoundingly good value deals, often packaged as a tasting menu of five courses or more. Restaurants in Cape Town usually add a 10 to 15 percent service charge to tables of six or more. Otherwise, waiters expect a tip of 10 to 15 percent for good service.
Cape Town is by far South Africa's most cosmopolitan city. A multicultural treat with something for everyone, it offers fashionable bars, small watering holes, classy dance clubs, and hotel bars.
Visitors can sip cocktails and watch the sunset at one of Camps Bay's trendy sidewalk cafes in the summer. Somerset Road in Green Point is where the main gay and lesbian clubs and bars are situated, although Cape Town in general is very tolerant of same-sex relationships.
Observatory offers a more bohemian experience, where everything happens at a slightly slower pace. Pool halls, reggae bars, avant-garde eateries, and live music are the order of the day. For a younger and more mainstream clubbing experience, Visitors should try th road in Claremont, where young adults prefer to have a drink and dance at clubs like Tiger Tiger.
Long Street is the heart of Cape Town's nightlife. Located in the centre of town, it has just about every kind of bar or club on offer, from live music and DJs to pubs, dance clubs, and the more trendy and laid-back lounge variety. Travellers should be wary of the numerous pickpockets in the crowd, and keep a close watch on mobiles and wallets.
Cape Town also has plenty of quieter and less crowded venues hidden away off the side streets. Kloof Street and Bree Street are within easy walking distance of Long Street, and are known for their fashionable bars and restaurants.
For culture vultures, there are great local and often international shows to be seen at one of the many theatres in Cape Town, such as the Theatre on the Bay, the Baxter Theatre, or the Artscape. On Broadway hosts a wonderful mix of comedies and farces. The Cape Town City Ballet, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Cape Town Opera are all world-class performing groups. Maynardville Open-Air Theatre hosts Shakespeare in the Park performances in Wynberg every summer.
Unfortunately, there is little to no public transport after 7pm besides private taxis. These often need to be booked in advance and can be very expensive, so it is best to rent a car. The legal drinking age in South Africa is 18. Bars and clubs stop serving alcohol at 2am.
Located on the Cape Peninsula, Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry, sunny summers and cold, wet winters. Winters occur between June and August and are influenced by a series of cold fronts that cross the peninsula from the Atlantic Ocean. They are characterised by heavy rain, particularly on the mountain slopes, strong northwesterly winds, and low temperatures. Some snow does fall on the mountain ranges during the winter.
In summer, the weather in Cape Town is warm and dry, but the idyllic sunny weather is often punctuated with strong southeasterly winds. The average summer temperatures in Cape Town range between 61°F (16°C) and 79°F (26°C) and in winter average between 47°F (8.5°C) and 64°F (18°C). Summer temperatures can reach well above 86°F (30°C) and night-time temperatures in winter occasionally drop below freezing, but this is rare.
It is a city with four distinct seasons, each working its particular magic on Cape Town and bringing with it a flood of associations: summer and white sandy beaches; autumn's crisp colours; the ferocity of stormy seas in winter; and spring's show of Cape fynbos flowers. The most popular time to visit is summer and early autumn (December to March).
Homosexuality is legal, and the South African authorities have introduced legislation which bans any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Details of vaccination recommendations and requirements are provided below.