How does one define Cape Town?
Simple … By the awards and accolades the city has received, and will no doubt, continue to receive! The city has recently won not one, but two prestigious awards.
Cape Town’s setting is, quite simply, stunning. A rugged area of land between two oceans, and dominated by iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town, the “Mother City”, is the oldest city in South Africa and has a cultural heritage spanning some 300 years. It seems that Cape Town is a place to renew and reconnect. And this is why Cape Town is southern Africa’s most visited city.
By far the most conspicuous and most celebrated of its sights is Table Mountain, commonly shrouded by clouds, and rearing up from the middle of the city. But more than a scenic background, Table Mountain is the foundation of Cape Town, dividing the city into distinct areas. Standing on the ‘tabletop’, you can view virtually all of the areas and majestic sites and sights of Cape Town
To appreciate Cape Town you need to spend time outdoors, so come prepared to sightsee, walk, hike, ride bikes, picnic and sunbathe.
Meanwhile, you will be seeing and no doubt taking part in Cape Town’s rich urban fabric. It is in Cape Town that the Rainbow Nation represents the spectrum of South Africa.
Cape Town can also boast of the top five national attractions in South Africa that are must sees … From city landmarks to award winning wine farms – time spent in Cape Town will not be forgotten.
Did You Know?
- Vasco da Gama recorded a sighting of the Cape of Good Hope in 1497
- Dr. Christiaan Barnard, at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, performed in 1967 the first human heart transplant in the world
- The spectacular and world famous Cape of Good Hope is 70km south of Cape Town
- The African penguin (formerly known as the Jackass penguin) has a breeding colony in Cape Town
- Wine lover or not, a visit to the Cape Winelands is an absolute must
How to Get Here
The name of the international airport in Cape Town is Cape Town International (CPT), and is South Africa’s second largest airport. The city is about a twenty minute drive from the airport.
Apart from taxis or car hires there is regular transport into the city centre and from the drop-off point there will be plenty of taxis that will take you to your hotel. Do not take taxis that are not registered, particularly the mass transport mini-buses that are invariably unroadworthy. Many hotels operate courtesy buses, but only use Touch Down Taxis, the authorized airport taxi company. . It is a twenty minute drive from Cape Town International to most major parts of the city.
Canadian or U.S. Dollar travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks in South Africa for Rand. You can check with your local bank about issuing travellers cheques in Rand prior to your departure. However, the exchange rate is much more favourable in South Africa. Alternatively, rather than exchanging foreign currency in South Africa, you can withdraw Rands from any ATM by using your bank debit or a credit card.
Lying between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, Cape Town enjoys mild winters and pleasant summers. Summer temperatures in December to February range from around 15 to 27 degrees Celsius and the winter months of June through August average temperatures between 7 and 20 degrees Celsius. Rainfall is moderate throughout the year and there are refreshing sea breezes which can sometimes turn a little bracing during the winter. The most popular months to visit Cape Town are from November to February.
Whatever season you may choose to visit, be warned of the old joke. Cape Town has four seasons – sometimes in the same day.
Public transport is available on scheduled bus service covering most areas, and the city is linked by a comprehensive suburban rail network to the outlying suburbs. In fact the suburban line to Simons Town is possibly one of the most spectacular in the world. The track is so close to the sea in places that unsuspecting passengers occasionally get soaked by the spray of waves breaking on the rocks below.
Metered taxis can be ordered at any time of day or night and can also be hired for day trips. Visitors should ask the driver for an estimated price before setting out. Visitors should note that the practice of hailing a taxi on the street is unheard of in Cape Town. A common sight in any South African city, including Cape Town, are the 10-12-seater minibus taxis that are the preferred transport option of many a car-less local. These can be hailed anywhere on the streets and are by far the cheapest transport option.
Driving in the city is usually not stressful, as there are good feeder highways; excellent signage and efficient traffic lights, which in South Africa are called robots. The scenic routes and meandering country roads are particularly lovely. South Africa is a right-hand drive country so make sure you stay to the left side of the road. Always have a valid driver’s license and your passport or ID on hand.
Foreign licenses are valid up to 6 months in South Africa, as long as they are in English. Free city maps are available from Cape Town Tourism or a car rental agency, but, investing in a handheld GPS system featuring turn-by-turn voice directions could be invaluable. GPS systems today also feature points of interest that are nearby your location, and many other features that will provide a level of confidence while navigating in a foreign country.
Spoornet is the para-statal railway which traverses routes between major cities. It’s by no means luxurious or fast, but it’s reasonably comfortable, clean and safe, and offers a relaxed way to see new areas of the country. For real luxury, though, you have to try one of the world’s most luxurious railways, the Blue Train, which runs a number of routes within South Africa, and some further afield. Another great upmarket option is Rovos Rail, which operates beautifully restored, spacious, Edwardian-era carriages, which are drawn by steam locomotives for part of the trip.
What not to miss … World Heritage Site(s)
Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world. There are currently eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa
If you savour the arts, be sure to see the local papers for details of current and upcoming exhibitions, as exhibitions are not limited to the city’s major galleries. For a taste of South African art culture, visit the following: South African National Gallery, a world-class gallery with a permanent collection of South African and international painting and sculpture; District Six Museum is a fascinating window into the painful and colourful history of South Africa; The South African Jewish Museum is a gallery that documents the history of the South African Jewish community, which today numbers some 90,000. Adjoining the museum is the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, where the history of anti-Semitism is set in a South African context and is likened to the local freedom struggle
Together with South Africa’s colourful and anguished history, it’s no wonder that the city has a vibrant and energized – sometimes edgy – cultural theatre scene. Cape Town can offer visitors theatre that is very much real! Theatre venues in Cape Town often combines eats and drinks with jazz, cabaret or musicals … Try Artscape, which is situated on the Foreshore. Artscape features dramatical productions and is also home to the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. The Baxter Theatre consists of three different venues and offers a wide range of performing arts, from kids’ shows to Zulu dance spectaculars. On the edge of the Atlantic Seaboard in Camps Bay, Theatre on the Bay hosts conventional plays and one-person shows.
Cape Town’s attractions are plentiful and varied. The Western Cape is one of South Africa’s premier tourism destinations and for good reason. Cape Province is renowned for the world-famous landmark Table Mountain.
But one of the reasons you have chosen to visit Cape Town is to see Robben Island. For nearly 400 years, Robben Island, which is located 12 kilometres from Cape Town, was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment. Robben Island had been used primarily as a prison. Indigenous African leaders, soldiers and civilians and anti-apartheid activists, including South Africa’s first democratic President, Nelson Mandela, and the founding leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, were all imprisoned here.
But there is still more …
Situated between Robben Island and Table Mountain in the heart of Cape Town’s working harbour, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront has become South Africa’s most visited destination. Set against a backdrop of magnificent sea and mountain views, shopping and entertainment venues mingle with imaginative office locations, world-class hotels and luxury apartments.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is world famous for the beauty and diversity of the Cape flora it displays and for the magnificence of its setting against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. The Kirstenbosch estate is 528 hectares and supports a diverse fynbos flora and natural forest.
Cape Point / Cape Point Nature Reserve In 1488, Bartholomeu Dias, the Portuguese seafarer, was the first to sail around the Cape. On his return voyage, which must have been particularly stormy, Dias stopped at the south-western tip of Africa, and named it Cabo Tormentoso, or Cape of Storms. King John of Portugal later gave it the name Cabo da Boa Esperança, or Cape of Good Hope. Another Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, rounded the Cape on 22 November 1497 on his way to India. This meant more regular sailings around the tip. It also led to a number of casualties along these unpredictable shores. Today, shipwrecks and stone crosses bear testimony to this treacherous and challenging historic sea route. The lighthouse at Cape Point is the most powerful on the South African coast. It has a range of 63 kilometres, and beams out a group of three flashes of 10 million candlepower each, every 30 seconds.
Two Oceans Aquarium A variety of ocean life on display, including sting rays and Great White sharks. Touch pools let visitors get close to the sea creatures. Certified divers can pay a fee to swim the sharks.
Coastal Fun From August to November, Southern Right Whales are seen off the coast and Bryde’s Whales stop in year-round. False Bay is a great whale-watching locale, as is the town of Hermanus, which has a Whale Festival in September. Dolphins are commonly seen swimming along the ferry to Robben Island. Popular beaches for swimming and surfing include Clifton, Camps Bay and Boulders Beach at Simon’s Town, whose frequent guests are a colony of African penguins.
The Cape Winelands are only about a 45 to 60 minute drive from Cape Town. The Cape Winelands can easily be visited during a day trip from Cape Town. South African wines are some of the most respected in the world. wine making in South Africa goes back to Jan van Riebeeck. The Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch Valleys are some of the prettiest areas in South Africa. Combine the Winelands with lovely and original Cape Dutch architecture and it’s no surprise that these valleys are one of the most popular areas to visit in South Africa. There are many wonderful restaurants to choose from in the Winelands and of course savour the award winning wines.
And if you have the kids with you … Cape Town offers plenty to keep young one enthralled.
Although the sharks are always a hit at The Two Oceans Aquarium, which opened in 1995, there is a large variety of marine life on display including seals, a colourful display of tropical fish, a touch pool and the kelp forest.
Tygerberg Zoo is located in a rural area, 39 km from the city near Paarl. The zoo is on 24 hectares and a large variety of wildlife, some of it rare and seldom seen, can be viewed. The zoo is more of a wildlife park than a traditional zoo.
Located at Klapmuts, a few kilometres further along the N1 highway from the zoo is Butterfly World. The park boasts one of the largest live butterfly displays in the world.
The World of Birds, in Hout Bay was founded over 25 years ago, initially as a commercial breeding venture whicht soon became a haven for for sick and injured birds. Over 3000 bird species can be viewed in landscaped, walk through aviaries.
Children of all ages will have hours of fun searching for their favourite gemstones at the Scratch Patch in Simon’s Town or the V&A Waterfront. Visitors can also take a guided tour through one of the largest gemstone factories in the world.
Sound and light are combined to reproduce the southern heavens on the domed ceiling of the Planetarium, alongside the SA Museum in the Gardens, Cape Town. The instruments used can reproduce the night sky at any point 13 000 years before modern times or the same period in the future.
And when you just need to shop …
Cape Town has embraced North American mall culture. The most impressive malls are the Victoria Wharf at the V&A Waterfront, Cavendish Square in Claremont, Tyger Valley in the Northern Suburbs, and Canal Walk at Century City. But there are still hundreds of little shops, all offering varieties of whatever it is that may catch your eye …
For African Arts, you can visit Greenmarket Square, The Pan African Market, and the Waterfront Craft Market.
A Value Added Tax (VAT) is charged on all goods and services sold in South Africa, although this is largely ignored in the markets Visitors can reclaim this upon departure for purchases over R250, provided all receipts have been kept, the appropriate tax invoices have been obtained and filled in where necessary, and the goods are exported within 90 days of purchase. These, along with the goods, must be presented to VAT Refund Desks at Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airports, or various land border posts and designated commercial harbours. A refund is then paid after passing through Passport Control. www.taxrefunds.co.za
Cape Town after dark …
Food is taken very seriously in Cape Town which means there’s a vast selection of top class dining options.
Being a city that is surrounded by the ocean, it goes without saying that Cape Town specialises in seafood restaurants – crayfish from the Atlantic, giant prawns or the freshest sushi. South African’s also love their meat, so you can tuck into juicy steaks or try some African venison at one of Cape Town’s restaurants. And you have choices of what to view – you can overlook the ocean or the mountains.
Picture the scene: you’re sitting on a balcony on a warm summer’s evening. Below you, the harbour stretches out towards the lights of the city and the unmistakable outline of Table Mountain. The distant sound of live jazz mingles with the clink of cutlery against fine glassware. As your waiter serves you a platter of giant Tiger prawns, grilled to perfection, he asks to top up your glass of chilled Chardonnay. Sure, there are those who tend to dismiss the Waterfront as ‘touristy’. However, there are a number of excellent reasons as to why Cape Town’s Waterfront has become South Africa’s most visited destination, in particular the lavish array of restaurants (around 80 in total), the perpetual holiday vibe and a harbour front setting that’s famous the world over. On any given evening, the V&A Waterfront buzzes with people from all walks of life. Dinner options range from fine dining to fish ‘n chips at a harbour-side pub; international cuisine to African home-kitchen cooking; family steakhouses to sushi bars.
For a magical view of the twinkling city lights, set sail on a sunset cruise. There’s a fleet of vessels to choose from; most serve a glass of bubbly as you glide across the ocean, or you could dine and dance the night away on a cruising restaurant.
Back on shore, you can then stroll past the amphitheatre to see what’s on. Performances are always free and range from local dance to symphony concerts.
However, live entertainment is not limited to the amphitheatre. The Waterfront is a stage for street performers, and as you wander around the pedestrian area you’ll be entertained by jazz trumpeters, African dancers and even Moody the Fire Limbo Guy.
And, as you may imagine, from the sweaty chic of bump-and-grind clubs to the late morning licences of rock ‘n roll venues, it’s all full jets ahead in Cape Town’s clubs.
Sports / Outdoor Adventure
In the spirit of the 2009 movie Invictus, be sure to try and see a Rugby match. Nelson Mandela, in his first term as the South African President, initiates a unique venture to unite the apartheid-torn land: enlist the national rugby team on a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The movie was directed by Clint Eastwood and starred Morgan Freeman (As Nelson Mandela) and Matt Damon (as captain of the Rugby team).
The natural diversity of the landscapes in and around Cape Town provides a diversity of opportunities and new adventures for a great number of outdoor sports. And these experiences are a wonderful way of closely and intensely experiencing natural surroundings of Cape Town. You can hike, kayak on rivers and at the coast, mountain bike, trout and deep sea fish, surf numerous ways, golf and also sand board on the dunes…
It is, fortunately, not necessary for you to be an experienced enthusiast to take part. For most activities, there are schools in the area where the beginner can get started at a reasonable price. There are also numerous and specialized tour operators.
Local Customs and Etiquette
Most people will greet you with a hand shake, and there is a traditional handshake that is formally used amongst the “black” community. Amongst “white” South Africans, it is normally just a verbal greeting. You will have to discern for yourself if hugs will be welcomed.
There is no doubt that family is important to the local residents of South Africa. For some groups, the nuclear family is primary. For others, the extended family receives more priority than the immediate family. And for still others, the tribe is the fundamental expression of community. You should always bear this in mind when traveling in South Africa.
South Africa is filled with contrasts. This is perhaps most evident in the differences between urban and rural customs. Rural dwellers tend to hold to a narrower view of the world. Rural residents hold to traditional views and place high value on their families. South Africans in urban areas place greater emphasis on materialism and success, especially those residing in Johannesburg. Even among urban areas differences exist. Local residents of Cape Town place great deal of emphasis on social standing and family ties.
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