CAPE TOWN

Take a hike.

Cape Town Guide

Cape Town’s Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountains in the world. Approximately 260 million years old, Table Mountain is home to thousands of species of plant life and popular hiking trails, unique to the region.

Cape Town is in South African Standard Time (SAST). The time-zone is two hours ahead of Universal Time Coordinated (UCT + 2). This means that if you are on the East Coast, South Africa is 7 hours ahead.

All visitors need a valid passport to enter Cape Town. Your passport must have at least 30 days remaining from the intended date of departure and 2 blank pages for entry stamps.

U.S. citizens visiting Cape Town for 90 days or less do not need visas.

Other visa-exempt countries include:

  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mozambique
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Zimbabwe

(Check out South Africa Visa for full lists and more information)

Cape Town has one major international airport, Cape Town International. This airport has an easily accessible bus service which regularly runs to and from the airport. Uber and Lyft are also available to and from Cape Town International.

The easiest way to get around Cape Town is by car. You can easily rent a car at the Cape Town International Airport, or Uber and Lyft are available throughout the city.

Cape Town’s commuter rail system offers service from the city center to many of the outlying suburbs and wine districts. Fares depend on the distance traveled and tickets can be purchased at Metrorail stations located around the city. A great bus alternative for tourists on a budget is the Baz Bus. This offers a hop-on, hop-off service around Cape Town, extending to Durban and Johannesburg. If you’re looking for a taxi, you’re going to have to pick one up from a stand or transportation hub.

For more detailed information, click here.

Cape Town does have a high rate in crime ranging from pickpocketing to more violent crime. While this may seem off-putting, taking precautionary measures and being smart will help you have a fun and safe trip. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t walk at night, especially alone. Not only do you become a target but pickpocketing is more common. If you do need to get around at night, make sure you are with people you trust or take an Uber/Lyft.
  • Don’t be flashy. Wearing jewelry or designer clothing and taking your phone out in public is going to make you stand out. If you are carrying expensive items, keep them tucked away. Keep your purse/handbag zipped up and don’t hang it off the back of your chair. Don’t travel with a lot of cash on you and always keep your passport in a safe location. Try not to go out with it on you.
  • Be aware. Always be aware of your surroundings. Try not to be alone on a sidewalk, and when you are walking, don’t be on your phone and don’t have headphones in.
  • Use common sense and listen to your instincts. If a situation or place feels unsafe, leave.

Emergency number. You should keep and have ready the number of your hotel for emergencies. If you do feel unsafe, call this number as the concierge is usually available all day and night.

March to May is one of the best times to visit Cape Town, as, as the weather is perfectly warm and dry – ideal for exploring. Summer runs from November to February while winter is from June to August. Summers are long and days get pretty hot, whereas winter is going to be a bit chilly so make sure to bring layers!

(*Depending on what you want to get out of your experience (ie, safari, whale-watching, great-white shark diving, etc.), the best time to go varies. For more details, check out this month-by-month guide)

The majority of people speak and understand English in Cape Town. Zulu and Xhosa are also common throughout the city.

Many elements of British social etiquette and customs were taken on post-British colonialization; however, etiquette does vary. Here are some things to note:

  • Greeting: There are several different greeting styles depending upon the ethnic heritage of the person you are meeting. Most South Africans shake hands while maintaining eye contact and smiling. Some women do not shake hands, so it is best to wait for a woman to extend her hand.
  • Dining/Food: Eating with a fork and knife is the norm, except at some traditional African eating occasions where one eats meals with the right hand. It is seen as insulting to leave food on the plate, and because meat plays a big part in South African cuisine, you might get some looks if you are a vegetarian.
  • Respect towards elders: Elders are highly respected throughout all communities. Older men are addressed as Tata (Father in Xhosan) or sir. Older women are addressed as Mama (Mom in Xhosan) or ma’am.
  • Religion: During the month of Ramadan, try to eat, drink, and smoke indoors to show respect towards those fasting. Be patient as prayer calls are very common throughout the day.
  • Guests at a home: If you are invited to a South African’s home, bring local flowers, chocolate, or a bottle of wine. Taking your shoes off when you enter a house is also very common.
  • Driving: South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road.

South Africa uses their own currency: Rand. ATMs can be found throughout Cape Town, and unlike banks in the U.S., South African banks do not charge international ATM withdrawal fees! You can use credit cards throughout Cape Town, but cash is preferred at local shops and restaurants. They also don’t like splitting the bill with multiple cards, so keep that in mind if you’re in a group.

Tipping: It is customary to tip good service around 10-15%. Most waitstaff depends on tips to make up for the low wages they receive. If you have six or more in your party, restaurants generally add gratuity to your bill.

(*Not required but expected:  Tip your taxi-driver 10%. Tip 10% or 100 Rand for your tour-guide. Tip 10-15 Rand for hotel staff/housekeeper).

Cape Town uses four types of plugs: C, D, M, and N. Plug C is has two round pins and is widely used in Europe. Plug D has three round pins in a triangular pattern. Plug M and N both had three round pins.

Voltage: You are going to need a voltage convertor. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. This standard voltage is much higher than that in the United States (120 V).

Type C looks like this:

Water is safe for drinking and cooking when taken from taps in Cape Town. Not all tap water is safe for consumption in rural areas, so take necessary precautions. Although urban tap water is safe, we recommend filtering the water if possible or just sticking to bottled water depending on where you are. Keep in mind that Cape Town is facing major water shortage, so try to be mindful of your water consumption and disposal throughout your trip.

Wi-Fi is available in Cape Town in most public places. Many restaurants, shops, hotels, cafes, and museums will have internet, but it may not always be free or reliable. If you are traveling to or through rural areas, plan ahead if you need access to the internet as Wi-Fi may not be available. Purchasing a SIM card is not necessary.

Uber and Lyft are available throughout Cape Town, but if you are traveling in rural parts, you might want to consider getting a rental car because rideshare options may be scarce.

Cape Town is a really liberal city. In some rural areas though conservative ideas are still prominent. South Africans usually express affection very openly, so shaking hands, pats on the back, kissing, holding hands, hugging, and other forms of public affection are pretty common in urban areas.

Cape Town does face air pollution and land degradation issues, so it is always important to be aware of the environment and be as eco-friendly as possible while traveling. Cape Town is also facing a major water shortage, so try to be mindful of your running water.

Vaccinations for Cape Town are not necessary, but the CDC and WHO recommend the following travel vaccinations for South Africa in general: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, and Rabies. For more information check out Passport Health.  Medical facilities are common and in good condition in Cape Town, however, facilities are limited in rural areas.

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FOR THE PLANNERS

Try to stay near the "waterfront" or "City Bowl" areas if you prefer to have easy access to restaurants and popular landmarks.