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Cape Town

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Cape Town is one of the largest cities in South Africa and located in the Western Cape Province. It is located in the south-west corner of the country near the Cape of Good Hope. It is a stone's throw from South Africa's world-famous Cape Winelands around Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek.

Table Mountain in the back and Mount Nelson Hotel to the right

Understand

Cape Town was founded as a trading post by Jan van Riebeeck on account of the VOC (Dutch East Indies Company) in the year 1652 and is therefore often called the Mother City. The first settlers were mainly Dutch and German, with some French Huguenots that had to flee from their home country. The first settlers soon explored the inland and founded the cities of Stellenbosch and Paarl in todays Cape Winelands. The Voortrekkers started from here to explore the rest of South Africa's inland.

Today Cape Town is the legislative capitol of South Africa. It is a world-class cosmopolitan city with numerous sites of historical significance, and a lively nightlife, as well as a big gay community.

Get in

By plane

Cape Town International Airport (CPT) is the second largest airport in South Africa (the largest being in Johannesburg). There are several flights daily to Johannesburg, Durban and all other major South African cities, we well as the Namibian cities of Windhoek, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay and other destinations, including Gaborone, Maun, Harare and Nairobi.

Other International flights coming in are from Buenos Aires, Doha, Frankfurt, Kuala Lumpur, London and Singapore.

See also Discount airlines in Africa.

By train

There is train service throughout South Africa. The Metrorail trains are a great way to get between Cape Town and neighboring towns such as Stellenbosch and Simonstown. Be careful when travelling by train, as there is little security and people have been mugged, especially at night.

By car

There are several major highways entering Cape Town from the north, east and north-east. This connects cape town easily with other destinations including Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Durban and the Garden Route.

The N1 runs north-east, passing Paarl, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg on its way from Cape Town to Harare in Zimbabwe.

The N2 runs along the East Coast towards the Garden Route, George and Port Elizabeth, through the Transkei up to Durban and Swaziland.

The N7 goes north along the West Coast to Springbok and Namibia. Also follow it to go to Upington and the Kgalagadi Transfontier Park.

By bus

There is bus service to all major destinations within South Africa (and from neighboring countries) as well as points in between.

Get around

If you are staying downtown or close to it, then you can walk to most of the major sites. There are sedan taxis, and minibus taxis, which are safe and used by most locals (just be sure you know where it goes).

See

  • Robben Island, located just off the coast from Cape Town, this was the location used during the apartheid days to hold political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and the late Walter Sisulu. Some of the tour guides were themselves political prisoners so they have plenty of insight about what went on there. Tours run several times per days, seven days a week from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront. Tours cost R150 for adults and R75 for children. Phone: (0)21 413 4200 http://www.robben-island.org.za/
  • South African National Gallery, located in the Gardens area of Cape Town off Government Ave (about a 20 minute walk from downtown). Phone: (0)21 4674660. Contains extensive displays of South African art, as well as information on the history of censorship of art during apartheid. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00-17:00. Entry is R5 and free for students and children. http://www.museums.org.za/sang/
  • Township Tour The townships are the places where people were forced to live (based on race) under the apartheid regime. To some extent townships continue to retain their apartheid-era racial makeup, for a variety of reasons. Touring the township may seem strange, even inappropriate, but it is a good way to learn about South Africa's history, and the poverty that many people continue to live in. People in the townships are friendly and the children love visitors. Some townships can be extremely dangerous (see the warning on the South Africa page) so don't go alone unless you know what you're doing. The townships tours are safe. If you want to bring sweets or gifts for the children, it is best not to give it directly to them, but to give it to the tour guide who will distribute them later. There are several tour companies which offer tours, one of which is Sam's Cultural Tours (phone: (0)21 695 0768, cell: 082 970 0564). Tours can be booked directly or through one of Cape Town's many booking agencies. Tours run once or twice per day.
  • District Six Museum 25A Buitenkant St. phone: (0)21 461 8745, email: info@districtsix.co.za. Open Monday-Saturday 09:00-16:00. Admission is free. District Six is an area near downtown Cape Town which remained multiracial well into the 1960s against all attempts by the government to declare it a "white only" area. Eventually the residents were all evicted and the buildings were bulldozed. The area remains uninhabited. The museum provides information about the area, the eviction, the Group Areas Act, and the people who used to live there. The director of the museum is a former resident. There is a small bookstore with an excellent selection of books on South Africa's history, District Six and apartheid. http://www.d6.co.za/
  • Malay Quarter This neighborhood, located south-west of downtown is the area historically inhabited by immigrants from Malaysia as well as other Muslims. There are some very colorful buildings, quaint streets, a mosque and some great food sold on the side of the street. It's well worth wandering around for an hour or so.
  • South African Parliament Cape Town is the legislative seat of South Africa (the Presidential seat is in Pretoria and the Supreme Court is at Bloemfontein). A tour of this compound will acquaint you with South Africa's recent history and its political system. The tour includes visits to the National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces and the old apartheid-era assembly which is now only used for caucus and committee meetings. Tours are free and offered a few times per day in various languages. http://www.parliament.gov.za/

Do

  • Hike Table Mountain This is the mountain located south of Cape Town, and known for the "table cloth effect." That is, when the top of the mountain (which is relatively flat) is covered in clouds, the clouds drape down the side as a table cloth hangs over the edge of a table. The hike takes about 2 to 3 hours, depending on your fitness and enthusiasm, but is well worth the effort for the sense of achievement; there's even a cafe at the top of the mountain to reward your quest. There is also a cable car that goes up if you prefer not to hike. The website Nature South Africa provides free hiking guides and information.
  • Kayaking in Green Bay or False Bay Trips in False Bay, which leave from Simonstown make stops at the penguin colony at Boulders, where you can see the African Penguin (formerly called Jackass Penguin).
  • Cape Peninsula tour This tour runs from Cape Town down to the Cape of Good Hope via Green Bay, the District Six Museum and the penguin colony at Boulders. It is an all-day tour with a stop for lunch where you have the option of biking across part of the peninsula. Several companies offer these tours which can be booked directly or through a booking agent.
  • Winelands tour Tours of the Cape Winelands around Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek run daily from Cape Town. The tour will take you to four or five vineyards where they will tell you a bit about the process of winemaking, and then let you sample some of their wines. This is an all-day tour, and well worth it. Several tour companies offer this tour.
  • Visit Ratanga Junction in summer and enjoy a day with your kids at this theme park.

Learn

The University of the Western Cape, the University of Cape Town, the Cape Peninsual University of Technology and Stellenbosch University are all located in or near Cape Town. Cape Town's medical research is world-renowned, and Groote Schuur hospital is where Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant.

Buy

The V&A Waterfront is the prime tourist destination for souvenirs, though these tend to be typically touristy (i.e. expensive and not necessarily authentic). If you like South African wine, buy it here (or anywhere in South Africa) before you leave, because it is much cheaper and there is more availability than overseas.

Make sure you know what the price is before you order (especially in restaurants) as there have been a few high-profile cases of overcharging where the price is not on the menu.

Drink & Eat

As one of the main tourist spots the V&A waterfront has a broad range of restaurants. A little bit less touristy is the area around Long Street with many cafes and restaurants. A smaller restaurant in the Parliaments Garden offers a good refreshment after a tour through the city.

Sleep

Accommodation in Cape Town ranges from hostels (of which there are many) to luxury accommodation. Whatever you want, you can find without trouble.

Budget accommodation

  • The Tudor Hotel in the City Centre is the ideal place to start exploring Cape Town. It is situated at the famous Greenmarket Square and main attractions like the Waterfront, Parliaments Garden or the Malay Quarter Boo-Kap can be reached by foot. Prices start from R210.
  • Many guesthouses and backpacker`s accommodation are along Long Street. As rates and services change quickly take a look before checking-in. Long Street Backpackers (Tel:+27 21 4230615, Fax: +27 21 4231842; 209 Longstreet) is one of the long-standing places and offers dorms as well as private accommodation and a good range of travel-services.

Middle class accommodation

The Sunset Lodge offers luxurious suites in the popular suburb of Bloubergstrand, famous for its spectacular views on Table Mountain and long white beaches.

Luxury accommodation

Villa Atlantica is the ultimate luxury accommodation in Cape Town prime suburb Camps Bay, located at the Atlantic Ocean and with stunning views on the famous 'Twelve Apostles'. The Suites are available from R2600, but should be booked long in advance, as they are often booked out.

When to visit

Cape Town is an all-year destination!

  • The summer month of December and January, as well as early February are usually very hot. You should stay inside or in the shade during the midday heat and use sufficient sunblocker.
  • The winter month of June and July are a bit rainy, which does not mean rain every day. Often you will have one or two days of rain and a week of total sunshine. It can however get very cold at night, with temperatures below zero degree Celcius. It will become warmer during the day, with temperatures between 14 and 20 degree Celcius.
  • Best month to visit are:
    • October and November: Weather is better, spring is in the air, but it is not as hot yet.
    • March, April: Although it starts raining, it is still warm.

Contact

Cape Town's area code is 21, prefixed with a '0' when calling from elsewhere within South Africa. There are plenty of Internet cafes and access rates are cheap.

Get out

Cape Peninsula

  • Boulders beach is famous for its penguin colony and you can watch penguins in their natural habitat. September is the breeding season and you can see penguins hatching out of their eggs. Boulders beach is located on the left side of the road from Cape Town (east side of the Cape Peninsula) to the Cape of Good Hope, shortly after Franschhoek. There is a small snug restaurant close from the entrance to the beach that has very nice food and on a lucky day you can watch whales from there.
Boulders beach near Cape Town by JensANDMarian
Penguin colony on Boulders beach near Cape Town by User:JensANDMarian
  • Cape of Good Hope to experience the wildness of the natural habitat preserved here. Stunning views and for sure you will meet one of the local baboons or ostriches. Be sure to stop in Simonstown on your way back to relax with a wonderful view on the False Bay.


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