Traveler’s Guide to Cape Town, South Africa

Traveling — it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller. 
— Ibn Battuta.

My recent visit to Cape Town, South Africa was absolutely phenomenal. I now feel compelled to share my experience, emphasizing the stunning scenery, vibrant culture, and memorable moments that left me in awe.

Happy reading and enjoy the Cape Town, South Africa travel guide!



1. Before You Go

Best Time to Visit

Cape Town, South Africa, experiences a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Here is a breakdown of the weather throughout the year:

1. Summer (December to February):
 — Temperature: Average high temperatures range from 25°C to 27°C (77°F to 81°F).
 — Rainfall: Minimal rainfall during these months.
 — Sun: Long days with plenty of sunshine.
Summer offers warm weather and plenty of outdoor activities, but it can be busier and more expensive. — We decided to visit during Summer!

2. Autumn (March to May):
 — Temperature: Temperatures start to slightly decrease, ranging from 20°C to 25°C (68°F to 77°F).
 — Rainfall: Light rainfall begins to increase towards the end of May.
Autumn is also a great time to visit when the weather is still pleasant, and you can enjoy lower rates and fewer tourists.

3. Winter (June to August):
 — Temperature: Average high temperatures range from 16°C to 18°C (61°F to 64°F).
 — Rainfall: Cape Town receives most of its rainfall during these months.
 — Wind: Winter is known for strong winds in the city.
This timeframe is ideal for indoor activities, wine tasting, or whale watching along the coast.

4. Spring (September to November):
 — Temperature: Temperatures start to rise, ranging from 18°C to 23°C (64°F to 73°F).
 — Rainfall: Rainfall decreases during these months.
Great time if you want to experience mild temperatures, blooming flowers, and fewer crowds.

Remember to check local conditions and events when planning your trip.
Weather: https://weather.com

Visa Requirements

Visa requirements are always changing so be sure to look up before your visit. The website (Visa HQ) makes it super easy. Just input which country you are a citizen of and select “South Africa” for traveling to. For those in the United States, there were no tourist visa requirements. 

Screenshot of Visa HQ tool at www.visahq.com/

https://www.visahq.com/

Currency

South African Rand (ZAR) is the local currency. Recommend carrying cash as tipping is customary and there are several markets. For reference, $5 is roughly 73 ZAR or R73.

Visa Debit/Credit cards are widely accepted, but my American Express Credit card was rarely accepted. 

I used the “Currency” mobile app for quick and easy offline conversions. 

Language

The primary languages are Afrikaans and English. We didn’t have any major issues but if you want to play it safe, recommend downloading Google Translate offline.

Recommended Items to Bring

1. Passport and travel documents: Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay and that you have any necessary visas.
 
2. Lightweight clothing: South Africa has a diverse climate, so pack a variety of clothing options, including light and breathable items for warmer weather and some layers for cooler evenings or higher altitudes.
 
3. Comfortable walking shoes: South Africa offers a lot of opportunities for exploring nature and wildlife, so a comfortable pair of shoes is essential.
 
4. Sunscreen and sunglasses: The sun in South Africa can be strong, especially in summer, so protect yourself from harmful UV rays.
 
5. Insect repellent: In certain regions, mosquitoes can be a nuisance and may carry diseases like malaria, so it’s important to be prepared.
 
6. Electrical adapter: South Africa uses a unique plug type (Type M), so make sure to bring the appropriate adapter if you plan to charge your devices.
 
7. Camera or binoculars: South Africa is known for its incredible wildlife and stunning landscapes, so don’t forget to capture those memorable moments.
 
8. Medications and a first-aid kit: Bring any necessary prescription medications and a basic first-aid kit with essentials like pain relievers, bandages, and antiseptic wipes.
 
9. Reusable water bottle: Stay hydrated, especially in warmer regions, and help reduce plastic waste by carrying a reusable water bottle.
 
10. Travel insurance: It’s always a good idea to have travel insurance to protect yourself in case of any unexpected events or emergencies. 


2. Getting There and Around

Airport

Cape Town International Airport (CPT) is the primary airport. It is roughly 20 kilometers from the city center. 

Screenshot of Google Maps directions from CPT to City Centre
Photo of Mount Kilimanjaro by Brandon Seyl

Transportation

1. Public Transport:
 — MyCiTi Bus Service: This is Cape Town’s main public bus service, offering efficient and affordable transportation within the city and to some of the suburbs. It operates on a smart card system. 
Link: https://www.myciti.org.za/en/home/ 
(Cost: R10 short-trip / R40 long-trip)
 — Metrorail: The city’s train service connects different areas of Cape Town and its surrounding suburbs. However, train services may be irregular or affected by safety concerns in some areas.
 — Minibus Taxis: These seemed to be pretty common but crowded at times. 

2. Rental Cars:
 — We rented an SUV and found it extremely convenient anytime we traveled more than 15–20 minutes away. We rented from the airport. **Warning** The driver's side is on the right side of the vehicle and you drive on the left side of the road. Be mentally prepared! 

3. Uber and Metered Taxis:
 — Uber is widely available in Cape Town and provides a convenient and safe way to get around the city. Metered taxis are also an option, but Uber is often more reliable.

Most of our Uber rides were between 5 and 8 dollars…. can’t beat that!

4. Biking:
 — Cape Town has a growing cycling culture, with dedicated bike lanes in some parts of the city. Renting a bicycle or joining a guided bike tour can be a fun and eco-friendly way to explore Cape Town.

5. Walking:
 — Some areas of Cape Town, like the city center and waterfront, are pedestrian-friendly, making walking a great way to explore. 

6. Tourist Buses:
 — Hop-on, hop-off tourist buses are available in Cape Town, offering convenient transportation to popular tourist attractions with commentary along the way.


3. Where to Stay

Accommodation Options

Luxury Hotels: The Silo hotel boasts award-winning design, opulent suites, a rooftop pool with panoramic views of Table Mountain, and world-class dining experiences. 
Learn more: https://www.theroyalportfolio.com/the-silo/
 — Boutique Guesthouse: Blackheath Lodge in Cape Town, South Africa offers luxurious rooms, personalized service, and a tranquil environment for you to unwind. 
Learn more: https://www.blackheathlodge.co.za/
Budget-Friendly Hostels: The Backpack is situated in the heart of the city, providing budget-friendly accommodation but also focusing on sustainability and community initiatives. 
Learn more: https://www.backpackers.co.za/

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express while in Cape Town and The Quayside Hotel during our stay in Simons Town. 

For us, it boiled down to privacy and cost. There are plenty of options to meet your wants and needs. 


4. Must-See Attractions

1. Table Mountain: A prominent landmark offering breathtaking views of the city and the Atlantic Ocean.
2. Robben Island: A historic site where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, now serving as a museum and a symbol of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid.
3. V&A Waterfront: A popular destination with shops, restaurants, entertainment, and great views of the harbor.
4. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden: A stunning botanical garden showcasing diverse indigenous plant species.
5. Cape of Good Hope: A natural reserve with beautiful landscapes, stunning coastal views, and diverse wildlife.
6. Boulders Beach: Home to a colony of African penguins, perfect for a memorable wildlife encounter.
7. Bo-Kaap: A colorful neighborhood known for its vibrant houses, cobblestone streets, and rich Cape Malay culture.
8. District Six Museum: Dedicated to preserving the memories of a once-vibrant multiracial district demolished during apartheid.
9. Chapman’s Peak Drive: A scenic drive along the Atlantic coastline, offering stunning views and perfect photo opportunities.
10. Castle of Good Hope: South Africa’s oldest surviving colonial building, housing a museum detailing the country’s military history.


5. Safety Tips

Stay Vigilant: Be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas and at night.
 —  Secure Belongings: Keep your belongings safe and avoid displaying valuable items in public.
 — Emergency Numbers: Save emergency contact numbers and know how to reach local authorities in case of any emergency.


6. Our Cape Town Story

Day 1: Table Mountain and City Tour

Waking up with excitement on our first full day in South Africa, we found comfort in our room at the Holiday Inn Express Cape Town Centre. 

Stomachs growling, we finally decided to escape the cozy sheets and seize the day ahead. We started by eating a complimentary breakfast which consisted of fresh eggs, sausage, bacon, cereal, yogurt, and fresh fruit. 

It was delicious! 

After taming our hunger, we used our extensive land & navigation skills (GPS) to pinpoint the pick-up spot for the City Sightseeing Bus Tours. 

As we walked to the counter, we presented our 3-day unlimited Cape Town City Pass (https://capetown.citypass.co.za/). Within a couple of minutes, we were checked in and our “timer” to explore the city's top attractions began. 

Walking through the exit, we saw a vibrant red double-decker with an open-top design pull-up. Just in time, I thought as we stepped on the bus and made our way up the staircase to experience the cool breeze and views. 

Pro-Tip: Put sunscreen on…..we did not and regret that. 

The bus's first stop was Table Top Mountain which you can see in the picture below. Our eyes were overstimulated by the beautiful flowers, trees, and scenic drive. 

Photo of Table Mountain from a City Bus by Brandon Seyl

Once we reached Table Top Mountain we had the option to either hike for 1–2 hours or take the aerial cableway to the top. 

In typical tourist fashion, our skin sizzled in the sun as we had to make a tough decision. Venture up top in non-hiking attire or wait 2–3 hours for the cableway. 

We opted for neither and got back on the bus to continue our city exploration. 

Pro-tip: Pay for the Fast Pass or show up first thing in the morning. 

Photo of scenic drive by Brandon Seyl

After 20 minutes of a nice scenic beach-view drive, we ended up at the Cape Town Aquarium which just so happened to be included in our 3-day city pass! 

Photo of a rescued turtle by Brandon Seyl

The aquarium was relatively small but featured majestic and exotic sea creatures such as turtles, sharks, penguins, octopuses, and eels!

Photo of aquarium sharks by Brandon Seyl

After two hours of watching the various sea creatures, we walked across the street to play a “friendly” game of putt-putt at Cave Golf. (Yes — it was included in our city pass)

The 18-hole course featured some challenging shots but after a fun game, we decided to head over to Bootlegger Coffee Company for lunch. 

While explaining which direction we need to walk, it was brought to my attention that one of our fellow putt-putters was proposing to his girlfriend. 

Trust me — we were more shocked than the fiancee. So much so that we had no idea what to do, opting to walk to the restaurant in disbelief. 

Photo by Brandon Seyl

The shocking proposal gave us a lot to discuss while we ate our chicken salad sandwiches and wraps while overlooking a gang of Sea Lions. 

The food at bootleggers was fantastic. Highly recommend eating there or at least grabbing a coffee or fresh beverage. 

Photo of Cape Town sign by Brandon Seyl

After lunch, we spent the next several hours walking around the Waterfront area. To cool down, we ordered some Cookies & cream gelato at Gelato Mania. 10/10. 

Photo of Gelato by Brandon Seyl

As the sun started its descent we hurried over to the harbor area to catch our sunset cruise. We enjoyed two glasses of champagne as the beautiful orange glow encompassed Cape Town. 

Photo of Cape Town by Brandon Seyl

Following our sunset cruise, we enjoyed some South African meat with sides as we listened to “a cappella” singing by a group of singers. 

Disbelief was the best way to describe our first day in Cape Town.  

Photo by Brandon Seyl

Day 2: Winelands Excursion

Now who doesn’t love some wine? South Africa is known for its world-famous wine so we had to spend a day sampling. 

Wine + beautiful views = great day. 

Photo of Tokara Winery by Brandon Seyl

Our first stop was Tokara Winery, situated on the elevated slopes of the Simonsberg mountain. This family-owned vineyard and olive grove provide a stunning vantage point that captures the breathtaking beauty of False Bay and Table Mountain.

Photo of a Tokara cheese platter and olive oil sampler by Brandon Seyl

We went for the full experience by tasting four wines (2 white / 2 red), a cheese platter, and an olive oil sampler. 

The culinary experience was delightful while we sampled wines and received detailed explanations from a wine expert. 

After leaving with a handful of olive oil and vinegar bottles, we made a quick three-minute venture down to Alluvia Boutique Winery.

Photo of lunch at Alluvia Boutique Winery by Brandon Seyl

Tucked between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, Alluvia offered a bistro-style restaurant, wine-tasting lounge, and spa. 

The menu features breakfast options, starters, a diverse selection of lunch specials, pizzas, and desserts. The sausage and mushroom pizza was exceptionally delicious, boasting a crispy thin crust topped with a perfect blend of sauce and cheese.

Photo of Rainbow’s End by Brandon Seyl

Our last destination for the day was Rainbow’s End, a hidden gem that captured our hearts and became our favorite spot.

Highly recommend the charcuterie board as your eyes behold an unmatched mountain/vineyard view. 


Day 3: Escaping the Waterfront

At the beginning of the day, we strolled over to Afrogem to explore their array of Tanzanites, diamonds, and precious stones. 

Despite not having an appointment, we were fortunate enough to be granted access to a personalized tour and to admire their stunning collection of stones.

Quickly after we began our hunt for food. We landed at a Tex-Mex place called, Mamacitas. 

Photo of Mamacitas tacos by Brandon Seyl

The combination of tasty dishes and margaritas helped us relax in the laid-back atmosphere of this Los Angeles-inspired restaurant. 

Photo of Mamacita’s shrimp tacos by Brandon Seyl

With full bellies, we enjoyed an Uber ride (Luxury — $5!) over to the Harborwalk area.

Photo of Watershed by Brandon Seyl

The “Watershed” offers a vibrant combination of live music, dining options, shopping, and entertainment under one roof. Our goal was to participate in the HintHunt Africa Escape Room experience.

If you haven’t tried an Escape Room yet, it’s a must! Picture stepping into a themed room, like a hotel suite, where you are sealed inside for 60 minutes. The thrill mounts as you and your team explore clues, race against the clock, and strive to break free within the time limit.

We lost our first one but we came back with a vengeance and won the second with three minutes to spare! 

Later that night, we enjoyed a ride on the nearby Ferris wheel, treating ourselves to stunning views of the waterfront, cityscape, and mountains.

Photo of Ferris Wheel by Brandon Seyl

After lots of walking around and escaping rooms, we found ourselves looking for food again. We landed at a place called City Grill Steakhouse Steakhouse. 

The Wagyu burgers were excellent and cheap! $50 for a three-course meal for two! A great way to end another action-packed day. 

Photo of a Wagyu burger at City Grill Steakhouse by Brandon Seyl
Photo of Dessert at City Grill Steakhouse by Brandon Seyl

Day 4: Chapmans Peak Drive

Goodbye Cape Town — off to Simon’s Town! We hopped in our rental car and started our road trip stopping along the way for some scenic pictures. 

Photo of Cape Town by Brandon Seyl
Photo of Lions Head by Brandon Seyl

We made a pit stop at the Bay Harbour market to walk around for some light shopping and to check out the local artwork. 

While there, we discovered a spot called, “Fish on the Rocks”, a local favorite specializing in fish & chips. 

Photo of Fish on the Rocks by Brandon Seyl
Photo of Fish & Chips by Brandon Seyl

After our lunch, we made a quick stop at another outdoor market named “Hour Bay” for some additional shopping before heading towards the renowned Chapman’s Peak Drive.

Photo of Chapman’s Peak Drive by Brandon Seyl

Chapman’s Peak Drive is by far one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever experienced. You will find yourself stopping every five minutes to enjoy its beauty. 

After about twenty minutes you will find yourself in Simon’s Town which is located near the famous Boulder Beach. 

Boulder Beach = Penguins!!!!!

Photo of Boulder Beach by Brandon Seyl

Just be mindful of the time you go. We had good intentions of catching the sunset and penguins but were unaware that there were park hours. 

Nonetheless, we were able to see the penguins but it was a bit rushed. 

Another important consideration is to understand load shedding. Load shedding is a term used to describe the deliberate and temporary shutdown of power in certain areas. 

Unfortunately, load shedding can lead to disruptions in daily activities, including affecting the operation of businesses such as restaurants. This, combined with it being a Sunday when many businesses may already have reduced hours, further reduces the chances of finding a restaurant open. 

Luckily, despite these challenges, we were able to find Hickory BBQ, which turned out to be a satisfying dining choice. The live music was the icing on the cake. 

Photo of Hickory Shack barbeque by Brandon Seyl

Day 5: Robben Island

Our morning begins with a quick drive back to Cape Town for our tour of Robben Island. As we await the onboarding we enjoy the lively chorus of seagulls and the playful antics of seals as they bask in the morning sun. 

These friendly sea creatures bid us farewell as we set sail (30-min ferry ride) towards our destination — a visit to the iconic Robben Island.

Photo of Sealions by Brandon Seyl
Photo of Robben Island by Brandon Seyl

Upon reaching Robben Island, we step off the boat and are greeted by the imposing yet historically rich structures that have witnessed the resilience of those who fought against injustice. 

Our first stop is the visitor center, where we are immersed in the deep-rooted history of the island. 

For those that might know, South African President Nelson Mandella was held captive on Robben Island for a total of 18 years from 1964 to 1982. 

Photo of Robben Island tour by Brandon Seyl

Led by an ex-political prisoner, our tour of the prison premises was both enlightening and somber.

 We walk through cramped cells that once held great leaders, their spirits unbroken despite the harsh conditions. It’s a stark reminder of the sacrifices made in the fight for freedom and equality.

As we bid farewell to Robben Island, our journey continued toward the Pietro Ferrero viewpoint.

Photo of Pietro Ferrero by Brandon Seyl

Driving through winding roads, we reached a vantage point that offered breathtaking panoramic views of the ocean and rugged coastline. 

Photo from Pietro Ferrero by Brandon Seyl

With the sun painting the sky in hues of orange and pink, we unpacked our picnic items and savored the moment — bonding over laughter, delicious treats (So many cookies!), and the beauty of nature. 

Photo of me! Sun + moon = very cool

Day 6: Cape of Good Hope

Our final day! What better way then to drive to the southernmost point of Africa, Cape of Good Hope. 

Photo of Cape of Good Hope by Brandon Seyl

We then took a tram up to the top of the mountain to check-out the lighthouse. 

Photo of Cape of Good Hope Light House by Brandon Seyl
Photo of the view from Cape of Good Hope Light House by Brandon Seyl

Surprisingly, as we stood near the lighthouse, we caught sight of a beach below and made the impromptu decision to find a way down. And since we were already at it, why not have a picnic as well?

Photo of the view from Cape of Good Hope by Brandon Seyl
Photo of Dias Beach sign by Brandon Seyl

After about 30 minutes we made our way to the beach. Luckily there was an easy-to-navigate hiking trail that led us straight to the beach. 

In shock — no one was hanging out at the beach. Unbelievable as it quickly became our own private beach. 

Photo of our picnic spot by Brandon Seyl

We even found a shaded spot under a mountain overlooking the water. Enjoying each other’s company with nature’s beauty around us. 

Conclusion

Cape Town is a must-have on your travel bucket list. The city offers natural wonders, vibrant culture, and warm hospitality. Whether you’re exploring the iconic Table Mountain, savoring local delicacies, or learning the city’s history, your trip to Cape Town is sure to be an unforgettable experience. 

Plan your itinerary, pack your bags, and get ready to create your very own Cape Town, South Africa story.

 

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