The Skinny on Cape Town: What to Know Before Going
CAPE TOWN is a long way away, if your going to take the time to go you want to make sure you prepare to have the time of your life. Here's a few things we found helpful to know before going, and others we learned while we were there:
- Flying in: If your coming from United States you are probably not going to find a direct flight. Europe may have an easier time but it is not one of the largest cities in Africa so you may find it easier to transfer through Johannesburg. We transferred through Frankfurt and decided to extend our layover into a day trip. It can be a long flight, sometimes up to 24 hours, so consider breaking it up this way!
- Car: Renting a car can be a good way to get around, especially if you are not staying somewhere centrally located. We rented a car which made it easy to make day trips out to the Cape of Good Hope and Boulder's beach. Be aware, they drive on the opposite side of the street if your coming from North America, but once you get used to it you won't really notice (just remember driver is always closest to the center of the road and your golden).
- Parking: You'll see locals standing on the street corners in neon orange or yellow vests. Most are enterprising refugees looking to earn some cash. They are there to help you find and back into parking spaces. They also watch your car while your gone to make sure nothing happens. Prepare to give them $1-$2 tip, or buy them some food if your out of cash. Avoiding them is not really a choice and they are going to help you regardless. Just be prepared when they wait for the tip.
- Buses: You can also get tickets to "Hop on, Hop off" busses that travel to many of the main sites. If you don't want to rent a car, this is another good option and let's you learn about the town while you ride.
- Walking: The terrain is actually quite hilly and we don't really recommend walking for long distances. Plan to use wheels of some sort to get around.
Where to stay:
- Garden District: Centrally located and home to beautiful streets of flowers and trees. It's a safer part of town with where a majority of the fun and new restaurants and shops were located. It's about 10 mins from anywhere you want to go - down town, the beaches, table mountain, We stayed here in the hills above Kloof street (the main drag).
- Beaches: If you know you want to spend a few relaxing days at the beach you may want to consider staying near the coast. Cliffton's, Camps Bay, Sea Point or Bantry Bay are close and accessible to Cape Town. Kaulk bay is a fun hippie town but about 30-40 mins from the heart of Cape Town.
- Downtown: This can be a bit dirtier and less safe. Cape Town is not too many years removed from District 6 tragedies which has left it's mark. During the day it's a fine place to be but I wouldn't recommend walking around after dark. If you have kids or a family I wouldn't suggest staying here. The beggar scene is real; probably the most aggressive we have seen in our travels. If someone continues to hassle you, just walk into a nearby shop or look for a local security guard who can helpai take care of the situation.
- Airbnb: A lot of great Airbnb's in this town. If you know you will be eating out a lot and exploring the great food consider renting a place that doesn't included breakfast.
- Boutique Hotels: There's a lot of new ones in the area that can be fun to check out. The place we stayed was called Alta Bay and was a little oasis with a peaceful garden to lounge in during the mornings or evenings with a great view of Cape Town.
Where to Eat:
- Gourmet Burgers: What's better than a nice juicy burger? We love to pile on the toppings and create burgers with all "the works". In Cape Town there are places that offer local and grass-fed meats/pasture raised chicken which are our favorites! Some great picks are Hudson's, Da Vinci's, and Arnold's.
o Tip: All these places will wrap it in lettuce for a lighter option if you ask. Also if you like your burger without any condiments make to ask for no "basting sauce", because they will brush a BBQ sauce onto every burger even when ordered plain.
- Smoothie & Acai bowls: We found these to be just what we needed after dashing around the city all day. We tried a few different places and thought Nu Health had the best and freshest ingredients with the most unique blends. Kauai is also a chain down there with multiple locations.
- Exotic Meats: It can be really fun to try some of the local "game" down in Africa. Some restaurants will have ostrich or springbok for you which are very close to beef. Check out The Local Grill for the best variety and largest selection. They also have really nice fish and chicken for the less adventurous!
- Lunch Cafe: A great place for a quick bite to eat when your downtown is RCaffe. They have amazing salads loaded with lots of ingredients or sandwiches/wraps. This place had kind of a WholeFoods vibe. There's also a window filled with freshly baked treats if your craving something sweet.
- Cauliflower Pizza: I know you can get pizza anywhere, but its rare to find cauliflower pizza on restaurant menus! Cape Town caters to something called "Banting" which is similar to low-carb or the Keto diet found in the U.S. If you've ever wanted to try cauli-pizza, but didn't want to make it yourself, check these places out: Col'Cacchio's and Lime Tree Cafe (which also don't include dairy in the crust if your sensitive). Don't worry though, they still have traditional Italian style pizzas if your not into the Cauli.
What to Do:
Check out our other post about Why Cape Town Should be on Everyone's Bucket list for 10 things you MUST DO when visiting cape town
General tips to know before you go:
- Wear lots of sun screen: The sun is harsh being so far down south and near the mountains. Even if you typically don't burn, lather up a bit - especially if you will be out all day!
- Safety: Cape Town is a safe city for families and singles but there are certain precautions you should take:
o Don't leave anything in your cars/in plain site or else you will likely get broken into. Even if its not worth a lot of money, you don't want to deal with a broken car window.
o Don't walk the streets after dark. If your going out to a restaurant/bar the main street will be safe but don't go walking along the allies. Take a taxi/uber or drive to and from.
o Book your hotels far from the slums/shanty towns in Cape Town - this is where most of the crime happens
- Movie to Watch Before You Go: We always like to watch a movie about the places we go before visiting. Check out invictus to learn more about the Cape Town history.
- Wind: There's certain times when the wind is INSANELY powerful. We're talking "hold onto a sign post to not get blown away" windy. The wind is strongest in the summer months November- March, with peaks around January. This can make it dangerous to take the cablecars and they will shutdown if it's too strong, so have a few days with a flexible schedule if you plan to include this activity (which we would HIGHLY recommend you do),