9 things to know before traveling to Cape Town (2023)

When I moved to Cape Town more than a decade ago, the plan had been to stick around for a year.

We quickly realized that 12 months wouldn’t be enough. There is something about this city that just enchants people. A lot of it has to do with the landscape, of course – Table Mountain provides a centerpiece that’s surrounded by forest, lake and eventually, golden beach – but its diverse terrain also provides the perfect stage for all manner of outdoor adventures. This includes hiking, climbing, abseiling, surfing, paragliding, and mountain biking.

But it’s not just sporty types that are well-catered for in Cape Town. This city has an exciting art scene, plus shopping for all tastes and budgets. It has marvelous opportunities for those whose passions lie in drinking and dining.The city has its problems of course – a wide poverty gap and a rising crime rate among them – but the good vastly outweighs any negatives.

Cape Town’s laidback pace of life, coupled with its expansive menu of attractions, keep people exploring here for far longer than they might have originally planned. And I should know – I’ve been here for 12 years and still feel as if I haven’t seen half of what the city has to offer.

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9 things to know before traveling to Cape Town (1)

1. However long you plan to stay, it will never be enough

Most people schedule four or five days in Cape Town. It’s enough time to get to the top of Table Mountain, visit the penguins, and maybe take a surf class or a Cape Malay cooking course. You should be able to shop a little, eat a lot, drink some wine and marvel at the majesty of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, too.

A week of course would be better. But a month still wouldn’t be long enough. Most people don’t have weeks to spare, though. With four or five days in the city – ideally a week – you can see all the major sights (Cape Town’s notoriously fickle weather permitting), pick the perfect restaurant (book a few weeks ahead for big-name fine dining joints) and get a feel for the city’s general joie de vivre.

You can always tackle the rest on your next visit because once you’ve become acquainted with the city, you’re guaranteed to want to come back.

2. Grab an Uber into the city from the airport

Buses no longer service Cape Town International Airport, leaving fewer options for getting into the city center. If you’re planning to rent a car for your stay, you’re sorted. Most major car hire companies have desks at the airport.

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If not, approved taxi companies have desks inside the arrivals hall. Else, follow the lead of the locals and order an Uber once you're past baggage reclaim. Not only is it the cheapest option but it's also considered a safe way to travel. Try and avoid the touts outside the airport offering to arrange taxis or Ubers. Some might be legit, but it’s best to exercise caution.

9 things to know before traveling to Cape Town (2)

3. Pack a change of clothes whenever you leave the house

Cape Town residents are very fond of saying that the city experiences four seasons in one day, and while visitors from the northern hemisphere might scoff at a Capetonian’s idea of winter, it’s true that the weather is capricious.

In spring and autumn, you could start the day with a jersey and long pants, need sunscreen and hats by lunchtime, and be shopping for umbrellas by mid-afternoon.

Winter is largely wet, but there are days when you’ll need sunblock. Meanwhile, summer afternoons can get pretty windy and have you reaching for a jacket. To be on the safe side, pack sunscreen, sunglasses and something with sleeves into your day bag.

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4. Ask if there are any areas to avoid

Most Cape Town visits are incident-free, but it’s a good idea to get the lowdown on which areas to avoid from your host. The city center is generally fine, but after dark it’s best not to wander alone. Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings tend to be pretty quiet, too. Keep your wits about you if there aren’t many people around.

Locals will likely tell you to avoid the Cape Flats. Yet you can visit many of its restaurants and attractions during the day without any trouble. The Flats also has some good nightlife too. Stay in one of its guesthouses or homestays if you want a bit more immersion. To explore these neighborhoods in any depth, it’s best to do so with a local guide.

9 things to know before traveling to Cape Town (3)

5. Reminder: Table Mountain is still a mountain

Visible from pretty much every corner of the city, Cape Town’s flat-topped mountain is the emblem and the pride of the South African capital. It's also a must-see. Don’t let its proximity to the center fool you. Even on a sunny day, the weather at the top is often cool and windy, so don’t head up in your beach gear with no layers to add.

If you’re hiking rather than taking the cable car, adopt the usual rules: don’t go alone; always tell people where you’re headed; stick to marked trails; pre-plan your route. Every year there are tales of travelers who get lost on the mountain and have to rely on local search and rescue services to bring them back down. Take local advice on which route to tackle. Some are safe, while others should only be attempted with larger groups or in the company of a seasoned guide.

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6. Conceal your food around baboons

Baboons are a part of life in the Cape Peninsula. Most visitors will give these large-toothed primates a wide berth. But for others, the intrigue of seeing a monkey hang out on a beach or wander through a car park is too great.

Feeding the baboons is strictly prohibited (not that the baboons know that). They'll happily leap into an open car of an unsuspecting tourist to whip a picnic out of their hand. Or they'll riffle through unattended bags on the Cape Point beaches, whilst the owners look on flabbergasted from the ocean. If you see baboons around, roll up the windows and stash the snacks.

7. The tap water is drinkable

Although at many restaurants you’ll be asked whether you’d like to kick off with still or sparkling, the Cape Town tap water is perfectly safe to drink. If you leave the city to visit smaller towns, ask locally if they drink the water, although generally, water in the Western Cape is perfectly potable.

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8. You can do your shopping at the robots

English is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages, but it does come with a few idiosyncrasies. Take the robots. These are not mechanical men, but the local term for traffic lights. More than just a place to stop (or for some drivers, to just carry on, red light be damned) and wait for the traffic, robots are a hub of human activity. You’ll see beggars here on a regular basis, as well as traders selling everything from sunglasses to reindeer antlers.

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The robots allow you to buy a sunhat, shop for souvenirs, grab some fresh veggies, or replace that phone charger you left at your last guesthouse, all from the comfort of your car. First-time visitors can feel a little anxious lowering their windows at the lights, but if you’re in the suburbs and you see a trader selling something you like, it’s a part of local life to see what they have. To perfect the art of speed shopping, be sure to have cash at hand. Capetonians are not the most patient of drivers. If you linger more than a few seconds after the robots turn green, a symphony of horn-honking will ensue.

9. Don’t forget to tip

Although expected amounts are not on a par with those in North America, South Africa has a tipping culture and many workers will expect you to add a little something onto the bill. In restaurants and bars, 10% is acceptable, though 12-15% is better. Give R5-10 to petrol pump attendants (you can’t pump your own gas in South Africa) and R5-10 to informal parking guards, depending on the level of service they offer (some barely glance at your car, others will help you squeeze in and out of tight spaces).


9 things to know before traveling to Cape Town? ›

When is the Best Time to Visit Cape Town? A Cape Town holiday is best during peak summer from December to February. These hot summer months also coincide with local school holidays, so book your accommodation early if you want to visit over Christmas or New Year.

What is the best month to go to Cape Town? ›

When is the Best Time to Visit Cape Town? A Cape Town holiday is best during peak summer from December to February. These hot summer months also coincide with local school holidays, so book your accommodation early if you want to visit over Christmas or New Year.

How many days in Cape Town is enough? ›

While 10 days is the most popular duration for kimkim travelers, two weeks is recommended for a satisfying trip to South Africa. You can venture farther outside Cape Town, discover the Winelands, drive the Garden Route, and go on a safari (or two) in Kruger National Park.

Is it safe to walk downtown Cape Town? ›

Is Cape Town Safe at Night? Walking around at night in Cape Town is only advisable if you are in a resort or a place full of tourists. Go in groups if you have to go out after dark; otherwise, avoid going out in the city once the sun sets.

What should you be careful about in Cape Town? ›

Avoid walking in deserted and dark places at night. Park in a secure, well-lit area with street guards. Never allow strangers to assist you in any way at ATMs or cash points. Street children and beggars may approach you for a handout.

What time of year is cheapest to fly to Cape Town? ›

The cheapest month to fly to Cape Town is usually May.

How many days do you need in the Cape? ›

We suggest you spend 3 days on Cape Cod. This is enough time to explore some of the most popular attractions, dine at the best restaurants, and stay at the best bed and breakfast on Cape Cod!

Is it safe to Uber in Cape Town? ›

Yes, Uber is generally considered safe to use in Cape Town. There have been some reports of passengers being targeted by criminals while traveling in an Uber, but such cases are rare.

How long can Americans stay in Cape Town? ›

Under the current visa-exemption scheme, American citizens can stay in South Africa for 90 days without a visa. If an American citizen wishes to stay longer than 90 days, for tourism or business purposes, or plans to reside long-term in South Africa, they will require a long-stay permit.

Is Cape Town walkable? ›

Cape Town is a sprawling city, but individual neighborhoods such as the city center (also known as the City Bowl), Bo-Kaap, and the Waterfront are walkable.

What is the dress code in Cape Town? ›

Cape Town is not formal unless you are there for business reasons. Therefore, you can easily wear casual or smart casual outfits to most outings, events or restaurants. If you plan on visiting higher-end restaurants, you may need to pack more formal outfits to meet the dress code requirements.

Is tipping customary in Cape Town? ›

Like in many other countries around the world, it is mandatory to leave your waitron a tip of about 10% of your bill. In Cape Town the salary for most servers in restaurants will be extremely low so waitrons rely heavily on the tips they receive.

Is tipping expected in Cape Town? ›

As a general rule, expect to tip around 10% of the bill. If you get exceptionally good service, say thank you with a tip closer to 15-20%. Whether you're tipping with cash or card, always use the local currency to save money. Use the Wise travel money card.

Is it safe to wear a watch in Cape Town? ›

It's perfectly fine to wear your engagement or wedding rings. When people say don't wear jewellery, they mean don't be flashy with your wealth. Don't wear a rolex watch or an expensive golden necklace and then go and hike in a remote location on your own.

Are Ubers safe in South Africa? ›

All Uber drivers are vetted to ensure that they have a driver's licence and pose no threat to passengers. They are also forced to periodically take a selfie before to accepting rides, to ensure that the account of a verified driver is not used by someone else.

Can you go out in Cape Town at night? ›

3. Cape Town is safe but be vigilant – In general, Cape Town is a safe city for tourists. As with all cities around the world, there are certain places that should be avoided, such as unlit alleyways. Be vigilant when walking around at night and avoid dark alleys or taking shortcuts if possible.

What is the most common crime in Cape Town? ›

Assault and common robbery most prevalent crimes in the Western Cape, Q3 stats for 2022 reveal.

What is the common crime in Cape Town? ›

“Cape Town police stations consistently count under the country's worst stations when it comes to murder, sexual assault, contact-related and common assault crimes,” said Kaylynn Palm, provincial Action Centre coordinator at Action Society. “Unfortunately, we can see firsthand how the situation worsens daily.”

What is the safest way to travel in Cape Town? ›

The safest way to travel is by car, allowing you to road trip through the scenic Cape Town area too. The region has a good road system, with South Africans driving on the left. Parking is readily available, and you'll likely encounter car guards, who you should tip around R5 for watching your vehicle.

Which part of Cape Town is beautiful? ›

The Atlantic Seaboard is a beautiful stretch of coastline in Cape Town that is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. The area is renowned for its stunning beaches, which are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing.

How do you get around Cape Town without a car? ›

How to get around Cape Town without a car?
  1. Uber. Probably one of the easiest ways to get around in Cape Town is by Uber. ...
  2. Meter taxi. Various fleets of metered taxis are available in Cape Town and fall under the jurisdiction of the city. ...
  3. Minibus taxis. ...
  4. By Bicycle. ...
  5. MyCiTi bus. ...
  6. City Sightseeing double-decker bus.

How many hours before international flight Cape Town? ›

We recommend that you arrive at least two hours before your flight is due to leave.

How long before flight should you arrive Cape Town? ›

How much time do I have to be at the airport before my flight? The Airports company advised that you should be at the check-in at least 90 mins before your domestic departure and 3 hrs before an international flight due to stringent security measures.

What day of the week is cheapest to fly in South Africa? ›

Always book domestic flights on Tuesdays

It's said that the cheapest day of the week to book domestic flights on is Tuesday. Booking in the afternoon is recommended, as prices tend to be higher in the morning when many who are travelling for business book via business accounts.

How much money do I need for 2 weeks in Cape Town? ›

A vacation to Cape Town for one week usually costs around R12,699 for one person. So, a trip to Cape Town for two people costs around R25,397 for one week. A trip for two weeks for two people costs R50,795 in Cape Town.

Do you need to quarantine in Cape Town? ›

Upon arrival in the port of entry, the traveller will be screened for any COVID-19 symptoms or for contact with people who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus. Travellers will also need to provide proof of accommodation address should they need to self-quarantine at the time of arrival in the country.

How much money do you need to stay in Cape Town? ›

Here's a breakdown of some key expenses: Total Monthly Living Costs in Cape Town South Africa Is $920 – $3200 Per Month For all expenses, and if you budget smartly, you can expect to spend $1300 to $1800 per month for all expenses.

How much is a taxi from Cape Town airport to the city? ›

You can hire a car or shuttle, call an Uber, or take a metered taxi. Find affordable car hire in Cape Town with Rentalcars. Metered taxis are widely available at the airport, and a trip to the city centre will cost between R300 and R400, although fees may vary.

Do taxis in Cape Town take credit cards? ›

When you are in South Africa you can use your credit card for most purchases, however, consider keeping cash on hand for smaller purchases or to tip hotel and restaurant staff. Some taxi services and car hire accept credit cards, but not all do, especially in rural areas.

How much is an Uber from Cape Town airport to city? ›

According to the Skytrax World Airport Awards. Cape Town International Airport is the best airport in Africa and has the best airport staff in Africa.
Option 1: Using Uber, Bolt or Didi to get from Cape Town Airport to the city centre.
Service ProviderZAR Cost (R)USD Cost ($)
Uber XR180 – R260$11.80 – $17
2 more rows

What vaccinations do you need for South Africa? ›

Courses or boosters usually advised: Diphtheria; Hepatitis A. Other vaccines to consider: Hepatitis B; Rabies; Tetanus; Typhoid. Selectively advised vaccines - only for those individuals at highest risk: none.

What vaccines are mandatory for South Africa? ›

The CDC and WHO recommend the following vaccinations for South Africa: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, yellow fever, rabies, meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia and influenza. Shot lasts 2 years.

Does US citizen need a visa for Cape Town? ›

U.S. citizens (U.S. passport holders) visiting the Republic of South Africa for ninety (90) days or less for tourism / business purposes do not need visas.

Is Cape Town really beautiful? ›

Cape Town has regularly been voted one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Why Cape Town is a must visit? ›

The southernmost tip of Africa is one of the most magnificent parts of the world, a paradise full of exquisite scenery, beautiful beaches, two oceans – the icy Atlantic and the warmer Indian Ocean – and a wide variety of attractions to make any holiday-maker happy. This is where Cape Town is located.

Why is Cape Town worth visiting? ›

With such a varying landscape - found in very few other places across the globe - Cape Town offers forests, beaches, gardens, mountains, oceans, grasslands, nature reserves, Winelands, as well as one of the most unique floral biomes in the world - fynbos.

Is Cape Town South Africa worth visiting? ›

Famous for its sun, sea and scenery, Cape Town is a beloved tourist destination for visitors the world over. It's, therefore, no surprise that this coastal gem has been voted the best city in the world seven-years-running!

What not to do when visiting South Africa? ›

Avoid walking alone, especially after dark. Avoid visiting informal settlement areas unless you are with someone familiar with the area. Do not display cash or valuables. Drive with doors locked and windows closed.

What is the best safest area to stay in Cape Town? ›

The Best Areas To Stay In Cape Town
  • V&A Waterfront. The Waterfront, while not technically a neighbourhood, is a hub of activity where you'll find upmarket hotels, restaurants, and bars all conveniently in the same place. ...
  • City Bowl. ...
  • Woodstock. ...
  • De Waterkant. ...
  • Green Point. ...
  • Clifton and Camps Bay. ...
  • The Deep South. ...
  • Hout Bay.

Is Uber in Cape Town safe? ›

Are Uber's Safe in Cape Town? Yes, Uber is generally considered safe to use in Cape Town. There have been some reports of passengers being targeted by criminals while traveling in an Uber, but such cases are rare.

What is the safest place in Cape Town? ›

Top 9 Safest Areas In Cape Town
  • V&A Waterfront. This trendy and well-liked district is also one of the safest areas in Cape Town. ...
  • Clifton and Camps Bay. ...
  • City Bowl. ...
  • Mowbray: ...
  • Kensington: ...
  • Pinelands: ...
  • Maitland: ...
  • Kirstenhof:
Feb 3, 2023

Can you drink the water in Cape Town? ›

Drinking water in South Africa is safe to drink and cook with when taken from taps in urban areas. Not all tap water in rural areas is safe for consumption, so it is advised you take precautions if necessary.

Can I tip in US dollars in South Africa? ›

Currency. Tips in South Africa are normally done in Rand, though US dollars are also accepted.

Should I tip in cash or card? ›

tip. According to The Takeout's advice columnist The Salty Waitress, most food industry servers prefer cash tips. They receive that money right away, instead of potentially having to wait until the next payday to receive credit card tips.

What language do they speak in Cape Town? ›

Cape Town
Cape Town Kaapstad (Afrikaans) iKapa (Xhosa)
First languages (2011)
• Afrikaans34.9%
• Xhosa29.2%
• English27.8%
35 more rows

What to be careful in South Africa? ›

  • Violent crime. South Africa has a high rate of crime, including carjacking, house robbery, rape, and murder. ...
  • Hiking. ...
  • Fraud and scams. ...
  • Criminal kidnaps. ...
  • Airports. ...
  • Vehicle crime. ...
  • Further information. ...
  • Licences and documents.

Do you need vaccinations to go to South Africa? ›

Courses or boosters usually advised: Diphtheria; Hepatitis A. Other vaccines to consider: Hepatitis B; Rabies; Tetanus; Typhoid. Selectively advised vaccines - only for those individuals at highest risk: none.

What is the no go zone in South Africa? ›

The term "no-go zone" has been informally applied to high-crime neighborhoods in South African cities. In South Africa, the apartheid policy created segregated neighborhoods where whites risked being removed or victimized in black-only neighborhoods and vice versa.


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