Pack a raincoat and umbrella for Cape Town's ‘four seasons in one day’. The peninsula’s geography creates microclimates, so you can be basking in the sun on one side of the mountain and sheltering from chilly rain and winds on the other. It's no accident that Newlands is so lush in comparison to Cape Point – it receives four times as much rain annually.
Dangers & Annoyances
Cape Town is one of the most relaxed cities in Africa, which can instil a false sense of security. Paranoia is not required, but common sense is.
- The townships and suburbs on the Cape Flats have an appalling crime rate – these are not places for a casual wander and it's safest to visit with a trustworthy guide.
- Public transport and walking are not recommended after dark, so take a taxi or drive (and carry a mobile phone).
- Muggings are common in Table Mountain National Park. Check locally for current information and never hike alone (preferably take a local guide).
- At beaches, check for warning signs about rips and rocks, and only swim in patrolled areas.
- iVenture Card (www.iventurecard.com/sg/cape-town) Savings of up to 50% on attractions around Cape Town including tours, cruises and the cableway.
- Go Cards Cape Town City Pass (www.gocards.co.za) Available as either as Day Passes (valid for 1, 2, 3 or 7 days) or as Explorer Passes covering 4, 6 or 8 attractions and lasting 90 days from first use. You'll need to be a busy tourist to take full advantage of the discounts they offer on entry to various places.
The electricity system is 230V AC at 50 cycles per second. Appliances rated at 240V AC will work. Plugs have either two or three round pins.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
|International access code||00|
|Table Mountain National Park||086 110 6417|
|Sea Rescue||021-449 3500|
Entry & Exit Formalities
There are the usual duty-free restrictions on entering South Africa: you’re only allowed to bring in 1L of spirits, 2L of wine and 400 cigarettes. Motor vehicles must be covered by a carnet (customs permit). For more information, contact the Department of Customs & Excise.
Australian, UK, US and most Western European citizens can get a 90-day entry permit on arrival.
Visitors on holiday from most Commonwealth countries (including Australia and the UK), most Western European countries, Japan and the USA don’t require visas. Instead, you’ll be issued with a free entry permit on arrival, which is valid for a stay of up to 90 days. But if the date of your flight out is sooner than this, the immigration officer may use that as the date of your permit expiry, unless you request otherwise.
All children aged under 18 must show an unabridged birth certificate, with additional paperwork needed in some cases. Your airline will likely alert you to these immigration regulations when you buy your flight. For further information and updates, check www.brandsouthafrica.com, www.home-affairs.gov.za, or with your government's travel advisory or your airline.
If you aren’t entitled to an entry permit, you’ll need to get a visa (also free) before you arrive. These aren’t issued at the borders, and must be obtained from a South African embassy or consulate in your own country. Allow several weeks for processing.
For any entry – whether you require a visa or not – you need to have at least two completely blank pages in your passport, excluding the last two pages.
Apply for a visa extension or a re-entry visa at Cape Town's Department of Home Affairs.
- Politeness Valued in all instances. Be sensitive to the fact that wealth inequalities and life opportunities here can be extreme.
- Tipping Most people in service industries will not be well paid so tipping is expected and greatly appreciated.
- Beggars While giving to beggars is not recommended it's difficult to remain unmoved by the plight of the many poor and homeless people you will encounter.
- Respect Above all, treat people with respect regardless of their race or outward appearance.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Africa’s pinkest city is a glam-to-the-max destination that any LGBT traveller should have on their bucket list. De Waterkant, the queer precinct, is welcoming to everyone, from Cape Town’s finest drag queens to leathered-up Muscle Marys. Throughout the year the city hosts several gay festivals and events.
GLBT Rights & Challenges
During apartheid, gay male erotic contact was illegal. (Female same-sex conduct never was, however.) With democracy, South Africa became the first country in the world to enshrine gay and lesbian rights in its constitution. There’s an equal age of consent and GLBT people are legally entitled to marry, too.
Sadly, alternative lifestyles are not embraced by all South Africans. Hardly a year goes by without several gay hate crimes being reported in the Western Cape. It is not unheard of for lesbians in black communities to be subjected to 'corrective rape'. Anti-hate-crime legislation exists, but the laws are rarely put into action.
Connecting with Locals
The closure of the long-running Amsterdam Action Bar in De Waterkant in 2017 could be seen as something of a weather vane. The gay vibe of the district remains intact, but it's noticeably less busy than in previous years and will take another hit when the old Cape Quarter complex (home to the long-running bar and restaurant Cafe Manhattan) closes for renovations in 2018.
Cape Town's lesbian community continues to party on with the M.I.S.S (Make It Sexy Sisters; www.facebook.com/MISSmakeitsexysisters) events, and the Unofficial Pink Parties (www.facebook.com/pinkpartyza). These are lesbian-run but welcoming to everyone.
If you fancy going hiking with gays and gay-friendly folk while in the Mother City, check out the Cape Town Gay Hiking Club (www.facebook.com/groups/6068816435).
Moffie, the local term for a homosexual, comes from the Afrikaans word for glove; it’s also the title of the flamboyant leaders of the performance troupes in the Cape Minstrel Carnival. Among gays, moffie has come to be used like ‘queer’ – in an affirmative way to repudiate its negative connotations.
Older Capetonian gays will also remember an apartheid-era code language, called ‘Gayle’, in which women’s names stand in for certain words; for example, ‘Beaulah’ for 'beautiful' and ‘Hilda’ for 'ugly'.
GLBT by Neighbourhood
- De Waterkant This compact ‘gaybourhood’ is at its cruisiest on Friday and Saturday nights.
- East City, District Six, Woodstock & Observatory There's a couple of LGBT venues around Harrington St and boho Obz's is certainly queer friendly.
- Sea Point to Hout Bay Sea Point has long had a gay vibe; Clifton No 3 is the beach for the beautiful, and Sandy Bay for nudists.
- Gardens & Surrounds Inner city 'hoods with a sprinkling of GLBT-run and -friendly businesses.
Need to Know
- Pink South Africa (www.pinksa.co.za)
- GayCapeTown4u.com (www.gaycapetown4u.com)
- Mamba (www.mambaonline.com)
- Mambagirl (www.mambagirl.com)
- SA Leather South Africa (www.sal.qw.co.za)
Magazines & Newspapers
- Pink Tongue Free monthly newspaper covering local GLBT news and events
- Out Africa Magazine Free quarterly glossy paper publication.
- Triangle Project Leading local gay support organisation, offering legal advice and a range of education programs.
- Pride Shelter Trust (www.pridesheltertrust.com) Africa's first autonomous GBLT crisis centre, which has been in operation since 2011.
- Glen Boutique Hotel Glam Sea Point digs and Cape Town's best 'straight-friendly' hotel.
- Crew Bar The most happening of De Waterkant’s clubs, with muscular barmen.
- Alexander Bar & Café Classy venue with theatre that puts on a great range of shows.
- Clifton 3rd Beach See and be seen on the cruisiest of Clifton’s quartet of beaches.
- Pienk Piesang Learn to dance Afrikaans-style at these Northern Suburbs parties.
- Sandy Bay Shed your clothes and inhibitions at this gorgeous nude beach.
GLBT Bars, Clubs & Cabaret
- Babylon Plush velvet upholstered booths, topless twinks and cubs, and views of Table Mountain from its balcony.
- Bar Code Depending on the night, clothing may be optional.
- Beaulah Fun club for the girls – but welcoming to the boys, too.
- Gate69 Cape Town Glam it up for the dinner-theatre shows at this camp and glitzy drag venue.
- Evita se Perron Head to Darling for the home theatre of local legend Pieter-Dirk Uys.
GLBT Festivals & Events
- Travel insurance covering theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended.
- Before choosing a policy, shop around; policies designed for short European package tours may not be suitable for the South African veld.
- Read the fine print – some policies specifically exclude 'dangerous activities', which can mean scuba diving, motorcycling, bungee jumping and more.
- Some policies ask you to call (reverse charges) a centre in your home country, where an immediate assessment of your problem is made.
- Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you're already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Wi-fi access is available at hotels and hostels, as well as most cafes, some restaurants and tourist hot spots throughout the city. It is usually free (just ask for the password), but don't expect it to be fast or that reliable. Some establishments will also have download limits.
Newspapers & Magazines
- Cape Times (www.iol.co.za/capetimes) Local morning newspaper, Monday to Friday.
- Cape Argus (www.iol.co.za/capeargus) Local afternoon newspaper, Monday to Saturday.
- Mail & Guardian (https://mg.co.za) National weekly, published Friday; includes excellent investigative and opinion pieces and arts-review supplement.
- Cape Etc (www.capetownetc.com) Listings and features magazine published three times a year.
- Big Issue (www.bigissue.org.za) Monthly magazine that helps provide an income for the homeless; sold at many of Cape Town’s busiest traffic intersections.
TV & Radio
- South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC; www.sabc.co.za) National radio and TV channels.
- Cape Talk (www.capetalk.co.za) 567 MW; talkback radio.
- Fine Music Radio (www.fmr.co.za) 101.3FM; jazz and classical.
- KFM (www.kfm.co.za) 94.5FM; pop music.
- Good Hope FM (www.goodhopefm.co.za) Between 94FM and 97FM; pop music.
- Heart (www.1049.fm) 104.9FM; pop music, soul, R&B.
- Smile (www.smile904.fm) Music from '80s, '90s and now.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted at most businesses, but some smaller food places, including weekly markets, are cash-only.
If your card belongs to the Mastercard or Visa networks you should have no problem using ATMs in Cape Town. It pays to follow some basic procedures to ensure safety:
- Avoid ATMs at night and in secluded places. Machines in shopping malls are usually the safest.
- Most ATMs in banks have security guards. If there’s no guard around when you’re withdrawing cash, watch your back, or get someone else to watch it for you.
- Watch the people using the ATM ahead of you carefully. If they look suspicious, go to another machine.
- Use ATMs during banking hours and, if possible, take a friend. If your card is jammed in a machine then one person should stay at the ATM while the other seeks assistance from the bank.
- When you put your card into the ATM press 'cancel' immediately. If the card is returned then you know there is no blockage in the machine and it should be safe to proceed.
- Politely refuse any offers of help to complete your transaction. If someone does offer, end your transaction immediately and find another machine.
- Carry your bank’s emergency phone number, and if you do lose your card report it immediately.
The unit of currency is the rand (R), which is divided into 100 cents (¢). The coins are 5¢, 10¢, 20¢ and 50¢, and R1, R2 and R5. The notes are R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200. Rand is sometimes referred to as ‘bucks’.
Most banks change cash and travellers cheques in major currencies, with various commissions. You’ll also find exchange bureaux at the major shopping malls, including Victoria Mall at the Waterfront. Bring your passport.
Wages are low here, and tipping is expected.
- Restaurants & cafes 10% to 15% of the total in restaurants; 10% in cafes.
- Hotels A standard tip of R10 to R20 is welcomed.
- Car guards Offer R5 or more for longer periods.
- Petrol stations Anything from R5 – more if the attendant also washes the windscreen and checks the tyres.
- Taxis Tips not expected but rounding up the fare will be appreciated.
The following are general hours. Individual reviews list more specific variations.
Banks 9am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday, 9am to 11am Saturday
Post offices 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, 8am to noon Saturday
Shops 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 1pm Saturday. Major shopping centres are open 9am to 9pm daily.
Cafes 7.30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday. Cafes in the City Bowl are open 8am to 3pm on Saturday and closed on Sunday.
Restaurants Noon to 3pm and 6pm to 10pm Monday to Saturday.
There are post office branches across Cape Town; see www.postoffice.co.za to find the nearest. The post is reliable but can be slow.
If you’re mailing anything of value, consider using private mail services, such as PostNet (www.postnet.co.za), which uses DHL for international deliveries.
On public holidays government departments, banks, offices, post offices and some museums are closed. Public holidays in South Africa include the following:
New Year’s Day 1 January
Human Rights Day 21 March
Easter (Good Friday/Easter Monday) March/April
Family Day 13 April
Constitution Day (Freedom Day) 27 April
Worker’s Day 1 May
Youth Day 16 June
Women’s Day 9 August
Heritage Day 24 September
Day of Reconciliation 16 December
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day (Day of Goodwill) 26 December
Smoking is banned in public places but lax enforcement means that this law is not always obeyed. This said, most places are smoke free and restaurants and bars where smoking is allowed should have a designated smoking area.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT) is 14%. Foreign visitors can reclaim some of their VAT expenses on departure, but this applies only to goods that you are taking out of the country. Also, the goods must have been bought at a shop participating in the VAT foreign tourist sales scheme.
Claiming Tax Refunds
To make a claim, you need your tax invoice. This is usually the receipt, but make sure that it includes the following:
- the words ‘tax invoice’
- the seller’s name, address and VAT registration number
- a description of the goods purchased
- the cost of the goods and the amount of VAT charged
- a tax invoice number
- the date of the transaction
For purchases over R10,000, your name and address and the quantity of goods must also appear on the invoice. All invoices must be originals, not photocopies. The total value of the goods claimed for must exceed R250.
At the point of your departure, you will have to show the goods to a customs inspector. At airports make sure you have the goods checked by the inspector before you check in your luggage. After you have gone through immigration, you make the claim. Your refund will be issued on a Mastercard cash card, which can be used globally to make purchases or withdraw the cash from an ATM; however you will have to wait (sometimes for several months) for the credit to be added to the card.
You can also make your claim at Jo’burg international airport and several border crossing posts – for full details see www.taxrefunds.co.za.
South Africa’s country code is 27 and Cape Town’s area code is 021, as it also is for Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek; the area code must be included even when dialling locally. Sometimes you’ll come across phone numbers beginning with 0800 for free calls or 0860 for calls shared 50/50 between the caller and receiver. Note that it’s cheaper to make a call between 7pm and 7am.
Forget about public telephones, which rarely work (if you can even find them).
South Africa uses the GSM digital standard; check compatibility with your phone provider. Local SIM cards are easy to buy.
The main operators are:
- Cell C (www.cellc.co.za)
- MTN (https://brightside.mtn.co.za)
- Virgin Mobile (www.virginmobile.co.za)
- Vodacom (www.vodacom.co.za)
Both Vodacom and MTN have desks at Cape Town International Airport, where you can sort out a local prepaid or pay-as-you-go SIM card to use in your phone during your visit. Otherwise you’ll find branches of each company across the city, as well as many places where you can buy vouchers to recharge the credit on your phone account. Call charges average about R2.50 per minute.
South African Standard Time is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT; at noon in London, it’s 2pm in Cape Town), seven hours ahead of USA Eastern Standard Time (at noon in New York, it’s 7pm in Cape Town) and eight hours behind Australian Eastern Standard Time (at noon in Sydney, it’s 4am in Cape Town). There is no daylight saving time.
- Finding a clean, sit-down toilet in Cape Town is usually not a problem.
- There are few public toilets, but malls generally have them.
- Restaurants, cafes and bars are normally happy to let you use their facilities.
Cape Town Tourism Head office books accommodation, tours and car hire, and provides information on national parks and reserves. There are several other branches around town.
Travel with Children
Soft sand beaches, the mountain and its myriad activities, wildlife spotting, the carnival atmosphere of the Waterfront and much more: Cape Town takes the prize as a lekker (Afrikaans for 'brilliant') location for family vacations.
Beaches & Boats
There’s no shortage of beaches, with those on the False Bay side of the peninsula lapped by warmer waters than those on the Atlantic Coast. Good choices include Muizenberg, St James, or lovely Buffels Bay at Cape Point.
Boat tours are abundant: Tommy the Tugboat and the Jolly Roger Pirate Boat are at the V&A Waterfront, while cruises leave from the harbours at Simon’s Town and Hout Bay.
Playgrounds & Parks
Animals, Birds & Sea Life
Check out the local marine life at the excellent Two Oceans Aquarium; the birds and monkeys at Hout Bay’s World of Birds or the wetland reserve of Intaka Island; a happy-footed African penguin colony at Boulders; wild ostriches, baboons and dassies at Cape Point; and the birds at Rondevlei Nature Reserve. Farm animals live at Oude Molen Eco Village and at Imhoff Farm, where you can even arrange camel rides!
Science and technology is made fun at the Cape Town Science Centre, where there’s usually some special activity scheduled. The South African Museum offers giant whale skeletons, and star shows at the attached planetarium. The Castle of Good Hope, with its battlements, museums and horse-and-carriage rides, offers an entertaining visual history lesson.
Shopping & Eating
Toy and kids’ clothing stores are found at all the major shopping malls. For a fine selection of secondhand items and a play area visit Merry Pop Ins. The Book Lounge has a great kids’ book section and story readings.
Need to Know
- Websites Try Cape Town Kids (www.capetownkids.co.za) for listings and features of local places and events that will appeal to kids, or Child Mag (www.childmag.co.za) for a South African parenting guide.
- Babysitting Hire a local sitter from Super Sitters.
Travellers with Disabilities
While sight- or hearing-impaired travellers should have few problems in Cape Town, wheelchair users will generally find travel easier with an able-bodied companion. Very few accommodation places have ramps and wheelchair-friendly bathrooms. It’s possible to hire vehicles converted for hand control from many of the major car-hire agencies.
The path around the reservoir in Silvermine is designed to be wheelchair-accessible. Linx Africa (www.linx.co.za/trails/lists/disalist.html) has province-by-province listings of accessible trails.
There are also several South African tour companies specialising in travel packages for travellers with disabilities, including a couple of Cape Town–based operations:
For further general information contact National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in South Africa.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Useful starting points for information are Greater Good SA (www.greatergoodsa.co.za) and For Good (www.forgood.co.za), with details on many local charities and development projects.
Greenpop (www.greenpop.org) is an award-winning social enterprise that has planted over 80,000 indigenous and fruit trees at schools, other urban sites, community farms and forests across South Africa and further afield. You can volunteer and take part in various programs it runs.
Uthando is a tour company that supports a vast range of charitable projects; they can let you know which ones might need volunteers.
Volunteer Centre (www.volcent.co.za) is a Cape Town–based nonprofit that can also help place people in various communities and projects.
In most cases, women will be met with warmth and hospitality in Cape Town. However, paternalism and sexism run strong, especially away from the city centre, and these attitudes – much more than physical assault – are likely to be the main problem.
South Africa’s sexual assault statistics are appalling. Yet while there have been incidents of female travellers being raped, these cases are relatively rare. It’s difficult to quantify the risk of assault – and there is a risk – but it’s worth remembering that plenty of women do travel alone safely in South Africa. Local women are the best placed to provide details about what and where is OK.