Some major airlines (KLM, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, and South African Airways) fly direct to Cape Town from Europe, while others will require you to transfer in Johannesburg. Give yourself at least two hours for this transfer, so you’ll have time to pass through immigration, collect your bags, recheck them after customs, and then proceed to board your domestic flight to Cape Town. Cape Town International Airport is located 20km east of the city center. Options for transport include the MyCiTi Bus, rental cars, or metered cabs. Some cabs will negotiate a flat rate, but make sure you don’t pay more than R200 (about US$20) to get there.
Though most Capetonians drive everywhere, Cape Town is an extremely walkable city. If you’re short on time, you’ll likely spend most of it in the City Bowl, the part of central Cape Town encapsulated by Table Mountain. With more time to explore, branch out and visit the variety of suburbs surrounding the city and down the Cape Peninsula. Some, such as Hout Bay, are easier accessed by car, and others, like Kalk Bay, are a scenic train ride away. Most shops, hotels, and bars are located on or near Long Street and at the V&A Waterfront. Walking is generally safe, but the city center can be very quiet on the weekends, so stick to the main roads. A bicycle is a great way to get around, and dedicated bike paths are being created. Public transport is usually safe to use during the day, especially during commuting hours. Minibus taxis can be a cramped and hair-raising experience, but they’re a cheap way to travel from the Southern Suburbs into the City Bowl. The Golden Arrow buses run along the same route. MetroRail trains run regularly and offer a choice of fare—first or third class (with no major difference in comfort). When driving a rental car, remember to drive on the left. Stoplights operate the way American lights do but are called “robots.” Park your rental car in a secure, gated area overnight (if possible), and never leave belongings or valuables visible. Car guards work in most parking areas and streets, so don’t forget to carry some small change for a tip (up to R5).
A multicultural melting pot, Cape Town is rich in cultural highlights, with facets ranging from politics to design to sports. First, discover how apartheid laws changed the landscape of Cape Town by visiting the District Six museum, named after the area where more than 60,000 people were forcibly removed from the city. Next, take the ferry to Robben Island and tour the facility with a former prison inmate to see where Nelson Mandela and other famous political exiles spent their days at back-breaking work in the quarry. Walk through the Bo Kaap neighborhood, filled with colorful row houses and steeped in the culture of the Cape Malay (one of many ethnic groups you’ll encounter in the city). As Cape Town readies to don its crown as World Design Capital 2014, all eyes are on funky Bree Street, with its eclectic shops and cafés. Cheer on the Ajax Cape Town football team at the Green Point Stadium, a landmark from South Africa’s 2010 World Cup games. Similarly, take in a cricket or rugby game at the sporting venues in Newlands in the Southern Suburbs.
There is always something going on in Cape Town, though the winter months (June–September) are quieter. Family events include the South African Navy Festival in April, which allows visitors to tour South African naval ships for free in Simonstown, and the Hermanus Whale Festival in September. Two large sporting events are the Two Oceans Marathon (Easter weekend) and the Cape Argus Cycle Tour (early March). While it’s fun to attend an event like the Good Food & Wine Show (May), the real fun begins when you go to food and wine festivals in the winelands. Harvest season runs from February on and is a great excuse to explore this region for several days. Music festivals include Oppikoppi (August), Rocking the Daisies (September-October), Flamjangled Tea Party (March), and Greenpop’s ReforestFest (May), typically three-day events with live music and overnight camping. For the more advanced festivalgoer, South Africa’s very own Burning Man festival, called Afrikaburn, is held in the Karoo desert annually.
Although Marie Frei hails from Connecticut, she feels most at home while on safari in the African bush. With her background in the travel industry and experience living abroad, she is most interested in how the right balance of conservation and tourism can benefit both the people and wildlife of Africa. She is an avid photographer and writer, and shares her experiences and inspiration on her website, One Carry-On Travel.