Cape Town is one of the country's largest cities and the legislative capital of South Africa, where also the National Parliament is located. It is also the provincial capital of the Western Cape. The city is located in the south-west of the country, near the Cape of Good Hope. It is the southernmost city in South Africa.
The center of the town is located at the northern end of the Cape Peninsula. Table Mountain, a dramatic plateau with almost vertical cliffs, rises 1,000 meters above the city. Cape Town is also a well-known port. In general, Cape Town is considered to have one of the most beautiful settings, and is a best loved tourist destination in South Africa.
The city itself has a lot to offer, the colorful Malay district of Bo-Kaap, the Castle, the Cathedral of St. George, and the Table Mountain.
The surrounding nature offers numerous possibilities for an active vacation, from beaches perfect for surfing, kiting, or swimming, to mountains where you can go hiking, biking, climbing or canyoning. The region is also famous for its wine production. The most celebrated wine farms in the area are Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The multi-ethnic city has a rich cultural diversity and a turbulent history; the effects of the apartheid can still be felt. However, a new sense of optimism has prevailed. Today the city is a cosmopolitan mix of African and European influences where the excitement of Africa and the comfort of Europe meet.
Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate: the summers are dry and sunny; winters are cold, windy and rainy, with occasional sunny days. The winter lasts from June to August, with frequent heavy rain, strong north-westerly wind and low temperatures ranging between 7 and 18°C. Summers are warm and dry, with frequent strong winds blowing from the east.
January average temperature 20.5 deg Celsius, 15 mm rainfall February average temperature 21.6 deg Celsius, 15 mm rainfall March average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 21 mm rainfall April average temperature 17.7 deg Celsius, 49 mm rainfall May average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 91 mm rainfall June average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 105 mm rainfall July average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 91 mm rainfall August average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 82 mm rainfall September average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 54 mm rainfall October average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 39 mm rainfall November average temperature 17.7 deg Celsius, 24 mm rainfall December average temperature 20.5 deg Celsius, 19 mm rainfall
Cape Town International Airport is South Africa’s second largest (after Johannesburg) and lies 20 km to the southeast from the city center. It handles international and domestic air traffic. www.airports.co.za/home.asp?pid=229
There are no public buses of trains but the private shuttles abound. Note that the night rates are 50% higher. The ride is cheaper if you are prepared to share the vehicle with other passengers. Taxi cabs with meters are found outside the terminal building, but check if the meter and the rate are in order.
The main train station is located right in the city center. The services are functional, serving local and provincial lines, as well as luxury lines. www.prasa.com/
Traveling around in a car is a good option, the roads are in a good condition, but be ware of car hijackers operating at night and at traffic lights.
All major towns in South Africa, as well as in Namibia have good connections with Cape Town with as many as 6 daily buses to some destinations.
The public transportation is neither good nor safe, so it is a good option to hire a car, especially if you are planning trips out of town. Especially, avoid it at night and in the outlying districts.
Taxis tend to be quite expensive but are the quickest and easiest way of traversing the city center. You can hail a cab on the street but they are not abundant. You can phone ahead and order a cab from one of the taxi ranks.
RIKKI / MINIVAN TAXI
These transporters are a fun way to get around the city but they mainly operate within the City Bowl area and leave from the main train station. They are cheap and you can hop on and off the vans easily. Note that the minivan taxi will only leave when it is full, so expect to wait a while. There are no route maps so ask the driver where he is going.
The town has an effective network of bus lines covering the entire city, but note that most services do not operate at night.
Tourists are advised not to use the train services, except for the Simon's Town line which runs through the residential Southern Suburbs.
Having your own car is the easiest way of getting around and out of the city. To rent a car, the driver must be over 23 years old, have a credit card and a driving license.
RENT A SCOOTER / MOUNTAINBIKE
Motorbikes and scooters can be rented at several offices. Price per day is usually R650-R800. You can also rent a mountain bike for a far cheaper price. Expect to pay from R70 to R100 per day.
‘The Castle’ is the oldest building of South Africa. It was constructed in 1679 in place of an earlier mud fort. It has octagonal shape, five bastions and a moat.
The interior reveals the history of early Cape Town. The complex includes a Military Museum, offering an insight into the battles the first settlers faced. There is also the William Fehr Collection of paintings, furniture and decorative arts. There are also the dungeons where prisoners were kept centuries ago.
The complex also features a restaurant, a café, and a wine shop.
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is still a working harbor, and a popular hangout for tourists and locals alike. It is a great area for shopping, entertainment and dining. There are over 250 designer shops, boutiques and stalls, many restaurants and cafés, as well as many interesting activities for the children, for example at the Two Oceans Aquarium and the Telkom Exploratorium. The SA Maritum Museum has interactive displays where you can see the history of local shipwrecks, among other things.
The area is a great place to have a drink at one of the many waterside cafés or pubs. There is a number of cruises available at the Waterfront.
The Waterfront features the Nelson Mandela Gateway, through which ferries depart for Robben Island.
HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
Address: 90 Plein Street Web: www.parliament.gov.za Phone: 021 403 2911 Open: tours held Monday – Friday: 9:00 am – noon. Book in advance.
The Parliament is the legislative seat of South Africa, housed in a magnificent Victorian building with a numerous chambers, offices and corridors. The original part was constructed in 1885. The tour includes a visit to the National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces and the old assembly from the apartheid era, now only used for caucus and committee meetings.
In vicinity lie the Company Gardens which are also worth visiting.
Bo-Kaap is a multicultural, colorful quarter hidden on a hill south-west of downtown Cape Town. Originally the residential area was home of the Muslim Cape Malays, mostly descendants of slaves imported by the Dutch in the 1700’s. Later it was renovated and became a popular spot, attracting many visitors. The lively suburb is characterized by brightly colored houses dating from the 17th and the 19th centuries, cobbled streets, ‘kramats’ (Muslim saints’ shrines), and numerous mosques. Here, the first Muslim Mosque in South Africa was built.
Among the attractions is also the Bo-Kaap Museum (located on the Wale Street), depicting the life of the Cape Muslims in the 19th century.
Open: daily: April – August: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm; September – March: 8:00 am – 7:00 pm
The huge and diverse gardens are located 8 km from the town center, covering the slopes of the Table Mountain range. The gardens contain over 22,000 plants and are among the most stunning botanical gardens in the world. The complex also features a botanical library, an indigenous nursery, plenty pathways, and also a restaurant, café, and tearoom.
The park was donated to the public by Cecil Rhodes, a mining magnate.
In the summer the park’s amphitheater becomes the setting for the open air evening concerts.
The island, 12 km from Cape Town, was a sinister place during the times of apartheid. It held a prison for the political prisoners, which was known worldwide for its brutality. Among the prisoners were also Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, the latter was imprisoned here for 18 years.
Today the prison island has come to symbolize the triumph of freedom and human spirit over hardship and anguish. Tours run several times a days, seven days a week from the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Some of the tour guides are ex-political prisoners and are all too familiar with the suffering that happened there.
Cape Town is a culinary capital of South Africa. There is a wide choice of food of generally high quality. The pride of the region is its wine.
Also, the surrounding area is a major fruit producer. Seafood is excellent but mainly exported. Many restaurants are concentrated on the main tourist haunt, the V&A Waterfront, but these tend to be expensive and crowded. The area around Long Street is a good place with many cafeterias and restaurants. De Waterkant is a trendy area with many good restaurants and a pleasant atmosphere. For the fresh fish and lobsters head to the Hout Bay on the west on the Cape Peninsula, or the Kalk Bay on the east side.
Further out of town, the wine region of Cape Winelands offers a good selection of regional wines and good food. Try the villages Franschhoek – the culinary hotspot of the wine region, Stellenbosch – with many wine restaurants, or the Constantia Valley.
Date: January 2 Location: Streets of Cape Town and Greenpoint Stadium Time: 9:00 am
The Cape Town Carnival is a minstrel festival, occurring every year. Its origins go back to 1834, the official ending of slavery. Thousands of minstrels gather in the streets, dressed in colorful costumes, with white-colored faces, carrying colorful umbrellas or playing various instruments. The festival begins on New Year’s Day and lasts until the beginning of January. The festivities include parades, singing, dancing, costume competitions and dancing in the street.
KIRSTENBOSCH SUMMER SUNSET CONCERTS
Date: November 27 – April 2 Location: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens Time: Sundays: 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm Web: http://www.nbi.ac.za
Every Sunday afternoon the lawns of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens fill up with people. The music performed ranges from classical to contemporary. The setting of these concerts is spectacular: the stage is placed to the backdrop of Table Mountain, and audience is seated amidst the well-kept flower beds of the botanical garden. Bring a bottle of delicious South African wine and have a spectacular evening.
CAPE TIMES WATERFRONT WINE AFFAIR
Date: May 8 - 11 Location: Market Square, Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Time: 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm Web: www.waterfront.co.za
The festival brings together many of Cape’s top wine producers. You will get a chance to taste over 350 different wines – among which some of the area’s finest. Cheese and wine go great together. The wine tasting can is accompanied by some cheese tasting as well in the nearby Cheese Halls, featuring the boutiques by cheese manufacturers. In addition there are local delicacies on offer, such as olives, olive oil and other goodies.
CAPE GOURMET FESTIVAL
Date: October 26 – November 4 Location: Cape Town International Convention Center Web: www.gourmetsa.com
This is South Africa’s major festival celebrating food, wine and lifestyle. The event offers numerous exciting culinary events. It brings the finest of the international and local foods. The Gourmet Festival is the only African associate of the World Gourmet Club in St. Moritz. The crown of the festival is when the best chefs prepare the absolute best dishes of the contemporary South African Cuisine.
Whales travel every year past these shores to mate and calve in the bay. The festival offers a great opportunity to see whales from the shore. The additional program features a half marathon, surf festival, theatre, music and stalls selling arts and crafts.
Cape Town has many bars, clubs and restaurants, creating a vibrant nightlife that caters to all tastes. Bars stay open late and clubs start working at around 11:00 pm. Many restaurants are open until midnight, some even later. In Green Point there are many bars with a marvelous view of the Atlantic Ocean. If you come in evening you can enjoy a great sunset.
Later on in the evening you can choose from a good variety of night clubs all over the city. The Long Street area is mostly visited by a younger crowd. The area offers a plethora of bars and pubs and you can spend an entire night bar- / club-hopping. Rock concerts are held at the Mercury Live (43 De Villiers Street, Zonnebloem, +27214652106, www.mercuryl.co.za). If you would prefer something more authentic/traditional you can also go for the African Djembe. Shows are held at the Drum Café (32 Glynn Street, Gardens, +27214611305, www.drumcafe.com).
You can also head to the glitzy Grand West Casino. Apart from gambling the place also offers restaurants, bars, a cinema and other entertainment.
Traces of the prehistoric people were found on the Cape Peninsula, over 600,000 years ago. The tools and remains of the Early Stone Age hunter-gatherers were found in the area near the Cape of Good Hope. Little is known of the early history as no written language existed.
At the time of the arrival of the first Portuguese explorers, the area was populated by the San tribe (hunter-gatherers) and the Khoikhoi, a tribe of semi-nomadic cattle keepers – together referred to as the Khoisan. Later, in the 15th century the Bantu arrived, occupying the eastern part of South Africa, though never settling in Cape Town. The first to round the Cape of Good Hope was Bartholomeus Dias in 1487. This opened up the trade routes to the east. Full 10 years later Vasco da Gamma rounded the Cape and made it to India, making the first route between Europe and the East. During this time the Portuguese used the Cape only as a station to load fresh water and food. The local Khoisan were feared, and so was the unpredictable weather of the Cape so no permanent settlement was made in the area.
The first settlement was created when the Dutch ship was wrecked before the coast. They built a fort where they waited to be rescued for a whole year. Later, a permanent settlement was created by the East India Company, providing a safe place to stock up the ships with fresh water and food. In 1652 Jan van Riebek was sent with a small expedition to establish the settlement. He built a mud fort, established trading with the local tribes and planted what is today the Company’s Gardens. The settlers kept away from the Khoisan. A workforce shortage resulted in the import of slaves from India, Ceylon, Madagascar, Indonesia and Malaysia. The settlers developed Afrikaans language and the Calvinist Sect.
For the next 150 years the Boers (Dutch-Afrikaner farmers) drifted away, expanding to the east, generating violent conflicts with the Bantu. For the local population the expansion was a disaster. Killings, conflicts, and new diseases diminished the population. Those who survived were reduced to little more than slaves. By the end of the 18th century Dutch power diminished, only to be taken over by the British, annexing the Cape in 1806. By 1814 the Cape was a British colony, free trading was installed and slavery abolished. The Boers were very dissatisfied, which led to the Great Treks of the 19th century. In 1867 diamonds were discovered in Kimberly, the Northern Cape, and in 1886 also gold in the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, prompting a massive gold rush.
The gold and diamond rush established Cape Town as the premier port in South Africa. At the turn of the century the city was flooded with immigrants from all over the world. Conflicts between the Boers and the British Colonial government resulted in the second Anglo-Boer War. The British won in 1092 and gained control over the gold and the diamonds, and unified the Cape Colony. The Union of South Africa was formed together with the two defeated Boer Republics in 1910. Cape Town became its legislative capital.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
In 1091 the bubonic plague outburst was used by the government to implement racial segregation, as the disease was blamed on the native Africans, even though it was brought on a ship from Argentina. The blacks were forced to two locations, one near the docks and the other near the Table Mountain. The latter settlement developed into the townships of Cape Flats. In 1910 South Africa was unified. Cape Town was home to a dicverse population, comprising of the African peoples, and the Afrikaans- and the English-speaking whites. The Afrikaans-speaking whites were feeling disadvantaged since the English-speaking whites held all capital and industry. Their bitterness grew as they competed for low-paying jobs with the blacks. This led to blatant nationalism which found expression in the 1948-formed National Party which introduced racial segregation laws – apartheid. The word literally means ‘the state of being apart’ and the concept was instituted in every walk of life, from prohibiting mixed marriages and making interracial sex illegal, to separate beaches, buses, toilets, schools and even park benches. The blacks were prohibited to live in the towns and were only allowed to visit with exact permission.
This was followed by a series of horrific events. Among the worst were the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, the 1976 Soweto shooting of school children, the forced evacuation and destruction of the squatter settlements – moving the unwanted residents into Cape Flats. Political activists such as Steve Biko were systematically tortured and murdered. The most important organization to oppose the South African racism was African National Congress, ANC. During the early 1960s many ANC activists and leaders were imprisoned for long periods of time, as was the case with Nelson Mandela. After years of anguish the international community finally took interest in the South African situation, opposing the apartheid government with UN political and economic sanctions. In 1989 de Klerk was elected the new president. He took on the task of dismantling the apartheid system, releasing the long-time prisoners such as Mandela. He was released on February 11, 1990, after 18 years in prison.
The first democratic elections in South Africa were held in 1994. The AND won the majority of votes and Mandela, as its leader, was inaugurated on May 10, 1994 as the country’s first black President. A lot was done to reach reconciliation. The old apartheid crimes were confessed so they could somehow be forgotten.
After Mandela’s resignation the new ANC leader and president became Thabo Mbeki in 1999. Distrust and suspicion remain alive between the black and colored communities but the process of integration, understanding and acceptance is ongoing.
The country has struggled with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and a rise in drug-related crime. The economy, however, experienced a major boost due to tourism and real estate industries.
Meeting: There are several ethnic groups thus meeting and greeting varies accordingly. When dealing with foreigners South Africans usually shake hands. Personal space is small; people usually stand close to each other.
Tipping: Tip 10-20% for good service if service charge has not already been included in the bill. Tipping is also expected from porters, taxi drivers and petrol attendants.
Visiting: If you are invited home, arrive on time, bring a small gift of flowers, chocolate, or good South African wine.
Cape Town has its share of violent crime so it is wise to take sensible precautions to ensure a pleasant and fuss-free stay. First of all do not carry large sums of money around, keep your passport and tickets in a hotel safe. Do not wear expensive jewelry, watches and conceal your camera. Try to draw little attention to the fact you are a tourist.
When driving a car, keep the car doors locked at all times. Hijacks at traffic lights do happen, though not as often as in Gauteng. Always park in well-lit areas and in secure parking lots. Put your things in the car boot rather than leaving them in the car where they can be seen.
At night always stay on well-lit and crowded streets. The areas with especially high crime rate include the CBD (Central Business District), Seapoint, Greenpoint, Salt River, Observatory, Mowbray, and the Cape Flats. Cape Flats is especially dangerous and should not be visited unless on a guided tour with a trustworthy guide.
You can get stopped on the streets by glue-sniffing children or junkies, demanding cash. It is best not to give them cash as this will expose you to the risk of your wallet to be snatched. In addition, the money is usually handed to an older person or used to buy glue or drugs. If you want to help, give them food instead.
ATMs are one of the most common sites of petty crime. Be careful when withdrawing money as thieves have devised many schemes to get to your money. Never draw a huge amount of cash and always conceal the money withdrawn before leaving the machine. If anyone tries to assist you when using the ATM, cancel the transaction and walk away immediately. Always check if the card that comes out of the machine is the one you put in.
At the malls the parking lots are usually equipped with guards. They are there to prevent your car from being broken into or stolen. A tip is expected.
It is illegal to drink alcohol on the streets and beaches.
HIV/AIDS is very much present in South Africa. In the low-lying regions there is a risk of malaria. Tap water is safe to drink in the urban areas.
The seasons of South Africa are reverse to those of North America and Europe. The peak season runs from November to March during which time also the prices rise considerably. November to January is the most popular period, however, February and March are the best weather-wise. October and April are still splendid but the crowds are much smaller. Winters can be really cold and wet, whereas the springtime is characterized by strong winds.