Cape Town Travel Guide

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I love you, Cape Town! Wow, what a magical city. Cape Town really exceeded my expectations. Before I went, I had heard lots of things about safety and while it is important to be careful in Cape Town (and anywhere!), I was blown away by how much Cape Town has to offer. The people were great, the beaches were breathtaking, and there was so much to do.

For most travelers, Cape Town is typically a quick stop before a safari. And that’s kind of what it was for us. We spent four nights in Cape Town before heading to Johannesburg and Kruger, but I have to say: I wish we spent more time in Cape Town. I would never take time away from our safari because that was absolutely life-changing and one of the best things I have ever done in my life. BUT I will say that four days in Cape Town was not nearly enough!

What to Know

Communicating and Spending
The official language of South Africa is…well, there are ten of them. But English is one of them and I found it to be the most widely-spoken language in the areas I went to. But in reality, at least thirty-five languages indigenous to South Africa are spoken there. If that’s not reason enough to go there then I don’t know what is!

The currency in South Africa is the South African Rand. About 15 rand equals one dollar. You can get a coffee for 15-30 rand in Cape Town, so the prices are great. I’d say things are definitely more affordable in Cape Town than in Atlanta, and we have a pretty low cost of living. The average 4-star hotel is around $100/night. Not bad, not bad at all!

Getting Around
They do have Uber in Cape Town, and it is very safe and cheap. DO NOT use the taxis! They are run down, overpriced, and not as safe as Uber. While Uber is very cheap (I’m talking like $1 for a 10-minute ride), I absolutely recommend renting a car. There is so much to do and see around Cape Town and it’s much more convenient to drive and take your time than to map out a day and use Uber between each stop.

We partnered with Wiggle to rent a jeep for our first day. When you rent with them, they actually offer the option to switch out your rental. So after a big rugged jeep, we switched to a little convertible BMW, which was a lot easier to maneuver and actually a lot of fun to drive with the top down! They do drive on the left side of the road in South Africa, but it’s very easy to get used to. I’ve done this in several countries, so it’s no big deal to me, but Ryan was a little nervous. He did adjust pretty quickly and we didn’t have any issues!

Another great thing about Wiggle is 100% carbon neutral. It’s important to me to be aware of my carbon footprint when I travel, especially since air travel is so harsh, so that’s something that really attracted me to Wiggle.

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Safety
It’s sad but true: Cape Town is not a very safe place. It’s strongly advised to not wear jewelry, pay super close attention to your surroundings, and avoid walking around at night. I’m always very cautious when I travel and there was never a time in Cape Town that I didn’t feel safe, but there were a few times that walking would have been more convenient than getting an Uber. We played it safe and always just got an Uber. The hotel staff was very concerned when Ryan mentioned walking home from dinner, so we definitely opted to get an Uber!

The worst thing that happened is we were approached by homeless people begging us for money a lot. This isn’t something that bothers me or makes me feel unsafe. In fact, we always gave away our leftover to anyone that seemed like they might need them more than us. But I think it does help to be aware of if ahead of time. I knew what to expect and I did try to help when I could.

I also made sure to take the advice of the locals and not wear any jewelry. I also only wore a belt bag that was attached to me and pretty impossible to snatch. It helps that we stayed in a touristy area that is known to be safer than many neighborhoods in Cape Town.

What to Pack

Cape Town is tricky when it comes to packing; they’re famous for having four seasons in one day and we certainly experienced that. Though we were pretty lucky to experience nice weather most of the time, it was windy a lot. It was very hot during the day and in the sun, but a little chilly at night and in the morning.

I would definitely recommend bringing a bathing suit for Camps Bay and Boulders Beach, as well as clothing and shoes appropriate for hiking. Although I didn’t do it, there are lots of cool options for hiking right in Cape Town. We didn’t do much walking around town, so walking shoes are not a must there.

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Cape Town does definitely have some nicer areas, so it would be totally normal to bring something nicer for dinner, including heels, as well as some nice day dresses for the wineries. I definitely noticed a lot of chic looks as we were out and about!

Where to Stay

We stayed in the downtown area near the V & A Waterfront and it was absolutely perfect. We stayed in The Penthouse Collection (this was a comped media stay), which is in the Radisson Blu Hotel & Residence building. It was gorgeous. We had a luxurious three-bedroom penthouse all to ourselves and it made the trip so much better. We were able to spread out and had a great home base. We also got a dedicated parking space, which was convenient since we did have a rental car during our time in Cape town!

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It was great that we had the luxury and privacy of a penthouse, but also the convenience and safety of a hotel. We spent a lot of time at the hotel bar and Uber pickups and drop-offs were always easy. The hotel always had security and a door man, so I knew we were safe. You also had to have a special key card to get up to our floor, which was nice. One thing that was a bit off-putting was that the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle to local areas like V & A Waterfront. Since we were staying in The Penthouse Collection and not the hotel, they wouldn’t let us take it. Since safety is a concern in Cape Town, I would think it wouldn’t be an issue to let The Penthouse Collection guests hop on a shuttle that was already running anyway. But I guess Radisson Blu is to blame for that one!

Where to Eat & Drink

First things first: a great low-cost beer is Black Label. It’s refreshing and too cheap to pass up! I love getting a classic local beer every place I go and this one fits the bill for South Africa. It’s a favorite among locals and I can totally see why! Ok, now onto the food…

I Love the Dough
This place was by far my favorite place we ate in Cape Town. The vibes were so cool and the decor was amazing. Not to mention the food was absolutely delicious and the service was awesome. They had just opened a few weeks before we got there, so I’m glad I got to try it out! I definitely recommend their pizza and their salads. So good! The prices were awesome as well. Excuse the iPhone pics. We weren’t planning on working but we just couldn’t resist taking photos of this place!

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Smak
This cute little cafe was adorable and so quick and easy. We ate here most mornings since we were in a rush trying to pack everything into our days. You can’t beat the prices and it was very tasty. I definitely recommend it as a quick and easy breakfast spot!

We actually loved the bar at Radisson Blu. It was not cheap by any means, but it was so convenient and we met some characters there. Shout out to Jeff and Steve who made us laugh so hard our cheeks hurt! I love the people I meet when I travel. They always have the best stories since they’re usually seasoned travelers themselves. In this case, Jeff and Steve first met over 20 years ago when they were both in Egypt. They reunited when they saw each other at a conference and decided to work together again. Now they’re off galivanting in South Africa doing who knows what!

What to Do

Cape Town is FULL of things to do. We stayed for almost four full days and it was NOT enough. I would definitely recommend at least a week. But if you are limited on time like we were, here are my top recommendations:

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Boulders Beach
This was at the top of my list for Cape Town and it did not disappoint. There’s nothing like seeing animals in their natural habitat and actually being able to get up close and personal is something I can’t even put into words. Experiences like these are why I travel. It was absolutely amazing. Read more about my Boulders Beach experience here.

Constantia Wineries
Ah, the Constantia wineries! We only had time to make it to one winery, but it was the best day we had in Cape Town. We spent the entire day at the winery and it was glorious. Not only did we get a tour and try some amazingly delicious wines, but we also got to peacefully wander the grounds freely and even had a beautiful golden hour photoshoot. The winery we went to also had a restaurant so when we got hungry, we had some fresh food al fresco. It was perfect. I do wish we had time to go to more wineries. I think it’s clear that I need to go back!

Lion’s Head
Hiking Lion’s Head/Table Mountain is one of the most popular things to do in Cape Town. There’s also a cable car that you can take up to see the view if you’re not the sporty type. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do this. Since the cable car is pretty pricey (I think it was going to end up being over $50 for us both) and it seemed a little too touristy, we decided to skip it. If we weren’t limited on time though, we would have checked it out for sure!

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Woodstock
Woodstock is an up and coming area in Cape Town and I’m so glad we got to explore it. Do not go without a tour guide though. It is not totally safe. In fact, at one point, I was holding my camera, and the tour guide took it from me and said, “Let me hold this. No one will take it from me. They can tell I’m Sough African.” People will literally snatch things out of your hands, so be careful! But if you book a tour like we did, it’s a really awesome experience. We went with Urban Adventures (comped media tour) and I can’t recommend them enough. The tour was perfect and the most memorable thing we did in Cape Town! Read more about our tour here.

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Have you ever been to Cape Town? What would you add to the list?

Photos by Ryan Carpenter.