If you google top places to visit before you kick the bucket, you won’t presumably see much Cape Town from the results. What’s more, to be completely forthright, Cape Town was never on my TOP rundown. But, having lived here for over two months now, I must say that this is, by far, one of my favorite places next to Japan and Brazil.
So why would anyone go and visit Cape Town?
This place has it all — pristine beaches, scenic drives, mountains, wine, wildlife, gardens, adventure trips, braai (barbecue), and an amazing nightlife. I am not going to make this intro long and start sharing a few fairly random yet exceptionally intriguing things with you that I got the hang of amid my stay here in Cape Town up until this point.
1. South Africa is not “Africa”
There was this friend of mine who seriously asked me this question – “Lion King feels na ba?”
Alright, I get it that the way foreigners see South Africa is hued by their perspectives of Africa in general – wildlife, politically and socially unstable, or terribly poor. But let me just get this straight, South Africa is totally different. It is the most developed African country — in the aspect of innovation and development, it clearly stands out from other African nations. Talk about 5-star villas, dazzling apartments, and state-of-the-art facilities you can find in every corner. And with Cape Town having a Mediterranean climate and cosmopolitan African vibrancy, this city makes it so easy for a wide range of individuals, particularly travelers, to experience real paradise.
As soon as I landed at the Cape Town International airport, I found it to be like the Rio de Janeiro of Brazil. It is one of only a handful couple of urban areas in Africa that blends together local culture, fine cuisine, beaches, history, and outdoor activities. I am fortunate enough to have had the chance to be situated in this delightful city for quite a while and the things you can do here are endless. It is a relatively small city yet regardless if you’re staying for a week or less, there’s a great number of overwhelming day trips and activities one can take.
More on this later on.
2. City of Contrasts
In spite of being the most developed in the African region, Cape Town is a city of contrasts. And one of these (and the biggest) is between the privileged and the less-privileged ones. Just minutes away from the airport, expect to start seeing shanty towns and vagrants en route to more interesting suburbs and lavish estates on the opposite side.
3. Your money will go a long way.
As to my surprise, eating out is not much of a pain in your pocket. With a favorable exchange rate for major international currencies like US dollar, euro, or pound, you’ll find South Africa an inexpensive destination. I’ve had a local beer for less than a dollar, a bottle of wine for as cheap as $5, a three-course meal with drinks for just around $10-15.
Also, note that this is a tipping nation. Expect to tip wherever you go, say 2-10 Rands.
4. It is easy to rent a car for visitors but driving on the highways could be a significant shock for overseas drivers.
One thing I noticed is the inconvenience of public transport. Renting a car will definitely make your life much easier getting around and it won’t really take much of your time. As soon as you land, there are a few car rental companies holding up just outside the airport. We managed to rent a car from Avis and they didn’t solicit plenty of requirements from us. Just make sure to have your license with you and you’re good to go.
- You don’t need an international driving license. As long as it is in English, you’re fine. Otherwise, have your English-translated license ready.
- Make sure to get full insurance protection.
- There are always parking attendants who will ask for a small amount of money, say 5-10 rands for an hour.
Driving on the highways could be quite a surprise for overseas drivers. I, myself, can attest to that (haha). It seems like South African drivers are always in a hurry and they will seriously blare at you in the event that you drive too moderate. As It was my first time driving on the left-hand side of the road, I sometimes get a little shaky lol. Cars overtake you left and right. Always keep to the left, pass right and comply with the road signage.
The speed limit on freeways is 120km/h, major roads is 100km/h and in residential areas is 60/h. Also, expect to get stuck in traffic jams between 8.00 and 10.00 and between 15.30 and 18.30.
If neither of you has a license, you can always take trains or the so-called Capetonian mini-busses. However, aside from the bus system, there aren’t many other viable options when it comes to in the city and Uber is relatively expensive.
5. But never leave valuables unattended in cars
Like many big cities around the world, there are opportunists in Cape Town and the crime rate is pretty high. I had my bag stolen from our rented car and the thing is, it happened just meters away from the Woodstock police station. How insane is that?
Two weeks ago, i had my bag stolen in Woodstock. Thing is, our car was parked just meters away from the police station. How insane is that? I dont recall all the things that were in my bag but my passport.. MY PASSPORT. Sure, some may think im overreacting as it is just a passport, but as someone who values it like hell, I was completely shattered. It was like my diary and confidant. Now, not only it brings me the hassle of having it replaced but also my scheduled trip to Morocco and Italy from May to June is not likely to happen. I can’t even book an appointment for a visa application. Well, plans are basically messed up. And, unfortunately, I’m only getting a travel document from the consulate here. I am talking about weeks before I get to fly back to PH and undergo the tedious process of replacing my lost passport.
It’s never the bag that really matters. For me, it was that attached old passport which has stamps from my very first backpacking trip. It was that visa that makes me remember the feeling when I first saw Taj Mahal with my own two eyes. It was that front page that reminds me how I was able to pull through my first work overseas.. that visa which opened more doors for me. But as my friend told me.. “everything happens for a reason.”
I don’t know what the reason is but it’s true that when something you value is taken away from you, the sense of helplessness can be overwhelming. I’m not expecting to get any of my stuff back, let alone that bikini. But I’m starting to accept the reality, trying to feel sane and regain a sense of control. My trust in humanity may take some time to resolve but hey, I gotta have a little perspective. Having my bag stolen is nothing compared to what others are experiencing. It’s probably low on the list of the most horrifying things that can happen to a person. It doesn’t stop it from smarting in the moment, but after taking stock of the situation, I realized the ways in which I am still blessed and probably luckier than most.
It seriously takes a few seconds to break a car window and grab your visible handbag or whatnot. And, unfortunately, you stand no chance of catching the thieves. So, be mindful of this always.
6. A lot of beggars at traffic junctions and traffic lights
As soon as I got here, I was told never to make eye contact with them. However, even if I always fail to do so, just ignore them nicely and say “sorry” or “no”. They are almost everywhere, some selling lots of different things, most of which you don’t really need. I have never found them aggressive though.
Remember, regardless of who you are dealing with, always treat people with dignity and respect.
7. You can drink almost anywhere and wine is the kill
Alright, I am not a dipsomaniac individual but rather this is certainly a standout amongst other things I adore about Cape Town.
No matter what time in the day or where you are and you feel like getting a drink, there ought to be no issue. Indeed, Capetonians take leisure time seriously.
There is what they call “First Thursdays” which happens every first Thursdays of the month and various happenings are taking place in the city center – art galleries, markets, and bars are open til’ late.
On the off chance that you are a wine aficionado like me, this is definitely the place to go. Don’t even get me started on how you can get a decent wine at an affordable price. Cape Town is home to some of the best wine vineyards and there are various companies that offer wine tasting tours. However, as someone who isn’t fascinated by tours, I suggest you do it by yourself.
8. Rugby and Cricket are huge
These two sports are two of the most popular sports in South Africa. If the USA has basketball and Europe has soccer, then South Africa has these two.
9. South Africans put other countries’ way of barbecue to shame
Expect to see a lot of “Braai” around South Africa. A braai is basically a social gathering event, big or small, wherein grilled meat are served alongside with cold beers or wine. This can be done for lunch or supper and last for many hours.
Here are some of the most common words I’ve picked up from South Africans:
- Robot = traffic light
- Takkies = sneakers
- Cokie = a marker
- Howzit = How’s it going? (Obviously)
- Lekker = nice!
- Shame = which doesn’t really mean shame but more of an expression for “awww”, “cute” or “too bad”.
- Bakkie = a pickup truck
- Biltong = sliced dried meat
- Hectic = extreme (“That is so hectic!”)
10. Tap water is safe to drink
Need I say more?
11. Power converter
Plugs in South Africa are 15 amp 3-prong, with round plugs. Make sure to purchase one before you land because it literally took me two weeks before I found one. I spent my first week looking for this plug at malls and big markets but to my surprise, I didn’t find one. Otherwise, you can purchase online.
12. Variety of outdoor activities and breathtaking views
There are plenty of things to see and do in Cape Town. Popular activities include hiking, surfing, safari game drives, running, cycling, and playing rugby, cricket or soccer.
More on this later on.