Cape Town: Help a clueless tourist figure out what to do!
July 26, 2019 2:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently in Cape Town with my partner, having tacked a few extra days onto a work trip. I'm free from today through the end of the day Monday, and I'm trying to figure out some things to do, but I could use some advice.

The first issue: It's winter. The Table Mountain funicular is closed for seasonal maintenance, and though we're both reasonably fit, neither of us is are very experienced hikers. I get the impression that most of the trails to the summit (India Venster, Plattekip Gorge) might be beyond our skill level, but I'd love to be wrong about that. (This is about our skill level, if that's any indication.) Should we try Kasteelspoort? Or to climb Lion's Head instead? Any recommendations for fynbos-y areas? Or maybe we should just leave hiking out of the picture?

The second issue: getting around and getting to know things. We don't have a car, and neither of us really drives. We've been resigned to using Uber, which we don't do in the US as a matter of principle. We usually get to know a place by going on long walks, but I get the impression that Cape Town is like LA/San Diego in that everyone drives everywhere if they can help it, and walking around is kind of suspect. Are there any walks that you would recommend, especially outside of the V&A waterfront and CBD (e.g., Woodstock, Obs., Gardens, other suburbs, residential areas, interesting places, etc.)?

The third issue: thanks to following the news, I've managed to get kind of freaked out about crime.* So far, we haven't had any issues, though we have been keeping things out of our back pockets, locking stuff in a safe at the hotel, taking cabs after dark, and not really going out at night. We both grew up in NYC when it was more dangerous, but the city got safe and we have gotten soft. Given that we aren't from here, I don't really trust my instincts as to what we should or shouldn't be doing. There are a ton of videos saying things like, "It's just like New York or any other big city: you wouldn't go walking down a desolate alley alone at night." But that basically is what I do when I go out at night in big cities.

I feel like we came all the way here and have only been to the Times Square-type areas of the city. Could we consider going to Mzoli's Restaurant this weekend, or would it be better not to? How freaked out should we be about violence against hikers? Is Kirstenbosch generally safe? Are there other things we could do to get a sense of day-to-day life in the city?

Any suggestions or advice much welcome. Cheers!

*I feel super conflicted about this! On the one hand, better safe than sorry. On the other hand, I feel like I am being a creep for even being concerned. Guh.
posted by evidenceofabsence to Travel & Transportation around Cape Town, South Africa (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How much money do you have to throw at the problem? I traveled to Cape Town four years ago for a conference and also had a few days extra to sight see. I was also worried about the safety aspects, particularly as a solo female traveler. I ended up splurging on two days of private tours - one called a "Peninsula Tour", the other a "Winelands Tour". It was just me and the guide so I had full flexibility and I feel like I learnt a whole lot more about the region than if I'd just walked around the city itself.
posted by unlaced at 2:43 AM on July 26, 2019

If you don't have transport, then you can either do a private tour as unlaced suggests, or otherwise use the City site seeing red bus, which have hop on/off tours of the city, winelands, mini-peninsula (to Kirstenbosch, Hout Bay) tours, or a full day tour to Cape Point, stopping at Boulders beach to see the penguins. This way you can get off and explore different parts of the city. The guide on board should be able to give you advice about walking around particular stops as well.

In terms of trails, Platteklip gorge is the most direct to the top of Table mountain, and there will be lots of other hikers, so I think it's one of the safer hikes, with little chance of getting lost. Elevation gain though looks to be ~3000 feet, which is quite a lot more than the hike you linked to, so I'm not sure if this would be appropriate. Temperatures can also change quickly, and you'd want comfortable shoes and enough water/snacks. A local guide could help in this regard.

For a flatter walk, you could start somewhere near Green Point/Sea Point and walk along the coast as far as you feel like towards Camps Bay (or even past it), and catch an Uber when you're tired of walking.

Depending on the weather (and your interests), I'd recommend a visit to the Kirstenbosch gardens, which is a nice place to walk around.
Also the Hout Bay harbour market open Friday evenings, and Saturday/Sunday days is cool, alternately the Oranjezicht market on Saturdays near the V & A waterfront. Otherwise take a look at the top attractions on and see what interests you.
A visit to a wine farm, whether via tour, bus or taxi is a popular activity, if that interests you.

I haven't been to Mzoli's myself, so can't advise there, sorry.

Yes, Uber is widely used, another alternative is Taxify, that works in much the same way.

posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 5:20 AM on July 26, 2019

This is what organised tours/excursions are there for. I like to use Viator to find them in the location I find myself in. Tons of reviews, if you find one you like and it’s too late to book through Viator you can normally find the tour and thus its provider using Google and call them directly. See if you can head out to Simon’s town and the Cape. I also enjoyed the botanical garden and I think we ventured out along the coast - we had a car but that kind of thing as well as boat trips are all accessible to those without car via tours.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:33 AM on July 26, 2019

The Free Walking Tours in Cape Tour are really interesting. Mentioned above the Red Bus is an easy way to see the city and surrounding area. We signed up, for very last minute, penguin and Cape Point tour, they picked us up at our hotel and it was very easy to be bused around without worry.
Mzoli's was on our list, but we didn't have/make time. It's been a few years and I still regret it.
We did go to the Gin Bar, I recommend it, if you like gin and chocolate.....
posted by jennstra at 2:22 PM on July 26, 2019

If you get clear weather, definitely hike up Lion's head! It's a relatively easy and lovely hike. Also second the recommendations to do the peninsular tour. Stop at the Bay Harbour market in Hout Bay, carry on to see the Cape of Good Hope, visit the Penguins at Boulders, and take a stroll through bohemian Kalk Bay for the little art boutiques, restaurants, and seafood linguine at the Olympia Cafe.

Tomorrow you can always swing by the weekend market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock if you like an urban/cool artsy vibe. Stop in Devil's Peak Brewery on your way for some great craft beers!

Take advantage of Cape Town's amazing restaurant offerings. This guide is a little out of date, but still stands strong.

And definitely try to get out to Wine Country if you can - only an hour outside of Cape Town. So beautiful and the tasting rooms and food are out of sight. Maybe lunch at Babylonstoren or the Werf at Boschendal - check out La Motte and Tokara - and walk through charming main street of Franschhoek.

Go ahead and make your peace with Uber - it's the norm.

As for crime - yes it is a real problem in South Africa in general and in Cape Town but NOT in the areas where you will be, aside from the sort of petty crime that you are used to from other big cities. The crisis is gang-related and in the townships and areas that are geographically quite remote from anywhere you would be. You would really need to seek it out. Don't walk at night regardless, you're not in a place you know, generally be smart, but no need to take extraordinary precautions.
posted by oneaday at 2:25 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, definitely climb Lion's Head. You can catch an Uber there and back, it's incredibly beautiful yet close to the city centre.

I hiked Skeleton Gorge from Kirstenbosch and I enjoyed it, but Lion's Head is better in most ways.
posted by ripley_ at 2:26 PM on July 26, 2019

Also consider donning a wetsuit for a winter surf in Muizenberg - get lessons if you want!
posted by oneaday at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2019

If you are going to hike, join a hiking group on facebook. Don't do this alone. The nightlife is in Long Street going into Kloof Street (food, bars, hipster style shops). A popular thing to do is Shark Cage Diving. Seconding Old Biscuit Mill on a Sunday for great food and beer....try to take a stroll in the Company Gardens it has some good views, gallery and a museum.

Mzolis for a unique experience and South African barbecue ( Just dont call it that :) )
posted by LansLeFleur at 4:03 PM on July 26, 2019

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