Getting Around Cape Town: Suggestions?
August 14, 2006 9:23 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I will be spending a few days in Cape Town next month, but we want to go prepared. My main concern is that neither of us drives -- which leaves two questions: How can we get around the city? And what are the best things to see and do for two people without the use of a car?

To give a litte more detail: my South African partner and I will be flying in to Cape Town from Jo'burg, and staying somewhere in Sea Point. It doesn't seem too far out of the way, but transport is an issue for us. I'd appreciate if any Capetonian MeFites (or previous visitors to the city) could help us out.

First of all, how can we get around? We're happy to walk, if doing so is safe for where we'll be going -- I've seen the maps and the area looks to be pretty close to the V&A Waterfront (via Mouille Point) but since neither of us have been before we don't know if this is a safe route to go by foot. Is it?

I've also read in a few guide books about a shuttle bus that links Sea Point to the Waterfront, but can't seem to find any info about it online. Is this just the same as the municipal bus route? And on a related note: are the municipal buses safe/useful for getting around? We're both used to public transport (or the lack of it) in Pretoria so if it's anything like that, or even slightly better, we'll be happy.

Secondly, what's open to us activity-wise without the use of a car? I'm thinking here of areas that lie beyond the city itself, such as Hout Bay and Simon's Town to the south, or Ratanga Junction to the north. Are these accessible by bus? If not, would it be safe/worth it/possible to get a taxi? Or even better, are there any organised tours to such places? -- I'm thinking also of vineyard trips here, too. (My partner is averse to taking the train for peace-of-mind reasons, and minibus taxies are out of the question, so these are our only options.)

Any details or suggestions you could give me here would be muchly appreciated.
posted by macdara to Travel & Transportation around Cape Town, South Africa (4 answers total)
Sea Point to V&A: FWIW, the South Africans I worked with in Cape Town would walk this route during the day, but would not do it at night. (These were professors and graduate students, all locals.) But really, it isn't all that close...

Organized tours: I went to Cape Town in June with a small group, and we went on an excellent small organized tour through Hout Bay, around Cape Point, and back up through Simons Town. We could have done the vineyards but went to the townships instead.

The tour company is rather small and locally owned. Our guide used to work for the nature parks and knew unbelieveable amounts about the animals, plants, and history of the areas we visited. Even the South Africans in our little group were learning.

His contact information is Cyril Payle; Geometric Tours; +27 21 951 3378;

This was the first time I'd been with them, but the professor who connected us with Cyril has gone back to him over and over again when she has groups visiting...

I would not hire a cab for a trip outside of the city because it'd cost an arm and a leg (not only are cabs not that cheap, the cab would d have to be able to get back to the city, presumably without a fare, and it is not a short distance) and they aren't as likely to really know the area or the people in the areas you're talking about visiting.
posted by whatzit at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2006

I spent a few weeks in Cape Town last year and after checking my map of CT, Sea Point doesn't appear to be *that* close to the V&A if you're planning on walking it. Despite this, I asked a friend who lives in CT to write a quick answer and here is her response:

It's quite possible to get around Cape Town without a car. Sea Point is also an excellent choice for a place to stay as it is close to the V&A as well as bus, minibus taxi and train routes.

Firstly, I suggest making use of the minibus taxi option for getting around. This system connects the CBD with the northern and the southern suburbs and I've made use of it for years without ill effect. I'm quite happy to put up with the occasional tight fits and also feel safer on the taxi than on the train station.

That being said, I recommend avoiding the taxi ranks on top of Cape Town Station like the plague. I never felt safe there when I was still in college about 10 years ago and, from what I've heard, it's far, far worse now. If you are going to catch a minibus taxi, catch it on Main Road and get off before it goes up to the rank. There are taxis from Sea Point to Town. There are taxis running from Town, along Main Road all the way through to Wynberg. From Wynberg you can catch the minibus taxis to Retreat. Retreat Station is a bit hairy. Just be aware of any suspicious people and don't hang around too long. I would not catch the taxi to anywhere else, mainly as they'd stop in the kind of places you may not feel comfortable in stopping. Although we have our own taxi wars going on, this generally doesn't spill over into the Main Road Cape Town to Simonstown route. Taxi drivers also tend to be quite concerned with their customers' safety, I've found.

Make use of the Cape Town to Simon's Town train and try and use it during peak hours like before 09:00 in the morning and then between 16:00 to 18:00. Try and sit in the first or second carriage in the metroplus side (first class). Avoid empty carriages. This specific line is the only line I'd recommend using and it's not 100% safe but I've not experienced anything untoward other than the occasional random mad people talking to themselves or the occasional gospel seranader. The only hairy spot is between Heathfield and Steenberg, but generally, the type of people you'll find on this particular line are fairly okay.

The buses are fairly regular. The terminus is in the city centre and is reasonably safe. Buses will take you through to Retreat (where you can pick up the route to Fish Hoek). Buses will also go to Hout Bay. Buses are also regular and are a perfectly good alternative to catching the minibus taxis if you don't mind tying yourself down to a bus schedule. You just have to put up with taking a little longer to get where you want to go.

Private sedan taxis are an option for short distances. Bear in mind that you'll be paying R8 to R10/km so it's an option if it's late and you're not keen to walk about 5km.

As for places to see, top on my list would be Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. You can catch the bus from Claremont Station. I would generally suggest avoiding tourist traps such as the Cable Car or Robben Island, however they would be within easy reach for you. The noonday gun on Signal Hill is also quite a (loud) experience and is quite dramatic. I would also suggest a walk through the Bo Kaap and from what I've heard there are some lovely restuarants in De Waterkant area near Green Point. Also, Long Street is quite a shopping treat, with many boutiques, interesting eateries and a plethora of antique and 2nd hand book stores. Venture further up Kloof street and you'll hit trendoid area, but it's still worth the trouble.

No visit to CT is complete without a trip to the Iziko art gallery. I would also suggest catching the bus to Hout Bay and having fish and chips from Snoekies on the pier (avoid Mariner's Warf as it is a tourist trap). You can also catch a ride on the Circe boat charters out to Seal Island. Not sure about bus or taxi services but if you can walk down to World of Birds you can spend at least half a day wandering through the landscaped enclosures looking at an assortment of exotic birds and mammals in an as-close-to natural environment. It may be a bit of a schlepp, so I'm not certain, but by all means call them and find out.

It may not be a bad idea to phone some of the smaller touring companies that organise affordable day trips to places such as Cape Point or the vineyards. I reviewed two companies when I was still working for a tourist magazine. One was Ferdinand's Tours (Ferdi of Big Brother fame) and the other was a township tour with Grassroutes Tours. We enjoyed both immensely. If you can, try and arrange a tour that will take you out to Darling where you can visit Evita se Perron and see Pieter Dirk Uys in action. It's worth asking around.

Using public transport I suggest taking a day trip along the Simon's Town train line and stopping over in Kalk Bay as well as Simon's Town. Both little places are quaint and boast numerous delightful eateries and antique shops. If you do stop in Simon's Town, I suggest visiting the African penguins at Boulder's Beach. That is a sight worth seeing. If you are keen to be a little more on the south side, I recommend finding accommodation in Fish Hoek or Simon's Town. It's a little more out of the way but will take you away from the frenetic hubub of the city centre. Also, Fish Hoek and Simon's Town have less crime and are still connected to good public transport.

Even without a car, there's still so much that you can do. For those inaccessible places, most tour companies arrange to pick up their clients from their place of accommodation, so getting around shouldn't be a problem. Enjoy the visit!

PS. There are very few South Africans on MeFi (registering a PayPal account in ZA is nigh impossible unless you're aware of one of the registration method loopholes). Have a blast in Cape Town - it's a really beautiful city.
posted by KayTerra at 2:25 AM on August 15, 2006

I am a frequent visitor to Cape Town, though have never lived there for more than a couple of months. If you are "backpackerish" you can take the minibusetaxis anywhere around town, for about 10c a ride, but expect to be squashed in, and terrified by the driving. Cabs are reasonable, but there are some really long journeys to potential "must sees", like Cape Point. The tour companies around Long St will arrange day trips and longer to every conceivable tourist destination. Kloofing is a great option if you like adventure sports.
The V&A mostly sucks, like a mall anywhere in the US, but you have to go through there to get to Robben Island (which despite the previous comment is a must must see).
Definitely book one meal at La Colombe, it's fantastically good.
posted by roofus at 5:09 PM on August 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I'l be sure my SO makes some calls in the next week or so to find some good tours we can take. We're really only there for 3 days (excluding travelling) but I'm sure it won't be difficult to fill up the time with worthwhile activities, and most importantly not waste our time there.

With regards to the walking -- I come from Ireland, so a 3km-4km walk is nothing to me. Even so, we won't be walking anywhere at night/in the dark. My SO's been mugged twice in the last couple of years and I'd hardly do anything else to spook her (or myself, for that matter).

Transport-wise? No minibus taxies for us. I might have considered it in the past, but after narrowly avoiding a serious road accident earlier this year there's no way we'd trust our lives to one. We're fine with a bus, if walking is a pain.

And I know the V&A Waterfront is a mega-mall tourist trap, but coming from Ireland a place like that is an alien world to me. Besides, watching other tourists is like a spectator sport to us at this stage!

Thanks for the restaurant tip too, but our budget is quite tight. We'll be happy with sosaties on the braii, or some pap and wors. I love pap and wors.

(And on a final note, KayTerra: I'm very aware of the dearth of South Africans here, but since I'm also aware that many MeFites have visited the Cape in the past and might have a tourist/visitor's perspective, I thought it was worth asking. And yes, It's a pain that you can't use PayPal down there (hell, I can't even wire money there with Western Union!).)
posted by macdara at 1:18 PM on August 20, 2006

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