The Cape Town South Africa Travel Guide is part of the Trip Report: The $77,000 Trip Heard Round the World which covers 5 Continents, 13 Countries, and 17 Cities.
- Tokyo, Japan
- Melbourne, Australia
- Wellington, New Zealand
- Sydney, Australia
- Colombo, Sri Lanka
- Saigon, Vietnam
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Hong Kong
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Knysna, South Africa
- Durban, South Africa
- Johannesburg, South Africa
- Doha, Qatar
- New York, New York
- Helsinki, Finland
Here is the Cape Town Travel Guide using the Guns & Butter methodology:
- A trip is composed of two factors: Labor And Lazy
- Anything on the line (Production Possibilities Frontier for my fellow economists) is an efficient use of your time depending on your tastes and preferences.
- Anything inside the line is inefficient as should be avoided.
- Anything outside is aspirational but may be impossible to do given the constraints of time and resources.
- The opportunity cost (what is given up) for relaxing and being Lazy is gained by being adventurous in the form of Labor and vice versa.
Cape Town is my second favorite city in the world next to Shanghai, China. There is too much to do and see in this city making TPOL’s Travel Philosophy of staying for 3-4 days inapplicable. Add in the fact that it was New Years’ Eve and I most certainly did not experience everything that Cape Town has to offer. Having said that, I did quite a bit, so let’s begin.
The ignorant say, “I’d never travel to South Africa. It’s not safe.” The idiots say, “South Africa is perfectly safe.” The truth is South Africa, especially Johannesburg can be dangerous. Homes are equipped with complex alarm systems, electric fences, and attack dogs. Precautions including armed guards on standby are the norm. Future travelers must be aware of the situation before believing either extreme.
For example, when I arrived in Joburg I didn’t feel like paying the exorbitant taxi fee to get to Sandton, an upscale suburb outside the city center. An unauthorized taxi driver told me that he could get me there for half the fare. As a master bargainer, I thought I had struck a great deal. Right as I was going to get into his car, an armed policeman dressed in army fatigues pulled me aside and directed me to take the train. Upon arriving in Sandton, the front desk echoed the officer’s message: do not take unauthorized taxis as you open yourself to muggings and possible physical harm. It’s one thing to avoid the Prison of Posh and it’s another to be a cocky idiot oblivious to the fact that danger is lurking around the corner. Would I take a ride from a stranger in Detroit? Certainly not. Would I take a motorbike ride from a stranger in Saigon? Probably. Knowing where you are and not forsaking your common sense simply because you have traveled to plenty of countries goes without saying but it nevertheless must be said.
That was just one anecdote about my time in South Africa. It does not encapsulate the intricate struggles the country faces. The social, economic, and political strife that exists in South Africa is a fascinating subject. I will not attempt to summarize the history of apartheid, of Nelson Mandela, and the movement towards equality. It is something that everyone should study.
Taxis in Cape Town are expensive. Uber was not around when I went. The cheap alternative was to take the minibus, an unregulated public transport system. Though I hate paying for taxis, I advise against taking the minibus because they are dangerous. Again these are my own anecdotes, but in one day I saw a flipped over minibus and another hit a pedestrian. The drivers, in a hurry to deliver the over packed vehicle, act recklessly.
Just like any other big city, don’t go off exploring areas on foot if you don’t know where you are going. While it’s safe to walk to the Waterfront from the Radisson Blu, I wouldn’t recommend going for a stroll around the Doubletree. TPOL doesn’t support fear mongering but he also doesn’t go looking for trouble.
- Table Mountain
Now that you’ve read the safety instructions in the seat back pocket in front of you, let’s have some fun by going up Table Mountain. On January 2nd, I took a taxi to Table Mountain in order to ride the cable car to the top and admire the view. When I arrived, the line was four hours long just to buy a ticket. (I believe you can get them online in advance.)
I overheard someone say that you could hike to the top in the scorching summer heat. Those in great shape could do it in a couple of hours which would be faster than waiting for the cable car. With no supplies, one bottle of water, and sandals, I decided to give it a go. I quickly realized that this wasn’t the best idea bet pressed forward anyway. My sandals weren’t ideal footwear for the terrain so I decided to go barefoot instead. That also wasn’t a great idea as the ground was burning hot. Though I do not recall my exact time, I believe I made it to the peak a lot faster than 2 hours judging from the photo time stamps.
- The Beaches: Camps Bay, Clifton Beach, & False Beach
How can going to the beach be the third most laborious thing you do in Cape Town? The answer lies in the day you choose to go to the beach. I went to Camps Bay on January 1st which along with Boxing Day were historically the days when segregation laws were not enforced. The traffic was unbelievable, the crowds were overwhelming, and the sights and sounds were interesting, to say the least.
While careful not to make any generalizations about what I experienced that day, I will say that a lot of the policies that I encountered were peculiar. All the restaurants along the beach had ‘reservation only’ signs. I tried to get seated at a few places and was denied access. Too hungover to wander any further, I took matters into my own hands and sat myself at a table with a gentleman who let me pull up a chair. He was a white guy from Cape Town who without provocation started saying some of the most racist statements I have ever heard about black people in South Africa. He made no effort to speak quietly and nobody in the adjoining tables made an effort to silence him. In the midst of this, a black woman tried to be seated and was given the ‘reservation line’. She yelled at the waiter and said I’m an American and was finally given a table. The entire situation was surreal. Soon thereafter, the man left and I just sat there in shock at what I had witnessed. After that, I made my way to the beach but found it far too crowded. I took a few pictures and left.
Next to Camps Bay is Clifton beach which is more tranquil. Another beach for surfing and dodging White Sharks is False Beach where the water is warm.
Cape Town is a party town. For New Year’s Eve I went to Shimmy Beach Club. While it has a nice setup, it never got too crowded. I left early and found myself at a house party up in the hills as if I were in Hollywood. The other nights I went to the following:
- Club 31: High atop Cape Town is a great club with plenty of hip-hop.
- Coco’s: This is the best club in Cape Town because of the music and $100 bottles of champagne.
- Long Street: This is the Bourbon Street of Cape Town.
- Bungalow: I didn’t go but heard it was upscale.
Prepare to party and drink till the morning.
- Wine & Penguins
Perhaps better than the slogan Guns & Butter is Wine & Penguins.
The Penguins at Boulders Beach
Go see the penguins. There is nothing cuter, yes cuter, than these adorable little guys swimming and walking around their own penguin sanctuary. It’s crazy to see penguins in the hot sun meandering around the beach. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and neither will you.
Next time I go to Cape Town, I will spend a couple of days in Stellenbosch properly exploring the wineries. South Africa has some excellent wine including Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, and Pinotage. Pinotage is the ugly stepchild of reds and looked down upon by many winemakers.
The vineyards were picturesque further elevating the wonder that is Cape Town. In one day you can go to the beach, see penguins, drink wine, have a great meal, and attend a big party, all for pennies on the dollar.
- The V&A Waterfront
The Waterfront is a great place to spend an afternoon relaxing. It’s walking distance from the Radisson Blu and has great views of Table Mountain. It’s also home to the best sushi I have ever had. My apologies to my Japanese friends in Tokyo.
This brings me to the best and laziest thing to do in Cape Town: eat. Never mind the drama, for a moment let’s enjoy life by eating and drinking in Cape Town’s many great restaurants. The seafood is some of the best in the world, the venison goes great with the Shiraz, and I’ve already mentioned the sushi. All of it costs next to nothing so go ahead and order your own bottle of vino and then order another.
- Great White Shark Diving
This tourist trap adventure is something I didn’t get to experience because the tour guide hosed me. They said they couldn’t provide transport to the dive site which was over an hour away from Cape Town. Obviously without that I had no way of getting there and had to cancel last-minute. I would’ve enjoyed being stuck in a cage surrounded by great whites but perhaps I’ll go next time. Be careful which company you choose.
- Robben Island
I couldn’t go to Robben Island because Nelson Mandela had just passed away and the tours were sold out. I heard there was a way to buy scalped tickets but that felt unsavory. Before going to South Africa, I encourage you to read about Nelson Mandela and what he went through for his country as this synopsis is not sufficient for a complete understanding of Mandela’s struggle. He spent 27 years in prison and upon his release became the first black president of South Africa. Under his leadership, the country began the transition from apartheid to integration. His powerful message of reconciliation when nobody could’ve blamed him for seeking revenge is unprecedented.
South Africa faces many challenges and there are no clear solutions. It’s important not to overlook the injustice from apartheid simply because you are a tourist distracted by all the fun. At the same time, do not boycott South Africa and specifically Cape Town because you have heard that it is too dangerous. It is a country in transition that must be seen first-hand.