Cape Town City Bowl
Cape Town City Bowl, as seen from Lion’s Head. Taken by Wikimedia Commons user Martin Power.

Cape Town is a city that is on nearly every bucket list of people all over the world. When people say they are going to Cape Town, they say it with excitement, making those who have not been but want to go jealous, while those who have been give them a list of things they must do that is so long that there is no way everything can be taken in and fully experienced.  This an attempt to get the first time visitor to Cape Town started.

The city of Cape Town is accessed by a number of airlines directly, especially from Johannesburg that has a greater number and frequency of flights entering the country. Cape Town is a city of experiences; it is a very relaxed, laid back city with life lived at a much slower pace compared to the rest of the country. The city has earned the nickname “Slaapstad”, a play of the Afrikaans name for the city “Kaapstad” which literally means “sleepy city.” The slower pace of Cape Town is a national joke in South Africa, but anyone living in Cape Town knows it is only said out of pure envy by those not living in one of the most vibrant, colorful, and naturally beautiful places on earth.

But what should a first-time visitor to Cape Town do and expect?

The first thing suggested is how long you stay. If you can stay an extra day or so then do so, and if you do have extra time get outside the city and explore the Western Cape.

Transport from the airport is limited, but depending on your package and your budget there are many ways to get to your hotel, lodge, or other accommodation; unlike the movies, there is no railway station at the airport, so don’t trust Hollywood.

Firstly, there is the usual array of for-hire cars from mainstream and local firms, at peak season (December and January), and when there are major city events these are at a premium and must be reserved well in advance. There are local low-cost car hire firms in Cape Town such as Rentacheapie, ideal for those on a budget who want freedom.

Secondly, there are shuttles. Many hotels have their own shuttles, some included in the room or package cost and others not. There are also other shuttle buses that can take you to your accommodation of choice, and you often need to wait until the bus has a full or nearly full load of passengers. The buses vary in cost and are usually between $18 and $30.

Finally there is the MyCiti Bus. MyCiti is Cape Town’s Rapid Transport service and is affordable, safe, clean, and very reliable. The bus will take you to the center of Cape Town, and from there a number of feeder buses can get you very close to your hotel. Investing in a MyCiti MyConnect card would be a wise investment for the independent traveler.  Transport from the airport to Cape Town is between $4.50 and $6.50 depending upon the type of card purchased.

Exiting the airport, the first thing that will strike the visitor are the shacks on the side of the highway; for many, this is an eye-opener, but it should not and must not set the scene for the entire trip. The shacks form part of a very recent history, and whilst they are not what any city would want to be the first and last things seen, they do play a vital part in the story of South Africa and go to show the story is actually just beginning and has long way to go.

Once in Cape Town, the biggest challenge is “what to do?”  There are, of course, the bucket list items that include Table Mountain and Robben Island, and both of these are very dependent upon the weather. In peak season, the weather is fairly predictable; however, wind and cloud cover both play their part in these two big-ticket items.

One of the best things to do early in your visit to Cape Town is an open-top bus tour.  The City Sightseeing Bus, also known in Cape Town as the “Red Bus,” is the best way to get an overview of the city and its immediate surroundings.  The bus does a tour of the city and some of the outskirts, both are hop-on/hop-off, and are great for young and old alike. The bus tour will open up your eyes and help you plan other activities for your trip.

Table Mountain & Devil's Peak South Africa
Table Mountain & Devil’s Peak, as seen from Lion’s Head. Taken by Wikimedia Commons user Andrew Massyn.

In and around the city, Cape Town has a number of attractions and museums that include the Castle of Good Hope,  the Iziko Museums, Bo-Kaap Museum, the Slave Lodge, and District Six Museum. There are numerous places where local artifacts are sold, such as Green Market Square which is surrounded by restaurants in the heart of the city. The city is walkable and the MyCiti bus is also very affordable in getting people around the entire city with ease.

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