Port guide: Cape Town, South Africa
Introducing Cape Town
Cape Town is South Africa’s second largest city by population, after Johannesburg. Cape Town was established in the 1650’s as a supply point for ships of the Dutch East India Company plying the trade routes to East Africa and Asia.
The city has many cultural influences, including the original Dutch settlers and later the British who colonized the region. The early importation of slaves from East Africa and Indonesia, as well as the later immigration of people from around the world, has made Cape Town a truly multi-cultural city.
There are eight primary districts around Cape Town, each with its unique characteristics and attractions. The lively City Centre nestles between Table Bay and the backdrops of Signal Hill and Table Mountain that tower above it. The Atlantic Seaboard stretches from Granger Bay in the North, to Sandy Bay in the South and includes many popular beaches. The Peninsula encloses the West Side of False Bay and offers picturesque villages, wildlife viewing, spectacular views, and Cape Point at the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape Flats and Helderberg districts encircle the North and East shores of False Bay.
The Blaauwberg Coast area lies along Table Bay, North of the city centre, with more beaches, nature preserves, golf clubs and other activities. The Southern and Northern Suburbs radiate out from Cape Town to the east and feature attractions such as the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, the Canal Walk shopping area in Century City, art galleries, wineries, golf courses and more.
- Exploring Cape Town
The Cape Town region is best explored by utilising the many local tour operators. The City Sightseeing Bus has three routes to choose from – the city tour, the mini-peninsula tour and the wine tour. These open-topped, double-decker buses allow you to hop on and off to spend time at area attractions such as Table Mountain and the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden.
All day or half-day van tours take you sightseeing to places just outside of the city, such as the spectacular Cape of Good Hope, and the winery routes of Helderberg, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Durbanville and the Constantia Valley. Enjoy a day at one of the many beaches along the Peninsula, or sign up for a whale watching tour or sunset cruise on Table Bay.
You’ll find the best of shopping, dining and entertainment at the V & A Waterfront, a spacious complex on Table Bay in the heart of Cape Town. Choose from a diverse selection of restaurants, unique boutique-style shops and attractions such as the Two Oceans Aquarium.
Visitors will find plenty of outdoor activities. Water sports include swimming, fishing, surfing, and sailing. Nearby nature preserves offer outstanding locations for hiking, and there are also opportunities for adventure sports such as mountain biking and caving. Cape Town offers a number of challenging and scenic golf courses such as Mowbray Golf Club at the foot of Table Mountain.
Cape Town has attractions for the culture lover as well, from art galleries, museums and historic buildings to live performances.
- Getting around
South African Airways and other international airlines provide frequent direct flights to Cape Town from major European cities such as Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt and Munich as well as some Asian and Middle Eastern cities. Flights to Cape Town are also available from New York and Atlanta in the U.S. with a stop in Johannesburg. Several domestic airlines provide service between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Cape Town International Airport is about 20 kilometres from the city centre. Ground transportation options include car rental, metered taxis or the MyCiti shuttle bus. A valid driver’s license is needed to rent a car and vehicles travel in the left lane as in the United Kingdom. The MyCiti shuttle has scheduled departures from the airport every 20 minutes from 05:10 to 22:00 hours and drops passengers at Cape Town’s Civic Centre. A shuttle bus is an economical option, costing a fraction of the typical taxi fare. Additional routes service the city centre.
Within Cape Town, taxis are plentiful and are the best option for short hops around the city. Walking is not recommended unless you are with a group, as thieves prey on vulnerable tourists. The City Sightseeing Bus offers three different routes for exploring the area. The tours include recorded commentary in several languages.
The Metrorail Southern Line route provides visitors with transportation from Cape Town to historic Simon’s Town through picturesque Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, Muizenberg, including popular beaches along False Bay, and the Cavendish Square shopping centre.
- Beyond the port
An easy day trip from Cape Town, the Cape of Good Hope is a narrow, rocky peninsula that separates False Bay from the Atlantic Ocean and is part of the massive Table Mountain National Park. Climb the paved trail to the lighthouse viewpoint, or ride the funicular to the top. The Cape offers spectacular views and is home to many seabirds and other wildlife including baboons and eland.
On the way to Cape Point, stop at the Boulder Penguin Colony on the shore of False Bay near Simon’s Town. This is one of the few places where you can view African penguins in the wild. The colony was established in 1983 and today numbers about 3,000 birds. An information centre provides interpretive displays and a wooden boardwalk allows close-up viewing of these flightless birds.
For a true African adventure, take a safari tour to search for the “Big 5” game animals—the lion, African elephant, Cape Buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros, as well as wildebeest, giraffes, zebras, lynx and more. Fairy Glen private game reserve is a one-hour drive from Cape Town; so, a safari tour can be done either as a day trip or include an overnight stay.
- Popular shore excursions
Cruise lines that visit here offer the following shore excursions. Please check with your cruise line to see if they offer them and remember some excursions may be seasonal only!
The V & A Waterfront. Cape Town’s V & A Waterfront is the country’s most visited attraction. This shopping, dining and entertainment complex on the harbour counts its beginnings to 1860 when Queen Victoria’s son Alfred hefted the first stones to create the jetty. Attractions include many historic buildings, the Two Oceans Aquarium and a Craft Market. The many restaurants include cuisines from around the world as well as local fares such as fresh seafood and game.
About 9 kilometres offshore in Table Bay is Robben Island, a World Heritage Site and one of Cape Town’s most visited attractions. The island housed a prison during South Africa’s apartheid era of racial segregation. See the cell where freedom fighter Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years and the lime quarry where he and other prisoners laboured. Ferries to the island depart for the 3.5-hour round-trip tour from the V & A Waterfront.
You can’t miss Table Mountain. Table Mountain is one of the “don’t miss” attractions in Cape Town. This massive 1,000-metre-high flat-topped mountain towers above the city and provides a panoramic view of the city to the north and the Cape of Good Hope reaching into the Atlantic Ocean to the south. Most visitors reach the top via a cable car, where they can explore the marked trails. A café offers breakfast, lunch and snack foods.
- Local cuisine
In keeping with its multi-cultural population, Cape Town’s restaurants feature cuisines influenced by many countries. Menus may reflect Asian fare from Malaysia, Japan, China, Thailand or Korea; European traditions from France, Greece, and Portugal; South American styles from Brazil, or foods representing the best of Africa from Morocco, to the Congo to South Africa. For a dining adventure, sample local game such as springbok or kudu, paired with one of South Africa’s outstanding wines.
- Where you are docked
Large cruise ships moor at one of the cargo ship berths at Duncan Dock, or anchor in Table Bay Harbour. Small ships can dock in the boat basin at the V & A Waterfront. Although the city centre is only a ten-minute walk from the port, it is recommended that passengers take a taxi or bus into the city rather than walk. Plans for a dedicated cruise ship terminal are underway.
- Regional weather
Cape Town experiences a Mediterranean climate, winters are mild if sometimes wet, and summers are long, dry and humid. The Winter months run from June to August, during these times most of the average yearly rainfall will occur. During February or early March, the Berg Wind (Mountain Wind) can raise the humidity of the region to become quite uncomfortable for some travellers.