Cape Town is scenically beautiful, culturally diverse and interesting and it’s the oldest city in South Africa. Cape Town is the capital of South Africa, legislatively and it’s part of the Western Cape province. The city is well-known for landmarks like the Harbor and Table Mountain.
In 2014, Cape Town was named the World Design Capital by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. In 2014, The New York Times named it the best place in the world to visit.
The city is urban, and it has a population of around 500,000, not including surrounding areas and suburbs. The climate is warm and Mediterranean-like, and in the winter the temperatures are around 64 degrees on average.
So, it’s natural you might be considering a trip to Cape Town, and if so, what should you know?
Visas and Travel Documents
There are around 48 countries that travelers aren’t required to have a visa to go to South Africa for 90 days or less. This includes not needing a South Africa visa for American citizens unless you’re staying for longer than 90 days or you’re going to be something like working.
The country is working to make the visa process easier for visitors as well, and they’re using a pilot program that allows visitors to go through the visa process electronically, rather than with immigration officials.
While as a U.S. citizen going for tourism you will only need a valid passport, you may need to have two unstamped pages. Immigration officials do sometimes require you to have two blank pages—one of which is for a temporary residence permit sticker and the other is used for the entry and exit stamps. It’s possible without these you’ll be denied entry.
Safety in South Africa
You’ll hear mixed information as it pertains to the safety of South Africa. South Africa does have a high crime rate, including violent crimes. The U.S. State Department issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory for the entire country in October 2018. This indicates travelers should exercise increased caution. Specific threats named by the state department include robbery mugging and the potential for civil unrest to turn violent.
For the most part, while crime levels are on the rise, the guidance for visiting Cape Town is to use common sense and be smart and vigilant, much as you would visiting any other city in the world. Make yourself aware of the threats and take the proper steps—for example, walking alone at night isn’t a good idea.
When Should You Go?
While the weather is mild and there’s not a ton of fluctuations in temperatures, the best times to go to Cape Town are usually from March to May and September to November. Crowds are smaller, prices are lower, and the weather is nice.
The seasons of South Africa are the opposite of the seasons in the U.S., so be aware. In our summer months here in the states, the weather in Cape Town can get cold and rainy.
What to Do
There’s so much to do in Cape Town that it would be impossible to include it all, but some highlights of the city include:
Table Mountain is 3,500 above sea level, and one of the things most well-known in Cape Town is the cableway you can ride up the mountain. There are also hiking trails that vary in length and intensity. When you reach the top, you can take in the stunning views, and there are a restaurant and café.
Lion’s Head is adjacent to Table Mountain a well. It’s a 45-minute climb to the top, and it also offers great city views. The most popular times at Table Mountain and Lion’s Head are at sunrise and sunset, so be aware it will be crowded at these times.
Cape Point National Park is where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. This point is the Cape of Good Hope. You can hike as well as taking in the ocean views when you’re at Cape Point National Park.
Robben Island used to be a political prison. Robben Island is where President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of 27 years he was in jail before the end of apartheid. Along with Nelson Mandela, two other inmates who were held at Robben Island have become President of South Africa including Jason Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe. Robben Island is also a South African National Heritage Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This just gives a tiny sample of all the many offerings of Cape Town to include in your trip planning.