Spontaneous Summer in Cape Town
Have you ever arrived at a place and immediately knew how much you love it? Sounds ridiculous but I’m writing these lines in the Uber from the airport to my accommodation and I’m already in love with everything I see along the road. It’s sunny and summertime here on the other side of the world.
That was before reality hit and I saw the massive townships along the road: kids living in fenced iron shacks next to the highway while you can already see the luxury villas on the mountain in the distance.
Entering the city center and seeing all the colorful houses I was in a better mood again. The following weeks I had a lot of adventures, some scary experiences and made some great new friends! In this post I’m trying to explain my own experiences and views on Cape Town so please don’t judge if that interferes with your own opinion. Feel free to reach out if you want to share your thoughts on Cape Town or my post – I’m always up for a great discussion and I feel like there’s a lot going on over there that still needs to be discussed.
- Good to know before you go – I wish I knew before I went
- Load Shedding
- Safety – perspective of a female traveler
- Nature & Hikes around Cape Town
- Beaches & Other To Do’s in Cape Town
- Transportation – how to get around (safely)
- Digital Nomad Life & Community
- History Basics & Political Situation
- Travel Map
Good to know before you go – I wish I knew before I went
On my first day I was already facing a few things that were completely new to me. Number 1 being: My “worldwide” power socket adapter can’t be used in 8 countries, South Africa being one of them – great! For South Africa you need to get an adapter matching type M.
Second, every day at midday The Noon Gun gets fired from Signal Hill and it’s audible in the whole town (sounds like a gun shot if you’re not aware). And then there is this thing called …
It’s a big thing in South Africa as people’s daily lives depend on it and they have to find a way to work around it.
“Load shedding is an energy utility’s method of reducing demand on the energy generation system by temporarily switching off the distribution of energy to certain geographical areas. Load shedding is only applied when the system has insufficient capacity to fulfill all energy demands and is undertaken to optimally manage the energy that is still available in order to maintain system stability.” – according to the westerncape.gov.za
There are 8 different stages of load shedding and that defines how many hours per day people are without power. Stage 8 is when there is only power for 50% of the day! Let that sink in, no lights, no internet, no laundry, no air conditions or fans, no hot food or coffee machines and so on! It’s hard to imagine the big impact that this has on people’s lives and daily planning but I’ve seen people getting really frustrated over it. By the way, no internet means no work for a lot of people, I’m not talking about digital nomads or similar, Uber drivers were the ones complaining the most about the situation. During my stay we were in Stage 5 so we just had 2-3 power outages per day for 2-4 hours each. I have a mixed opinion on this whole concept but maybe other countries could consider something similar in a softer version to save the environment? It’s annoying sometimes but people still manage to live normal lives even under those circumstances.
If you want to read more there is a great Load Shedding fact sheet available.
Safety – perspective of a female solo traveler
I had a lot of people warning me before traveling to Cape Town and telling me horror stories about being mugged in the street. I thought they were massively exaggerating and that if you’re street smart you’re safe and you will be left alone. However, I have to admit that that’s just not enough in Cape Town. I’ve never seen a place with that amount of homeless people and they are on every corner of the city.
Facts: South Africa’s unemployment rate is at 33%, the expanded definition of unemployment, which includes those discouraged from seeking work, was around 43% by the end of 2022. Meanwhile, the youth unemployment rate, measuring job-seekers between 15 and 24 years old, rose to 61%. (source: Statistics South Africa)
I lived in a house in the city center with two male friends. Usually, I would walk with them to restaurants or cafés and I would feel safe. One day, I was running late and they already left for lunch so I walked alone but since it was the main road which was always crowded I didn’t see a problem.
Learning: Never walk alone in any of the streets in Cape Town!
Two homeless people came up to me and I said “no, thanks” in a friendly way without stopping. I started walking faster when I realized they were following me, one on the left, one on the right. And at that time, no one else was on the street to help me so I just kept walking and ignoring them. In the beginning, they tried to make me feel sorry for them and said they don’t need money. It took only a few seconds until they got very upset because I didn’t stop or talk to them and that’s when I got really scared because I didn’t know what to do or how they would react next. Luckily, they stopped following me at one point before I could enter the next best store coming up.
The same thing happened the day after when I was walking with one of my male friends. They wouldn’t stop bothering us until a security guard got involved and solved the situation for us and accompanied us all the way home. This is the downside of Cape Town. From that day on I took Ubers everywhere, even if it was just a 10 minute walk. Luckily, Uber is more than affordable in South Africa and I usually paid around 2-5€/$ for a trip in Cape Town. One day, while passing through a township by Uber I even saw a sign next to the road that said “Smash & Grab hotspot” and I don’t wanna find out what that means.
Now, after knowing all the basics and negative sides, let me give you some reasons to fall in love with Cape Town!
I don’t even know where to start when it comes to food in South Africa! I still remember my first week and asking my local friends “Hey, what’s a typical dish from here?” and they couldn’t really answer my question. Over time I discovered which are the typical foods. First of all, South Africans looove meat. So much so, that there are stores which only sell a dried meat product called “Biltong” which could be compared to beef jerky, only it’s so much better. They sell meat of all kinds of animals there: beef, kudu, springbok, ostrich and others. Another dish that I will name as a specialty here is (game) steak. It’s probably not officially a South African dish but they have perfected the way of preparing a steak, believe me. In general, all foods and dishes I ordered in South Africa were of the highest quality and taste! A logical consequence of a nation of meat-lovers is having barbecues, or how they call it “Braai”. South Africans seem to have a Braai almost every weekend all year long as a get together with friends and family.
In terms of local food chains I want to highlight Nando’s – not only because their marketing campaigns are hilarious but also because they sell some really good chicken. The restaurant is influenced by the Portuguese and traditional African cuisine which results in amazing dishes.
Another place I want to highlight is Mojo Market – I literally went there almost every day! It’s an indoor food hall with very special international food offers that made me wanna try all of them. In the seating areas they show soccer games on screens and they have an event stage with live music or other programs every night. Definitely a fun place to hang out after work (it gets very crowded on weekends so I recommend going during the week).
In the Travel Map at the end of this post I’ve marked some more great restaurants that I can recommend.
After some digging I found something very typical that some locals eat every day: Gatsby! It’s a giant sandwich filled with fries, sauce and your choice of meat. Because of its size it’s usually shared by multiple people and comparably cheap. Cape Town proudly calls itself “the home of the Gatsby”. And then there’s “Pap”, a traditional side dish made out of corn flour or maize – it’s like a mix between a soft polenta and mashed potatoes and goes well with any kind of main dish.
Cape Town also has some farmer’s markets to offer but I’ll talk more about them in the Beaches & Other To Do’s in Cape Town section.
Nature & Hikes around Cape Town
The city center of Cape Town is rather flat but it’s surrounded by Signal Hill, Lion’s Head and Table Mountain. These are the three main hiking locations closeby. But there is another great hiking area at Chapman’s Peak which offers scenic views as well and is less crowded by tourists – locals come here for a Sunday hike or to walk their dogs. If you have a car you can also reach some regions that are further away or hike around the area of Blaauwklippen for example. If you’re lucky you even get to see a waterfall here and there!
South African nature has so much to offer and one of the coolest things besides the giant sand dunes along the roads were all the animals! In Simon’s Town you get to see a whole penguin colony at Boulders Beach and if you drive to Stellenbosch you can see kudus, eland, springbok and zebras along the road. Not to mention all the colourful birds and lizards you get to see during your hikes. Just be aware of the snakes hiding in their holes and the bushes/trees closeby.
Here are three hiking recommendations for you:
Lion's Head for sunrise
Kloofcorner Hike along Table Mountain
Chapman's Peak Hiking Trail North for sunrise
Beaches & Other To Do's in Cape Town
The best beaches to relax after a long workday are probably Camps Bay Beach and Clifton 2nd or 4th beach. If you’re going on a weekend trip then I recommend Noordhoek beach. Muizenberg, Bloubergstrand and Big Bay are good for surfing but that also depends on the weather. Sandy Bay is a nude beach and requires a 20 minute walk to get there. Boulders Beach is where you will find the penguins but you will need to pay a fee to enter and it’s not super clean so don’t plan on coming here for a beach day.
But apart from the beaches there is so much more to discover in Cape Town!
Farm Markets: Oranjezicht City Farm Market and Old Biscuit Mill Market in Woodstock
The Oranjezicht Market is open on Saturdays & Sundays and they also open for a nightmarket on Wednesday afternoons. Here you can find everything from fresh mushrooms over gouda cheese to tuna and pastry. In the second part of the market you will find several food booths from international cuisines.
The Neighbourgoods Market inside the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock has a similar offer but it feels way more local with a little hipster vibe. I went on a Sunday and there was not only the food market but also a few clothing shops and booths.
Coffee, coffee, coffee!
Another thing I didn’t know before I went to South Africa: coffee tastes so good here! They have some very talented baristas (as you can see inthe picture below). And South Africa apparently is famous for its specialty coffee because they produce premium quality coffee beans through proper harvesting and farming practices. And the best thing: It tastes good everywhere, even in the cheapest corner coffee shop. So if you’re ever in South Africa – get a coffee!
Wine Tastings in Stellenbosch
Stellenbosch is home to over 150 vineyards opening their doors for wine tastings. The best: they are relatively affordable – and I think that’s the reason why it’s a common weekend activity for locals and tourists. I was very curious about the local wine being born in a wine region myself. And I have to say – same as for the coffee and all the food – the wines I got to try were super delicious and very special in their taste. Not even comparable to German or French wines.
To me it felt like this is the tourist city center of Cape Town but at the same time I get why: You can walk around the New-England-style harbour, passing by some seals and penguins if you’re lucky, the famous Clocktower and Clocktower bridge, some souvenir shops and street performers showing traditional African music and dances. Closeby, there’s also the big V&A shopping mall where you can find all common shops, food chains and even a cinema.
Bo-Kaap is a multicultural neighbourhood famous for its colorful houses and cobblestone streets. But it’s more than that as it also represents the local Cape Malay culture which you can learn more of by visiting the Bo-Kaap Museum.
Sea Point Promenade
Close to the city center this promenade is great for a short walk during sunset. I’ve even seen a movie being filmed here when I was there.
I already mentioned it as a surfer beach but it’s also home to this famous photo spot: the colourful beach houses! Close to the beach you will find some nice coffee shops but besides that, there’s not much to do here.
It’s usually warm in Cape Town, during mid-day it can get very hot in the sun and at night it’s worth bringing a sweater or light jacket. Most of the time – at least during my stay (February/March) – it’s quite windy. For the ones who might not know, these are the summer months as South Africa is in the Southern hemisphere. The wind leads to a very cool spectacle: the legendary Table Mountain cloud formations! Air with high water vapor content is lifted all the way up to Table Mountain and as it moves towards its peak, the air cools and water vapor in the air condenses into thick clouds. But the clouds seem to disappear and that’s because the cloud droplets are evaporating as the air sinks and warms. It looks like the clouds are falling off Table Mountain like a waterfall! You get to see this all day long but it looks especially nice during sunrise (as in the picture below) or sunset.
Transportation – how to get around (safely)
First of all: Never walk anywhere alone, especially if you don’t know the area!
As mentioned in the beginning of the post, Uber is the safest and fastest way to get from A to B in Cape Town. There are small local buses as well but I wouldn’t recommend taking them here – especially as Uber is so affordable. And of course we have the classic red hop on hop off tourist buses which stop at all tourist hotspots.
If you plan on visiting other parts of South Africa it might make sense to rent a car and in some cases you can even take the train.
Digital Nomad Life & Community
In general, Cape Town is a great place for digital nomads but it all depends on where you work from and if that place has load shedding or not. Some coffee shops, coworking spaces and other restaurants have their own generators and therefore have electricity and internet connection all day long. There is a really cool concept called Neighbourgood which combines coliving and coworking for an affordable price – if you don’t have a South African salary. They organize hikes, workouts, events and more and people can join even if they don’t live or work in one of their spaces. I would say there are quite a lot of digital nomads in Cape Town and there is an active Facebook group as well. So my conclusion here: Cape Town is definitely a great place for digital nomads and to connect with others.
History Basics & Political Situation
Once again, in this post I’m trying to explain my own experiences and views on Cape Town so please don’t judge if that interferes with your own opinion, I’m trying to be mindful and share my objective perception of what’s going on in South Africa.
First of all, let me summarize the basics of history because that’s very important to know before coming here or having a conversation with anyone in South Africa. I’ve never been that interested in the history of a place like this one because it still shapes today’s life in so many ways.
Already in 1652 Europeans settled in the Dutch East India Company in Table Bay (the old name for Cape Town). Dutch farmers began to establish the colony and brought slaves from East Africa, Madagascar and the East Indies besides enslaving the indigenous African people. In 1820 the first British settlers started settling down in Algoa Bay which is known as Nelson Mandela Bay today. They started to take over and fight some bloody wars, especially after diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) were discovered in the region. In 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed and led my white people with a black opposition called African National Congress (ANC) that fought against the exclusion of black people from power.
Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa and South West Africa from 1948 to the early 1990s. It forced different racial groups to live and develop separately and grossly unequally. It tried to stop all inter-marriage and social integration between racial groups. Having a friendship with someone of a different race generally brought suspicion upon you, or worse. More than this, apartheid was a social system which severely disadvantaged the majority of the population, simply because they did not share the skin color of the rulers. Many were kept just above destitution because they were ‘non-white’.
In 1983 the Constitution was reformed and in 1986 the international community strengthened its support for the anti-apartheid cause. Apartheid only ended around 30 years ago. That’s why racism and classism is still so present until today. Especially for older generations it seems hard to flip the switch and get out of their way of thinking which was taught to them all their life.
They have put some laws and measurements in place to avoid racism but in my opinion it’s by far not enough. The way how black people and people of color are being treated in the daily life is not acceptable and it’s horrible that no one really seems to do anything against it. Another problem I see is, that no one really dares to talk about those sensitive topics because everyone is scared to say something wrong or hurt someone with what they’re saying. A lot of educational work, especially for the rather uneducated and homeless people needs to be done.
A friend once witnessed a situation where a white barkeeper refused to give some free tap water to his black friend after giving him some without problems. Local friends also told me, applying for apartments in Cape Town is rather hard if you’re black – still until today! People easily get labeled and judged and I think that’s where the problem starts!
All of these are things you should keep in mind when visiting South Africa for the first time. Being aware of the history and the issue it’s still causing until today helps you understand the local culture better.