As a general rule, it's pretty safe parking anywhere that there is an established parking area. If there is no pay parking, there are always self appointed parking attendants who will appear from nowhere and offer their services to look after your car - my advice is to accept the offer, but tell them that you'll only pay them on your return, and then only if they've kept your car safe. Usually a R5 tip is sufficient (R10 if you're feeling generous).
Just pulling off the road to park is a little more problematic, but probably more in terms of road safety than personal security. With the exception of suburban areas, parking is only allowed in designated parking areas (not along hard shoulders of the road) and I personally wouldn't want to risk a truck or a minibus taxi ploughing into my parked car. If you decide to do this, then make sure that there's good, uninterrupted visibility for good distance in either direction to minimise this risk and check your mirrors before opening the driver's side doors.
Wherever you park, take sensible precautions, particularly if you're parking at night (for example, if you're going to a restaurant). Try to park in a well lit area and away from trees, bushes or other things that could conceal a would be attacker. Aim to park as close to where you're intending to visit, rather than having to trek to the end of a large, poorly lit underground parking area, and keep your eye out for suspicious characters who may be hanging around. Most parking areas for shopping centres and entertainment complexes employ private security guards, so if you feel unsafe, ask them politely if they'll accompany you to your car (and then tip them afterwards).
I would also suggest that you 'reverse park' so that you are able to drive straight out of the parking space - drivers are generally more vulnerable when they are reversing, as they are concentrating so hard on not hitting another vehicle that they tend not to focus on other possible risks. Always drive with your doors locked (and your windows closed) and keep valuables out of sight to minimise the temptation for a 'smash and grab', particularly at traffic lights (somewhat confusingly known as 'robots' here).
When you leave your car, make absolutely sure that it's locked by testing the door handles - thieves are increasingly 'jamming' the remote signal that operates the central locking system, so although the car sounds like it's locking, actually it isn't. I fell foul to this last trick at a local shopping centre on my way home a few months ago, and lost my laptop as a result.
Lastly, if you're in the Simonstown area along the False Bay side of the peninsula, make sure that you check under your car for penguins before you drive off, just in case one has taken advantage of your absence to have a little rest underneath - and no, this isn't a joke!
This may all sound pretty intimidating, but it's really all about being sensible and not creating an opportunity for thieves. It's not rocket science, and provided that you bear these basics in mind, you should be absolutely fine.
April 2011: Our ever-reliable Cape Town based correspondent Gerald_D (who doesn't write tips but is amazingly informative in travel fora) informs me that Main Road Kalk Bay has been closed northbound for the next couple of years as they undertake major upgrading and repairs on this road. The road is still open to southbound traffic.
This means that if you are doing the Peninsula Drive anticlockwise - which most people tend to do - you will be forced to take Boyes Drive as a detour (which is signposted). Far from being a hardship, this is an absolute bonus, as for my money, this is one of the most scenic drives in South Africa - if not the world - and arguably even nicer than Chapman's Peak.
If you are planning to spend some time in lovely Kalk Bay travelling from the south, park at the car park immediately on your right as you are directed to detour up the hill and then explore the town on foot.
Update (April 2012): Just to confirm that these roadworks are still underway
I think the Johanneburg streets are more dangerous than any I have seen. Pedestrians at their peril ignore crosswalks and do a dance around cars in mid block. I understand that sadly many pedestrians are killed or hurt every year.
A large percentage of the drivers are not the least bit careful and going for a ride is a bit of a crap shoot. Drivers weave in and out with little regard to safety.....theirs or that of others.
If you are waiting at a robot (traffic light) and it turns green there is immediate honking of horns behind you if you pause for a split second.
When driving, don't leave stuff like handbags, phones, cameras on the seats. People have been known to occasionally smash windows at traffic lights and grab the stuff. I personally know of someone who lost R10,000 worth of phone, camera and other valuables when this happened to her. She even engaged in a tussle with the robber to try and hold onto her stuff, but didn't succeed.
Keep your doors locked.
You might think that I am joking, but I took a photo to proof it. this guy roams the streets of Cape Town especially round the waterfront area, so be careful when you drive as he thinks the road belongs to him.
... will not be there when you get back.
and thats just the way it is: you will have a smashed window and whatever it was that you left in open view will be AWOL.
put stuff in the boot when leaving your car parked somewhere ... anywhere ... day or night: it'll take you a coupla seconds and it'll save you the hassle of replacing a window/ laptop/ cellphone ...
Always drive with your doors locked and windows shut if possible. Street kids and peddlers will snatch things from inside your car, including your sunglasses of your head! They have nothing to lose by attempting to steal off you.
Never leave ANYTHING on display in your car when parked up. People will steal almost anything!!
I found driving in Cape Town fine, going without any hiccups, please take onboard the above advice.
If you are in any doubt about driving use Marine Taxis or a taxi company recommended by your hotel. Marine Taxis can be contacted on the following number: Cape Town 434 0 434
In different parts of the world, customs differ. In North America, a car in the next lane flashing at you means "I am giving you space for you to change lanes." In South Africa, the flashing lights mean "*** off". In other words, DO NOT CHANGE INTO THAT LANE!
Most cars in SA have air-con so don't wind your window down & drive with your arm out even if you did fancy that one arm tanned look.
It is not safe to do this.
Secondly make sure all the doors are locked when driving & try make sure the remote opens only the drivers door instead of all 4 at the same time. Someone can jump in the back.
Providing you take precautions it is safer driving in South Africa
When you travel in the city centre, please ensure that your doors are locked and your windows wound up. We have a problem with people at traffic lights that will grab your sunglasses off your face, grab your purse, grab at any jewellery around your neck. Please be carefull and enjoy your time here in this lovely city without any of these horrible incidents
Cape Grace Hotel Cape Town
5 Reviews and 582 Opinions Rooms are very nice, and service is spendid. However, the hotel is simply too expensive.
An African Villa Cape Town
1 Review and 563 Opinions An African Villa is tucked away in Tamboerskloof - this area on the slopes of Signal Hill is...
Mount Nelson Hotel Cape Town
9 Reviews and 462 Opinions I had one stay at the Mt. Nelson, an older hotel that is off the waterfront on the edge of downtown...