Every self-respecting table should have a tablecloth, and so it is with Table Mountain - only in this particular case, the 'tablecloth' is a pall of cloud that regularly descends on the mountain and obscures it from view.
Table Mountain is an exceptionally large hunk of rock that rears up almost vertically from sea level to an impressive 1088m. The views from the top are stupendous, but there's no point whatsoever in going up the mountain to see a view that is hidden from view. Moreover, even lateral visibility can be poor up on the mountain when the cloth descends, and it would be easy to accidentally stumble and injur yourself (or, under extreme circumstances, even fall off), especially if you've decided to hike one of the many splendid trails that the mountain has to offer.
My advice is to avoid going up the mountain if the tablecloth is in place or is threatening to descend. Conversely, if you're planning to go up Table Mountain at some point in your stay and note that the weather is clear, shelve your existing plans and scamper up to the cablecar up as quickly as possible, as there's no guarantee that the weather will be as charitable later in your stay.
One last word of caution: like most coastal towns, Cape Town's weather is changeable, and can shift very rapidly. So it's worth checking the weather forecasts and glancing up once in a while if you're planning to do anything that is dependent on good weather. Check the website below for forecasts (which is just one of many).
Cape Town may be a strong contender for the most beautifully appointed city in the world, but its glorious setting hasn't protected it from the blight of some spectacularly awful architecture and abysmal planning decisions, particularly in the City Bowl.
Offensive though the soulless concrete tower blocks of the CBD may be, they pale into insignificance by comparison with the infamous 'Tampax Towers' at the foot of Table Mountain, which are almost impossible to escape, regardless of the angle from which you view the mountain.
Whoever granted planning permission for these monstrosities should have been condemned to live in the shadow of one of these hideous things forever more!
I recently had an afternoon free in Cape Town and decided that I would put the time to good use by trying to visit a couple of museums that I hadn't managed to get around to in the past.
Unfortunately 'trying' was the operative word, as the two I selected - the Castle of Good Hope and the District Six museum, which are both located in the same sort of area - both close at 16:00!
I really cannot understand how a tourist attraction can be open for shorter hours than even the offices of a government department, and frankly I think that it's a very poor show. If you want to attract tourists, then you need to be mindful of the fact that most don't have as long in a city as they might like and will therefore want to pack as much as possible into their limited time, so closing for the day at what most of the world would regard as 'tea time' is simply unacceptable.
It would be more fathomable if all the museums closed at the same time, but the Slave House and the Heart of Cape Town museum (which I happened to visit on the same day) both close an hour later at 17:00.
The only advice I can offer is that you should check the opening hours of museums that you're planning to visit in advance of your visit and plan accordingly so that you're not disappointed: fortunately I am lucky enough to visit Cape Town often, so I will be able to get around to seeing these museums on one of my future visits: other tourists who are only fortunate enough to visit Cape Town once in a lifetime may not be so fortunate.
Let me state up front that I am firmly of the opinion that there is never a bad time to visit the Fairest Cape. However, there are certain times of year when it is less advisable to visit - usually because of pressure of numbers which drive up transport and accommodation prices, as well as contributing to major traffic congestion.
The first guiding principle is to try and avoid Cape Town during school holidays, when it is besieged with local tourists. Consult the following website for details on school holidays, and in particular, aim to avoid the long Christmas break over which South Africa virtually shuts down (from 16 December to the first week in January).
Secondly, Cape Town hosts two major sporting events: the Cape Argus cycle race - usually the second week in March - and the Two Oceans marathon over the Easter weekend. The town is absolutely packed with lunatic sports fanatics over these periods, so best to steer clear unless you intend to participate or feel obliged to collect the mortal remains of your loved one at the finish line!
The weather is always a bit of a random factor in the Cape: frankly, it can be glorious and it can be absolutely vile at any time of year. As a rule of thumb, the Cape has a Mediterranean climate, which means cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Personally, my favourite time to visit is the (Southern Hemisphere) spring - October/November - when the landscape is still green from the winter rains, but that's really a personal preference. As long as you bear in mind that the water's icy any time of year, then you'll at least make an informed decision!
Every parent brave enough to travel with children knows only too well that trying to keep small kids in some sort of sleep routine so that they don't become sleep deprived and make the entire trip a misery for everyone concerned is a huge issue. Having been there, done that and got the T shirt, for what it's worth, I've found that the best way to do this is to take them for a long drive in the early afternoon in the earnest hope that they drop off and have some sort of nap.
I am happy to report (based on extensive field trials) that the Cape peninsula is ergonomically designed for this purpose! I have lost count of the number of times that I have driven around the peninsula - sometimes twice - in order to give small, cranky people a rest. In case you find yourself in a similar situation, my recommended route (which can be driven either way) is as follows.
Take the main highway (M2) towards Muizenberg, and at the end of the highway, either take Ou Kaapseweg over the mountain, or go down the False Bay coast (either the main road that hugs the coast, or the exquisite Boyes Drive which contours the flanks of Table Mountain, which is elevated above the coast, giving you stupendous views). I would recommend Boyes Drive if your child is a light sleeper, as there are quite a lot of robots (traffic lights) on the road from Muizenberg through Kalk Bay, and this section of the road was undergoing major roadworks at the time of updating this tip (April 2012).
Both roads will eventually take you down to the entrance to the Cape Point Nature Reserve, where you turn west, cross the peninsula until you hit Scarborough and take the road up the Atlantic seaboard, which either involves the iconic Chapman's Peak drive or cutting up through Hout Bay and the leafy upmarket suburb of Bishopscourt. Sounds complicated, but once you look at a map, I promise that it will make sense!
The beauty of this strategy - provided that your little darling(s) play ball and do what they're meant to do - is that you also get to experience some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the world, so even if you end up doing it regularly, the chances are that you will feel grateful (rather than resentful) for the opportunity to repeat the experience!
P.S. I have to confess that my daughter was probably one of the few children ever born who absolutely loathed cars when she was little - in fact, she once screamed all the way from Gordon's Bay to Noordhoek without ever seeming to draw breath: go look on a map - it's a very long way (and seemed like an eternity to her parents!). However, I accept that she was atypical, and this strategy certainly worked like a charm with my son (and, according to my friends, countless others)!
The bad news is that of all the major tourist destinations in South Africa, Cape Town probably has the most unpredictable weather. The good news is that Cape Town probably offers more foul weather options (and believe me, it can get foul at any time of year!) than any other South African city!
This tip is a response to an excellent travel forum suggestion by Gerald_D, that there was a great need for a list of things to do in Cape Town in bad weather. For what it's worth, this is my initial offering - by no means comprehensive, so please feel free to offer your own suggestions!
The first (and most obvious) suggestion is to retreat to the V&A Waterfront. Heading for the seashore when the weather is bad may seem counterintuitive, but the Waterfront is home to the brilliant Two Oceans aquarium and there is also an undercover craft market section next door. Then obviously there is a large shopping mall for your retail therapy and a great cinema complex, as well as many restaurants which you can retreat to until the weather improves.
Our other great favourite is the underrated Cape Town museum in Company Gardens, which has a superb natural history section and is great for children and adults alike. There are also a range of other museums - the District Six museum, the Gold museum, the Jewish museum, the Slave House and the brilliant Heart of Cape Town heart transplant museum at Groot Schuur hospital just to list a few. With such an eclectic range, surely there should be one or more that appeals to your interests?
Obviously there is retail therapy - and we would really appreciate your noble contribution to our national GDP! Shopping is almost a religion for South Africans, and the quality and presentation of shops is world class. An obvious option (in addition to the Waterfront) is trendy Cavendish Square, although most suburban shopping malls will probably offer more than enough to keep you occupied.
If all else fails, retreat to the movies! The Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro chains offer excellent facilities at affordable prices (by international standards) and tend to be located in the shopping malls. Sadly the IMax cinema at the Waterfront closed down a number of years ago.
Another great option for families with kids is the wonderful Science Centre at Canal Walk, a little way inland (which is also a good shopping centre). The Century City entertainment complex (Cape Town's answer to Johannesburg's Montecasino) is also an option - personally I have little enthusiasm for these overly glitzy entertainment complexes, but it does offer an excellent cinema complex, tremendous live shows and lots of restaurants, albeit in a very kitsch setting.
The last option is to head inland - most obviously to the winelands (think Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, or my personal favourite, Paarl), although don't ignore the less-trumpeted charms of places such as Ceres, Tulbagh and Prince Albert (a long day trip, but through stunning scenery). The rule of thumb is that once you get a mountain or two between you and the sea, your chances of staying dry improve exponentially!
What do you do if the weather isn't awful but seems unsettled? The best advice that I can offer is to only plan your day's itinerary that morning once you can see what the weather is likely to do. If you plan to go up to the top of Table Mountain (which is well worth doing), then if you can see that the top of the mountain is clear of the 'tablecloth' of cloud, ditch any other plans that you may have had for the day and scurry up to the cablecar! A similar thing goes for Robben Island, as these are probably the two most weather-dependent tourist attractions. Gerald's own splendidly pragmatic advice is to head for whatever set of mountains are not shrouded in cloud!
Now, what did I leave out???
We5Ad ?? Are you serious?? You're wondering why you had a bad time in CT?? There's ppl living in deprived areas who can't afford to eat everyday, and you're crying that your friend had her expensive ipad stolen off her?? GOOD!! You sound like such a clown with that comment.
I haven't been to Cape Town yet, but I plan on going this summer with a non-profit organization that works in schools in the townships.
I'm posting here to see if anyone has any general advice about traveling in South Africa for a college student like me?
I should probably mention that the organization I'd be working with has mentioned that we (all the volunteers) would be traveling with security 24/7.
Further to my earlier warning about fake R200 notes in circulation, the Reserve Bank has issued new R200 notes. However, these are very similar in design to the old notes, and I'm not going to bother running through the subtle changes that have been made as it is unlikely that a tourist would be able to pick up the differences.
Banks claim that because the new notes have been issued and their systems have been used to eliminate fakes from their system ("trust us, we're a bank ..."), customers have no right to refuse being issued with legal tender. Thus, my previous suggestion that you refuse to accept R200 notes because you are afraid of being issued with fakes will probably not work. I would therefore suggest that a better way to avoid being given R200 notes would be to ask that you be issued with smaller denomination notes (R100 for example) because they are more convenient to use - this is true, as R200 is the biggest denomination we have, and smaller operators (such as artists at markets) will often struggle to provide change for a large note.
At the time of writing (May 2010), there has been a big problem with forged R200 notes entering circulation recently, to the point where many shops and banks refuse pointblank to accept them. These are orange/red notes with a leopard on them - and as it's difficult for even locals to spot the fakes, a tourist is simply not going to be able to identify a counterfeit.
I would therefore caution you to make sure that you don't accept any R200 notes. If you are given them by a bank or bureau de change or in your change, state politely (but firmly) that you have been informed that there has been a problem with fake notes of this denomination and are therefore sure that the other person will appreciate why you would prefer to have R100 or R50 notes instead.
Better to risk offending someone than to be landed with a lot of money that nobody else will accept (and it never hurts to show that you're an informed traveller)!
South Africa has its own culture.
Almost every sad story I heard had to do with tourists as well as the locals being exploited by landlords.
Consider doing a home exchange or stay in a hotel where you can check out and leave the country when you want. My very last choice would be in renting anything from anyone. That said, I did rent, but I will never, NEVER do it again. At least, never in South Africa unless I know the person for years.
The mindset there is infused with exploiting anyone with "money". The normal way to they do this is to demand a "deposit" which you will never get back, as well as being billed for "damages" without an inventory of anything in the first place. If you try to leave, they just take your luggage and lock it up until you pay their illegal demands. This is the conventional way they handle things there.
Unfortunately I have to warn you. You will have to watch your personal belongings, for theft is very common down here. Unfortunately criminality is a big problem in South Africa and even more unfortunately criminality is NOT limited to theft. Rape is a very common problem too. So watch out, DO NOT walk alone during the nights and watch out during day. Do use taxis and stay in groups, and you will be rather sure. Use your common sense. We witnessed four incidents on our 19 days stay down in there. One Visa Card theft, two agressions to get money and one try to get a camera. The four incidents happened by day. So ... watch out ...and travel safely.
...when you visit Cape Point.
We got out of our bus and one guy had a banana in his hand. Yes, he was asking for it - and got one huge shock when a baboon came out of nowhere and began attacking him for the banana.
Luckily a guard was close by with a stick and managed to chase the baboon away - with the banana. But not before our fellow tourist had a nice scratch or two on his hand!
Another Sign I saw at Boulders Beach was that people visiting the beach should check under their car when leaving to see if there is any penguins under the car. There is penguin nets prevent the penguins from getting into the people`s houses there and also into the road but it`s possible someone could leave the gate open leading to the beach and peanguins could get to the parking area. I guess it`s good sign to follow just incase there is a penguin underneath your car.
As a Black American Woman who was born when apartheid was taking place in South Africa, racism worried me. I did not experience anything from Whites, Chinese, Indians, or Malays but then again I really was not there long enough and the guides say that it does exist across cutures. It was sort of difficult for me to decide sometimes if the intentions from certain people of my own race were racist or jealousy. The men of all races were pretty cool with me; it was some of the women who gave me problems. When I arrived my skin was somewhat light and I was treated coldly by dark skinned women, but the lighter skinned ones were helpful. As the days went by my skin got darker, as it always does when I am in the sun. I noticed the darker skinned women referred to me as sister and smiled when wanting to engage me in conversation. However, at this point the lighter skinned women were snippy and one even made a comment about my hair. However, when I opened my mouth to speak to the light skinned ones and they heard that I was American their attitudes changed to becomming apologetic or just smiling. I was told by my tour guides that there was division in the Black community. A light skinned black with certain hair is classified as "coloured" and they are placed in a different racial socio-economic class above Blacks. Many feel they are superior. In America its similar but I felt it was more pronounced over there because of the classification. Also immigrants from other African nations are not liked because they work for little or nothing. So if they see something different about you S.A. might assume that you are from one of those other countries.
Although I experienced this please do not let it stop you from going. There is so much to do and see in this country that it would be a shame if you miss it because of peoples insecurities. I will go back one day and am considering buying property there for investment. My skin changes color to often for me to live there.
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