I used Emirates. They have a generous baggage allowance, and prices are reasonable. There are a lot of airlines that fly to Cape Town, either direct or through Johannesburg, so just keep an eye out for cheap flights. Return flights on Emirates from DC-area to Cape Town will set you back around $1,250 (give or take). I believe with a US passport, you immediately get a 30-day visa for Dubai, so if you’re up for exploring, go for it. I found the souks all sold the same items, but it was interesting to wander around (even with Hobbit feet – if you’ve read my Niume blog, you’ll understand!)
I flew into Johannesburg Airport, but Emirates flies direct to CT, and they appear to be adding more flights daily.
Summer = Nov thru Feb
Autumn = March, April
Winter (such as it is) = May thru August
Spring = Sep, Oct
These dates are for 2017, and some may vary by a day or two from 2018, but it’ll give you an idea of when schools are out, tourists are visiting, and prices increase accordingly:
SCHOOLS ARE IN SESSION - AVOID
11 Jan - 31 Mar
8 Apr - 30 June
24 Jul - 29 Sep
9 Oct - 8 Dec
1 January 2017 - New Year’s Day
20 March 2017 - School holiday
21 March 2017 - Human Rights Day
14 April 2017 - Good Friday
17 April 2017 - Family Day
27 April 2017 - Freedom Day
28 April 2017 - School holiday
1 May 2017 - Workers’ Day
16 June 2017 - Youth Day
9 August 2017 - National Women’s Day
24 September 2017 - Heritage Day
16 December 2017 - Day of Reconciliation
25 December 2017 - Christmas Day
26 December 2017 - Day of Goodwill
A lovely time to visit. The worst weather I’ve seen was a storm that lasted 3 days, but that was the only time bad weather lasted longer than 24 hours. It’s usually a day/night thing and then it blows itself out. The upside is that the cooler weather makes long walks in the mountains more comfortable. This is the greenest you’ll ever see the mountain, and with this being the smallest and most diverse of the world’s Floral Kingdoms, you’ll be spotting plants completely unfamiliar. There is a gentle perfume that comes off the Fynbos (the unique vegetation found only in this region) – most times it’s not noticeable, but every now and then, it’ll catch you as it wafts by. Rain also means fewer water restrictions and lots more waterfalls. Pretty much the entire region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the plants and environment are protected.
Temperatures start creeping up, the weather is crisp, clear and there are opportunities to go whale and flower watching. The landscape north-west of Cape Town is semi-desert for much of the year, but when the rains come around late August vast carpets of wildflowers spring to life, and road trips are popular amongst tourists and botanists from all over the world.
Higher temperatures reach into the 80’s with an occasional windy day, and wherever you go, you’ll heard different languages as the world comes to visit. Lots of music festivals, etc happening, as well.
Whale watching starts roughly June and runs through December, but dates vary according to the whales’ calendar. They tend not to call ahead.
Basically, any time of the year is good in Cape Town, as long as you’re prepared for the occasional day when it’s best to sit by a fire and eat and drink. The rest of the time is pretty much beach weather. It’s a tough life ;)
Regardless of how many sites you look at to try and understand the best time to visit Cape Town, don’t believe a word of it. Cape Town does what Cape Town does and no amount of statistics will ever reflect our reality. The weather is gorgeous pretty much year-round with temperatures in summer averaging in the 70’s, and temperatures in winter averaging in the 60’s - with maybe one day a week experiencing the howling South-Easterly (or ‘Cape Doctor’). After years of Pacific Northwest winters, I needed little more than a cardigan last winter. The US East Coast where you are gets a LOT colder and a lot hotter, so you’ll be very comfortable here, at any time of year.
Cape Town is also where you learn about ‘micro-climates’. If it’s howling fit to take you off your feet in the far south of the Peninsula, the chances are good all you need do is drive over the mountain to another suburb, where you’ll find a gentle breeze. The way the mountains are situated, there are always places to get away from it – and those places often have forests, vineyards, and a whole lot of things to do.
When I lived here in the 1980’s, it would be pouring with rain over our apartment (actually, the rain would literally pour over the mountain and stop a block away from our apartment, which was very weird to watch if you’re on the other side of the street). My sister would walk in and announce we were going to the beach. A quick hop over the Nek and we’d spend the day sunning on Camps Bay beach while everything got drenched back home. But those days are occasional.
The Cape Doctor
Worthy of its own paragraph. This is the South-Easterly wind that will blow you off your feet. Literally. TV stations love it - they send their photogs into the streets to film people rolling down the sidewalk, or forming a human chain so they don't. This is what happens: the weather is perfect, for days or even weeks. This means a build-up of pollution, and the usual grime of civilization. And then, the Doctor comes to visit - and freaking blows it all out. After that, the buildings shine so bright you need shades, the ocean is the most remarkable color blue you'll ever see, and the city simply sparkles.
There are few places in the world that can match the food here. There are so many excellent restaurants, of every conceivable style, and since it is so competitive, trying to find a bad one remains a goal of mine. Also, with the abundance of local farms, it’s possible to eat locally, organic, and affordably by visiting one of the daily farmers markets that happen in various spots around the Peninsula. A very fussy gastronome was heard to exclaim that, with all her extensive world travels, Cape Town had the best food she had ever tasted.
False Bay is where Discovery Channel lives part of the year to film Shark Week. It’s a popular place to swim, because the water is shallow (relatively speaking) so stays warmer than other beaches on the western side of the Peninsula. If you’re afraid of sharks, they do put up protection barriers and patrol them. Most people don’t give a shit and just swim, relying on the Sharkspotters to do their job – which they do very well. Fish Hoek beach is less than a 10-minute drive from home. On the other side of the Peninsula, is one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, Noordhoek, closer to a 15 minute drive, through horse country.
All along the Peninsula are fantastic beaches. They are well cared for, clean and with a constant backdrop of the stunning mountain. Capetonians are very proud of the environment overall, and work hard to keep it at a high standard.
Table Mountain is the oldest mountain on earth. It is over 500-million years old, and continues to grow as the granite plates shift under it. But, facts cannot prepare you for the sight of it. Photos do not do it justice. There is a magic and a majesty to it, looming protectively over the city like a Mother.
The rest of it:
The flat table may be the most iconic image but the Table is only a part of a 50km long range that reaches down the middle of the Peninsula to the Cape Point. It is quite simply breathtaking from every angle
A great illustration of the Peninsula can be seen here:
Weird and funny Cape Town stuff:
· The higher the wind speed, the slower the internet speed. Head to a vineyard instead.
· Everyone is going to ask you about Trump.
· If you have an appointment to meet someone, always call beforehand. Surf might be great that day, and beach takes precedence. You may need to meet on the beach, between waves.
· We have weather. We have seasons. Often, all of them in the same day.
The best option (unless otherwise arranged with me) is to get into one of the B&B's around here. Prices range from around $17 up.
The most expensive parts would be gas (probably not much difference between gas in US and here, I don’t think), and accommodation. There are a ton of things to do that are either free or very affordable (especially with the exchange rate as it is). For example, entrance to the most beautiful garden in Africa – Kirstenbosch – runs at $4/person.
Cape Point Nature Reserve http://capepoint.co.za/ is roughly double that.
Chapmans Peak – an extraordinary mountain-side drive that takes my breath away and moves me to tears every time – has a toll plaza which costs around $3/car.
There are a few videos of Chapmans Peak Drive. A driver one (link below) and an aerial view on the right:
This is one - driver pulls off before reaching Hout Bay, but you'll see much of it:
At 2:00, Noordhoek beach appears.
At 3:38, your first glimpse of the fishing town, Hout Bay (pronounced 'shout')
And yes, the water really is that blue.
The exchange rate varies, obviously, but I’m calculating it as R13.50, so if you look at these prices, just divide what you see by 13.5.
The luxurious hotel at Camps Bay, the Twelve Apostles Hotel, has menus online so you can see what an expensive menu is like: https://www.12apostleshotel.com/food-and-drink/azure-restaurant
The magnificent Mount Nelson Hotel, 5-star luxury, offers a High Tea experience that will set you back around $25 per person:
Most places are a lot cheaper than that.
If you want to splurge and see big game, there are plenty of options but the one I have heard the most about is: http://www.aquilasafari.com/
Pretty much everything is within a 2-hour drive of the City. If you’re looking for a longer road trip, that opens up a lot more possibilities… and you’ll be changing your flight plans. The travel visa is usually valid for 3 months – don’t be shy to use it up. It’s advised to extend it within the first month, and after 6 months here, retirement visas are possible J
Driving around the map:
I live in Fish Hoek. The squiggly road (M64) heading north is Ou Kaapse Weg (Old Cape Road). It is a mountain pass over Silvermine Nature Reserve and makes the drive into the city a pleasure. This Youtube video takes the drive from the south towards Cape Town. This pass is about half the distance (roughly 15 minutes) into the city from home.
At the top of Silvermine is an entrance to the reserve, where one can take a few walks (I’m a walker not a hiker, and I managed getting up to Elephant’s Eye cave with only a couple of pauses along the way. The view is worth it.)
5 minutes from where I live is the Long Beach Mall – a small shopping mall that serves the “far south”, and the drive around Cape Point is lovely – including the occasional stop to allow baboons to cross the road, visiting the penguins at Boulders, lingering over a bottle of wine at the Cape Farmhouse restaurant, or stopping at the Ostrich Farm to buy some former residents in the form of biltong – the edible version of jerky. Also, a lot of African art sculptures are available, especially at the entrance to Cape Point Reserve. I haven’t been there yet – seems a day is in order, and more fun to do it with someone. Everyone I know is bored with the “tourist stuff”. There’s a funicular to the lighthouse, a long hike to visit a shipwreck, and chances to spot some of the many animals that live on the reserve – from small antelope species to zebra… and the ubiquitous bloody baboons. Again, animals here have all the rights, including the right to stop traffic, steal your food, and generally be brats.
The vineyard closest to me is Cape Point Vineyard, and is a popular place to go on Thursday evenings when they open up to a food market, and one can sit and watch the sunset over Noordhoek beach.
Just on the other side of Silvermine is the “city wine region”, which consists of 9 vineyards on the side of the mountain, including the oldest: Groot Constantia was established in 1685 and is a lovely place to linger for a few hours, but one could use up the day with wine-tastings at many of them on that route. More wine tasting beyond the city.
One doesn’t really need to leave the Peninsula – there’s enough to see and enjoy: the drive from Cape Point to the city can go two main routes: the main highway, over Silvermine and through the southern suburbs, past Rhodes Memorial, Kirstenbosch Gardens http://www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch
and more, or along the stunning coastline via Hout Bay, Camps Bay, and into the city, with a stop at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.
A drive up Signal Hill is a must, where the 360 views are stunning. A noon-day gun is fired daily, which scares the poop out of every pigeon in the vicinity.
Beyond the city lies the Cape Flats – formed mostly during apartheid as the whites got to live close to the city, and everyone else got shunted into no-man’s-land. There are still shanty towns and extreme poverty, but things are changing with a burgeoning middle class. A visit to the townships is a must – there are tours led by residents which sound fun, and I would also arrange (if you’re interested) to spend an afternoon watching a dance class given by one of my favorite organizations, Dance For All.
After the Flats lies the wine region – and more mountains.
South Africa has one of the oldest wine regions that encompasses some of the most mountainous landscapes.
There are nearly 5,000 vineyards in this region, within 2 hours of Cape Town. One need never sober up.
And that’s just within the immediate vicinity of Cape Town. Longer day or overnight trips to delightful villages like Riebeeck Kasteel (one of the oldest towns in the country, established in 1661 by the Dutch sailor who set up Cape Town as a formal settlement to provide food to passing ships), Darling, Paternoster, and others can all be done easily. Those small towns in the Karoo (a semi-desert beyond the mountains) are becoming quite trendy, without losing the charm of their history.