The Ultimate South Africa Guide for Female Solo Travellers: Part 1 - Cape Town
The ultimate South Africa guide for female solo travellers: Cape Town
This is the first episode of an epic series where I will tell you all you need to know about your trip to the tip of Africa - first hand from someone who travelled all over the country on her own. What to do in each region, where to stop, where to get vegan food, where to stay on a budget, the history and culture of a place and all you need to know about transport!
I divided it into four articles: Cape Town, Overberg / Gardenroute, Sunshine Coast / Wild Coast, Drakensberg / Zululand / Eswatini / Kürger / Joburg.
But today, we start with the Mothercity itself:
Cape Town has been awarded many times to be one of the best travel destinations at the moment. If for vacation, to work, for digital nomads or free spirits, it’s probably the most western town you can find on the continent. Most people fly in either directly to the Mothercity or via Joburg, but there are many connecting flights during the day. It’s an easy start if it’s your first time on the continent: the city reminds you more of a place like LA than what comes to your mind if you think of Africa. But oh well, it deserves its name as one of the most beautiful cities worldwide!
There is something about this place, actually the whole country, that will make you fall in love.
I have to say though, staying in the city and only making day trips or just drive the Garden Route would be a huge mistake. There is so much more to explore! So take your time if you're considering coming to South Africa.
History & Culture
I think most of us are aware of this countries troubled history, or at least part of it. Terms like Apartheid, Mandela, systematic racism, Steve Biko, an incredibly big difference between rich and poor or violence are things that come to people’s minds when they think about the country. I`ll try and scratch the surface of the history and the culture that is closely connected to it for each region. But I would never be able to cover everything, so I try to give you a brief overview of what, in my opinion, you need to know and be aware of if you're coming here.
Apartheid, the racist regime that was in place in SA from the 1940s until 1994, only ended 25 years ago. This isn't a long time ago, especially for something that had such a big impact on society, education, housing structure and every day life of every single South African Citizen. Especially in CT I personally felt like it is still very much present: the rich and poor neighbourhoods are obviously separated in different parts of the town and rich still means white most of the time. The whole city is dominated by white people - in a country where less than 10% of its citizens actually belong to this ethnic group. The fact that many service jobs, like sale assistant, cleaners or road workers are done by people of color is something that will get your attention as soon as you explore the city. but it’s actually a two-sided sword: on one side, it shows very obviously the difference of classes as white people tend to work in better payed jobs and so are just getting richer. On the other hand, many people in their 40s-60s never had the chance to get a higher education and putting them into jobs that don't require much training is a way of including them into society. But walking through Clifton at around 5pm is still a weird thing as it is a strange view to see hundreds of people getting picked up by minibuses after working at these villas and brought back to the townships outside of town. You will also see many people doing `useless` jobs that were just created for the sake of giving them work, like waving the flag every five meters for no reason on highways. It’s a difficult thing and walking through town with homeless people (even kids) asking you for money or food around every corner is something you have to get used to. A mother once pushed her baby in my arms when I passed and it broke my heart. But please don't give them anything as this just makes the problem worse. If you want to help, read further and support a local organisation like the pasta kitchen I listed below. Another result of Apartheid is the current gang violence problem, the main reason why the statistics look so bad and why certain neighbourhoods are not safe.
Please don`t be scared by all of this. This history also built an absolutely breathtaking feeling of unity, of love and empowerment. It’s not called the Rainbow Nation for no reason and I was able to experience how deep this feeling of a united South Africa really is during the Rugby World Cup: everyone went on the streets, celebrated together and fell into the arms of the stranger next to them crying, singing songs of equality, freedom and peace. It was probably one of the most moving experiences I ever had and made me fall for this community even more.
If you tell people that you're travelling to South Africa solo, as a woman, you will get the same reaction every single time. Really? On your own? But that's dangerous!
Yeah well, every place has its threats and I'm a huge advocate of researching every little detail about safety rules before you visit a place. If you're prepared and follow the guidelines, you will be as safe as everywhere else, no matter what country your visiting. And SA is no exception!
We all know the crazy numbers that are published in European newspaper about Cape Town, or South Africa in general, and let me tell you why they are so high. The crime, especially murder and rape, is very much centred in the regions where no tourist ever goes. The townships, neighbourhoods with very, very high unemployment, a relict of the Apartheid system that paved the road for a high gang activity. These events also mostly happen inside the community, and over 80 % of victims knew their rapist. This is absolutely horrible and yes, the numbers are alarming and the government finally needs to act against it. But it also tells you that for a tourist taking precautions, it’s as safe as any other country.
The basic rules you should follow at all times in Cape Town (it’s a bit different on the countryside but I will talk about that in the next part):
- don't go out after dark: take an Uber or drive
- don't walk alone as soon as the sun sets, especially as a woman
- tell friends where you are going and who you're going with
- use Uber at all times instead of taxis, MyCiti buses are safe during the day, Minibuses if you're in a group are ok during a day but not alone as a woman
- most houses have security systems and your host will tell you how to enable it
- always keep your belongings close to you, pickpocketing is very common especially at Long Street
- you can walk in Seapoint, Greenpoint, Waterfront, Camps Bay, Clifton during the day, Gardens and the CBD is also fine if you know where you're going but always be present and listen to your gut feeling
- don't walk on your own in other neighbourhoods or only for short distances, like Observatory, Woodstock etc.
- don't leave the tourist groups in BooKap as there are armed robberies during the day deeper into the neighbourhood
- always close the doors of your car
- never flash valuables, may keep your phone around your neck and camera equipment in a safe backpack
- take everything out of your car before you park it or put it into the trunk, even trash. Smashed windows are very common!
This may look like a long list, but most things are just common sense and apply to every big city. Fun fact: the only physical harm I experienced was a friend who got spiked by a German guy, in Cape Town. That shows best that nationality definitely doesn't matter.
If you got a feeling for the city after a few days, you will know where you feel safe to walk and how to act. Trust yourself, listen to your gut feeling and you'll be fine!
How to get around
As mentioned above, during the day it’s safe to walk in the touristic/western areas, I always walked into the CBD and to the beaches from Greenpoint. The Waterfront is also safe during the night as there is security present at all time. But otherwise Uber is the keyword if you want to go out after dark for dinner or drinks. It’s cheap, reliable and there is always one around the corner. Also take an Uber if you want to go to Woodstock or Observatory, Table Mountain or Lionshead, even during the day, especially if you're alone. A short drive from Greenpoint to the CBD is around 30-50 Rand which is 2-3 Euros.
A few years ago, they established a new bus system called MyCity which is also completely safe to use during the day inside of Cape Town. Many friends used it during their stay, especially the ones who stayed in Woodstock or Obs as you can't really walk into town from there.
Like everywhere in SA, the minibus system is well used and also covers the townships and neighbourhoods outside of the city center. It is used by the common people, you basically stop them, jump in, tell them where you need to go and they say yes or no. It’s really cheap: around 5 rand from Greenpoint to Camps Bay, and definitely an adventure! As a woman on your own, if you did it before, you can use them in certain areas during the day, its fine if you're with someone else but don't use them during the night. The only thing to use when it gets dark is an Uber.
Capetownians drive everywhere, but I wouldn't recommend renting a car for inside the city as Uber will be way cheaper, faster and easier. As soon as you leave town, yes, but before that it will just cost you a lot of money and you have to find a safe parking spot, pay for it and make sure your car is empty.
Where to stay
Depending if you want to stay in a hotel, a backpackers ( South Africa’s answer to hostels) or in an AirBnB, different neighbourhoods can be considered.
Greenpoint and Seapoint are safe, close to everything and have a really nice feel. There are quite a few AirBnBs, hotels and backpackers around. If you want more luxury, you can always look into Camps Bay or Clifton for a high-priced apartment or hotel while you will find different really cool backpackers in the CBD, Gardens, Woodstock or Observatory. Again, consider if you`re ok with using an Uber for everything but as the last two have a really cool, uprising arty scene I would also consider them if you want to rent a cheap apartment or room for a longer period.
What to do
The city offers countless of activities where you can meet people, co-work or explore on your own. There is something for everyone, no matter if you're a hiker, rather drive through the backcountry while tasting wine, surf in the sea, learn something about the history or get a cup of coffee.
You can't come to Cape Town without going up Table Mountain at least once. The moment an airplane approaches the city, it will great you with a stunning view and believe me, it’s so worth it. There are many ways to get up (and down), multiple hikes with different lengths and a cable car that takes you to the top if you don't like walking, or can't. It offers a 360-degree view and while I didn't use it myself, friends reported that it was also really nice, especially for sunset. It costs around 240 rand, which is around 15 Euros.
The more adventurous option is to hike, and there are so many paths to choose from! There is the classic one: Platteklip Gorge which basically goes straight up and is the fastest one but also the most boring one as you face the mountain the whole time. I went down this way and it’s really exhausting for your legs, knees and ankles but if you're going alone, this is the safest route as there are always people on it. It is generally not recommended to hike alone, but there are hiking groups on Facebook where you'll always find a buddy or a whole group who will join you. Then there are other ones like Kasteelspoort, Skeleton Gorge and India Venster which are a bit more challenging. The later definitely and only recommend to experienced people. But they offer a way better view and experience. Kasteelspoort starts at the Pipe Track that takes you around the mountain and is an easy walk for everyone who wants to see the mountain but doesn't really want to get to the top. And you go left at the signal sign where you will find the Insta famous platform. It’s another two hour hike through valleys to the cable car from there, but it’s totally doable if your fitness is ok. Skeleton Gorge starts at the Kirstenbosch Gardens and should be really beautiful along the water reservoirs on top - I didn't do it this time but it’s still on my list! India Venster involves a bit of climbing and is challenging, but rewards you with a breathtaking view where you can wave to the cable car. That’s also where it gets its name from as venster means window in Afrikaans.
Always do your research when hiking as the weather can change quite fast, generally it’s misty in the morning and clears up during the day.
No view is as famous as the one from Lionshead: overlooking the city and Table Mountain on one side, Camps Bay and the ocean on the other. I personally would say that you have to go up there if you're in town and are able to hike; it’s actually quite a short one and takes around 45 minutes. The last part is a bit more difficult as it involves climbing and leaders, but if you look at all the people that make it to the top, it really is worth it. Going up for sunrise or sunset is best as it’s absolutely epic and a one of a kind experience. The starting point along the road to Signal Hill, you can either go up from the main path or start at the mosque between Signal Hill and Lionshead, which takes a bit longer but is also more scenic.
The Oranjezicht Market is based at Granger Bay, next to the Waterfront. It is open every weekend until the afternoon and during summer also on Wednesday between 4pm and 8pm. Unlike a traditional African market, this place is really hip and cool, very clean and offers baked goods, trend food and healthy junk food in a beautiful location next to the sea. Definitely worth to stop by. If it’s for breakfast on the weekend or dinner during the week, prices are also fine and they even have an ATM! There are loads of vegan options and a heavy focus on local resources which of course is really great.
Running in Seapoint
Look at this coastline, how can you not go for a run here?! Take out your running shoes and start at the Waterfront, all the way along the Greenpoint Stadium to Seapoint, or if you want more, you can continue to Camps Bay. Especially in the morning when it’s not too hot yet and the sea breeze gives you great air to breathe (hello fellow asthma sufferers!), this is the place to go for a exercise. Even if you're not a runner, it’s also a beautiful walk with little cafes to stop near Greenpoint park.
Sundowner in Camps Bay
Very hyped and mostly owned by rich white people, the two neighbourhoods south of the main city offer the best beaches in the area and are worth a visit. Camps Bay is home to a long, clean and sandy beach with perfect swimming conditions with calm water, even though it occasionally has some waves worth of surfing close by. Get a bottle of wine, a picnic and head down there for sunset to enjoy a real South African sundowner before heading to one of the bars lined up at the opposite side of the road as soon as it gets dark.
Beach Day at Clifton
Clifton has four beaches: Clifton 1 to 4. This part of town is where the rich and the famous live. Every single house is a huge villa and the beaches are at the bottom of the neighbourhood. They are all very pretty and it’s the perfect place for a quiet beach day. You can go from one to four or stay at the one you like most.
The V&A Waterfront is probably the most touristic place in the city, just after Table Mountain. It’s also the safest area and you can even walk here during the evening on your own. There are tons of shops, the Victoria Wharf which is a huge mall, several restaurants and both chopper and boat tours start here. It is really western and has no Africa feeling at all, but if you need to get some things or just want to have a glass of wine (or beer!) watching the harbour, it’s a nice place to stop or spend your evening. It’s also the starting point for my next recommendation - Robben Island!
The island lies 12km in front of Cape Town and has been used as a prison island for centuries. It got tragic fame as the place where Nelson Mandela and several other black activists where imprisoned, as that it was also where they started studying and where Mandela wrote his famous book. It is a weird place and the moody sky on the day I went definitely made it even more impressive. But you can feel the strange feeling between pain and hope still lingering in the air. The old prison buildings are cold and mostly empty with info plates all over. The island itself is green with beautiful sceneries and a lighthouse which creates a unique contrast. You can only visit by joining the official tour where you take a boat at the Nelson Mandela Gateway and enter one of the buses they put you on as soon as you arrive. There is a tour guide who will tell you all you need to know about the places you pass by and you can get out at several stops. The prison tour itself is held by a former inmate which I think is really cool. They answer all the questions you might have and in the end the bus will pick you up again for a tour to the natural side of the island where you have a stunning view over the city and the mountains.
Drinking coffee at one of Cape Towns many cafes
The city is known to offer the best coffee worldwide, or at least to be one of the places where you can get an extraordinary cup. As a non-coffee drinker, everyone thought I'm crazy! But nearly every cafe offers either a flat white matcha or a chai latte, always with plant-based milk options. I listed my favourite ones in my Digital Nomad Guide, so click here to get a list of the best places to stop by while exploring the city (some are even worth going to the CBD just for the sake of visiting!) -> Digital Nomad Guide Cape Town
Join a wine tour to Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek
I had the chance to take part of two wine tours to the wine country, around 45 minutes from Cape Town.
This tour provider picks you up in Cape Town for a total of 1150 rand or Stellenbosch for 850 rand. The groups are rather small: we were only three people, which is actually really nice as you got the chance to visit smaller vineyards and boutique places that aren't available for larger groups. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and gave us constant insight information about the wine making process, the landscape and the different vineyards we passed by. We were the only guests at most tastings which was pretty cool, and the first stop included a cheese tasting, while the last one came with a big wheel of cheese and crackers. Be aware, you will taste A LOT of wine during the day and I could feel it already after the first round (and I can drink a lot). But it’s the same for everyone and you can spit it out if you don't want to swallow every single glass as there are around 4-5 at each stop. I really enjoyed this tour, mainly because of our guide who knew the owners of all the places we visited and who made it possible for us to try some special wine that isn't available all the time. Lunch isn't included with this one, but the place they take you is affordable and with the high level of service they offer, that's completely fine. If you're looking for a small, intimate tour with very well-trained staff on smaller boutique vineyards, Tsiba Tsiba is the tour to go with!
The second wine tour I had the pleasure to join was with Wine Tour ZA. I took part of their Easy Rider Group tour which takes you to four wine estates and costs 950 rand for pick up in Cape Town, 850 rand for Stellenbosch. You will be driven around in a minibus and the tour guides are all really funny, easy going and chill people who are able to entertain the whole group. Our group was mixed with people of all ages and origins and was packed into two separate vans as we were that many. The wine estates are bigger and more commercial, but you also get a cellar tour which is really interesting and cool to see. There is a cheese tasting, a chocolate tasting, biltong and crackers at one vineyard and lunch is included with a glass of wine, both in really high quality. We had a lot of fun and it’s the perfect tour to meet people as a solo traveller. Maybe you won't learn that much about wine or see passion projects, but you will leave with new friends and the driver was so kind that he even dropped us off at a bar instead of our starting point.
Take part in a Pub Crawl
The best and safest way to enjoy the nightlife of a city is always a Pub Crawl/Tour and Cape Town is no exception. There are two tour providers in the city and you can find them both on AirBnB. I really enjoyed each one, even met someone who joined me on my travels later and they show you the best places in town. And there are many extraordinary ones!
Something very close to my heart and a way to really help the homeless of Cape Town: Join a soup kitchen or more specific, volunteer at the Obs Pasta Kitchen organised by the owners of Ferdinandos Pizza! Every Wednesday they feed the homeless of Observatory with a fresh bowl of pizza and you are welcome to just pop by and volunteer, they are happy about every helping hand that comes by. It’s not only a good way to support the community but also gives you an insight into the lifes of the people you see roaming the streets. While listening to their stories and learn a bit about that part of society you learn who they really are.
I sadly didn't have the chance to visit them myself, but many other travellers absolutely loved the botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch! They are situated at the backside of Table Mountain and are easy to reach via Uber.
Go surfing at Bloubergstrand
The best place to catch some waves close to the city is Bloubergstrand, north of the city center. You not only get a great view over the city but a nearly endless beach with multiple surf schools offering lessons or board rentals.
Just outside of the Motherland Coffee Company is the starting point for the free walking tours that start multiple times a day and cover different parts of the city, like BoKap, history or Nelson Mandela. They are free of charge, which means you tip them the amount you think the tour was worth. But please keep in mind that these are professionals and they deserve a decent wage for their work.
Where to eat
Cape Town is a vegan paradise and the main supermarket chains like Woolworth, Spar and Pick&Pay (I haven't really seen many Checkers in town) all have a huge variety on vegan friendly options, especially in the frozen section!Nearly every restaurant has a plant based option, you can find all my favourite spots in my Foodguide for CT -> Vegan Food Guide Cape Town
Living environmental friendly in Cape Town is a bit of a two sided sword. There are recycling stations all over the city and they do have a system in place. Many cafes and restaurants offer metalstraws or none at all, there are countless plant-based options and as it’s a quite hip city. There are also some unpacked stores. It is possible to buy bread and fruits/vegetables open, but it’s a bit absurd to read big advertisements about saving the environment next to a whole store packed with fruits and snacks wrapped in plastic. I tried to buy a bread snack without the packaging and the sales lady was so surprised that she asked me where I'm from and if that's a swiss thing to do, not using plastic for the environment.
On the other hand, they still have a huge water problem which requires you to be really careful with the usage of drinking water but at the same time rich white people are still allowed to fill their pools with it. Same with the electricity system: the organiser is rumoured to be corrupt and it just gets worse with load shedding these days, which basically means no power for a few hours every few days in each neighbourhood.
Now you know all you need to know about Cape Town! If I missed anything you would love me to add, please tell me. You can find the other parts here:
The Ultimate South Africa Guide for Female Solo Travelers: Part 4 - Drakensberg, St.Lucia, Eswatini &Krüger