Travel information: getting around Cape Town

Jump aboard a local minibus taxi, hire a car or simply take a tour on foot

By Annette Klinger

Public transport

Cape Town’s public transport isn’t exactly the embodiment of efficiency, and if you’re travelling on a tight schedule, you should organise your own car. Failing that, you can organise a taxi service or even brave the local minibus taxis.

Buses

Golden Arrow Buses
Golden Arrow Buses (0800 656 463/www.gabs.co.za) are omnipresent within the city limits and the suburbs. The ‘Bus for Us’ isn’t a touristy mode of transport and won’t take you to remote sightseeing destinations, but it will get you from A to B in the city for a relatively humble amount. Tickets cost around R10 to R15 for a one-way journey.

The City Sightseeing Bus
The City Sightseeing Bus (021 511 6000/www.citysightseeing.co.za) caters to foreigners, touring the expanses of the Southern Peninsula on the Blue Route and exploring the City Bowl sights on the Red Route. The first bus leaves from the Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront at around 9am (and every 20 minutes thereafter until 5pm). Day tickets (where you can hop on and off to your heart’s content) will set you back about R120.

Trains

Metrorail
The Cape Town railway service, Metrorail (0800 656 463/www.capemetrorail.co.za), isn’t exactly predictable, with local trains being bang on time one day and hopelessly delayed the next, so relying on this mode of transport if you want to be punctual isn’t a good idea.

The Cape Town Railway Station
The Cape Town Railway Station (021 449 2991) in Adderley Street is the centre of all train networks in the Western Cape.

Travel safe

The safest time to travel is between 7am-9am and 4pm-6pm. Minimise unnecessary risks by travelling first class and keeping all your valuables close at hand and out of sight.

Long-distance trains

Most long-distance trains have dining cars and catering trolleys, and it’s definitely worth opting for a first-class cabin. Ticket prices and timetables are available from Shosholoza Meyl (086 000 8888/www.spoornet.co.za).

If you really want to splash out, there’s also the option of travelling up-country with one of South Africa’s two luxury train services. The Blue Train (021 449 2672/www.bluetrain.co.za) or Rovos Rail (021 421 4020/www.rovos.co.za).

Minibus taxis

In South Africa the term ‘taxi’ can refer either to a meter-running sedan vehicle or to a gung-ho, packed-to-the-rafters minibus. The latter is one of the country’s most popular modes of transport because they’re cheap (about R5 for an inner-city trip), super-speedy and generally reliable. If you’re up for a thrilling ride through the city, stick out your hand to the side and a taxi will materialise from the ether. Be sure to find out the end destination beforehand and have your fare ready for the taxi guard.

Taxis

Sedan taxis are also an ever-present fixture in the city, but are more expensive, charging around R12 a kilometre. The Cape Town Tourism Visitor Information Centre (021 426 4260/021 405 4500) will gladly point you in the right direction with a list of their recommended taxi companies. Unicab (021 486 1600) and Excite (021 418 4444) are generally reliable options.

You’d be forgiven for doing a double take when seeing cars looking suspiciously akin to England’s black cabs driving around town. These Rikkis taxis (0861 745547/www.rikkis.co.za) are very much local, however, and fast becoming one of the city’s preferred modes of transport. An added bonus is that if you’ve left your mobile phone at home, you can make a free call to them from one of the many canary-yellow Rikki phones scattered about the city. Fares are fixed-rate rather than metered so work out better value than ordinary taxis if you are taking a long journey or sharing the ride with others.

Cycling & motorbiking

There are several options if you have a penchant for getting about on two wheels rather than four.

Hiring a bicycle or motorbike

You can hire a bicycle from the adventure travel experts, Downhill Adventures (021 422 0388/www.downhilladventures.com), or you can rent a Harley from urban specialists Harley-Davidson Cape Town (021 446 2980/www.harley-davidson-capetown.com). Other motorbike rental companies include The Bike Business (33 Buitengracht, between Castle and Strand streets, 072 250 1691/www.thebikebusiness.co.za) and La Dolce Vita Biking Rentals 13D Kloof Nek Road, Gardens, (021 423 5000/www.ldvbiking.co.za).

Driving

Driving is on the left. Maybe it’s the fresh mountain air or the sunshine and sea breezes, but Capetonians seem pretty casual in their approach to driving: they aren’t particularly bothered about trivialities like indicating before changing lanes or checking their blind spots and minibus taxis are no exception. 

Road safety statistics aren’t much to shout about either – drink driving and speeding are the biggest culprits for accidents, especially at Christmas. Don’t take unnecessary (and pricey) risks by speeding or driving under the influence; it’s just not worth it.

Vehicle hire

If you’re over 25 and have an international driver’s license, hiring a car in the Mother City is easy. There’s a list of rental agencies as long as your arm, but the most reputable of these remain Avis (021 424 1177/086 102 1111) and Hertz (021 935 4800). The rates are generally worked out according to the amount of kilometres travelled. It’s worth doing comparative price check beforehand – some agencies offer specials like free mileage. ‘No frills’ rental companies include Value Car Hire (021 386 7699/www.valuecarhire.co.za) and Budget (021 418 5232).

Petrol stations

There’s no shortage of petrol (gas) stations in the city, particularly along main roads such as Buitengracht, Orange and Somerset Roads. The majority of these stations are open 24 hours a day, and most have convenience stores offering midnight snacks, but it’s never advisable to drive around in the sticks if you are low on petrol. At the time of going to print, petrol cost R7 per litre, but it fluctuates as much as the local weather. It’s customary to tip your pump attendant or ‘petrol jockey’ R5-R10 after filling up, if you’ve had good service and a friendly smile.

Insurance

Make sure to establish whether or not your car insurance covers road damage to the car – driving around on gravel roads tends to be tricky, and even dangerous. When renting a car, check your agreement for all details pertaining to damage and liability insurance, as levels of cover vary. If you don’t have a home policy that covers you for every eventuality, it’s best to
pre-book via a multinational car hire company while still in your home country.

Parking

Finding a parking space in the city centre can be a bit of a nightmare, especially during peak hours. The ubiquitous neon-bibbed traffic wardens, or car guards, as they’re known here, are another factor to contend with when deciding on where to park. Some are official, donning orange vests and carrying around meters, and some are chancers, appearing from out of nowhere and expecting alms when the time comes for you to leave.

If you aren’t keen to contend with this, drive around a bit longer and find an underground parking garage or parking lot, which are generally safer and involve less unwanted hassle.

When parking on the street during the day, don’t under any circumstances leave your car on a yellow or red line, because your vehicle will be clamped, or worse towed, resulting in a painfully tedious and pricey (up to R1,000) recovery process. If your car has been towed, contact the traffic department’s towing section (021 406 8861). Remember to park in a well-lit, populated area if you can’t find an official parking lot when going out at night.

Walking

Apart from the City Bowl, which is easily navigable afoot, the rest of Cape Town is really more of a driver’s town, predominantly because of the distances involved, but also because it’s the safest way to get around. The city centre, V&A Waterfront and beachside promenades lend themselves to leisurely strolling and are quite safe thanks to efforts made through local initiatives and authorities. Walking around the periphery of the City Bowl on
your own isn’t advisable if you’re unfamiliar with the area though – tourists unfortunately make the softest targets. Here are some general safety tips worth bearing in mind:

• Avoid dark, isolated areas.
• Don’t walk alone.
• When lost, try to find a police or traffic officer, or go to the nearest shop or petrol station to ask for directions.
• Wearing a flashy camera around your neck is tantamount to carrying a neon sign flashing, ‘Tourist!’. If you’re packing valuables, keep them in a backpack or shoulder bag and carry it close to your body.
• Never carry large sums of cash with you. Keep small change in your wallet or purse and bank notes and credit cards in an inside pocket.
• Steer clear of anyone claiming to have a stash of Calvin Klein perfume at a special discount or offering you the opportunity to get rich quickly. Sadly, there are also con artists who’ll play on your sympathies to make a quick buck.
• When in doubt, call a cab. Always carry the number of a reliable company.

Walking tours

Tours are a great way to explore the city’s bustling, ever-changing streets, squares and hotspots – and get clued up on the preparations for 2010. There are also many specialist tours that delve a little deeper into various aspects of the Cape’s history. The following are recommended walking tour operators:

Central City Walking Tours (021 419 1881/www.capetownpartnership.co.za).
Cape Town on Foot (021 462 4252/www.wanderlust.co.za).
Footsteps to Freedom (021 671 6878/083 452 1112/www.footstepstofreedom.co.za).

More travel information

Getting to Cape Town
When to go to Cape Town
Fast facts A-Z