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Cape Town basics

We all want your stay to be unforgettable, for all the right reasons. A few things to consider, however.


You won’t really need a lot of cash during your stay, as almost all restaurants, bars, shops, and ride sharing apps take payment by card. Be vigilant at ATMs when getting cash and don’t accept help from strangers.
Many smaller places like market vendors allow you to pay via the (where you save your credit card on the app and scan the vendor’s QR code).


Most waiters earn very little per shift, relying only on tips for an income.
It is expected to tip in sit-down restaurants: 10% is the norm and 15% for great service (and of course, if the service was horrible, speak to a manager or tip zero). We don’t tip at fast-food places (where you order and pay at the counter, like McDonald’s), but we do tip delivery people (also 10%). Tour guides and drivers won’t always expect but will certainly appreciate a tip.
If paying by card: remember to tell your waiter the amount including tip before you hand them your card (on a R200 bill, you might say “make it R220” or “You can add 10%” and they will enter that amount on the card terminal). They can’t add a tip later (like you can in the United States).
Alternatively, just leave the tip in cash. That way they get it immediately, rather than 3-4 days later.


You are not allowed to drink alcohol in public places like beaches, parks, and on the streets in South Africa at all. It is strongly enforced. Exceptions to this might be carrying a drink to your hiking spot, like enjoying a glass of wine on Signal Hill or Lion’s Head.
Note: If you’re the only one with an alcoholic drink in public (like a beach or park), you’re probably going to get in trouble.
The blood alcohol limit for driving is 0.05 g of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood and the Western Cape has frequent road blocks to to test for drunk driving. As before: Ubers and Bolts are very cheap and plentiful. There is no reason to drink and drive.

Smoking and cannabis

You’re not legally allowed to smoke cigarettes inside any closed venues like buildings, bars, or restaurants.
Marijuana/cannabis/weed (commonly known as “dagga”) has been by the country's Constitutional Court for personal consumption by adults in private. There are that sell candies, vapes, and so on.
As before: no smoking (not dagga nor tobacco nor vaping) in the apartment nor on the balcony.

Inequality & crime

South Africa is one of unequal countries in the world. It is something you will encounter on a daily basis. Other than understanding this sad reality, there are things that you shouldn’t do to inadvertently make things worse.
Don’t be careless in showing off your wealth. South Africa —the rainbow nation— has a beautiful mix of people. No matter where you’re from or what ethnicity you are, you will probably look like a local. But you will quickly stand out if you flaunt wealth and leave valuables like cell phones or money lying around needlessly on beaches, café tables, or in public. Don’t make yourself a target.
It’s fine to walk most places during the day, but it is safer to take a cheap Uber/Bolt later at night (and especially after drinking).


It’s not more of a problem than in any other large city, but it can also be made worse by irresponsible giving.
Studies have shown that giving to beggars can actually make some problems worse: rewarding the most aggressive (often male) beggers, and trafficking children to beg on behalf of adults.
A polite, but firm “no”, is all that is needed.
Rather consider donating to one of the certified and registered NGOs that help Cape Town’s homeless and needy population, for maximum impact and good. They provide food, shelter, clothing, education, job training, and more:

The outdoors

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of outdoor trails and activities in the area.
Get (free on iOS or Android) and download the local Western Cape map. It has most of the footpaths and hiking trails that you won’t find on Google Maps (and it works even if you are offline without WiFi or a cell phone connection).
South Africans are an active bunch. Tens of thousands of us run the 89km Comrades ultramarathon, or cycle the 109km Cape Town Cycle Tour each year. Don’t expect the same amount of warning signs or guard rails you might find in your home country on popular hikes, such as India Venster or Lion’s Head. What might be considered “extreme” in your country, might be locally described just as “moderate”.
It is always best to hike in a group. If you’re not comfortable with navigating by yourself, consider hiring a certified guide (through Airbnb experiences or on Tripadvisor or similar sites).
Other popular activities:
Surfing (the water is really cold, bring or rent a wetsuit)
Kite surfing
Mountain climbing and bouldering
Trail running (experienced trail runners should try )
Road running (Sea Point promenade by yourself and weekend group )
If you are ever in trouble on Table Mountain, immediately contact Wilderness Search and Rescue (+27 21 937 0300 — save it on your phone). Even if you need helicopter evacuation, they will get you back to civilisation, free of charge. Don’t put your life at risk. Call them when in need. For other general emergencies call 112 from your phone or 10111 from a landline telephone.

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