11 Things Tourists Should Never Do in Cape Town

Upper Cableway Station © Paul Scott/Flickr
Upper Cableway Station © Paul Scott/Flickr
Photo of Andrew Thompson
Freelance Writer - Instagram.com/andrewthompsonsa25 June 2018

Cape Town is a fairly relaxed city, but there are times when tourists push the patience of locals. And there are some things that will put tourists and residents at risk. If you’re planning on visiting Cape Town, there are certain things you should never do.

Shower for more than two minutes

Cape Town is currently experiencing its worst drought in 100 years. The city is fast running out of water, and as such there are severe water restrictions in place. Though officials hope that winter rains will eventually right the dam levels, the reality is that Cape Town is a water-scarce city. Do your part by taking brief showers and saving as much water as possible.

Throw cigarettes out of car windows

During summer months Cape Town battles hundreds of wildfires. Dry conditions and strong winds make conditions particularly favourable for runaway fires. Though some disagree that cigarette butts thrown from car windows can ignite fires, research has shown that it is indeed a possibility. Don’t take the risk – avoid lighting any braais (barbecues) in windy and dry conditions, and don’t lob those butts out the car window.

Wildfire on Table Mountain | © Warrenski / Flickr

Leave valuables unattended in cars

Like many big cities around the world, most crime in the city of Cape Town that affects tourists is opportunistic. This means criminals will keep an eye out for vulnerable individuals and take advantage of them. Reduce the risk of being a victim of crime by never flashing valuables such as cash, cameras and jewellery, and never leave items (regardless of their value) on car seats or in the trunk.

Ask if a local speaks ‘African’

South Africa has eleven official languages, and African isn’t one of them. Though you may be thinking of Afrikaans, in all likelihood it’ll sound like you’re condensing the myriad of African cultures into a single language. Rather, read up about prevalent languages in the city you’re visiting (in Cape Town you’re likely to encounter isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English the most), and enquire politely about home cultures and languages.

All official languages represented outside South Africa's Constitutional Court | © Adamina / Flickr

Accept the first price at curio markets

If you’re shopping for gifts and souvenirs at curio markets like Greenmarket Square be prepared to haggle. The first price that the vendor quotes you is never the actual price, in spite of how disappointed or disbelieving that he looks when you make a lower offer. Though it’s bad taste to drive an impossible bargain, as a rule of thumb a good starting point for a generic souvenir is 50% of the asking price.

Greenmarket Square | Jess Stafford / © Culture Trip

Expect to catch the cable car mid-morning in summer without queuing

Cape Town is busy in summer. If you’re planning on getting into major attractions like Robben Island, Cape Point, or Table Mountain without queuing you’re in for disappointment. Though you can avoid some queuing by purchasing tickets online ahead of time, the Table Mountain Cableway in particular suffers from overcrowding on busy summer mornings. If you’re physically able to, rather skip the cableway and hike to the top. You can always catch a cable car down. If hiking isn’t an option, check the wait times on the website and plan a trip in the mid-afternoon, when queues typically quieten down.

<a href = "https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidstanleytravel/16462745699/in/photolist-r5KSK6-4FHCJ9-r5j12m-NkfNtB-8ZgKtA-Ssk6qQ-T9QxSf-5PuSGr-nLJfKh-TL1j1Q-5PzeVb-5Pz5uL-5PyyNw-o8t7pG-8Kf7zY-5PysRh-dBbJAP-dBbJ2H-dBha1f-oveKDx-7kR54o-pb8WHR-MnvvHX-cCd6jW-odL1Ra-RdT87E-5PusRc-5PyFBy-5PuzNR-5PujKV-8GfXgD-4JmnRs-5PywJN-5PyE5G-5Puror-5Puho2-mLQzgo-5PyQ3C-5Pz41J-5Pum1P-4QbvBY-qyM4yH-fbgQon-exqPyC-bD2wcd-5PzdvC-c7Bv4A-mLSUQk-TLgjoX-68nPiG"> Table Mountain Cableway | © David Stanley/Flickr

Be taken in by stories from beggars in main tourist areas

There are many people in South Africa who do not have jobs, and unfortunately homelessness and poverty is a growing problem throughout the country. You will encounter beggars on street corners throughout the Cape Town Central Business District, and though most are well meaning and in difficult positions, it’s best not to engage them extensively. Though the city’s request that no one gives directly to the homeless is controversial at best, as an outsider it may only complicate matters if you attempt to resolve an individual’s issues with cash handouts.

Accept help from anyone at an ATM

Nimble fingered criminals love South Africa’s automated teller machines, or ATMs. In a matter of seconds a good samaritan appearing to offer assistance will switch out your card and escape with your PIN number, and before you know it you’ll be a few hundred Euros poorer. Avoid using ATMs in busy areas, never engage or accept help from people appearing nearby, and always ask waiters to bring card machines to your table — even the sharpest cynics have been caught out this way.

Take a township tour and claim you’ve seen real Africa

Even worse, don’t return with a Facebook profile photo of you smiling next to a black child. There are dozens of ways to engage with South Africans and contribute to well-meaning organisations, but taking a brief township tour in an air-conditioned minibus is not one of them.

Aerial view of Khayelitsha, Cape Town's largest township | © Africandrone.org

Attempt to get to the airport during rush hour

Cape Town’s traffic is relatively predictable. On weekday mornings, you’ll get stuck in traffic driving into the city centre. In the evenings, you’ll get caught in the same traffic leaving the city. Unfortunately, the airport is situated in the middle of this afternoon rush hour traffic. If you need to be at the airport anytime between 4pm and 7pm, save yourself the stress and leave well in advance.

Head up Lion’s Head on full moon

It may be one of the most recommended things to do in Cape Town, but if your visit coincides with full moon you’d be well advised to avoid the most hiked mountain in the city. That’s because you’ll be joined by thousands of other beer-swilling, flip-flop wearing locals who will turn a beautiful, tranquil experience into one not dissimilar from a supermarket on payday. Instead, find a quiet spot on Table Mountain opposite and watch the thousands of beautiful glittering lights from cellphone torches filtering down Lion’s Head in relative peace and tranquility just across the way. Don’t forget to look out for the massive rising moon to the east — it truly is a sight to behold.

Lion's Head offers safe, tranquil hikes with incredible views | © Andrew Thompson

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