One of the most iconic cities in the world, Cape Town is the jewel of South Africa. This city is blessed with so many things to do, from amazing sandy beaches to world class vineyards, and spectacular views to gourmet restaurants. What’s great is that everything is also reasonably priced. In this guide, I will show you how to visit Cape Town on a budget.
If you are interested for the breakdown of what I spent in Cape Town and the rest of South Africa, check out my budget breakdown!
Need to Know
Currency: The Rand (ZAR) is what they use in Cape Town and the rest of South Africa. The exchange rate as of February 2020 to other currencies are as follows:
- $1 USD = 15 ZAR
- $1 CAD = 11.3 ZAR
- €1 EUR = 16.6 ZAR
- £1 GBP = 19.8 ZAR
How to Get Here
Cape Town International Airport is the second largest airport in South Africa, with multiple flights daily to other major cities in the country. There are also international flights coming in from New York, London, Paris, Dubai, and Hong Kong. For best deals on flights to Cape Town, I suggest using Skyscanner.
From the airport, there are MyCiti buses that take you to the city centre at 20 minute intervals. An one way ticket costs R65. Another great alternative if you are travelling within a group is to use Uber or Bolt (see below).
How to Get Around
If you are staying in the centre of the city or within Greenpoint and The Gardens, everthing would be in walking distance. During the day, I did not have any problems walking around. I did not feel unsafe or uncomfortable. However, I (and many other locals) would advise not to walk around at night.
A ride with Uber, or popular local equivalent Bolt (formerly Taxify), seldom costs more than the minimum fare ($1.50 USD) if you’re staying and partying in the CBD. Though you’ll see metre taxis outside most attractions, Uber and Bolt are the safest, cheapest and most convenient options for getting around. I find Bolt to be slightly cheaper, and will have promotions if you are a new customer. If you haven’t signed up yet, register with my referral code to get your first free ride (up to 150 ZAR)!
What to See & Do
This mountain has been the prominent landmark overlooking Cape Town. There are two ways to get to the top, either take the Table Mountain Cableway or hike up the many trails. Once you get to the top you get an awesome panoramic view over Cape Town.
The Table Mountain Cableway is great way to the top of the city’s iconic mountain. However, the cable car doesn’t run if there are high winds, so check their website before going. A return ticket costs 330 ZAR.
The most popular hiking route is the Platteklip Gorge and will take around 2-3 hours. Just be prepared for a strenuous hike. It is a very steep ascent to the top and the weather can vary a lot so make sure to bring layers and pack lots of water. If you’re tired at the top or want to save your knees, you catch a one way ride back down on the Cableway for 190 ZAR.
This island was used as a location to hold political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela during the apartheid days. To visit the island, you do need to book a tour, which consists of a guided bus tour around the island and meeting former political prisoners. Tickets start at 200 ZAR and get booked up quick, so book in advance!
Bo Kaap Neighbourhood
This colourful neighbourhood is an area historically inhabited by mainly Muslim descendants of slaves from South-East Asia.
Rent a car and drive
There are some really amazing scenic drives in and around Cape Town, such as Chapman’s Peak. While renting a car is not necessarily a budget thing to do, I cannot recommend renting a car enough. Like the rest of the country, I find that having a car goes such a long way.
Renting a car is quite reasonable especially if you are travelling with a group. The website I recommend is Rentalcars.com. I found that they show more rental companies and had better prices compared to other sites like Expedia and Kayak. Make sure to get an International Driver’s Permit in your home country if your driver’s license is not in English.
- Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – provides a great escape from the city, exhibiting plants native to the Cape Region. 75 ZAR
- South African National Gallery – This gallery might not as big as other well renowned galleries, but has a good display of South African art as well as information on the history of censorship of art during apartheid. 10 ZAR
- Hike up Lion’s Head – a great alternative to Table Mountain. There are many ways to get to the top, but the Circular Route offers the best views as you get to views from all direction. The hike is not easy as there’s quite a bit of climbing over large rocks and uneven surfaces. However you get absolutely amazing views of the city, ocean, and Table Mountain (pictured below).
- Walk around the V&A Waterfront – This beautiful boardwalk with the picturesque table mountain the in background contains many shopping and entertainment area. While I do not suggest shopping or eating in the area, it is a great area to walk around in. I suggest going early in the morning or evening to escape the crowds.
- Enjoy Free Walking Tour Cape Town’s other walking tours such as the Historical City Tour and the Apartheid to Freedom Tour.
- Go to the beach – There is an abundance of beaches to go to while visiting Cape Town. Clifton Beach, Camps Bay Beach, and Fish Hoek Beach are the most popular ones to go to!
What to Eat & Drink
Possibly the best place to dine in all of Africa is Cape Town. There are so many highly rated restaurants of most major cuisines available in the city. What’s great is that eating out at these restaurants are also reasonably priced compared to their Western counterparts.
Here is what I recommend to eat while in Cape Town:
South Africans love their meat, and they cook steaks very well. I went to one of the highly rated steak houses in the city, Don Armando. Their steaks were quite tender and packed full of flavour.
The price was quite reasonable as I got a 400g beef sirloin with a side salad for 275 ZAR.
Cape Malay Cuisine
One of the most unique cuisine in the world is only found in the Western Cape of South Africa. This special fusion of cooking traditions came from the introduction of Malaysian, Indonesian and East African slaves from the Dutch settlers. Popular foods include bredie, bobotie, sosaties and koeksisters (pictured left).
If you are in Cape Town on a Saturday, head to the Old Biscuit Mill for the Neighbourgoods market. Open from 9 am until 3 pm, there is a wide array of delicious eats, concoctions of cocktails, artisan souvenirs, and a live band.
- Braai – This is what South Africans call BBQ and they do a great job of grilling different kinds of meat (pictured below)
- Biltong – South Africa’s version of jerky but better. The meat can range from beef to the game meats of Africa (kudu, springbok, wildebeest) and is seasoned with a special blend of spices.
- Boerewors – the traditional South African sausage can be made from different kinds of meat such as beef, pork, lamb, ostrich and mixed with an abundance of spices. You will often see these in a braai.
- Fish and Chips – This combination of the Cape Town’s history of British colonial rule and its proximity to the sea has resulted in a vibrant fish and chips culture. I got one near Simon’s Town (pictured below).
- Gatsby – a very quintessential Cape Town dish. This is the best value you can get as for only a few Rands, you can get a huge sandwich crammed full of a variety of meats, chips, and sauces.
- Mama Africa – this popular spot serves up traditional African dishes alongside some wild game. The decor and atmosphere really adds to the South African vibe.
Where to Stay
Cape Town has no shortage of highly rated hostels. Watch out for peak travel times as a lot of accommodation gets booked out. Expect to pay at least 150 ZAR for a dorm bed in a decent hostel.
This hostel located in the trendy Kloof Street, filled with hip cafes and cool bars. It is also walking distance to the CBD and only 5 minute walk to the Company Gardens. They host nightly activities making it easy to meet other travellers. They have a full kitchen and a bonfire for guests to enjoy. If you are renting a car, this hostel also provides free parking on site. The prices are comparable to other highly rated hostels starting at 200 ZAR.
If you are looking for quieter hostel, check out this boutique backpackers. Immaculately clean, stylish with natural lighting in the common area, this hostel provides a tranquil and relaxing environment with very attentive staff. The location is great, walking distance to the CBD and close to many cafes and restaurants. It is also a great value for money with dorm beds starting at 189 ZAR! One downside that it doesn’t have a full kitchen available.
If you are not feeling for hostels, Cape Town has a massive Airbnb community. Airbnbs can cheaper than a lot of hostel dorm rooms if you share with another person. I was able to book a nice and modern bedroom for just 300 ZAR a night! For those who have not tried Airbnb yet, sign up with my referral link and you will get $45 CAD off your home booking! You will also be supporting this website, win-win!
For those looking for other types of accommodation. I would suggest Booking.com. They are all around the best booking site for any type of accommodation. They have a great cancellation policy, loyalty program, and the widest selection of budget accommodation.
When to Go
Remember that Cape Town and South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere. That means that summer months are from December to February. The days are long and usually hot, but the humidity is low. The winter months of June to August tend to be rather wet. The days are short, with the sun rising around 7:30 AM and the sun setting starting at 5:30 PM. It can also get very cold in the mornings and night, with temperatures dipping to 2°C. It will become warmer during the day, with temperatures between 9-15°C. I found first hand that the Table Mountain Cableway closes for annual maintenance from mid July to mid August. Especially if you want to enjoy the many beaches of Cape Town, I would suggest visiting anytime outside of winter, aside from the holiday season (Christmas and New Years) to get optimal weather.
How to Save Money & Other Tips
- Go in the off-season – travelling during South Africa’s winter season will help offset some accommodation costs. There is a big difference in the number of tourists in the city between their summer and winter months.
- Rent a manual car – If you are planning to rent a car, book one with a manual transmission. Most rental cars in South Africa are manual transmissions and if you book an automatic one, it will be significantly more expensive.
- Buy food at the grocery stores and cook your own meals – South Africa has an abundant of fresh and delicious produce and meats in their supermarkets. Shoprite, Checkers, Pick n Pay are the ones you wanna check out!
- Use a card with no foreign transaction fees – Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere; make sure you get one that does not charge any foreign transaction fees. My favourite from Canada is the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card. You can find more about them here! However, you should always have some cash handy for parking and other small purchases. I recommend getting a debit card that does not charge any foreign transaction fees or withdrawal fees. If you are from Canada, I recommend getting STACK!
Where Else to Go
This 300 km stretch between Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape is considered by many to be one of the best drives in the world. You can read more about a road trip of the Garden Route here!
I recommend renting a car and driving out to Cape Peninsula as a day trip from Cape Town. There is a lot of things to do in the area such as Boulders Beach, famous for its penguin colony where you can watch them waddle around in their natural habitat. Cape of Good Hope is also another popular sport to experience the wilderness and its stunning views. If you want to take up surfing, head to Muizenberg for some waves.