Cape Town is a beautiful nomad friendly city that has a lot to offer in terms of scenery, culture, and lifestyle, as well as providing great access to all the “must see” experiences of Southern Africa. Below is a quick guide that covers:
- Digital Connectivity
- Accommodation & Activities
- Some lifestyle info
- What else to explore in South Africa.
*2016 proviso* Try to avoid OR Tambo (Johannesburg) airport as your port of entry. Due to some bad decision making, clearing border control at OR Tambo can take as long as 4 hours on a busy day if you are in the non-residents queue.
Cape Town is fairly well covered by mobile signal, and all the operators are fighting hard for the “fastest 4G” crown at the moment. A number of heavy old concrete buildings, and the giant mountain in the middle of the city, mean that there are a few signal dead zones, but we don’t suffer as heavily as the densest cities around the world, and you usually don’t have to go far to find better signal.
If you wrap yourself in copper and stand right next to a tower you might see throughputs of 150 - 300Mbps on a 4G connection, but we typically see 20 - 40Mbps in real world cases.
Data is expensive, with 1GB typically going for R150. Cell C and Telkom Mobile usually have large packages at a much better rate, such as 50GB or 100GB packages for somewhere in the R2000/R3000 range (these would normally be valid for 1 year).
Currently, Vodacom and MTN have the best coverage, with Cell C doing well in urban areas. Telkom Mobile has a tiny footprint but roams on the MTN network, so the effective coverage is pretty good but you see slightly lower throughput while roaming.
Sim cards are available to buy in millions of locations. If you are not an SA resident, you need your passport with you, and if you are an SA resident, you need a proof of address no older than 3 months (municipal bill, lease, etc).
Final note, if you are travelling in the countryside and your connection drops to Edge (or, woe betide you, GPRS), you’ll be lucky to get any data throughput at all. Useful to factor in when you’re exploring far and wide and using your phone to navigate.
Cape Town has recently seen a significant fibre rollout, and most coworking spaces in “town” (very broadly defined as stretching from Woodstock to Sea Point) have fibre internet. These lines typically range from 10Mbps to 200Mbps.
We also have ADSL+ and VDSL infrastructure, with ADSL+ lines maxing out at 12Mbps and VDSL being offered in 20Mbps or 40Mbps flavours. However, our copper infrastructure is not in a good state nationally, so even if you don’t need the speed, it is still advisable to try to get onto a fibre connection rather than a copper one.
There are a plethora of wifi hotspots around the city, but the ones that offer free access tend to be frustratingly slow, and the rest offer tiny free tiers (30Mb - 50Mb) and then require paid access. Unfortunately, even when you pay for data on public wifi, coffee shop wifi or hotel wifi, the performance is still not necessarily going to be good.
Final note, South Africa’s international backhaul is quite congested, so a line that gets 10Mbps locally will likely only get 1-2Mbps internationally. For example, Greenpoint Coworking currently [we’re upgrading as needed] speedtests at 45Mbps to local servers, and 15Mbps to international servers.
You can buy almost anything you need in Cape Town. Kickstarter products and the latest tech launches take a few months to find their way down here, and some niche tech might never be supported by a local importer, but we have access to most things and the rest can be shipped down here. Apple products here fall under the E.U. pricing zone, so we’re not the cheapest place to upgrade. However, for general lifestyle purchases, South Africa is a pretty affordable place to be.
Most of our shopping happens in malls, as opposed to the high street or online. There are a few small pseudo-high streets around the city, usually specialising in some niche such as interior design, fashion, etc. Very broadly speaking, most grocery purchases would happen at Pick ‘n Pay or Woolworths, sporting gear at Sportsmans Warehouse or Cape Union Mart, and tech at Dion Wired, iStore, Incredible Connection or DigiCape. The most prominent malls in Cape Town are the V&A Waterfront, Canal Walk, and Cavendish Square.
The spontaneous option
Plan ahead a little
Pre-book an Epic Adventure
To paraphrase this point, most crime in South Africa is economically motivated. We have a poor reputation internationally because the escalation during incidents in South Africa tends to be more aggressive than the rest of the world, but you can still avoid most incidents simply by avoiding presenting a financial target.
Looking at this in a bit more detail, you generally don’t want to walk around alone in quiet areas. Unfortunately, because the city is really built right on the mountain, this includes many of the forested parks on the lower mountain slopes, as well as the lower portions of the hiking trails on the mountain.
Having said all that, there are numerous beautiful outdoor spaces to explore freely. For example, the Sea Point promenade is so popular that by sheer density of human activity you’re quite safe until well into the night. With all the joggers, strollers, football games, outdoor gym and beaches, it is a lovely place to be. Camps Bay Beach, Clifton, Llandudno, Muizenberg Beach, Bloubergstrand and Big Bay also have a fairly good safety track record.
Once you start exploring more wild places, again you’ll be quite safe simply because you’ll be too remote to get to. If you’re feeling at all uneasy, feel free to mail us and bounce your ideas off of us for a local insight.
We can’t fairly tell you not to worry about Cape Town, but we can unequivocally express that it is entirely possible to have a safe and enjoyable stay here.
In terms of cultural tolerance, Cape Town scores quite well. You don’t see as many crazy hairstyles as you do on the streets of London, but we’re quite happy to see non-traditional couples. Safety from a woman’s perspective is largely an extension of the street-smart philosphy: watch your drinks when you go out, don’t go anywhere shady alone, keep your handbag visible when you’re chilling, and don’t flash the bling too much. South Africa does not have any major cultural taboos.
Cape Town is geographically segmented by the mountain in the middle, and being on a small peninsula means that there aren’t a lot of different transport routes available. South Africa on the whole does not have what more modern countries would regard as good public transport (although millions upon millions of South Africans do travel large distances every day in vehicles operated by third parties). From a European or North American perspective, the infrastructure that would feel the most familiar is the MyCiti bus service, and our commuter rail. The trains have occasional issues with safety, but the MyCiti service has a very good record thus far.
For more intricate journeys, Uber’s pricing in South Africa is pretty good, with your average trip in the city centre costing R40 - R100, and a trip out to Muizenberg to surf costs about R300. Even the Winelands is not too bad, at about R450 - R600 depending on where you’re going.
There are numerous local taxi, shuttle, transfer and touring companies as well, so the general approach would be to see who gets good reviews for the specific activity that you’d like to do.
Finally, for really exploring, renting a car is your best bet. There are long distance buses between towns, and a good few airports scattered throughout the country, as well as specialist services such as the BazBus, and these are all great if you plan ahead. However, it is easy to wind up “stuck” (from an enjoyment perspective) in the middle of the countryside, unable to really do much that isn’t walking distance from the station you were dropped off at.
There is so much to see and do in Cape Town that we’ve dedicated an entire page to this, and likewise we’ve got a pretty detailed explanation of how the neighbourhoods work.
Here’s a quick look
Cape Town is a paradise for outdoors enthusiasts. Table Mountain National Park is full of hiking and mountain biking trails, climbing routes and photographic opportunities. The dam at Silvermine is lovely in the summer, and there’s paragliding from Lion’s Head. The coastline has some excellent surfing, wreck diving and marine life to watch, but arrange a wetsuit.
Cape Town is an excellent base from which to explore South Africa. The West Coast, the Cederberg, the Karoo, the Garden Route, the Cape Winelands, and the Overberg mountains & coastline are all feasible for weekends away... althought some might have to be 3-day weekends.
The West Coast is all about dunes and fynbos, the Cederberg is a martian-looking rocky landscape full of ravines and streams, the Karoo is semi-desert with small hills, the Garden Route is full of forests, lakes and deep rivers, the Cape Winelands is a mountainous region with pretty vineyards, and the Overberg is a floral kingdom wedged between the mountains and the sea.
In the city, for first timers we’d recommend Sea Point as your target location. This neighbourhood offers good public transport and general facilities, and has easy access to Green Point, the Waterfront and the City Bowl (buzzing neighbourhoods full of coworking spaces, tech action and events, but not as nice to live in). Sea Point also hosts Cape Town’s star attraction, the Promenade where you can get stunning views of the ocean and mountain.
Other interesting neighbourhoods near the heart of town are the City Bowl & surrounds, Woodstock and Claremont. If you’re looking to treat yourself, the V&A Waterfront precinct is stunning. Many, many other neighbourhoods are interesting and fun to stay in, but for your first time we’d simply recommend being close to the centre of the action.
In order to extend your visa, you need to apply from inside South Africa, more than 60 days before your first visa expires. This visa can be extended once per “session”. In other words, after 180 days in the country, you’d have to leave South Africa, thus ending your tourism session, and can then return at a later stage on a new tourism session.
Note that a tourism visa is not intended for semi-permanent residence, even if you do not intend on working in South Africa.
The best option that we’ve seen for a more long-term commitment to South Africa would be a retired person’s visa. There is no lower age limit to this visa, and to qualify you need to be bringing in more than R37, 000 per month in foreign income.
The alternative to this is to be hired by a South African company and get a critical skills visa. It is important to note that during this process, the company hiring you needs to advertise the position in local publications for 3 months in order to prove that no South African exists who is capable of and interested in filling that position. This is not an insurmountable barrier, but does take a fair bit of work.
Cape Town considers itself to be the most cultured city in South Africa. The truth of this is debatable, but the consequence is that we have all sorts of artisanal providers. On the culinary front, there are plenty of specialty foods, coffee roasters, craft beer and haute cuisine. The scene changes frequently, so here’s a short list to get you started.
Coffee: Origin Coffee, Hudson Street. Truth Coffee, Buitenkant Street. Deluxe Coffeeworks, Roodehek Street. Bean There, Wale Street. Tribe Coffee, Abert Street. Kamili Coffee, Shortmarket Street. Bootlegger Coffee Co., Cape Quarter.
Food markets: The Old Biscuit Mill, Salt River, Saturdays. Bay Harbour Market, Hout Bay, Weekends. Oranjezicht City Farm, Granger Bay, Saturdays.
Fitness: Popular running trails are along the lower slopes of Table Mountain if you’re in a group, or along the Sea Point / Mouille Point Promenade if you’re solo. There are a few ParkRuns every Saturday, including one right next door in the Green Point urban park. There is a free outdoor gym on the Three Anchor Bay side of the Promenade. There are a few gyms, boxing gyms, climbing gyms, yoga studios, crossfit, etc., for more specialised activities. It is easy to get outdoors in Cape Town, and active-minded locals tend to have a broad menu in which they partake.
Live music: Alexander Bar Upstairs, Strand Street. The Assembly, Harrington Street. The Piano Bar, Napier Street. Weinhaus+Biergarten, Bree Street. The Waiting Room, Long Street. Mercury Live, De Villiers Street.
South Africa offers amazing variety. Here’s a one-line summary of each province, as well as links to detailed guides.
- The Western Cape - Cold oceans, fierce mountains and amazing foods
- The Eastern Cape - Ancient forests and rivers, and wild game reserves
- KwaZulu Natal - Wild tropical coastline, and beautiful mountains
- Mpumalanga - Lakes, hills and bushveld
- Limpopo - Classic bushveld and wildlife, and rugged mountains
- Northern Cape - Rugged desert, contradicted by the Orange River
- North West - Semi arid game reserves and interesting small towns
- Gauteng - Vibrant cultural hub
- Free State - Rolling farmland, hills and mountains
We’ve spent quite a bit of time roadtripping around the country, so feel free to get in touch with any questions you might have.