Cape Town lies on a narrow peninsula that curls southward into the Atlantic Ocean. Its western and eastern shores are divided by a spinal ridge of mountains, of which Table Mountain is the most dramatic landmark. On the western shore, the relatively small city center, together with the residential suburbs that cradle it, is known as the City Bowl -- the "bowl" created by the table-topped massif as backdrop, flanked by jagged Devil's Peak to the east and the embracing arm of Signal Hill to the west. Upmarket family homes, small businesses, and apartments -- as well as a plethora of excellent guesthouses -- range along these slopes and make up the neighborhoods of Tamboerskloof, Higgovale, Oranjezicht, and Gardens. From here, views north look over the city center and harbor, where the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is situated at the icy waters of Table Bay. On the slopes of Signal Hill, snuggling up close to the center, is the Bo-Kaap (literally, "Upper Cape"), where most of the population are the descendants of Cape Town's original Muslim slaves.
Within easy striking distance of Bo-Kaap, the city center, and the slightly isolated Waterfront, are the dense, built-up suburbs of tiny De Waterkant (arguably Cape Town's most fashionable suburb, and a must-see destination for shoppers who hate malls), and rapidly evolving Victorian-era Green Point, where the rise of the city's much-hyped, visually spectacular soccer stadium -- planned specifically for the 2010 FIFA World Cup -- has brought in untold millions for a total revamp of the area, making this Cape Town's waking giant, with numerous new hotels, restaurants, shops and places to hang out. Adjacent Green Point is the high-density coastal suburb of Sea Point, which has an always-busy, rather rough-and-ready Main Road, lined with shops, bars and eateries, and a generous promenade where Capetonians like to walk and jog during the summer. Between Green Point and the sea, is Mouille Point, which runs into the V&A Waterfront. Moving farther south from Sea Point, the western slopes of the Cape Peninsula mountain range slide almost directly into the sea, and it is here, along the dramatic coastline referred to as the Atlantic seaboard, that you can watch the sun sinking from Africa's most expensive real estate. Of these, the beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton are the most conveniently located -- easily reached from the City Bowl via Kloof Nek, they are a mere 10- to 15-minute drive from the city center (although in summer, traffic can seriously irk). Bakoven is the choice for those of you looking to escape the crowds -- two relatively tiny patches of sand (one called Big Beach, the other Little Beach) are hidden betwixt massive boulders where those in the know congregate for mesmeric, uncrowded sunsets.
Traveling along the Atlantic seaboard is the most scenic route to Cape Point, but the quickest route is to travel south along the eastern flank of the mountain, via the M3, past the southern suburbs of Woodstock, Observatory, Rondebosch, Claremont, Wynberg, Kenilworth, Bishopscourt, and Constantia (the closest wine-producing area to the city, some 30 min. away, Constantia vies with the Atlantic seaboard as real estate gold), and then snake along the False Bay seaboard to the point. These eastern slopes, which overlook False Bay (so called by early sailors who mistook it for Table Bay), are the first to see the sun rise and have price tags way below those in places such as Camps Bay and Clifton. Cutting west across the peninsula from the False Bay seaboard will take you to more sleepy seaside villages, such as Scarborough and neighboring Misty Cliffs, ideal if you want to be right near the unspoiled wilderness of Cape Point and have utterly pristine beaches at your fingertips. Heading north from here, you can complete a "peninsula loop" and arrive back in the city via Hout Bay, Llandudno, and the Atlantic seaboard suburbs.
East of the peninsula are the Cape Flats, where the majority of so-called "Cape coloureds" live, and the "black townships," including Gugulethu, Langa, Nyanga, and Khayalitsha -- proof that, sadly, despite 12 years of democracy, an unenforced geographic apartheid still keeps the Cape's communities effectively separate. These are accessed via the N2, the same highway that provides access to the airport and the Winelands, which lie north of it. Stellenbosch, unofficial capital of the Winelands, is just over an hour's drive from the center of town, and from here the pretty wine-growing valley of Franschhoek, some 85km (53 miles) northeast of Cape Town, is reached via the scenic Helshoogte Pass. A quicker route to Franschhoek is via the northern-bound N1, the highway that connects Cape Town to Paarl, a 40-minute drive from the center of town. Deeper into the Winelands (but no more than 90 min. away) are a number of charming villages surrounded by vineyards, such as Riebeek Kasteel and Tulbagh, the latter where some important heritage architecture competes for attention with spectacular mountain scenery and a choice of wine-tasting venues; turn to the following chapter, on the Western Cape, for information on these.
Consider investing in a detailed street atlas, such as Mapstudio Street Guide, sold at most newsagents; but if you get lost, don't despair: With Table Mountain (and relatively excellent street signage) as a visual guide, it's difficult to stay lost for long.
The city center is small enough to explore on foot, and the city's ongoing makeover (destined to be ready in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup) includes smart pedestrian walkways and cycling routes that will link the city center with Green Point. The city's upgrade includes a plan to establish a much-awaited integrated public transport system that will link the center and the Waterfront with top attractions such as the Table Mountain cableway, Camps Bay, the southern suburbs, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, False Bay, Cape Point, and the Winelands (although not Tulbagh). However, to move at will and have scope to explore more thoroughly, you'll still be better off renting a car. Beyond the city, with some frustrating exceptions (especially during rush hours in such places as Stellenbosch), roads are relatively uncongested, parking is easy to find, and signs are straightforward.
Trains are not always reliable, clean, or safe; choose first-class cars with other occupants, and watch your bags. One option I recommend is the spectacular cliff-hugging route along the False Bay seaboard to Simons Town aboard Biggsy's Restaurant Carriage & Wine Bar (tel. 021/788-7760; Tues-Sun, three trips daily), with breakfast, lunch, or snacks en route. Take the breakfast run, and alight at Kalk Bay -- Cape Town's quaintest fishing "village," retaining a distinct character and worth a day exploring -- then catch the lunch or sunset trip back. The return from the city station takes 2 1/2 hours. Note that Biggsy's was closed for renovation at press time, but should be up and running again by late 2009; prior reservations are, in any case, essential, especially on weekends -- only 32 diners can be accommodated.
As mentioned, Cape Town is due to have a new integrated transport system in place by mid-2010, with a new fleet of buses operating routes daily from 4:30am to midnight, two major bus stations constructed on Adderley Street and at Hertzog Boulevard, as well as various pedestrian bridges (note that the total pedestrianization of Waterkant St., allowing safe on-foot access from the city to Green Point, is also on the cards). For maps and routes, as well as where to purchase the new prepaid smart card, contact the Cape Town tourism offices.
Until then, the most expedient way to get around the city is with a vulgarly touristy CitySightseeing bus. These open-top hop-on, hop-off circuit buses visit the city's top attractions, departing from the Two Oceans Aquarium between 8:30am and 4:35pm (you don't have to catch it from here; visit www.citysightseeing.co.za for a detailed schedule; R200 buys you a 2-day ticket). A V&A Waterfront bus (tel. 0800/65-6463) leaves from Adderley Street (in front of the station); the trip costs R3.50. Alternatively, head for the tourist bureau, where shuttles depart regularly (maximum 10-min. wait) for the Waterfront (R60), Kirstenbosch (R150), the Table Mountain cable car (R60), and the airport (R160-R200 for one and R20-R40 per person thereafter); hotel pickups can be arranged but may cost extra. Note that around 250 new buses will begin operating soon after press time (to get commuters to Green Point Stadium), when a tourist-friendly transport system will start running; until then, it's better to hail a taxi or call for a Rikki .
Cape Town is a relatively car-friendly city, with a minimum of traffic jams and enough parking lots to warrant driving into town -- all you need is to keep some change handy and be prepared to pay the mobile meter-carrying attendants up front (rates start at around R3.50 for 30 min.; if you overstay, you can pay in the difference when you return). Apart from the city center and Sea Point's Main Road, there is no charge, but business- or self-appointed "parking attendants" will offer to watch your car; although you are under no obligation to reward them, it is customary to tip those who are clearly hired by local businesses (they will usually wear a bib or hand over a card) on your return; R2 to R7 is fine, but be aware of aggressive and threatening tactics by some of these freelancers.
You'll find numerous car-rental companies in Cape Town. For a cheaper deal, try Penny K's (tel. 072/736-6957; www.pennyks.co.za; from R170 per day) or Value (tel. 021/386-7699; www.valuerentalcar.com; from R189 per day). Both include insurance and unlimited mileage. For a one-way rental to another province, you'll have to use a company with nationwide offices, such as Budget (tel. 086/101-6622) or Hertz (tel. 086/160-0136) -- however, I find Avis (tel. 021/424-1177) the most consistently priced, and great because you can book online without inserting your credit card details (www.avis.co.za). To tool along the coast with the wind in your hair, rent a classic convertible, with or without chauffeur, from Motor Classic (tel. 021/461-7368 or 072/277-5022; www.motorclassic.co.za; from R1,290 per day self-drive) or Cape Cobra Hire (tel. 083/321-9193; www.capecobrahire.co.za).
Metered taxis don't cruise the streets looking for fares; you'll have to phone. Most charge at least R10 per kilometer, but the new Cab Co. (tel. 082/580-9030) charges R9 and is a small, personal operation (so call ahead). Much cheaper than a metered taxi are Rikkis, London-style cabs that keep prices down by continuously picking up and dropping off passengers en route. You pay according to city zones, priced from R20 to R35 (after 7pm, a R5 surcharge applies). These are operational 24/7 and will drop you off anywhere in the center, City Bowl suburbs, the Waterfront, or Camps Bay (tel. 086/174-5547; www.rikkis.co.za). You can also contact Rikkis from dedicated telephones they have set up in locations around the city; if you'd rather not share your fare, you can pay extra for sole use of their cabs. Trips farther afield -- even to Cape Point -- are charged at a flat rate or by the hour. Better still, contact The Green Cab (tel. 086/184-3473 or 082/491-5972; www.thegreencab.co.za), which is Cape Town's first taxi company with a green agenda and an eco-friendly fleet (small seven- and four-seaters that run on liquefied petroleum gas) that operates door-to-door. Drivers are mostly women (it's also entirely woman owned) and, like Rikki's, fares are run on a share-ride system.
If you just want to get from the beach to the city, zip around on a sexy scooter from La Dolce Vita Biking, 13D Kloof Nek Rd., Gardens (tel. 083/528-0897; www.ldvbiking.co.za; R120-R165 per day, including unlimited mileage, a helmet, and insurance) -- they also rent motorbikes (R210-R280 per day). If you require more muscle, you can hire a real machine from Motorcycle Tours (tel. 021/794-7887; www.sa-motorcycle-tours.com; prices vary). You can also go top-end by contacting Harley-Davidson Cape Town (tel. 021/446-2999; www.harley-davidson-capetown.com). Bikes go for around R1,100 to R1,300 per day, or R3,250 to R4,400 for a weekend. The regular Sunday morning breakfast run to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek is worth joining; ask Thomas Kellerman about these routes and other rallies when you collect your bike. Alternatively, get off the road and explore the mountain on a bike from Downhill Adventures (tel. 021/422-0388; R140 per day).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.