These first impressions of Cape Town are a bonus section of our 4-part Cape Town Upside Down Series. Empty out every last piece of our Cape Town advice with Part 1: Things to Do, Part 2: Dos and Don’ts, Part 3: Where to Stay, and Part 4: Restaurant Recos.
Blind Dating Cape Town
Traveling to Cape Town has been like going on a blind date with a beautiful woman.
We were nervous at first.
We had heard she can be a bit blustery, been warned of her shady history, and wondered why so many people who knew her had left her. But our friends who knew her said nice things, we vetted her (i.e. ogled her) on Instagram beforehand, and were told she’s a cheap date, so we took the risk.
It’s been a few dates now—a short hike, a few meals out, a couple trips to weekend markets, and a lot of time hanging out getting to know each other—and we feel like we’re getting to know what Cape Town’s really like.
Between you and us, here are our first impressions.
Our First Impressions of Cape Town
Warning: These are first impressions, not final ones. For example, we hated Medellin, Colombia at first, but ended up having a sultry Latin six-month love affair with her. Impressions change.
Pray for Our Livers
Cape Town has the best price-to-quality ratio on alcoholic drinks of anywhere we’ve been in the world.
As I write this, I’m drinking a half-liter happy hour draft craft pale ale for 28 rand ($2 USD). It’s as cheap as coffee, so how could I not?
As for the wine, connoisseurs say South Africa produces amazing stuff and just needs to raise their prices to earn a better reputation internationally. Fortunately, South Africans scoff at such advice. They (and we) are happy to keep prices low, drink all the best stuff here, and export the crap— international reputation be damned.
Local craft gin is also big here, but we’ve yet to tap into it. Our livers have too much to handle as it is.
Drought? What Drought?
“There’s no drought. It’s a water management problem,” may as well be Cape Town’s new slogan. People tell it to us all the time.
Apparently, Table Mountain sucks up clouds and spits them out in a river that runs under Cape Town and into the water. It’s just a matter of tapping into that supply.
Oh, and also, it’s rained twice in our first four days here.
In any case, the “drought” hasn’t affected us. We just don’t flush after we pee and have short showers.
Cape Town Is like Vancouver… but with 2 Million More Poor People
The whole vibe of Cape Town is similar to our hometown of Vancouver, Canada. It’s outdoorsy, open, friendly (at least superficially), healthy, natural, and has mountains and ocean.
The difference is Cape Town has millions more desperately poor people.
Most of these millions are hidden from us in the vast Cape Flats, but many spill over into the city center, whose streets, parks, and plazas teem with the down-and-out.
The upside of this is that services (like Uber) are cheap. The downside is the desperately poor can get understandably desperate, so danger levels are much higher than back home.
Uber’s All Over the Place
Uber’s great here in Cape Town because rides around town cost $2.50 to $5 and we never have to wait more than a couple minutes for a ride.
The drivers are a surprise bonus. They’re from all over Africa, generally highly-educated, and have absorbing stories to tell about their culture, South Africa’s culture and how they struggle to fit in, and their dogs (one guy boasted he feeds organic Canadian dog food to his).
But there’s a dark side to Uber here too.
First, we’ve found that few of our drivers own their car. They work for others for what must be borderline indentured slavery wages. Second, and likely related to the first point, out of the twelve rides we’ve taken we’ve been significantly overcharged twice. Somehow drivers are gaming the system to milk more money out of unsuspecting riders.
Cape Town’s Extremely Extreme
The extreme southern tip of Africa has all the extremes:
- Extreme weather. Other cities claim to have extreme weather changes, but from what we’ve seen of Cape Town so far, it holds the title. One second it’s cold and rainy with winds that make trees grow sideways here. The next it’s hot, sunny, and calm.
- Extreme food. Super vegan health food is huge here. But so is meat. We find ourselves eating like rabbits one meal, then eating like hyenas the next.
- Extreme wealth gaps. Luxurious beachside mansions that make Malibu seem quaint lie on one side of Table Mountain. Shantytowns that make poor neighborhoods back home seem like paradise lie on the other.
- Extreme beauty. See the next point.
It’s Not That Beautif… HOLY SHIT IT’S BEAUTIFUL
Our first impression after three days was that Cape Town’s beauty was overrated.
On the fourth day our impression flipped.
All it took was for us to finally leave the downtown “City Bowl” and visit some friends at Camps Bay on the beach side of town. Then the hype made total sense.
Cape Town’s nickname is The Mother City and Cape Town is a MILF. It’s a Mother I‘d Like to… Fotograph, over and over again.
(Bonus joke: Our free walking tour guide told us they call Cape Town the Mother City because it takes nine months for anything to happen here.)
Delightful for Diners, Challenging for Chefs
Cape Town’s restaurant owners are either awesomely altruistic or poor businesspeople, or we’re missing something.
Good, cheap produce is hard to come by here. There are no mega food markets like in Latin America or Asia and, at supermarkets, most fruits and veggies come pre-bagged and most other goods (aside from alcohol) go for similar prices to North America.
Despite this, restaurants manage to dish out fabulous food at puny prices. For instance, most lunch specials (often coming with wine) cost around 80 rand ($5.50 US).
Add these two points together, and we’ll be doing a lot more dining out and less cooking here in Cape Town than we’re used to.
Putting the Whole Race Thing Aside… Everyone Seems Really Nice!
Here in Cape Town, when we joke with staff at stores, restaurants, or wherever, they smile and joke back. Back home, they resent us for being happy.
Here in Cape Town, when we smile at strangers on the street, they smile back. Back home, they glare at us like we’re crazy and cross the street.
People here have gone out of their way to welcome us, too. They’ve invited us to dinner and on hikes even though they don’t know us and jumped to help us with every question we come up with.
Justin from Table Mountain Treks and Tours went so far as to invite us on a full-day interpretive tour and trek to educate us on the region’s extraordinary fynbos vegetation and provide us an amazing overview (and view over) the entire Cape Peninsula)
In short, people here treat us like we’re cool even though we aren’t.
The Medium-Rich Person’s Paradise
You don’t have to be rich to live like a rich person here. The finer things in life—food, drink, experiences, vinyards—are accessible to anyone with a bit of disposable income.
So not us because our blog is more of a money-and-time sucking drug addiction than a money-producing profession at this point.
But to all friends and family with more stable financial situations (i.e. jobs) we strongly recommend Cape Town for a five-star trip on a three-star budget.
Cursed by Cars
Cars make Cape Town about 50% worse than it could be.
At night, you have to drive or take Ubers everywhere because it’s not safe. It’s not safe because nobody’s on the streets. And nobody’s on the streets because… everyone’s driving or Ubering everywhere.
And during the day the city would be a dream for cycling or public transit, but cars rule the road and make riding a bike dangerous and public transit inefficient and slow. It’s too bad the Dutch didn’t make the city more bike-friendly when they landed here.
Capetonians Talk Like Psychiatrists
The English accent here is so soft and soothing that we feel as if we’re talking with a psychiatrist everytime a Capetonian says something to us. Kim and I agree it’s our favorite native English accent.
Native Afrikaans speakers speak English in a more loopy and guttural way. It’s kind of as if your psychiatrist had a cold and a couple shots of gin before your session.
To Be Continued… (and Probably Corrected)
Our first impressions of Cape Town have been positive enough that we’re ready to commit to something a bit more long-term. We plan to spend another five-and-a-half-months getting to know each other better.
6 Months Later…
See how our relationship with Cape Town blossomed and our favorite things we discovered about her in our 5-part Cape Town Upside Down Series, starting with our Idiot’s Guide to Cape Town: