What You Need To Know about Capetown

Cape Town is a port city on South Africa’s southwest coast, on a peninsula beneath the Imposing Table Mountain. Slowly rotating cable cars climb to the mountain’s flat top, from which there are sweeping views of the city, the busy harbour and boats heading for Robben Island in Table Bay. The notorious prison that once held Nelson Mandela is now a living museum.

Population: 987,007 (1996)

Province: Western Cape


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  • South African money is called Rand. The exchange rate changes from day-to-day (sometimes it seems to be minute to minute).
  • Over the last 8 years the exchange rate has ranged from 6.5 to 13.5 Rand=1 dollar.  You can check the current the rate at
  • There are bills for 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 Rand and coins for 1 Rand, 2 Rand, 5 Rand, 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents, and 5 cents.
  • It’s best and easiest to just bring a debit card and go to an ATM to get Rand once you arrive. Don’t worry about trying to get travellers’ checks or Rand ahead of time.
  • Find out from your bank if it is less expensive to withdraw larger amounts at one time and know what your daily limit is for withdrawals.
  • Don’t carry both your credit and debit cards with you at the same time


Cape Town has moderately wet winters and dry, warm summers. Winter, which lasts from the beginning of June to the end of August, Winter months in the city average a maximum of 18.0 °C (64 °F) and minimum of 8.5 °C (47 °F) Total annual rainfall in the city averages 515 millimetres (20.3 in). Summer, which lasts from early December to March, is warm and dry with an average maximum of 26.0 °C (79 °F) and minimum of 16.0 °C (61 °F). The region can get uncomfortably hot when the mountain wind blows from the Karoo interior for a couple of weeks in February or early March. Late spring and early summer may sometimes feature a strong wind from the south-east.


The most common languages in Cape Town are English, Afrikaans and Xhosa. Afrikaans is the most widely spoken home language with more than 40% of Capetonians speaking the language.


  • A local police officer will speak to the group regarding safety on your first morning in Cape Town.
  • You will receive additional safety talks at the U.S. consulate and UCT.  (These are generally designed to scare you enough to not forget to careful)
  • Lock your bedroom door as well as the doors & windows to the house when you go out.
  • Keep lists of important numbers and contacts with you at all times (RA, housemates and emergency numbers).
  • Student advice: be on vigilant but don’t be paranoid.  (Don’t go out alone at night and don’t flaunt money, jewellery or electronics).
  • Be smart and be careful, as you would in any city.

Getting Around

  • Though most Capetonians drive everywhere, Cape Town is an extremely walkable city.
  • Public transport is usually safe to use during the day, especially during commuting hours. Minibus taxis can be a cramped and hair-raising experience, but they’re a cheap way to travel from the Southern Suburbs into the City Bowl. The Golden Arrow buses run along the same route. MetroRail trains run regularly and offer a choice of fare—first or third class (with no major difference in comfort).
  • When driving a rental car, remember to drive on the left. Stoplights operate the way American lights do but are called “robots.” Park your rental car in a secure, gated area overnight (if possible), and never leave belongings or valuables visible.


  • Give Long Street Area a miss.
  • Don’t wander around the Central City at night – it is very dangerous.


  • Take these Tours: Winelands, Paarl, Cape Point ,around Cape Town, North to Wildflowers (in Oct. & November), Garden Route.
  • Tip all parking attendants.
  • Take some of the outstanding wines home with you.
  • Try the local dried meat “biltong” wonderful.