Cape Town Capers
This jewel of a city (among the most scenically awesome on earth) is sensationally priced, sunny, sybaritic, and safe--but sobering, too
A less frenetic option, the loopy St. John's Waterfront Lodge in Green Point (6 Braemar Rd., 439-1404), near the pastel-splashed gay district of De Waterkant, is a melding of two houses, so it has two of everything (including pools) and 12 doubles for $32 to $37. Around Signal Hill in beachy Sea Point, an unrelated St. John's Lodge (9 St. John's Rd., 439-9028, email@example.com) stands next to the local ANC office. It's very basic-bed, table, wardrobe, and equipped kitchen--but even more inexpensive: Prices start at $22 for a single without bath and peak at $35 for a double with bath.
Cozier are the B&Bs, usually clustered in quiet residential areas away from public transportation and charging $30 to $35 per person during the April-to-September low season, when weather can bluster, and as much as twice that in the country's summer. The sleek Bayview (10 De Hoop Ave., Tamboerskloof, 424-2033, firstname.lastname@example.org), with stylish art and wonderful skylight views of the mountains, charges a negotiable $40 in high season, $30 in low. Every room has a patio, and you can raid the fridge whenever you want. Bluegum Hill Guest House (Merriman Rd., Green Point, 439-8764, bluegumhill.co.za), clinging to Signal Hill, flaunts a stunning 180-degree view of Table Bay from its backyard; rates start at $48 in season (September through April), including a sumptuous breakfast served outdoors.
Reasonably priced hotels exist mostly downtown, where some travelers don't feel comfortable after business hours. Two I can recommend: the atmospheric 33-room Metropole Hotel, an antique with a still-running 1894 cage elevator (38 Long St., 423-6363, standard doubles $30-$45), and the unadorned, midsize Tudor Hotel on Greenmarket Square (424-1335, from $63 with breakfast).
By the way, every day except Sunday, Greenmarket Square is also the site of a tourist-oriented bazaar (most of the trinkets are really Nigerian or Kenyan); bartering is crucial. For local crafts--more of a rarity--try Masizakhe (419-2716) at the V&A Waterfront shopping mall. Its wares typify the resourcefulness required of Cape Flats living: Old oil cans are twisted into $13.50 baskets and $22 dolls are fashioned from discarded clothes.
Getting around, staying safe
By day, skip the slowpoke buses and patronize the minibus taxis (a.k.a. kombis) that ply Main Road from Camps Bay through Sea Point and Green Point to the Waterfront and into City Bowl. Hail one and enjoy the harrowing thrill of a Manhattan cab ride. Some white Capetonians will tell you to avoid what they denigrate as "black taxis"--and if you're hitching to the Cape Flats slums, where turf wars are common, heed their advice. But otherwise, I've used minibuses hundreds of times without incident.
For destinations not near the minibus routes, phone Rikki's (423-4888), which will load you into its teeny pickups (bakkies) and take you anywhere in town, including the Table Mountain cableway station, for $1.25 to $1.90. Taxis flag at $.75 and cost $1.50 per kilometer ; reliable companies include Sea Point Taxis $1.25/kilometer (434-4444) and Marine Taxis (434-0434). Use them at night when the streets become less safe.
Which brings us to crime. It's true that theft occurs here more often than in many American cities. Counter it by taking the same precautions you'd take in any new city. By keeping my appearance neutral, my wallet light, and not wandering around on foot at night, I spent six months here without even a hint of trouble. The bombings splashed all over the media are overplayed; usually targeted at gay bars and police, in the last three years they've led to three deaths - no different than tourist-thronged London. Simple street smarts should see you through quite nicely; don't let scare stories cheat you out of the eye-opening, mind-expanding experience that is Cape Town.
A Cape crusade
Specialty travel vendors such as Magical Holidays (800/228-2208) and 2Afrika (877/200-5610, 2afrika.com) can often cut you a deal for $1,090 or so round-trip, usually via Europe. You may pare costs slightly by flying into Johannesburg (served by more airlines, and by SAA from New York) and taking a two-hour connecting flight (about $150 round-trip). Recently, Iberia Airlines (iberia.com) has been slashing rates down to the $500 level; we have no idea how long that will last, however. Air France (airfrance.com) is one final source to check.
2Afrika also offers air/hotel packages that in the October/November shoulder season, for example, can mean $995 plus taxes for extendable round-trip airfare and five nights' hotel in town.
To book B&Bs in the Western Cape area try the Portfolio Collection (portfoliocollection.com), which lists nearly 300.
For more information, call 212/730-2929 or visit gocapetown.co.za. When dialing Cape Town, use the prefix 011-27-21.