Of all the places the Woodward family visited whilst living the nomadic location independent lifestyle, Cape Town ranks as one of our favourites. If it weren’t for the relative political and social instabilities, it’s somewhere we could see ourselves living permanently – at least for part of the year.
If you’re considering it as a potential destination on your location independent journey, these are 10 things you might like to know before you arrive…
#1 Internet access is not great. In fact it’s pretty damn poor.
This is one of the biggest downsides of being a digital nomad in South Africa – at least until the undersea pipe is built/connected and they no longer have to rely on satellite internet access.
Internet in South Africa is widely available – and can be fast but it’s not something you’re likely to rave about. It is also comparatively expensive. The most sensible thing to do if you’re visiting for a month or more is to invest in a mobile 3G USB modem and then buy data bundles on a pay-as-you-go basis.
#2 South Africa is in the Southern hemisphere – and winter isn’t always pleasant.
Visit South Africa – especially Cape Town – in the winter (between June-August) and you may be in for a shock. It can be cold, very wet and very windy.We were there in the summer of 2008 and experienced 2 solid weeks of non-stop heavy rain in Cape Town.
#3 Use budget airlines to travel between the major cities.
One of the quickest and safest ways to travel between say Cape Town and Johannesburg (they are quite a distance apart) is via one of the budget airlines. Kulula, Mango and 1Time all fly regionally with good value fares.
A useful thing to know is that changes to your tickets are permitted on all airlines (please double check this, as it may have changed) and with Kulula, you can also get refunds if you cancel a ticket – something I didn’t know and lost out on $200 because of it
#4 Furnished rental accommodation is plentiful in Cape Town.
Self-catering, furnished accommodation is quite easy to find online. Prices are reasonable and some do come with internet access. As with most places, you’ll get far better deals if you do some leg work once you arrive – but if you prefer to organise something before you arrive, there are plenty of options available online.
#5 The best time to go is between mid-January to April.
Mid-January is pretty much when silly season ends and you can begin to negotiate and find great deals on accommodation and trips. The weather is still good until April in most parts and you’ll have missed the sizzling heat of high summer.
#6 They have funny electrical sockets.
Your worldwide travel adapter may not suffice when you visit South Africa. The kind of plug they use is a Type M plug which is common everywhere. 2-pin US style sockets are available in some places but you will probably still need to buy a local adapter (which you can do quite easily when there) to use in the majority of sockets.
#7 Crime is an issue – but probably not as much as you think.
Before we went to South Africa, many family & friends went on and on about the levels of dangerous crime. Reality check time – we used to live in the so-called “gun capital of Europe” (Nottingham, in case you wondered). Having grown up there, I have never, ever seen any guns there – nor been exposed to any of the violent crime that is apparently rife on Nottingham’s streets.
That’s not to say it isn’t there – it is indeed a problem in South Africa. However, it’s all relative. If you choose to put yourself in danger and venture into some of the dangerous areas (e.g. going into townships unaccompanied), then you will likely be exposed to crime. Walking round on the streets of Cape Town however, requires you to be no more vigilant than you would be in any major city in the US or Europe.
#8 It’s a great jumping off point for trips to elsewhere in Africa.
When you’re in South Africa, it can feel a little like you’re miles from anywhere – you are! It is however a great jumping off point for visiting other countries in Southern Africa like Namibia, Zambia, Mauritius and Botswana – and even Zimbabwe (e.g. the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls).
Flights to over countries typically depart from Johannesburg and if you look around, you can get some great deals. Whilst you’re this far south in Africa, you may as well make the most of it and check out some of the other beautiful countries down there too.
#9 You will eat and drink like a King or Queen. And easily afford it.
One of the best things about South Africa is the food. Oh yes, and the wine. And all at ridiculously affordable prices for the quality. Some of our favourites include cocktails on the Boma terrace in Plettenberg Bay, a meal at Firefly in Knysna, a curry at Maharajah’s on Long Street in Cape Town and the freshest fish & chips at Kalkys in Kalk Bay.
And that’s without mentioning some of the fantastic restaurants and wineries you’ll find in the Western Cape Winelands – about a 45 minute drive from Cape Town.
#10 This is Africa!
Despite the deceptively modern and surprisingly 1st world feel of some places in South Africa, this is still Africa. That can mean inefficiency, frustrating attitudes and a complacency and lack of responsibility that you might not expect to encounter.
There are still huge social and cultural divides in many South African communities – racial tensions still exist at all levels in society and you just have to drive by one of the townships to see the harsh living conditions that exist sitting just round the corner from some of the more plush neighbourhoods. This isn’t a criticism – it’s simply a reality that you’ll face wherever you are in the country.
South Africa is a stunning country to visit and spend a few months in – it’s a country of contradictions and one you’ll probably want to return to having been there once. If it weren’t for the expensive, less-than-reliable internet access, it would be an almost ideal location independent destination.