10 tips for the best ever Cape Town experience

South Africa’s “Mother City” – Cape Town: world renowned for its natural beauty, rich history, incredible cuisine, diverse cultures complete with an amazing range of music, languages and neighbourhoods, night life, activities – you name it, you’ll find it here! And all perfectly well suited to the ever-increasing number of visitors who are seeking unique experiences in travel destinations.

This modern-day explorer, however, also realises that there are do’s and don’ts that contribute to the quality of this experience. Ways in which s/he can ensure that locals embrace them into the Capetonian experience, that respect the realities of natural resource supplies, and that ensure they have a fantastic time while not draining the safety infrastructure of our City.

Here are 10 suggestions for information that you can provide to your guests and visitors (as well as some tips regarding how to do it) that will not only support your commitment to responsible tourism, but will ultimately result in a better experience for them.

#1: Let’s all be water wise!

We can’t over-state the importance of being mindful of how much water each individual is using this summer. The water supply situation is dire (see our November blog for details) so don’t be shy about sharing this reality with your guests.

We use water, of course, but let’s not waste water. Telling people about the reality of the immediate situation and what they can do right now to help is most effective. By contrast, informing them about far away ‘maybe’ implications is unlikely to motivate them to do anything today.

responsible travel signage in a guest house
Moonglow Guesthouse in Glencairn communicates the water scarce reality at check-in & this poster beside the shower serves as an effective reminder

#2: Limit the load

Who changes their sheets and towels every day when they are at home? Not anyone that we know. What a waste of energy, water, and laundry detergent – not to mention time! Tell guests that although you are fully committed to making sure that their stay is exceptionally comfortable, your business is mindful of not wasting. As such, changing towels and sheets every 3rd day is your ‘norm’.

Although some businesses do the old “leave it on the floor if you want your towel replaced” approach, Ocean View Guest House in Bakoven Bay has found that asking guests to actively do something to communicate their preference is most effective. They put a lovely little heart cushion on guest beds and request that they put the heart in a certain location if they would like their towels and sheets changes more frequently.

responsible tourism signage in a guest house
Ocean View Guest House asks guests to place the elegant heart somewhere specific to indicate their linen re-use preference

#3: Reward support

Hotel Verde awards
Verdino rewards on offer for not adjusting the already optimal room temperature!

People are motivated by different things; some lean far towards the altruistic side of the spectrum while others are more in the “what’s in it for me?” camp. Hotel Verde challenges all guests to engage in their green hotel concept by offering tangible rewards for putting their best “green” behaviour on display. The Verdino is Hotel Verde’s in-house currency that the business offers to all guests who support initiatives that the hotel has put in place to lighten its environmental footprint. Verdinos can then be spent anywhere in the hotel – even for a cappuccino fix on departure!

#4: Onward travel planning with like-minded businesses

There are some travellers who relish the idea of not having a fixed plan. Maybe they arrive with you and don’t really know where their next stop will be or are keen to do some organised activities while they’re here. Do some research ahead of time and find out which other businesses are demonstrating their commitment to doing better by implementing responsible tourism. These businesses often tend to be more dynamic and engaged, which means the travellers will likely have a more enjoyable stay. Of course, it also means they are taking steps for better places to live and better places to visit, which is what every business should be doing (but, sadly, isn’t). 

A responsible tourism business will at least have a section on its website saying what they do to operate responsibly. Many hotels, tour operators, and other businesses have gone a step further and proven their commitment to sustainability by participating in a responsible tourism certification program. This means that have met a vigorous set of environmental, social and economic criteria. And still others have not undergone an external audit, but do go the extra mile for local people and the environment, and are willing to let travellers see exactly what responsible practices they can expect at their business.

Some sources to look at include: Fair Trade Tourism (and the many tour operators who sell their Fair Trade Holiday Packages), Heritage Environmental Rating Programme (and Greenline), Green Tourism Active and EcoAtlas.

You could provide a directory to these businesses in your information books so that guests can choose them in their onward journey. Or they might consider booking them on their next visit (just make sure you’re on the list!).

certified tourism business in cape town
Hotel Verde’s Platinum certification with LEED

#5: Navigating the streets and its people

Many visitors to Cape Town quickly notice the number of people – especially children – who live on our city’s streets. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and is exceptionally dangerous. Of course, most people want to know how to help.

Rather than give money – which can actually serve to perpetuate the situation – inform guests about the various programmes in place that support street people and have structures in place to re-integrate them into their communities and / or with their families where that’s an option. For example, you can purchase meal vouchers from The Haven’s night shelters and sell them at your reception desk. Guests can buy some and give them to people who can then exchange them for food, shelter, and perhaps a doorway to a different life.

Streetsmart is another amazing initiative that provides support for street children (some of the most vulnerable people in our country). Share a list of participating restaurants with your guests so they can choose to go them, enjoy Cape Town’s fab cuisine, and add a small donation to the bill that goes directly to the beneficiaries of Streetsmart’s programmes.

dec5

And – if they want yet another option – you can refer them to the City’s “Give Responsibly” service. By SMS’ing “give” to 38088, they can automatically donate R10 to one of the many non-profit organisations in the city that are dedicated to offering street people an alternative to life on the streets. Snapscan donation options are also possible!

#6: How many different ways can you see Cape Town?

Many visitors to Cape Town rely almost exclusively on private cars to get around. Let them know about all the other options available, not only so they can gain a different perspective on the city but also to reduce local pollution and reduce carbon emissions.

If they’re exploring the city centre, walking is the best way to get the most of the sights and sounds. Renting a bicycle to get around the V&A Waterfront or take a guided bicycle tour of Masiphumelele, for example, is one of our all time favourite transportation options. Then there’s the train system: Southern Line train route is a very scenic option between Muizenberg and Simon’s Town sicne it runs parallel to the sea for most of the journey.

And finally, don’t forget the bus! MyCiti buses offer extended hours to the beaches all around the city – no more need to queue up looking for that perfect parking space! Visitor can also get to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway using using a MyCiti bus and a free MyCiTi shuttle from the bus stop to the cableway’s departure point. 

Using the bus in Cape Town
Visitors can get to the Table Mountain cableway via a MyCiti bus and a free shuttle from the closest bus stop

#7: Local is lekker

Cape Town is bursting with creative talent and some of its best genius is found in lesser-known environs that offer an amazing complement to the city’s more iconic attractions.

  • Research the music venues where visitors can soak up some sultry Cape Town jazz or feel the beat with some marimba band buskers.
  • Tell them about locally-guided tours that include a lunch in someone’s home for a Cape Malay curry or samp and beans.
  • Share the wealth of information about craft and lifestyle markets around the city where they’ll find uniquely Capetonian spirit, flavours, sounds, and sights.

Remember to give them a bit of guidance about bartering: although it’s routine with street vendors remember that a fair price paid is always the right one.

#8 Stay safe at the beach

Let’s face it – a visit to Cape Town would not be complete without spending some time at one of its incredible beaches. And with such a extensive coastline, the options are endless. Have a great time, lather on the sunscreen, get covered in sand and salt water, and remember to stay safe.

Here are some useful tips to remember in order to make sure your summer beach time is all kinds of good!

beach safety in cape town

And don’t forget about the amazing work that the Shark Spotters are doing along our coast to make sure that beach users, surfers, swimmers, SUP’ers, and waders do so without any conflicts with other, wilder water users… Make sure you understand the flagging system that the Shark Spotters use to communicate the latest shark activity in the area. Even better – download their app on your smartphone so you can get an update even before deciding which beach to go to!

shark spotters app

#9 Keep our wildlife wild

Cape Town’s wildlife is often a bit of a surprise for visitors who hadn’t expected to encounter any animals outside of the country’s game reserves and national parks. In order to keep them wild – and to keep everyone safe, including them – it’s important that they not be encouraged to interact with humans.

Whether it’s the penguins around Boulders Beach or baboons at Cape Point, please remind visitors that they must keep their distance and under no circumstances should they try to feed the wildlife. Nobody likes rules on holiday, but these rules will protect both them and the animals.

why not to feed baboons
Good reasons not to feed baboons

#10 Be a savvy SASSI shopper

sassi sustainable fishAnd last but not least, let’s all do our bit to make good choices regarding our consumption of the resources in our oceans. We’re so fortunate to have a consumer guide to support this – the SASSI guide – so please share it with visitors to ensure that they make choices that support healthy seas.

You might want to download a pocket guide to offer to each guest who visits you, or tell them about the SMS option or the SASSI app. It’s easy to find out which linefish they should enjoy, guilt free.

the sassi list
The SASSI recommends what fish to buy and not buy