This article originally appeared on Taking Time to Travel
Cape Town has long been a destination of choice for tourists, backpackers and honeymooners alike, and it won’t take you long to see why. Set on the southwestern tip of Africa, and with the iconic Table Mountain standing tall over the city, Cape Town is as recognisable as it is fascinating.
The city has plenty going for it, and a host of top publications can vouch for its appeal. In 2016 Cape Town was selected by The Daily Telegraph’s readers as the best city in the world for the fourth year running, and has also recently topped the New York Times’s list of the best cities to visit.
Cape Town’s attraction shows no sign of waning, either. Recent figures published by the Cape Times, a local broadsheet newspaper, show an upsurge in tourism in the last year. Cape Town International Airport saw 10 million passengers pass through its gates for the first time, and many popular tourist spots, including the Robben Island museum and Cape Point, recorded notable year-on-year increases in visitors.
Just as it was back in early colonial days, Cape Town is still a gateway to Africa for many Westerners. While colonisation remains a sensitive issue, generations of Western influx – people, products and cultural practices have been flooding in for centuries – have lent Cape Town a cosmopolitan vibe that is matched by few cities in Africa. Travellers, many from Europe, North America and Oceania, are enticed by the similarities to home that Cape Town offers, while still experiencing a city that is, in other aspects, unmistakably African.
Culturally speaking, Cape Town is a huge draw. In 2014, The Mother City, as it is known in South Africa, was named World Design Capital by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. The city boasts a collection of well curated museums, as well as some unique and charismatic local hangouts. The Labia Theatre on Orange Street has stood since the late 40’s and still runs daily showings of Art-House and alternative films, as well as some of the usual Hollywood stock. Truth Coffee Roasting, on Buitenkant Street, offer visitors a totally different kind of café; you can marvel at the quirky Steampunk-themed interior design while you sample their extensive range of coffees, beers and food. At night, Bree Street and Long Street come alive, especially once a month for “First Thursdays”. On the first Thursday of every month, Cape Town’s myriad galleries and cultural spots stay open well into the evening, and some roads are closed off to traffic allowing people to wander on foot. For many attendees, this is usually followed by a jol in the many bars and restaurants that also line these streets. It is thus quite common for First Thursday to take up half of Friday as well.
That said, if you are the kind of person that uses crime statistics to determine your next holiday destination, you’d probably stay far away from Cape Town. The Mother City has garnered an unfortunate reputation for murder and other forms of violent crime. As of 2016, World Atlas ranked Cape Town as the 9th most dangerous city worldwide, with 65.53 homicides per 100,000 people. (The figures only account for cities with populations above 300,000). Cape Town is the only African city in the top 10; the rest are in Latin America. Furthermore, Cape Town is one of only four cities outside the Americas to make the top 50. The other three are in South Africa, too: Durban (41), Nelson Mandela Bay (42) and — with a rate of 30.31 homicides per 100,000 people, lower than half that of Cape Town — Johannesburg, at number 47.
At face value, these statistics paint a grim picture. It must be noted, however, that they do not account for the inconsistency in homicide rates from district to district. Any worthwhile survey of Cape Town would certainly not overlook the townships and suburbs in its outer reaches (the notorious Khayelitsha township is located here). With higher levels of poverty and low police presence, zones like these can be hotspots for violent crime, though they do not necessarily speak for the city as a whole. To outsiders, Cape Town may evoke images of picturesque beaches and stunning mountain vistas, and Cape Town is certainly not the only glamorous city with a less glamorous underbelly. But the townships, the poverty, the racial tension – these are just as real as anything else you’ll find in Cape Town.
Still, for the most part the city is a welcoming place, and most travellers come and go without incident. South Africa battles with social issues, sky-high unemployment and the still palpable aftermath of apartheid. But the allure of the Mother City endures in spite of unfavourable figures, and it stands out as one of Africa’s – and the world’s – truly magnificent cities. For any traveller to South Africa it is a must-see, and is unlikely to disappoint.