Getting Around: Trains, Taxis, Automobiles and Kombis – Cape Town, South Africa

Getting Around: Trains, Taxis, Automobiles and Kombis
Cape Town, South Africa

Getting around Cape Town can be quite an adventure, especially if you don’t have a car. The city is spread out through city streets, winding mountain roads and freeways. As a visitor, you’ll definitely want to get out of the city centre and explore Cape Town’s neighborhoods, with several ways to do so.

Walking – Not a lot of people walk in Cape Town, and so paying careful attention to motorists and traffic lights is a must. Although you may be warned of safety issues, the weather and the scenery in Cape Town are so magnificent that walking can be a great option if you’re not going far and you use common sense (don’t wear flashy jewelry, don’t display items like cell phones, cameras or wallets and don’t walk alone at night). Areas like Camps Bay, the Victoria Albert Waterfront and Observatory are all wonderful areas to walk through, with lots of interesting sights and people to see. Just don’t expect to travel great distances by foot and always be careful.

City Bus – I never once used a city bus while I was in Cape Town, as it isn’t a popular way to get around. I have heard that they are fairly dirty, although inexpensive and pretty reliable, especially if you are traveling in the City Centre.

City Trains – the train is an easy and cheap way to go from Cape Town to beach cities like Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town in less than 30 minutes. Tickets are usually around R7 for students (a little more than $1) and run fairly consistently. The trains are dirty and rather worn down, with torn seats and graffiti walls, but you’ll find a lot of families and students use them for a day’s trip to the beach. Upgrading your ticket to “first class” doesn’t change the state of the carriage you’ll be in, but it does mean you’ll be traveling with a nicer bunch. It’s worth it.

Cars – renting a car in Cape Town is not expensive, especially if you opt for something like an old Beetle. Just remember, South Africans drive on the LEFT side of the road and you always allow people to pass who wish to travel at speeds faster than yours. You will have to worry about the safety of your car, as car-jacking and theft is abundant, which may limit the locations you travel to.

Kombis – this is by far my favorite way to get around Cape Town. I was told early on that under no circumstances should I travel in a kombi, as they are usually driven by unlicensed drivers and can be unsafe, but after seeing the majority of Capetonians doing it, I decided to give it a go. The buses are old and they usually crowd at least 12 people in at a time (you will get used to the smell of body odor and strangers sitting on your lap, trust me), but they will pick you up anywhere alongside the road, and drop you off anywhere along their route. Most trips are under R3 (about $.50), they blare Xhosa dance music or Celine Dion, and the people you meet on the kombi are colorful locals who love to chat.

Cabs – asking a hotel concierge for a few cab company numbers is probably a good idea when you arrive in Cape Town. Keep them on you, and remember never to use a cab that doesn’t have the company’s name prominently displayed (many drivers will offer cheaper rides for people “who don’t want to use a cab.” DO NOT get in a car with such drivers). Although it is law for drivers to run the meter, 99% of them will bargain with you for a flat fee. Hearing an American accent usually gives them incentive to push up the price considerably, so if you are with a local have them do the bargaining, or brush up on your negotiating skills before you go.