Cape Town is a city best approached from the sea. Table Mountain rises from the horizon incrementally, growing from a smudge only recognizable to seasoned mariners, into a majestic plateau that is a magnificent backdrop to Cape Town city centre, making it easily one of the most beautiful cruise ports in the world.
Cruise terminal: The Cape Town Cruise Terminal is located adjacent to the V&A Waterfront, larger cruise ships berth at the Duncan Docks in the commercial port.
Shore excursions: Shore excursions in Cape Town are many and varied, running from historical trips to Robin Island to game safaris into the interior and wine wasting on the Garden Route.
Language: English primarily, but there are 11 official languages in South Africa
Staying safe: Cape Town is the safest of South Africa’s big cities, but caution should still be exercised – don’t leave valuables unattended, and avoid walking alone or in small groups at night.
Currency: The South African rand
Cape Town is South Africa’s tourism jewel, it is the main cruise hub of the country and the most visited city by foreign travellers (whether by ship or air).
It’s home to the country’s young democratic parliament, as well as some of the oldest landmarks and sights, including the 17th century bastion fort Cape of Good Hope Castle. Cape Town is also home to the picturesque V&A Waterfront (named after Queen Victoria & Prince Albert).
The bustling waterfront, with its upmarket boutiques, trendy eateries and bars, and the occasional beggar, is a poignant reminder of South Africa’s colonial past, it’s equally brutal Apartheid history, and its struggle to enact social change while remaining a stronghold of capitalism and entrepreneurship on the continent.
It is also from the V&A Waterfront that most of the ferries to Robben Island depart. The island where Nelson Mandela and other ANC struggle leaders were imprisoned is a signature shore excursion for any cruise line calling in Cape Town.
Beyond Cape Town itself, shore excursions to the Cape Winelands and the adrenalin-charged safari game reserves, near the country’s northeastern border are also offered, as well as the not-to-be-missed day trip to the top of Table Mountain via cable car.
It’s no wonder so many cruise ships calling in Cape Town stay overnight!
The cruise terminal in Cape Town
Most cruise ships dock in the Port of Cape Town, the commercial port within the sweeping Table Bay that takes its name from the mountain that overlooks it.
The cruise terminal is within walking distance of the V&A Waterfront, and following a major refurbishment is now actually managed and operated by the same company that operates the V&A.
Some larger ships, including the three Cunard Queens, are forced to berth at Duncan Dock due to their size.
If your cruise is starting or ending in Cape Town, customs formalities will be done at the Cape Town Convention Centre, from which shuttle buses take passengers to or from the ship.
Staying safe on a cruise to Cape Town
Cape Town is one of the big three South African cities (Johannesburg and Durban being the other two). It is considered to be the safest of South Africa’s major cities (according to the Numebo Index), but personal security should still be a top priority for cruise tourists exploring independently.
Common sense should be used at all times, although major touristy areas and busy public spaces are generally safe, pickpocketing and even muggings can occur, don’t wear jewellery, use expensive camera equipment discreetly, and do not by any means walk around in small groups after dark.
If you rent a car in Cape Town, don’t stop at red lights on deserted roads after dark and don’t leave any valuables in plain sight. Never carry large amounts of money on you in cash.
Currency and language in Cape Town
The currency used in Cape Town is the rand, like the rest of the country, and although all major credit and debit cards are widely accepted, it’s a good idea to carry a few hundred rands in cash for any souvenir purchases.
There are many foreign exchange outlets and banks in Cape Town within a short distance of the cruise terminal, but be wary when withdrawing or exchanging money, pickpockets have been known to follow tourists from bank machines and exchange outlets.
Although there are 11 official languages in South Africa, English is the most widely spoken. Very few South Africans, regardless of race, are unable to understand English, especially in Cape Town. Because of its history as a Dutch and later British colony and the Apartheid regime that it gave birth to, Afrikaans and Xhosa are two of the most common languages used in Cape Town apart from English.
South Africa’s other official languages are Zulu, Sepedi, Sotho, Tswana, Swati, Venda, Tsonga and Ndebele (in addition to English, Afrikaans and Xhosa).
Is Cape Town good for shopping?
At the V&A Waterfront and other major shopping areas in Cape Town (notably Greenmarket Square), there will be popular wooden giraffes and elephant ornaments sold as souvenirs. These make a charming reminder of the city, if you don’t mind the fact that they’re mass produced in China.
The most authentic souvenirs can be found among the street sellers who make fantastic wire and bead sculptures, baskets and model cars and bikes that can be pushed along by a wire handle. They are made by the seller personally and each is unique.
Who cruises to Cape Town?
Cape Town is South Africa’s leading cruise destination, and the main port for all cruises departing from South Africa to all corners of the world.
The South African cruise market has been hit hard by the ongoing drought in the city though, with a 40% drop in scheduled port calls and cruises from the city in 2019 compared to 2017.
There are 55 cruise itineraries featuring Cape Town as a port of call in 2019, and 30 cruises departing from the city the same year. For full details of all the cruises departing Cape Town in the 2018/2019 cruise season click here.