Cape Town

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<p>We are researching a trip to S Africa for next March. One package we have gives us three days in Cape Town on our own. We are trying to decide if that is a good idea. Are there enough things to do to keep us busy before we head out on a safari to Zambia? Are there cultural events, historical sites, and flora and fauna that would keep people in their 60s occupied and entertained for a couple of days? We will be staying in the city center. Would we want a car or a guide? Should we cut it down to two days and add a day in Johannesburg? All ideas and recommendations will be appreciated. </p>

Based on two trips to SA, I thnk 3 days in Capetown would be nice. You can take a tour out to the south cape one day, a day trip to Stellenbosch and the wine country on another day and try to make arrangements to take a tour of the townships on a 3rd morning and finish that day by having a visit to the botanical gardens. Not too tiring but interesting.

I agree that 3 days in Cape Town would be enjoyable. I was there for five days and had no problem finding things to do. Before I left the US, I signed up for a wine tour, even tho I am not a winedrinker, just to see the country. When I talked to the company, they offered a whale-watching tour along the coast. Car and driver all to myself. It was great.

I haven't been to South Africa in awhile, but would recommend three days in Cape Town. Johannesburg is like any big city and sightseeing opportunities might just include a city tour, a Soweto Tour and maybe a few museums like the Apartheid Museum. You would need to take taxis everywhere as walking around on your own is not recommended. Capetown offers more activities/sightseeing/day trips, good shopping and has nice walking paths that parallel the beach.

Capetown definitely - the stunning new Victoria and Alfred complex on the waterfront of luxury hotels, condos, shops and restaurants is a happy place to enjoy and feel very safe with lots to do and find to eat, as well as take the boat trip to Robbin Island which we missed but heard great reviews for this important part of SA history.
Downtown Capetown is worthy of exploring its pedestrian shopping streets but don't venture too far beyond them - yes, I did get a gold chain ripped off my neck when I got a bit away from the normal business district - don't take the chance and this is not meant to scare - just a reality check and don't wear any jewelry at all even earrings.Cape town is one of the safest SA cities because they fought back and put in guards on every street corner and those are the places where you will find a very nice down town business buzz and well worth spending time shopping and people watching.
The Hop on Hop Off bus tour is a great way to fill the day and if the weather is just right a trip to the top of Table Mountain is a must thing to do. Heading out to the sea side towns south of the city is a great and accessible place to also spend time for the beaches and the cafes (but not the cold Atlantic water). Beautiful rocky coves and stunning views. Friendly looking small holiday oriented vacation village feelings.
Yes, the Stellenbosch area is a must see along with the Cape of Good Hope as escorted day trips to take from Capetown. It deserves very much being a highpoint on the tourism map. Plus you might find a ship that goes to Tristan da Cuhna leaving for a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the most remote inhabited island in the Southern Atlantic ....... on my bucket list and seems now is only served by ships from Capetown.

Johannesburg, where I lived for six months a while back, is a difficult and dangerous city, and is not for the casual on-their-own tourist. While there are many fascinating things to see and do in Johannesburg (and I LOVED living there, despite everything), a trip there would have to be planned very carefully. You cannot just wander around, and other than taxis there is no public transportation that I would consider safe for non-locals to use. Even taxis can be quite difficult to use (you can't, for example, hail taxis on the street). Johannesburg's "sights" are also considerably more subtle than those in Cape Town.
Cape Town is much more user-friendly (and much more typically beautiful). There is plenty to do in the Cape area and three days could easily be filled (and then some). The V&A area, though heavily sanitized and touristy, is beautiful and relatively safe. Robben Island is a don't-miss, as is the cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain (be sure the top of the mountain is fully visible before you start, or you'll be immersed in fog at the top). There are tours to the townships (usually Gugulethu or Khayelitsha) that are safe to take and can be arranged through most hotels, but don't take one if seeing poverty will upset you (although you will be kept away from the worst areas).
Unless you are extremely savvy, I wouldn't recommend using public transportation anywhere in South Africa other than taxis (and even those can be problematic at times). For a 60ish couple on their own, I would definitely recommend a car and driver if you plan to venture anywhere outside the main central touristed area, or a hop-on-hop-off bus tour oriented toward tourists, as others have noted.
Good luck! Despite its difficulties and dangers, I still miss South Africa intensely.

My first trip to South Africa was in 1978 - I used public transit and wandered around all these cities on my own. Took the local bus from a Jo'berg suburb into downtown and spent the day along with trips to Pretoria and the Blue Train across to Capetown, again wandering these cities on my own. My SA hosts were a bit taken aback, but in all my wonder at that time I made the most of it on my own.
They were vibrant core cities then, but no logner except for Capetown and only during the day time and only in very specific areas --- as noted prior. I found SA captured my soul then, and has not released it even today. Apartheid was the law of the land then, so when I say cities were vibrant I mean they were relatively safe and this safety was ensured by a very present police state and a silent threat always present that laws were to be obeyed. The revolution to come was just around the corner, but many still lived as if it would not take place in their lifetimes. But it did just a few years later.
So much change has been so necessary and important, yet there remains so many layers to this country both good and bad but at least this time the good and bad are clearly bi-racial and the fault lines are not as superficial as 30 years ago when laws kept some people down and laws kept some people up.
As a human story and as a window to Africa, South Africa must be experienced in person; not just read about. Commerce and safety abandoning formerly thriving and beautiful downtowns is probably the saddest failure to accept. Capetown alone said no, we will stay and we will fight to keep things safe for everyone. And for the most part, they have. During the day.
Yet one of the most telling experiences we had on our last trip in 2010 was to a suburban shopping mall chain restaurant outside Port Elizabeth, where all families of all ages and colors, were enjoying all the fun of a meal out, celebrating birthdays, singing songs with the staff and having a fun day.
It was a middle class Norman Rockwell Middle America type experience and that was one of the most evocative visions we took away from our entire visit in 2010 (along with getting robbed right in front of the Tax Office in Capetown in the middle of the afternoon) - the arbitrary color lines were gone at this restaurant and replaced with the leavening of the middle class bringing everyone together in a new middle of the road in this country.