Situated in the Western Cape Province on the wind-swept, southern-most tip of Africa, Cape Town has long been an entry point for visitors to South Africa – initially developed by and serving as a major port for the Dutch East India Company.
Now, thanks to a combination of unsurpassable beauty, a mild Mediterranean climate, and a lively multicultural, artistic vibe, the city easily claims itself as one of the most popular tourist and expat cities on the entire African continent.
Both South African and international influences have helped shaped the character of Cape Town, making it an ideal gap year location for those who can’t decide between uncovering issues unique to a developing country, an outdoorsy and adventurous lifestyle, and the cosmopolitan atmosphere of a city renowned for its music, art, and cuisine.
The largest opportunities for volunteering in Cape Town involve social programs or work with wildlife and environment. Community development projects range from assisting the elderly or promoting HIV awareness and prevention, to mentoring youth, teaching ESL, and sports coaching. Examples of wildlife programs in Cape Town include monkey rehabilitation, white shark conservation, or working with cheetahs and lions.
The range of language programs available in Cape Town is just as multi-lingual and varied as the list of languages spoken throughout South Africa as a whole. In addition to English for non-native speakers, gap year participants also have the option to take short- or long-term courses in Afrikaans at Inlingua, or Xhousa at Ubunto Bridge. Programs for French and German also exist.
Amidst the scenic backdrop of Cape Town’s mountains and sea is a thriving outdoors and water sports scene. Those taking a gap year have the chance to hone in on surfing skills with programs such as Cape Town Surfing or embark on safaris based out of Cape Town. Additionally, kite-boarders can become certified instructors through IKO International.
Although professional internships are not as widely offered in South Africa as other western nations, opportunities still exist, mostly in business or tourism. To find an internship, try searching listings at CapeIntern and VAcorps.
Planning Your Trip
Cost of Living in Cape Town
Overall cost of living in Cape Town is reasonable and generally lower than many U.S. cities. Expect to pay about $250 – 400 USD a month for shared accommodation, $2 USD for a local beer, $1 USD for a one-way local bus ticket, and about $8 USD for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant.
Health and Safety in Cape Town
Although the benefits and attractions of Cape Town far outweigh its potential risks, personal health and safety are serious issues to consider when planning a gap year in Cape Town. Crime rates are considerably lower than Johannesburg and general street smarts will prevent most problems of theft and robbery. For example, do not walk alone in the city after dark, be aware of your surroundings, and do not leave valuables in cars or flaunt them. Most crime takes place in the townships and crime in the city is on par with any other major American city.
For health, all travelers are required to have a yellow fever vaccine and show proof of the vaccine upon arrival. All those without proof of the yellow fever vaccine will be quarantined. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Typhoid shots are recommended. Cape Town is not a malaria zone but anti-malarials may be necessary for travel in other parts of the country. HIV is a major problem throughout South Africa.