There is one question that people always ask me about travelling to South Africa:
Is it safe to travel to South Africa?
Over the years South Africa has gained a reputation of being a dangerous country with a high rate of violence and crime. Unfortunately, the stigma of Apartheid still exists as sad reminder of a murky past. In addition, a high rate of unemployment and poverty enhances crime as well.
How safe is South Africa?
However it can also be said that it is definitely not the most unsafe destination to travel to. South Africa is a beautiful country and there are many great reasons to visit the Rainbow Nation. Yes, crime and violence takes place, but as a tourist you will unlikely experience such. Most of the criminality occurs in the local townships and unfortunately mostly local residents will be a victim of crime. Tourists are not specifically targeted. After having travelled in South Africa for 8 years on and off, I can say (touch wood) that I have hardly experienced crime first hand. I have heard the stories of local residents and sadly enough they are true. But at the same time, I have hardly heard these stories told by tourists.
Is South Africa safe to travel to?
Yes, it is safe to travel in South Africa. Travelling in South Africa is as safe as many other tourist destinations around the world. However, that does not mean that nothing ever happens. What I mean by saying that it is safe to travel in South Africa, is that most visitors will hardly come across any crime. Of course, like in many other cities and countries, crime does happen when one is not careful. You should definitely take some precautions when travelling in South Africa in order to avoid problems.
I would like to provide you with some tips and tricks about safety in South Africa, which precautions to take and how to travel around. Keep in mind that these tips will also be valid in many other tourist destinations around the world, not just South Africa. Read also this South Africa travel guide for additional information.
Getting around safe in South Africa
South Africa is a large country to visit. Most people will rent a car, join a tour group to get around, or some people will travel by public transport or go backpacking as a solo female traveller. No matter how you travel to visit Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kruger National Park or the highlights of the Garden Route, most things to consider will be valid for any destination in South Africa.
Visiting South Africa by rental car
- Don’t leave any valuables visible in your car, when it is parked. Be careful flashing expensive stuff around like huge cameras when in slow moving traffic and waiting at traffic lights aka: ‘robots’ in South Africa. Rather put your valuable items in the trunk if you don’t need them while driving, where they can’t be seen.
- When driving around in cities keep your doors locked and the same for your windows. You can leave it down a bit to get some fresh air, but I would not drive around with the window completely open. It makes it so much easier for someone to try to snatch something from the car.
- When parking your car on the street or at a shopping mall most of the times you will see park guards around. They will keep an eye on your car. When you see the one responsible for your parking area, make eye contact. And when you leave, give them a small tip of a few rand (between 2-5 ZAR). Call it job creation, but at least it keeps your car safe.
- Plan your trip, the distances in South Africa are long. Make sure you know where you go, although the road signs are pretty good and clear. But make sure you have a map with you or a GPS.
- Check your fuel consumption and plan your trip accordingly. There are lot’s of petrol stations around, but make sure that you don’t drive the fuel right to the end. You would not want to get stuck next to the road.
- Don’t pick up hitchhikers, you might feel good helping out someone. But rather not in South Africa, you never know. Don’t let your holiday be spoiled by this.
Using public transport to get around in South Africa
Public transport in between larger cities is really good in South Africa. Intercity busses between the main cities are fine to use, like Greyhound, Citiliner, Intercape and City to City,… They are reliable and a great and inexpensive way to get from one large city to the other. However, keep in mind that distances are long and the travelling time might be long. Also, these bus companies will always drop you off at the bus stations, which are mostly located at the edge of the city centre. You will have to make your own way to your respective accommodation. In certain cities, like Johannesburg, the areas of the bus stations are not very safe. So always check if the time of arrival is during the day. You don’t want to arrive at certain areas at night. These intercity busses are not often used by tourists, more by local people. The main reason is that you cannot get to the main tourist areas outside the larger cities.
If you like to travel by train, you can take the famous Shosholoza train. There are not many routes to take, the major route would be between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Travelling by train is fine, if you don’t mind slow travel. It will take you longer to travel by train than by bus. I would take the train for an extra tourist experience and enjoy the scenery. However, half the route you will be travelling at night time. The only safety advice is that when travelling by train, always be aware of your belongings, because you never know.
Other ways of getting around
When travelling solo or when you don’t want to rent a car, the BazBus is the best option to get around in South Africa. They work with various hop on hop off tickets and bring you directly to your accommodation without first having to go to the central bus station. Another advantage is that you will meet other (solo) travellers. Travelling by BazBus is really safe because you will mainly be with other tourists and you get dropped off directly at a hostel.
Safety tips for travel in South Africa
General safety tips for travelling South Africa
- Avoid walking around at night except in more busy and tourist areas. Avoid at all times dark alleys or neighbourhoods. For example in Cape Town, Longstreet or the Waterfront area are perfectly fine to walk around, just avoid the side alleys which are hardly lit and with less or no people around.
- When moving from one area to another at night, call a metered taxi or Uber. When taking a taxi on the street, go to an official taxi stand.
- In Johannesburg, avoid by all means the downtown business district in the evening.
- In Durban, the same for Cape Town is valid, certain areas are fine to walk around (like the sea side), but just be careful in some other areas (like Point Road). The staff at your accommodation can give you specific advice where to go and what to avoid. Did you know that Durban is a great place to visit? Check out why here
- Avoid public transport in Johannesburg. It might sound adventurous to travel like a local, but don’t. First of all, it’s complicated and second it’s dangerous.
- Cape Town has a very good public transport system, called myCiTi. It’s a great way to get around, we use it a lot and so do a lot of Capetonians. The myCiti busses will take you to most area in and around Cape Town during the day. At night I recommend travelling by Uber.
- Always ask the reception or manager of your accommodation to point out safe and unsafe areas. They know the region best and will be glad to give you some local information.
- When you are on the beach (for example Durban beachfront), don’t leave your valuable unattended. Keep an eye on them at all times.
Money and valuables
- Even though plastic money is widely accepted in most tourist places, always have some cash money with you (you never know when you need it). Just make sure the money is well tucked away. Don’t put a lot of bank notes in your wallet which people might see when you pay somewhere.
- ATM’s: there are lots of them. You really find them almost at every street corner from various banks. Try to be with at least 2 persons when withdrawing money from the ATM, less chance to get mugged and better to protect what you are doing. Make sure there are people around, not somewhere lost and in the middle of nowhere. Also try to avoid very busy fuel stations in local villages. I have heard stories of scams there.
- ATM’s: Never ever accept any help from anyone. Therefor it is always better to use an ATM by a bank. If your card get’s stuck, go inside to ask for help while one person stays with the ATM. You cannot imagine how many people I have met that have let themselves be helped by a stranger when facing problems. Don’t!!!
- When walking around after checking in to your accommodation, leave your valuables locked up in the safe. For example when taking a stroll in Cape Town only take some money you might need and copies of your passport. It’s a hassle when your passport gets stolen, and that time you might as well spend enjoying this beautiful country.
- Don’t walk around with all your nice jewellery and valuables exposed. Rather keep it in your hotel room or leave it at home.
Crime in South Africa
- Always keep some change in your pocket for when you would get involved with petty theft. Just hand it over and as you have given something they’ll go away. Never fight it, it’s not worth it.
- Just at all times be aware of your belongings, but this goes for every destination you will travel to. For example, when sitting on the beach in Durban, make sure 1 person stays behind with your personal stuff when taking a swim and keep your bags close to you. Don’t go for a nice swim in the water all together, you will end up going back to your hotel in swimwear.
- When walking around, make sure you keep an eye on your backpack. For example, carrying a backpack with a zipper on your back is asking to get robbed. Rather carry it on your chest.
After all, I can say that for a tourist to travel in South Africa it is not more unsafe than travelling in many other popular places around the world. I have spent quite some time in South Africa and (touch wood) never anything really happened. I have heard of people getting robbed in Cape Town, but mostly it was at night, they had a bit to drink and it was in a dark alley.
Definitely don’t let all the horror stories put you off and make you nervous for your trip to South Africa. It’s a beautiful country with plenty of nice things to see and do and lovely people to meet. So when asking yourself the question ‘Is South Africa safe to visit?’ or ‘How safe is it to travel to South Africa?’ I hope you are convinced by this post to come and travel in South Africa.
If you love reading a novel about South Africa, either before or while you are traveling, you can have a look at this list that I created with books and novels that I enjoyed reading. All these books tell the story and daily life of South Africa in their own way. Click here to see the post!
How was your experience travelling in South Africa?
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This is interesting. I always assumed South Africa is probably the least unsafe place in the continent but I haven’t been there yet. I’d love to in the future though.
The world media has this infamous habit of blowing things way out of proportion. If I had believed all the stories about Brooklyn, New York I would never have gone there, but I did. South Africa has been portrayed as being a notoriously unsafe destination. While it is by no means the safest place in the world, in other words, zero crime, it is also far from the unsafest. Any seasoned traveller should know that simple vigilance will get you a long way. This applies to any destination in the world. South Africa is still well worth a visit, for so many reasons.
While I agree that it is overall safe to travel there I would make the following additions to this list – beware of Long Street at night, while touristy and busy, this street had a lot of issues with crime. Never leave anything in a parked car – what might be off little value to do (a friend once left a pair of old sneakers) might be enough to entice a break in and you will have the hassle. Also be careful of credit card fraud – never ever give your card away to a waiter in a restaurants, ask them to bring you the machine or go with them if stationary.
That is good advice, but I think it and the rest of the advice we give in this article can be applied to a lot of other places around the world, not just South Africa. Simple vigilance and common sense will go a long way to keep you safe.
Very useful! I wish we read this article before we went to S. Africa. We stayed at Suncity which was amazing in its own rights but wish we traveled to other cities and get a more local experience. Next time.
South Africa is a large country so there are always opportunities to come back I guess. Suncity is one of a kind in South Africa, and visiting some other regions and cities will definitely get you a more local experience. When coming back, do not hesitate to contact us for more information 🙂
I have just returned from a couple of weeks in Durban, staying in Hillcrest, Shelly Beach and Umhlanga. As a “child of Africa” there are no surprises in the above, and, of course, nothing has changed. Very obvious in both locations was the private security camera monitoring in public streets, along with bicycle and vehicle patrols.
I was warned about carrying a DSLR openly in the street or busy beach, so had to limit my photography to the mobile phone.
We used the UK Post Office pre-paid Mastercards. They were accepted everywhere that we tried to use them (supermarkets, pubs, restaurants), but the Uber app rejected them even when used via PayPal. Fortunately Uber accepts cash! The associated app allows transfer of cash to the card securely, so that you don’t have to put everything in the card at once.
Uber is alive and well, and, with the weak Rand, not hugely expensive. We limited Uber use to daylight, but had no complaints at all.
i used a business traveller package on my mobile phone. At £5 for each day on which it is used, all calls and data are then charged as normal UK traffic. Very effective, and used as a hot spot for my wife’s mobile when WiFi was not good. Most importantly I found good 4G comms in most places, with 3G normally available when there was no 4G.
Durban is still a great place to go!
Thanks for the extra tips! I ‘grew up’ (a bit) in Winston Park. South Africa in general is still a great place to go, and even live. Sabine and I are currently hanging out in Belgium, but are in the process of relocating back to SA. I’ll just be missing my Belgian beer 😉
Haha. Missing the beer is not good.
i grew up having annual holidays on the natal South Coast (Scottburgh/Park Rynie) then went to university in Durban, then (10 years on) lived in Dundee in Natal for a while. So it’s old hunting grounds!
I have to say that leaving after our holiday, after brunch with a sea view on a great beach day at Ballito, was NOT easy.
Cape Town / Hermanus for the whale festival next year with a bit of luck!
Thing is, Sabine and I never really left South Africa. We met and got married there, and just decided to give Belgium a go, which we have, because Sabine is Belgian, and now I am too. But our hearts are still in Southern Africa, so I think it is time to go home, and it might as well be Cape Town, as that is exactly where we met. Got married in the Drakensberg. So if you are in Cape Town next year, look us up. There is a Belgian restaurant called ‘Den Anker’ right at the V & A with the best view, so Belgian beer is available in SA 🙂
In a nutshell, yes, it is safe to travel, or live in South Africa, about as safe as any other major world destination, or even safer. Think Rio or Mexico city. You know the saying: You can take a South African out of South Africa, but you cannot take South Africa out of a South African 😉
Ons gaan nou braai!
I think these are very valuable tips to everyone traveling to South Africa! We have only visited for three weeks and partially felt threatened by all the stuff we suddenly needed to be aware of. We did love our trip along the garden route and the Kruger National Park but struggled to become a fan of Johannesburg due to safety concerns. But I also think, people definitely should not avoid South Africa – they just need to be more careful than in most places!
We are currently visiting Cape Town in South Africa, and we’ve loved seeing all the natural beauty of the area. However, our visit has been overshadowed by being robbed last week. We stopped for lunch after a hike on Table Mountain, and we honestly felt our bags would be safer left in the locked trunk of our car rather than taking them out, alerting folks around us to their presence, and possibly becoming targets, ourselves. We never opened the trunk in the area, and we locked the car. But by the time we got back to our lodging, they were gone. Cops suspect we were victims of a signal jam. Lesson learned: don’t trust your key fob; always manually check that your doors locked. Wish we had known about this very common scam before visiting 🙁
Really sorry to hear that. 🙁
Unfortunately, signal jamming of car remotes is fairly widely spread in SA. Moral of the story, make sure you vehicle is in fact locked before you walk away.