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.
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?
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.
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 even travel by public transport. 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.
Travel Guides South Africa
For some detailed information about safety and traveling in South Africa we suggest to get a great guide book about the country. There are various good ones, like the Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and Fodor’s. We made a selection here below. You can get those books (and others) by clicking on the image of the book below.
Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links. We will earn a small percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at absolutely NO extra cost to you! This helps us keep our site going, so thank you for your support.
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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