South Africa is without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries but has unfortunately gotten a bad reputation when it comes to safety. It’s been ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for female travellers, which can deter women from visiting. With that being said, I don’t think anyone should miss out on exploring South Africa solely out of fear. Now that I’ve been in the country for over 3 months, I know a thing or tow about South Africa safety, so let’s get into it!
What Parts of South Africa are Safest?
When planning your trip to South Africa, you’re likely to start your trip in Johannesburg or Cape Town. While I’ve yet to visit Johannesburg personally, I’ve heard from friends (South Africans and other foreign travellers) that Johannesburg is much more dangerous than Cape Town. That might be why so many travellers spend most of their time around Cape Town.
That’s not to say Cape Town is especially safe. There are many things you need to keep in mind while travelling around any part of South Africa. As a foreigner, you might be thrown off by the many security measures that are in place such as barbed wire fencing and security systems around all homes. I was also a bit surprised to find security guards in front of most shops and guarding all buildings when I first got to Cape Town.
Although this may seem a bit scary at first these measures are in place to keep you safe!
South Africa Safety Tips You Might Not Know About
1. Don’t Walk Anywhere in the Dark
While you may be used to walking home from work or to visit a friend in the evening at home, you should never do that in South Africa. Even walking short distances alone can be incredibly risky, no matter what neighbourhood you’re in. If you’re bar hopping around Bree or Kloof Street with a group of friends, you could get away with walking down the street for a few minutes but I still wouldn’t advise doing that. Always opt for taking an Uber or Bolt to get around when it’s dark!
2. Never Walk With Your Phone Out
You may be used to walking around with your phone out to send a text or scroll on Instagram. I used to do the same but you should avoid taking your phone out on a walk when you’re in South Africa. Phones (especially iPhones or smartphones) are in high demand here and someone will snatch it right from your hands if you’re not careful.
If you need to use Google maps or directions, look them up before you get outside. You should also keep your purse closed and a hand over your purse when you’re walking around or keep your phone in your front pocket. If you leave it in your back pocket, someone will take it without a second thought! A security guard stopped my friend on the street to tell her to move her phone to her front pocket and that’s always stuck with me.
3. Keep Windows Up While Driving
If you’re in Johannesburg, you should keep your windows up at all times but if you’re travelling around Cape Town, you should be okay to have them open when you’re around the city. As soon as you leave the city and move closer towards townships, that’s when you need to be a little more careful.
One of my Uber drivers explained a phenomenon known as the ‘smash and grab’, which is when people who appear to be selling goods at stop lights will smash your windows and grab your phone or any valuables. If you know you’re driving out of the main city centre, it’s best to keep your windows up and valuables out of sight so that no one tries to rob you.
4. Never Hike Alone
This was one of the most challenging South Africa safety aspects for me to get used to. As someone who loves the outdoors and being active, there’s nothing better than going on a hike to clear your head. I wouldn’t recommend hiking alone but it’s fairly easy to find other people to hike with, especially if you’re staying at a hostel! You could also join meetups for hikes if you’re looking for a hiking buddy.
5. Don’t Keep Valuables in the Car
If your valuables can be seen in the car, they’ll most likely be stolen. If you need to leave something valuable behind, such as a camera or laptop, put it in the trunk of the car. Otherwise, you’re better off leaving it at home or taking it with you!
6. Don’t Speak to People Begging on the Street
It’s human nature to want respond to someone talking to you and it’s hard not to feel bad ignoring those begging for money. With that being said, it’s something you need to do when you’re in South Africa. I recently learned that even those asking for food outside grocery shops will later return the food to get money for drugs and other substances. Children are also often used to tug on your heart strings and get you to pull out your wallet. If you fall for this trap, you could end up in a situation where you’ll be mugged (or worse) by an adult watching the scenario play out nearby.
7. Always Text Friends When You Get Home Safe
When friends tell you to text them when you get home safe, do it! South Africans know how unsafe it can be to travel from place to place at night, even if a friend is driving you home or you’re just hopping out of an Uber. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and keep an eye out for you friends on their way home!
8. Don’t Wander into Townships
Unless you’re going on a guided tour with an accredited organization, don’t wander into townships. If you’re staying in the city, you probably won’t find yourself in a situation where you end up in a township, so there’s no need to worry. BUT if you’re going on a road trip around the country, it’s something to keep in mind!
9. Don’t Leave Valuables on the Beach
If you happen to go to the beach by yourself, you should always ask a family or group of friends sitting nearby to watch your things when you jump in the water. Although many beaches are fairly safe, you never know who may be looking to snatch your phone.
10. Be Alert While Walking
If you typically listen to music or a podcast when you’re on a walk, this may take some getting used to. Avoid walking with headphones in because you should always be aware of who’s around you when walking. Use your sixth sense if you feel like someone is too close behind you. Don’t be afraid to look stupid because it could save you from a dangerous situation.
South Africa is Waiting For You
Believe it or not, these South Africa safety tips become second nature pretty quickly. After your first few days, you know to automatically put your phone away, grab an Uber home after dark and take all the precautionary measures. South Africa is truly a gem of a destination and one that shouldn’t be missed! With so much to see and do and some amazing people to meet, you’re bound to fall in love with the country like I have.
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