South Africa tourism safety – Tips from travel experts for a safe and enjoyable stay

South Africa tourism safety

South Africa Tourism Safety Tip – Which parts of South Africa are ‘safe’ to visit?

It is important to note that you need to be careful wherever you travel in South Africa because 100% safety can never be guaranteed. However, similar to many places in the world, if you take the right precautions, you’re likely to have a carefree trip, enjoying the countless experiences in South Africa.

Is it safe to travel to Cape Town?

Visitors to Cape Town should feel safe exploring the city’s many highlights. However, as with any large city, there are certain areas that are not advised for tourists and should be avoided.

Use common sense when going out and, when in doubt, enquire at your accommodation or with a local travel professional whether a certain area is safe to visit.

In general, avoid areas in which there are few other people or tourists, and do not walk around at night. Be sure to always stay aware of your surroundings and keep your belongings secure or out of sight.

Much of the crime in the city centre is opportunistic petty crime (i.e. pickpocketing, theft, car break-ins, etc.) and can be reduced, in part, by staying vigilant. Reports of more violent crime tend to occur in locations far away from key tourist areas.

There are certain areas in Cape Town that are flagged as high-risk for this opportunistic crime. You must exercise extra caution, even during the day, if visiting the central business district (CBD), the train station, Long Street, and Bo-Kaap. If you wish to visit the outskirts of Cape Town, you should use a reputable tour operator and local guide with knowledge of the area (see below).

The V&A Waterfront is a massive hub of activity and a very safe area for tourists to visit. There is a large security presence here because of the hotels and it is well lit and busy until late. That said, it is advisable to take an Uber or arrange a transfer to and from the Waterfront in the evenings.

The Western Cape Government's Safety Plan launched in September 2019 by Premier Alan Winde, in partnership with the City of Cape Town has put Tourism Safety as a top priority and will go a long way to ensure that we remain a bucket list destination.

Highlights of the plan include:

  • The deployment of 3 000 new law enforcement officers to crime hotspots across the province
  • The use of data and intelligence to identify the most vulnerable areas that require additional law enforcement
  • The deployment of 150 new investigators to assist in the preparation of dockets for prosecution
  • A world-class, evidence-led and integrated violence prevention programme
  • Assignment of safety priorities to Ministers who have undertaken personal accountability to deliver on each outcome

Can I hike safely on Table Mountain?

Hiking up Table Mountain and in the Table Mountain National Park is a great way to experience the rich nature on Cape Town’s doorstep.

To ensure you make the most out of your excursion, please take the same preparations and safety measures you would when hiking in other locations.

Never hike alone, always go in a group and ensure that someone has a mobile phone with a local SIM card in case of emergencies. It is most advisable to use a local guide who has good knowledge of the trails and conditions. If you are a solo traveller, there are guided hikes you can join.

Hiking on Table Mountain shouldn’t be underestimated and requires a relative level of fitness. Bring along enough water, snacks, and an additional layer or outerwear as the conditions can change rapidly on the mountain. Follow SANParks’ guide for more safe hiking tips.

Taking the cable car to the top of Table Mountain is a good alternative for those without a hiking group, with limited time, or concerns about fitness.

Is it safe to visit South Africa's townships?

If you’re planning a holiday in South Africa, you may have come across warnings about crime in the townships or even advice that you should avoid these areas completely. While it is true that crime rates are often higher in these areas, tours of the townships occur every day without incident.

Visiting one of the townships is a great way to get an authentic glimpse of how many South Africans live and gives context to the complexity of South African society. Engaging with local people and seeing everyday life in these vibrant communities is a rewarding cultural experience for many tourists.

However, it is important to ensure you go into the “right” places within these Townships. To ensure that your visit goes smoothly, always opt for a guided tour with a SATSA-registered operator who has knowledge of the area and a planned itinerary.

Whether you’re in Jo’burg and want to explore the vibrant township of Soweto or in Cape Town and wish to trek your way through Langa – the Mother City’s oldest township – you will have no trouble finding a guide to share the colourful stories, sights and sounds of these areas.

Along with improved safety, guided township tours are carefully structured by people who know these areas best. In most cases, the guides are people who have actually grown up within the township, have experienced living there first-hand, and have close personal ties to the area and its residents. As a result, you can count on a day of authentic sights and activities – making for a more meaningful excursion.

While you definitely shouldn’t be fearful when embarking on a guided township tour in South Africa, as always, be sure to follow your guide’s directions, be aware of your surroundings, and keep the following safety tips in mind:

  • Do not carry large sums of money on you
  • Do not wear flashy jewellery
  • Keep personal belongings such as handbags and backpacks secure at all times
  • Always be aware of your surroundings
  • Stick close to your tour group

As long as you remain cautious and make use of the services provided by a reputable township tour company, you will enjoy this truly South African experience to its fullest.

Will my accommodation in South Africa be safe to stay at?

While security at accommodation can vary, if you have booked through a reputable agent, you will likely be staying at a property that has been selected as an accommodation provider for its ability to provide a safe and comfortable stay.

Most hotels and guest houses will take the necessary security measures and more. While some tourists can find it unsettling to see the high walls, alarm systems, security guards, and barred windows – serving as confirmation of their fears – know that this is standard in South Africa, especially for properties that cater to tourists, and does not indicate that the area is necessarily more prone to crime.

Enquire at your accommodation if you have specific concerns about their security measures. A hotel concierge is also a good source of information about the safer areas to explore, how to get around, where to find safe parking, etc.

Do not leave any valuable items or documents such as your passport lying in the open when you leave your room. Theft can occur. If your room or accommodation has a safe, leave valuable items secured in here. Make copies of important documents before you travel and keep them in a separate location – either at the bottom of your bag, in a different piece of luggage, or with a travel companion.

Getting around South Africa safely

Whether you’re traversing the country or heading out to dinner in Cape Town, getting around South Africa safely is a priority concern for many travellers. If you are planning your own transport in South Africa in lieu of an agent or tour operator, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Many tourists from overseas will be accustomed to and enquire about public transport in South Africa. In most case, you’ll be advised against using public transport both due to safety and convenience factors – with a few exceptions.

The Gautrain is a reliable commuter train that connects Johannesburg, Pretoria, and O. R. Tambo International Airport. In Cape Town, the MyCiti bus system offers relatively good service with routes and schedules integrated into Google Maps. Both these options require you to possess specific reloadable travel cards. Be sure to check the Gautrain and MyCiti websites for any disruptions before using.

Your best alternative to public transport in South Africa’s cities is arranging transfers through your travel agent or accommodation. Uber is also extremely accessible in urban areas. As is always advisable with Uber, be sure to check the licence plate number to ensure that it corresponds with your app before you get in.

If you wish to walk around, find out from your accommodation or a local travel professional where it is safe and recommended to do so. Cape Town, for instance, has neighbourhoods where you’ll see a lot of foot traffic, sidewalk cafes, and little shops to pop in and out of.

Both Cape Town and Durban have seafront promenades that are popular with walkers, joggers, and cyclists. Jo’burg, on the other hand, has fewer designated areas around which to walk, although precincts such as Melrose Arch, Sandton and Maboneng do exist. As always – stay alert, keep your head up, belongings secure, and avoid walking anywhere at night.

Is it safe to drive myself in South Africa?

South Africa is a great country for road tripping and many tourists will opt to hire a car and drive themselves. Again, as long as you take the right precautions, self-drive is a safe and fun option for getting around – allowing you greater flexibility in your itinerary.

It is extremely important to always be alert and aware of your directions. Keep the car doors locked and windows up when waiting at traffic lights or stop streets and avoid driving after dark if possible. Enquire at your accommodation or with a local travel professional before driving into an unknown area or suburb.

If you are planning a long road trip in South Africa, careful planning and ample time are required as the distances are vast and there are long stretches of isolated road. The good news is that road infrastructure is generally very good.

National roads are mostly tarred and well maintained. If venturing off main roads, you are likely to run into more pot-holed and poorly surfaced rural roads. A 4x4 may be required on some dirt roads. Drivers should always obey speed limits and respect road signs – which will always appear in English.

The Garden Route is a very popular self-drive excursion along the east coast that officially extends from Witsand in the Western Cape to the border of Tsitsikamma Storms River in the Eastern Cape (with some people driving from Cape Town all the way to Port Elizabeth). It is easy driving along good national roads the entire way, with numerous accommodation options and exciting highlights along the way. As long as the above road tips are followed, you should feel very safe heading out on this beautiful, iconic route.

Enquire at your accommodation about safe parking and avoid leaving anything in your car. If you must leave an item, ensure that it is not visible, well-hidden in either the glove box, under a seat, or in the trunk (i.e. boot) of the car.

If you are driving in South Africa, you will undoubtedly come across more than one car guard – whistling you into a spot, offering various amounts of parking assistance, and requesting money as you prepare to leave.

They will claim to keep an eye on your car while you’re away but remember they are not employed to do so. You should take the same precautions and leave nothing in your car. Also, don’t let a car guard see you put anything potentially valuable, such as a shopping bag or backpack, in the truck of your car.

Use your discretion when interacting with car guards. If you wish to give them a tip as you leave, some spare coins will suffice.

For more helpful tips for travel to South Africa, click on the links below:

Tourism safety in South Africa – Tips from travel experts for a safe and enjoyable stay

Travel safely in South Africa – What do I do if a police officer tries to solicit a bribe?

Concerned about the drought in Cape Town? Travel experts confirm there’s water

Is South Africa politically stable? Stay informed with this information

South Africa electricity shortages – Will tourists feel any impact?

Health concerns in South Africa – Will tourists be affected negatively?

Do I need to be worried about malaria in South Africa?

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