Is it safe to visit South Africa?

When I tell people about my South Africa travels I feel like there’s a question they want to ask.

Sometimes they do just blurt out ‘But wasn’t that really dangerous?’

It’s a stigma and it seems a shame that some people tar a whole nation with the same brush. But it brings me to the question – especially for solo female travellers, is South Africa safe?

I’d say there are two parts to this question.

Is South Africa a safe country?

Well, no. Poverty levels are high so understandably crime levels are too. If you put yourself in the wrong situation it could be dangerous.

Can you have a safe and glorious trip to South Africa?

YES! Without a doubt. Bad things happen everywhere and the problems in South Africa are usually restricted to the areas you won’t be visiting. You’d never avoid the whole of England because of problems in certain areas of London, would you?

To me, South Africa is about playing by the rules and looking out for yourself that bit more than you would in stereotypically safe places like most of Europe and Southeast Asia. As long as you abide by the unwritten – and often written – safety rules you’re going to have a really good time.

For someone from a small town in southern England it feels unnatural to take precautions on a daily basis or even give security a second thought, but you adjust because your safety is your numero uno priority. It’s a small price to pay to experience a country as amazing as South Africa.

Here are my tips to enjoy your travels whilst staying safe.

1. Get the taxi apps

Uber was my godsend in Cape Town and it’s insanely cheap. It was great to know I could call a cab while still inside a bar or friend’s house rather than wander the street looking for one. Make sure your phone has battery and consider investing in a power bar so you know that you’ll always have juice to get home.

2. Avoid protests

During elections and times of instability, South Africa has a history of rallies and protests that can cause problems. Check on the status of these and avoid travelling on protest days. Hotel staff and tour operators will be the best people to ask.

3. Have your arrivals figured out

A solo female travel tip I exercise in general is to arrive in the daytime to anywhere I wouldn’t feel safe at night. Check bus timetables and make sure you’re doing this unless you’re using a service like the Baz Bus which takes you to the hostel door.

Know the way to your accommodation when you arrive somewhere new and as above, keep your phone alive for any impromptu taxi journeys.

4. Be aware of townships

Townships in South Africa are tightknit urban areas usually made of shanty houses. Many people would recommend you stay out of them altogether but actually, you can have a rewarding visit if you go with a reputable tour operator. In fact, many townships like Johannesburg’s Soweto have booming businesses set up by the locals themselves and your visit can support their livelihoods.

Do your research and find an ethical company to ensure you don’t pay into poverty tourism.

5. Make a separate dummy purse 

Keeping your valuables in a separate purse and wearing it underneath your clothes can be a great idea. But be aware – in the unlikely situation someone were to insist on taking your valuables, you’d have to expose yourself to get to it. Keep a dummy purse in your bag containing a couple of small notes and an old bank card which you can give away if ever you find yourself in trouble.

6. Check with staff before visiting a new area

Your tour guides and hostel or hotel staff know the area inside out – take their advice. Ask them if you’re unsure about visiting a certain area you’ve not been before.

7. Lock car doors

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Carjackings and break-ins are common so lock the doors when you are in and out of the car.

9. Check on sunset times

If you are out and about when it starts to get dark you can just call a cab… but rather than take that chance, plan your day’s activities around sunset. I’d walk around almost all areas of Cape Town alone in the daytime but once it got dark, I’d make sure I wasn’t still wandering.

10. Never get out of a safari car

We all know people are the most dangerous animals but also, never get out of a car mid-safari. No one wants to become lion dinner.

Aaaand that’s about it. You don’t need to become a new person or live your life in an entirely different way to visit South Africa – you just need to adapt your habits a bit. As soon as you arrive you’ll get into the swing of how locals and other tourists act and it’ll become second nature.

How to dress?

South Africa isn’t a particularly conservative country. Like anywhere you might receive more attention if you show more skin but you don’t need to worry about covering up in South Africa. But do wear suncream.

Lastly, my overall piece of advice for South Africa…

Don’t get hung up on statistics

Yes, South Africa has the ninth highest murder rate in the world and the highest number of rapes. But as I mentioned before, the majority of these happen in certain areas and in communities of people who know each other. In Cape Town’s five safest neighbourhoods (where you’re likely to be) there have never been any murders EVER. The country may not look that safe on paper but guess what – that’s not where we live our lives.

Enjoy your trip to South Africa. It will be amazing and you will be fine 🙂

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See you next time for more adventures,

Rose x

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