Is South Africa Safe to Visit?
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Shortly after I booked our trip to South Africa, I started to pay more attention to the country and the news there. The thought of safety concerns hadn’t really popped into my head other than the usual common sense stuff like not wandering alone at night, pay close attention to your purse, etc. Then, after telling friends and family about our upcoming trip, I got the “Please be careful.” and “It’s dangerous!” replies. I noticed news outlets like the Economist listing out the most dangerous cities and countries in the world. After perusing, I noticed one country definitely on the list: South Africa. It made me wonder: is South Africa safe to visit?
Carjacking, Uber Wars, and even now the water shortage. It began to make me nervous about what would otherwise be the trip of a lifetime. Thoughts began to arise about canceling the trip. Luckily, I have friends living in South Africa that I worked with while in public accounting. Upon reaching out to them, they calmed many of my fears. I would like to ease your fears as well. So, is South Africa safe to visit?
While a complicated question, let’s start with some facts. Yes, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and most major cities in South Africa are included on the world’s most dangerous cities lists. But did you know that New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, and Saint Louis are too? Did you know that Detroit is actually more dangerous than Johannesburg? And Saint Louis and Cape Town are evenly matched when it comes to crime. Okay, yes, these aren’t exactly all-around perfectly safe cities (which, let’s be real, don’t exist), but I’ve been to Saint Louis and had a lovely time without feeling in danger at all. So, perhaps, it wouldn’t be a stretch to feel that way in Cape Town as well?
Absolutely! Another fact: most of the crime that happens is in the townships of South Africa. These are on the outskirts of cities that most tourists don’t visit unless with a local guide on a highly safe tour. I definitely recommend visiting a township while in South Africa, but I don’t recommend wandering into dark alleys at night in the townships… but I wouldn’t recommend that in any city. Inside the cities themselves, the biggest threat you have is pickpockets. After exploring many European cities, having an over-the-shoulder bag that I keep an eye on constantly and never hang on the back of my chair will do just fine in South Africa too.
I definitely recommend this to travelers in South Africa, but I also recommend it for travelers anywhere.
Upon visiting South Africa, I was immediately struck by the friendliness of the people. The kindness and smiles each turn I made and person I said hello to never ceased to surprise me. It didn’t feel dangerous at all. If a person selling goods got a little aggressive, I simply walked away and ignored them, or said no thank you. We walked all around Cape Town, from the V&A Waterfront, to hiking Table Mountain, and even the middle of the city in Greenmarket Square. We saw the trendy neighborhoods of Camps Bay and Woodstock. Chris and I adventured, made memories, and saw amazing things. We even visited a township and saw the culture and history of it in Johannesburg. I didn’t feel threatened at all.
Now, of course, like any big city, I have recommendations. For starters, use common sense. Don’t walk around by yourself at night. Listen to your gut: if you feel uneasy, leave and get to a better spot. Don’t let your things lie around and keep your purse in front of you. Pay attention to your wallet and keep your passport and spare credit/debit card in the hotel safe. And for those taking Uber, make sure what the app says for the license and person is the same as the car when it gets there. I definitely recommend this to travelers in South Africa, but I also recommend it for travelers anywhere.
So is South Africa safe?
To be sure, South Africa isn’t a crime free country. You can’t leave behind your phone and come back to find it still there like in some Asian countries. But it’s not unsafe for your trip. It is highly unlikely you’ll be a witness to crime while there if you use your common sense. We even joked that we were more afraid of the baboons stealing our things more than a person. I have traveled to Europe several times and felt more threatened walking the streets of Italy or Spain than I did in South Africa. Your trip will be just fine, and you’ll make amazing, life changing memories while there! But really though, lock your tent or the baboons may ransack your belongings.
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