10 Tips for safer travel in South Africa

This post was guest authored by Brook Mitchell from AussieTravelAdvice.com.

This article could have been titled 10 tips for SAFE travel to South Africa, but when it comes to the rainbow nation safe is a word that is difficult to link either day to day life or the experience of travellers taking in the sights.

While crime statistics have improved over the past decade (though again rising slightly in 2009), South Africa still retains one of the world’s highest crime rates.  It’s not simply the amount of crime that’s the worry, but the percentage of that crime that is violent in nature.  In a recent address to parliament, South African President Jacob Zuma stated that South Africa has a greater problem with violent crime than any other country in the world (a statement made in the year South Africa is hosting the world cup).   Travelling this country is an amazing experience but a journey that must be undertaken with caution.

The following 10 tips will help you to travel safer in South Africa.

10. Safety starts at the Airport. The main terminal at Johannesburg’s international airport is not a particularly safe place. Thieves, pickpockets and other low life’s stalk the area looking for anything not nailed down. Be aware of your possessions and exit stage left as quickly as possible.

9. Rental cars. This is probably the safest way to get around the country. Despite this everybody has heard the carjacking horror stories (there are 250 police dedicated to hijackings in Joberg alone), and precautions have to be taken. DO NOT drive at night, leave a gap of an inch or so on your driver’s side window (which makes it harder to smash the window), keep your doors locked (central locking is a must) and be vigilant at traffic lights as this is the usual spot for car jackings to occur.

8. Travelling in a group is no guarantee of safety. While travelling in big numbers certainly helps, don’t assume you or your group will not be targeted. Always be aware of what’s going on and don’t stray too much from the pack.

7. Hotels. Theft of valuables from your hotel or hostel is very common (as in other parts of the world). Try not to take much to South Africa that you would not be too distraught to lose, and keep valuables  safely hidden.

6. Avoid travelling alone. Don’t wander off down quiet side streets, avoid deserted beaches and dark areas at all times and at all costs.

5. Don’t read the newspapers. After a few months in the country I had to stop reading the local and national papers; it started to freak me out. Crimes that would be front page at home barely rate a mention, and the ones that are featured are pretty horrendous.

4. Always ask the locals. Keep a close ear for advice from locals and hotel operators on where and where not to go. From street to street the safety situation can change quickly.

3. Try to avoid public transport. There’s a decent network of backpacker busses and renting a car is cheap and a safer way to go. The mini buses can be dodgy, with little to know safety standards (and maybe driven on behalf of local gangs). You might meet more of the locals on the bus but maybe this is better done in the pub.

2. If you plan to surf or swim at the ocean beaches be aware that South Africa is home to a healthy and hungry population of great white sharks. Signs will be up at certain times of year advising against swimming or surfing at some beaches due to the ‘sardine run’, a time when great whites are especially active.  Be aware!

1. Be alert but not alarmed. While all this might sound off putting South Africa is still a great and memorable place to visit. Time here can be a good, as long as you keep your wits about you.

3 Comments

  • career break

    October 6, 2010

    South Africa is such an amazing country. It’s such a shame that there is so much crime there. I really enjoyed travelling there on my career break but you’re right about the danger their. thanks for all of the great tips. I shall pass them on to my friends who are going to Cape Town next month.
    cheers
    Bill

  • Although alarmist, your travel tips should be read by all travellers to South Africa so that they can avoid tricky situations where they put themselves in danger. When I was there in October 2008, I slept under the stars in the Baviansloof National park with 7 other girls, spent 5 days visiting various projects in the townships of Port Elizabeth and never had any problems. But we were well looked after. I shall make sure I pass on your tips to my volunteers.

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