South Africa is a unique country. If the idea of spotting the Big Five of South African wildlife in Kruger National Park is not enough to tempt you, you may be convinced to travel to South Africa by the 2,500km of golden coastlines that make this destination a true surfers paradise. Are you more of a foodie? We dare you not to fall in love with braai (the traditional barbecue featuring exotic meats) and the top-quality wines you can find in South Africa.
But with a history of high crime rates, is it safe to visit South Africa as a tourist? Despite its reputation, South African crime has steadily and noticeably decreased in the past few decades. It is now safer than ever for tourists to visit South Africa, and plenty of South African tourism safety advice is available online. If you are thinking of exploring this fascinating region, make sure to check how to get a South African visa to enter the country.
Is South Africa Dangerous for tourists?
South Africa’s crime rates can scare tourists off. In 2018, more than 30 murders were committed per 100,000 people, with Cape Town being the country’s most dangerous city. However, statistics have shown a steady crime decline since the ‘90s. It is also interesting to notice that the overall murder number is higher in places like New Orleans (41 murders per 100,000 inhabitants) and Baltimore (54).
South African safety in numbers
As it often happens, crime is concentrated in pockets of poverty and unemployment. The top 30 police stations for crime collectively make up more than 20% of the national murder rate. The record for the highest number of murders in South Africa is currently held by Nyonga, a township in Cape Town. With more than 300 murders per year and unemployment at a staggering 56%, Nyonga is considered the most dangerous place in South Africa.
Are Tourists Affected by South African Crime?
Every year, more than 15 million tourists visit the country. Should they worry?
If you are concerned by the murder rate, don’t be. In the past 10 years, only 2 foreign tourists were murdered in South Africa — one of them by a fellow tourist from Guatemala. This means that the number of tourists killed in South Africa is close to 0 per year.
Robberies, pickpockets and muggings are also crimes that tourists worry about when going abroad. This is because foreign visitors often carry travel documents and valuables with them while sightseeing, making themselves easy and attractive targets. The bad news is, different types of robberies are a relatively common occurrence in most large cities, including European centers such as London, Paris, and Barcelona. The good news is, there are ways in which you can protect yourself and keep the risk to a minimum.
Is South African tourism safe, then?
Let’s have a look at 4 major cities:
- Tourism safety in Johannesburg.
The heavily guarded houses of Jo’burg and their fortified walls can be intimidating. However, most of the city is safe to visit, both in your car and on foot. Neighborhoods to avoid in Johannesburg include Hillbrow, Yeoville, Berea, and Alexandra.
- Is Cape Town safe for tourists?
Cape Town is the South African city with most murders per 100,000 inhabitants. The scary data may make tourists refrain from visiting this colorful city and the breathtaking nature that surrounds it. Statistics can be misleading though: 95% of crime is concentrated in poor and degraded areas that tourists never visit — in particular, thes slums and the Cape Flats communities.
- Is Durban dangerous?
Durban is overall safer than other South African cities. Enjoy visiting Africa’s oldest botanical garden and beaches with world-class surfing. Although they are all far from the tourist area and city center, stay clear of Cato Manor and Japanese Gardens. Kennedy Road also has a history of turning violent during public protests.
- Is it safe to visit Pretoria?
The administrative capital of South Africa has a lot to offer, and its relatively low traffic makes it easier to drive around than other centers. The most common crime in Pretoria is pickpocketing but you can take common-sense measures to minimize the risk. In general, the Pretoria – East neighborhoods are the wealthiest, while Pretoria – West is where most of the poverty and crime concentrate.
How to Stay Safe As a Tourist in South Africa
There are simple steps that you can take to ensure your safety as you travel around South Africa. Most of these spark from simple common sense and by following them, you will ensure that tourism in South Africa and safety go hand in hand during your trip.
As a tourist, you should be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times, and avoid being naive — leaving bags unattended in public or in your car is a big no-no, as it is walking alone at night.
Keep in mind the following as you visit South Africa:
- Don’t show that you have valuables on you. Keep your purse and money out of sight, and always close to you.
- If possible, try to move in groups, especially at night. You should avoid hiking alone at all costs. If you are alone after dark, consider using a taxi or Uber — which is very cheap in South African cities — instead of walking.
- Always lock your car and close the windows (yes, that includes while you are driving) and ignore people approaching your car at red lights, stop signs and on the motorway.
- Ask locals or information centers for advice, and read up about the places you plan to visit. Crime is localized and easy to avoid by not entering problematic areas such as townships.
With these simple precautions, you will quickly realize that South Africa is a safe destination for tourists, and will feel secure and comfortable as you explore it. Check out the South African visa requirements to visit this extraordinary country and enjoy every moment of your trip. Remember to apply for the South African visa at least a few days before your trip.