South Africa, the land with 11 official languages, can be found by traveling to the southern tip of Africa. Its neighbors are Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, and Botswana. The country is well-known as one of the largest producers of gold in the world and for its wines, as well.
Despite the stereotypes that surround South Africa, it has one of the continent’s strongest economies. Moreover, it is not how most of us think it is, namely poor. We could say that South Africa is divided into two different countries – one of the regions is found in a first world state, with cities as Johannesburg and Cape Town, while the other is the generally poor part of the country.
Due to this, the country is one in which severe poverty and opulence live side by side, and by severe poverty, we mean that it has rural areas that are among the least developed and poorest in the entire world.
South Africa is split into 9 provinces, each of them having something amazing for you to see. The Gauteng province shelters Pretoria, which is the administrative capital of the country. Here you can also find the city of Johannesburg, which is the seat of the provincial government and the economic heart of Africa.
Western Cape Province is home to Cape Town, which is the legislative capital and the seat of Parliament. Plenty of famous landmarks can be seen while in Western Cape, such as the Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain, and the wine lands near Stellenbosch.
The other seven provinces shelter landmark such as the Tugela Falls, which is the world’s second highest waterfall, and the Vredefort Dome, representing the remnants of a meteorite impact crater. In short, South Africa has a lot of sights to offer to the curious traveler.
However, the true question that lays beyond its beauty is if South Africa is safe to visit – it’s a question that has to be asked before boarding the plane to anywhere in the world. Therefore, we have made a South Africa safety guide, in which we’ll detail to you everything you have to know about this country in terms of danger and means to keep yourself safe.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting South Africa
Overall Risks in South Africa: HIGH
The situation in South Africa is rather grim, as there have been some bomb threats made against a number of public places and shopping malls in the past few months. Thus, at those times, all of the people in the said locations had to be evacuated immediately – this will probably make your journey exciting, but also filled with possible dangers.
Moreover, the Western Cape Province is affected by prolonged drought, and the municipal region of Cape Town is the one that’s most affected, as it has even water restrictions put in place. Therefore, you should be careful with your water consumption and make sure that you have enough of it with you before getting on the road.
Reportedly, any tourists that visit Africa won’t face any problems, however, there’s an increased risk of fraud, muggings, and carjacking, which are also prone to turning violent very fast if those attacked don’t comply with the orders of the criminals.
You should be very careful even in areas frequented by tourists, as extremist terrorism has begun to manifest itself in these areas. It is believed that such locations might be attacked by groups of terrorists, especially in the Ramadan season.
One area you should definitely stay away from is Durban, as it is the home of protests and vicious riots, events that seem to have increased in frequency in the past few months. Moreover, you should keep an eye on social media when searching for news that regard South Africa, as there have been some governmental media blackouts.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in South Africa: HIGH
All crime in South Africa is currently stuck on a high level – and this means all types of crime, from petty to violent, and to rape and murder. That’s why you should tread with caution and get informed on which areas you should stay away from.
Moreover, some incidents in which foreigners, tourists, have been followed as soon as they landed in OR Tambo International Airport, up until their reached their destinations. As they stopped their car, the tourists were often threatened, at gunpoint, and eventually robbed. You should be on your toes as soon as you get out of the airport building and get inside a car.
Other locations in which you should be cautious are the shopping areas that can be found throughout Cape Town and Johannesburg. It is also recommended that you avoid going into areas that are within ten miles of all airports, as incidents at informal settlements have been reported here.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in South Africa?
First of all, you should begin your search for any suspicious behavior as soon as you land at the airport, as criminals have the tendency to target and follow the tourists. Then, you should pack all of your valuables, money, gadgets, and jewelry inside your backpack and avoid displaying them while walking on the streets.
Because there have been some thefts reported on the ground of the OR Tambo International Airport, it is recommended that you vacuum-wrap any luggage you have and keep all of your valuables in the carry-on luggage.
Also, make sure that your travel agency is a reputed one and if you have a guide, be sure that he or she is trustworthy. You don’t want to fall into a trap set up by the person that was supposed to show you around, right?
In case something happens, you should not resist, as the criminals might be armed and dangerous. Instead, let it be and go to the police station and give them a full report of what happened as soon as possible.
Scam Risk in South Africa: HIGH
Our next entry on this South Africa safety guide refers to scams and how often they occur in this country. Well, the answer is that they are very common and that it is very likely for you, a tourist, to be subject to fraud schemes.
Credit card scams are the most common type of scam in South Africa; therefore, you should be cautious of the places and ATMs you want to use your card in. The best way to counterattack these scams is to withdraw money from within the bank, as no criminal can reach inside it and set up some elaborate scam.
It is also recommended that you do not share your financial account or personal information with anyone here. Looking at the list of common fraud schemes, you’ll find out that there are many ways through which you can get scammed.
Be very careful, as international fraud rings operate in South Africa – and they most target charities and, naturally, visitors and tourists; therefore, you are one of their main targets.
- How to avoid getting scammed in South Africa?
First and foremost, keep any contact with the locals to a minimum level. One of the most common scams that you may come across, not only in South Africa, is that of the stranger that is trying to help you when you are in difficulty, after which they’ll require a payment for their services.
Scams are not hard to notice, but you must have your eyes wide open at all times. Being extra cautious usually puts you on the safe side of these events. Moreover, learn to manage on your own, without seeming to require help with your luggage, for example, or anything else.
Kidnapping Risk in South Africa: HIGH
In terms of criminal kidnapping, there is an increasing threat of this kind of incidents in South Africa. Naturally, the main reason for these kidnappings is their result, namely, a significant ransom.
There have been several reports that tell of foreign nationals that have been kidnapped. Of course, if you are visiting one of the poor areas of South Africa, you will be perceived as much wealthier than the locals, and therefore be targeted by a criminal group.
If you are paying attention and choose carefully the areas that you want to visit, it is unlikely that you’ll be kidnapped. But you have to take this matter seriously and take all of the required precautions, as most governments out there don’t make any substantive concessions to criminal groups that have taken hostages.
This is based on the fact that the rate of hostage-takings and kidnappings will increase if the governments agree to pay a ransom. Therefore, you can’t fully rely on your country if something happens.
- How to avoid getting kidnapped in South Africa?
One of our South Africa safety travel tips is to refrain from walking alone throughout the city and avoid any remote areas. The lone wolf may be strong, but he or she is also susceptible to being followed by kidnappers.
Terrorism Risk in South Africa: MEDIUM to HIGH
Our South Africa safety guide will now cover the problem of terrorism in South Africa. As we mentioned earlier, there have been several bomb threats targeting shopping areas of some major cities in this country.
Therefore, there is a certain risk of terrorist attacks. These attacks could be indiscriminate and target even places that are usually visited by locals and tourists. The terrorist group Daesh represents the main thread of terrorism in South Africa.
Reportedly, in the month of February of 2018, two South-African British nationals were kidnapped by the aforementioned terrorist group. Moreover, the media tells of a number of South African nationals that have left the country and headed to countries such as Libya, Syria, and Iraq.
These could mean a lot of trouble for South Africa if and when they return to the country. There have also been some reports of groups of people that have been inspired by the actions of these terrorist groups, and have carried out lone actor attacks – these targeted mainly public places, especially those were tourists usually gather.
- How to avoid terrorism in South Africa?
It is recommended that you do your best to stay away from large crowds of people and demonstrations or riots, as these are likely to be targeted. Moreover, if you notice something suspicious, as unattended packages and bags, you should alert the authorities immediately and let them handle the issue.
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in South Africa: HIGH
Due to the increased risk of sexual assault and various offenses, it is strongly recommended that women do not travel alone in South Africa. If you were wondering if South Africa is safe for solo women travelers, then you already know that the answer is no.
As crime stands at a very high level, you are very likely to be pickpocketed or robbed, even in broad daylight. That’s why you should avoid walking all alone, especially if you want to discover more of the city you are currently staying in.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler?
One of our South Africa safety travel tips is to get a trustworthy guide or travel with a reputed agency, as they might be able to get you in contact with a good guide. Even if accompanied, you should still be very careful, mostly when visiting remote or poor areas of the country.
As rule of thumb, you should dress in a decent manner, and avoid displaying any valuables or jewelry. A simple mugging can escalate and turn violent, and you may even get kidnapped or even worse. Increased awareness is the key to survival!
Rape Risk in South Africa: VERY HIGH
Between 2012 and 2013, more than 66,000 sexual offenses have been reported in South Africa, therefore a rate of 127 reported cases per 100,000 population. Currently, it is the country with the highest rates of sexual assault and rape in the world.
Media tells that most of the victims are locals; however, tourists are susceptible and have been victims in some cases, as well. As in the case of criminality, rape also comes at a very high level throughout the country.
Moreover, in the past years, it seems that the risk of crime in general, has been expanding and increasing in the urban areas of this country as well., Most affected are the outskirts, business districts, and townships of the major cities of South Africa.
- How to avoid getting raped in South Africa?
If you ask yourself how safe is South Africa for tourists, the answer is that it is very close to not being safe at all. Crime and sexual assaults are spreading even in the populated and developed areas.
However, the South African authorities have your back. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, the country has a lot to offer: plenty of beautiful sights and famous landmarks. Therefore, the authorities here have instated a tourism police, as they want to provide tourists with the safety they require.
Tourism police can be found in several large towns, so if something happens, they are there to hear you out and help you in case something happens. Moreover, if something unpleasant happens you should seek medical attention immediately – this includes antiretroviral therapy against AIDS and HIV.
All you have to do to decrease the chance of any unpleasant scenarios happening is to stay away from remote or isolated areas and avoid walking around the city during the night. Of course, being alone is not recommended at all – even if you stay in areas that are meant for tourists, you should still tread with extreme caution, as criminals don’t stay away from these.
Risks for People Traveling With Children in South Africa: HIGH
How safe is South Africa for tourists that are traveling with their children? Well, not very safe. You may have no issues if you have them in your company, as criminals won’t probably rob or mug you, because of the tourism police that is in place in the major cities of South Africa.
However, major criminal groups won’t stay back if you look wealthy enough – they will most likely try to kidnap your children. That’s why you should have someone watching them at all times. Not only because of the risk of them being kidnapped but also because they might get lost easily if you are not paying attention.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
When visiting the poor areas of the country, be sure to always hold hands with them as they might get curious and start scouting the surrounding areas – areas which are not very tourist friendly, so to say.
Natural Disaster Risks in South Africa: MEDIUM to HIGH
Two of the most frequent natural disasters that occur in South Africa are floods and storms. These occur with a frequency of 37,9% and 33,3%, respectively. Among these, there’s also the chance of wildfire (13,6%), earthquake (6,1%), drought, and extreme temperature.
As we mentioned earlier, the Western Cape Province, especially Cape Town, are affected by prolonged drought and the required precaution measures must be taken before traveling into these areas – such as being mindful of the water consumption.
It is recommended that you check the local news and weather reports before leaving your accommodation, in order to get an idea of what’s happening out there – you don’t want to be caught off guard by a storm or a flood.
Transportation Risks in South Africa: HIGH
The Berea and Hillbrow districts of Johannesburg come with high levels of crime, levels that extend up to the Rotunda bus terminal in the Central Business District. Plan your travels accordingly so that you don't have to pass through these areas. Authorities recommend that you either avoid or be extremely careful in the city center or beachfront area of Durban city.
If visiting Zululand and Northern KwaZulu, you should take precautions for avoiding robbery and hi-jacking, as there have been more than a couple of reports of such incidents in these areas, especially outside of the main roads. It is also recommended that you avoid picnic spots and isolated beaches, especially after dark - you should not be walking alone through this areas as they are frequented by criminals, thieves, and so on.
In terms of road travel, the South African driving standards vary greatly, with many fatal accidents reported every year. The roads are mostly in a good condition, but beware of those located in remote areas, as they are less maintained and have potholes. Be careful when and where you stop your vehicle - thieves are known to disrupt the traffic by placing boulders/ stones in the middle of the road, making the vehicles stop so that they can rob the passengers. Do not stop for any stranger/ local/ pedestrian that might seem in need as there have been reports of car hijacking - any sort of incident should be reported to the police.
You should also avoid driving during the night and on poorly lit roads. Parking should be done only in well-lit areas so that you don't risk any thieves waiting for you when you return to your vehicle.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in South Africa: MEDIUM to HIGH
While there are no reports of serious incidents occurring within night-clubs, pubs, and bars, we still cannot assume that these don't happen. The same applies for the use of spiked drinks - there are a few reports concerning this matter and, thus, you should be extremely careful if you plan on visiting one of the aforementioned facilities.
Moreover, be aware of your surroundings on the way to and back to the night-club, pub, or bar of your choice, as you might be targeted by thieves and criminals. It is recommended that you take a taxi back to your accommodation - make sure that it is licensed, metered, and from a reputed company. Even the taxi is licensed/ metered, you should still be careful, as there have been reports of vehicle hi-jacking and robbery conducted on stationary vehicles, especially when they stopped at traffic lights, in junctions, or when pulling out of driveways.
If you plan on visiting a bar or night-club, you should be accompanied by either traveler friends, maybe a local tour guide, or even by a personal security guard, in order to ensure your safety if any kind of situation escalates.
Obviously, if you plan on drinking, you should keep an eye on your drink at all times, including when it is being prepared - if you see someone suspicious around your drink or if you've left it unattended on a table, it is better to leave it so or throw it away. If assaulted, do not fight back and comply with the attacker/s, as they may be armed or turn extremely violent.
Health Risks in South Africa
In terms of health risks, the main issue, so to say, of South Africa is the ongoing HIV epidemic, considered to be the biggest in the world - 7.1 million South African people are HIV positive, making up 18.9% of the general population. In this respect, it is recommended that you should take some precautions in order to avoid exposure to AIDS/ HIV during your Stay in South Africa.
If you need medical aid, dial 10177 and request an ambulance. As always, make sure that you travel with proper travel health insurance and that you have enough money to cover the costs of any treatment or medicine that you might have to take.
We also recommend you to pack with you a first-aid kit, especially if you plan on traveling through remote or deserted areas. You should also have enough medicine for your existing conditions, as you may have a hard time finding what you need in South Africa.
List of Vaccines You Need When in Africa
Having some of the poorest regions in the world, South Africa is also home to certain diseases and conditions that are favored by this situation. Here is a list of the things you have to take care and take a vaccine for before leaving your home:
- Routine Vaccines (MMR boosters, flu shot, varicella vaccine)
- Hepatitis A and B
- Yellow Fever
Most Dangerous Areas in South Africa
- Hillbrow and Berea districts of Johannesburg
- Durban's beachfront area and city center
- Road to and from Kruger Park
- Nyanga in the Western Cape
- Kagiso in Gauteng
- Dobsonville in Gauteng
Concluding Remarks: Is South Africa Safe to Visit?
Now, the final answer to our main question: is South Africa safe to visit? Well, the answer leans towards no, because of the increased level of crime throughout the country. Moreover, there’s also the chance of terrorist attacks and future bomb threats, things that might make your journey less enjoying.
However, if you take the required precautions and stay on the beaten path – and, of course, are extremely careful – you shouldn’t run into any issues while exploring South Africa.
There are dozens of beautiful places for you to see here – but they come with the country’s forms of dangers, as well. Be careful, think straight, and you should be safe!