Is South Africa Safe to Travel to?

cape winelands
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Is South Africa safe to travel to, particularly if you are a solo female traveller?

It’s a question I was asked time and time again when I was posting my South Africa travel images on instagram this month. It’s also a question I had asked myself before arriving, asked many others before arriving, all of which ultimately created a very mixed view of the country in my mind prior to my arrival. Luckily I was invited to experience South Africa on a 12 day tour as part of the Australian media guests to the African Trade Show, so my initial fears were quashed when I joined 5 fellow Australians for my first visit to South Africa.

Want the short answer? There isn’t one. All in all South Africa is mostly safe, but there are some unusual considerations to make when travelling to South Africa, particularly if you are travelling alone.

blue train south africa

Know the History

There’s a very good reason foreigners have the perception of South Africa as a generally unsafe country troubled by political unrest – but most of these perceptions are falsely portrayed in the present day. When you think of South Africa you might consider the street riots, political unrest, violence, whites vs. blacks, and anything else associated with the final years of apartheid. But that was 20 years ago.

While it is important to read up and learn the history of the country to understand why such an event took place, it is important to remember that all countries have a turbulent past – and all have progressed in various degrees over the course of history.

While it is not safe, it is certainly not the safest country on the planet. South Africa has had a turbulent past, but it is indeed just that, the past. Nowadays blacks and whites exist in harmony – which sounds textbook but it is as simple as it gets.

Take precautions you wouldn’t elsewhere

Staying at a hotel (or place of residence) with security is a must. There are still many robberies in all parts of Africa so be sure to check your hotel has security before you book. Whether it’s a doorman, 24/7 reception, a keycard or safes – be sure to consider what makes you feel safe.

Don’t go off adventuring alone

This is the same in any country – solo travel shouldn’t always mean being in solidarity. If you want to go and explore, be sure to stick to public places where there are many people. It should come at no surprise that wandering alone in a dark alley is likely to result in a bad event… no matter where you are in the world.

Hire a Driver or take a Taxi

If there won’t be anyone around where you intend to go, take a taxi. If where you want to go is in driving distance, hire a driver instead of driving yourself – car hijackings are still somewhat common at night.

Go with a guide

Whether you’re visiting a township (I recommend you visit Soweto) or going on a safari, pay a little extra for a guide instead of guiding yourself. Townships are a wonderful and enlightening experience, but can be a little confronting for outsiders to visit. It is always best to pay for a guide or join a tour group.

Boulders Beach, Cape Peninsula

Boulders Beach, Cape Peninsula

Don’t avoid South Africa, it is a must visit destination

Most importantly, don’t overdo your safety precautions and not travel to South Africa because you’ve heard it is ‘unsafe’. I travelled to South Africa solo this month (June 2014) and felt perfectly safe. Once I had landed in Johannesburg I immediately went on safari, followed by taking the Blue Train from Pretoria to Cape Town. I consulted my friends in South Africa to get their advice on travelling from Joburg airport to Pretoria and they suggested I take the Gautrain + a taxi from the station to my hotel. Given my late arrival I chose to instead book a driver for a moderate $50 to take me from Joburg airport to my hotel in Pretoria, some 40 minutes drive away.

Once I arrived in Cape Town after taking the overnight Blue Train cross-country, I walked by myself through the CBD with 40kgs of luggage to reach my hotel. I could have taken a taxi but I wanted to see what it would be like in order to report back – well, it was absolutely fine! I asked a total of 5 people for directions (to see their reaction), and all 5 people helped point me in the right direction, some even offering to help with my bags and walk me there.

South Africa is indeed one of my favourite countries I have visited, particularly for Safari and visiting Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula and the Cape Winelands… most importantly don’t let mass media and old stigmas deter you from visiting this beautiful country!

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    Megan Leonard
    November 23, 2015 at 2:11 am

    All the comments makes me so happy.

    Proudly South African <3

    Every place in the world is safe as well as unsafe, you just have to be aware of what's going on around you.


    May 2, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    Could you reccomend some tour guide in Cape Town?

    April 2, 2015 at 1:58 am

    I think you can be safe if you take your precautions before travelling anywhere in the world. Every country has its on criminal rate, but it is much higher in U.S. right? Well, south africa is a diverse country, i cant deny that it doesn’t scare me off beacuse of it’s history. But as you said it was 20 years ago… Still, i am not that brave to be a solo traveller πŸ™‚

    January 22, 2015 at 2:07 am

    I completely agree! I spent 3 weeks traveling South Africa 2 years ago and it is the most wonderful country with so much to offer. Reading through your posts, it brought back so many wonderful memories for me because I went so some of the same exact places. I will definitely be avidly following your adventures in the future! πŸ™‚

    June 23, 2014 at 11:05 am

    I don’t know….Safe\unsafe… All depends on being aware of things around and not going to the obvious criminal places. Because according to the statistic on the whole the crime rate of USA is much higher then one in South Africa, so you see – all depends on the point of view.
    p.s very beautify pictures!

    June 22, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Well that has answered a question I was concerned about.

    June 21, 2014 at 1:53 am

    South Africa is such a diverse and beautiful country! Definitely agree that as long as you take basic safety precautions and use common sense, you will have no troubles.

    June 21, 2014 at 1:22 am

    Having travelled solo through SA for over three months a few years ago I could not agree with you more! I had no bad experiences despite everyone telling me a variety of “horror stories” about muggings and murders before I went. There are the same dangers everywhere, so the same precautions should be taken wherever you happen to go. Dont flash your valuables or hang out in dark alleyways. Take only licensed taxis and dont accept lifts with strangers. I do all these things in everyday life at home, so just carry on the sensibilities when you travel. Simple. The best travel advice I got was “Don’t look lost. Look like you know where you’re going. Even if you don’t”. There have been a few situations where I might of felt slightly out of my comfort zone, but I just kept my head up and walked on. No bother at all. Some of the most beautiful places in the world have unnecessarily negative reputations.

    June 20, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    I’ve also had many people ask me if I was scared about going to South Africa or if it’s unsafe. I’ve spent a good majority of this past year in South Africa and I’ve never felt unsafe here.

    For a foreigner visiting South Africa for the first time the beggars in the street, electric fences everywhere, the townships and the large amount of poverty can be a bit daunting. I wouldn’t say that you ever really get used to it but more that it just becomes part of your reality. Many South Africans say that you’ve got to be tough to live here, but as for just visiting for a holiday, as long as you do your research and take the proper precautions you should be fine.

    The things that you should do to ensure your safety…not walking alone after dark, constantly being aware of your surroundings, not walking around with lots of jewelry or electronics on, avoiding driving in high crime areas, not leaving your valuables out etc…are things that you should be doing regardless of the place you’re visiting.

    South Africa is one of the most beautiful and diverse places I have visited and I wouldn’t advise anyone wishing to travel here to let the fear of being unsafe keep you away.

    June 20, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Going to South Africa is such a dream… Somebody told me about a horse riding + wine tasting tour that lasts a few days that you can do there, which sounds absolutely fabulous, two of my favourite activities combined together! However, I have heard really mixed things about the safety; some say it is relatively safe to travel, others have really scared me off… So I think the best solution is to do through research about all things safety related and to perhaps go with someone else, ideally with a man, if you are a woman like me!