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.
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.
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!