South Africa is a country located at the southern tip of Africa. It shares its borders with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho. It is no exaggeration to say that this country is huge, with many varying landscapes and 11 official languages, and an equally diverse population. It is the country that boasts the strongest economy on the continent: South Africa is known for its wines and is one of the world’s largest producers of gold. It is also very influential when it comes to African politics, and in 2010, South Africa hosted the first Football World Cup to be held on the African continent.
Though some may think of typical stereotypes when hearing the words “South Africa”, it is actually completely different than people imagine. Mainly, it can be said that it is a country consisting of two countries. On the one hand it is, without exaggeration, a first world state, especially the major cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg, and on the other hand it has a staggering rate of poverty, only imaginable in Africa. It is one of the most unequal countries in the world, where you can see opulence and poverty standing side by side.
Warnings & Dangers in South Africa
OVERALL RISK : HIGH
As amazingly fun and exciting South Africa might be, you should be aware of the many dangers that await for the unsuspecting tourists. This country has extremely high rates of crime. You should be vigilant and take all possible precaution measures in order to minimize the risk of something going wrong.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : HIGH
Public transport in South Africa is the scene of many criminal activities. Be aware of criminals waiting around at Johannesburg and Cape Town airports and then following tourists to their accommodation with a goal to rob them. There have also been reports of luggage thefts at the airports. Rails and metro trains are also the locations where assaults and robberies have occurred. If you plan to take the train in Cape Town, always opt for the 1st Class, travel during the day and in a cabin with people. Avoid traveling to Cape Flats altogether.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
Pickpocketing was once a serious problem in this country, but it has been on a decline during the past couple of years. Still, the most risky locations where you may encounter petty theft are crowded places such as markets, public transport and bus and train stations.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
South Africa is often the victim of many natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, storms and wildfires. One of the bigger floods in South Africa occurred in 2011 killing 91 people.
MUGGING RISK : HIGH
Mugging and robberies are a much bigger issue in this country than petty theft. And though usually the motive of these incidents is theft, rape is sadly not uncommon at all, so female tourists should be particularly cautious.
TERRORISM RISK : HIGH
There are threats coming from extremists linked to Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), as well as threats from individuals inspired by terrorist groups, including Daesh, who might try to carry out so called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public places.
SCAMS RISK : MEDIUM
There are a couple of popular scams, one of them involving criminals posing as "tourist police" with a goal to rob visitors. They are known to stop tourist buses, saying that they're checking identification and searching luggage. However there's no such thing as "tourist police" in South Africa, so be on the lookout. Then there are so-called "strollers", and they can be anyone from children to junkies. Their only goal is to rob you blind so keep your valuables well hidden.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
Though many female travelers went to South Africa and had no problems at all, this country might not be the safest choice for female solo travelers. Be very careful at night and avoid risky situations such as winding up in deserted and poorly lit streets or finding yourself in an unknown area with strange people.
So... How Safe Is South Africa Really?
Though this is a country where there’s so much to see and do, that it’s impossible to fit it all in during one trip, with both breathtaking scenery, rich and luxurious parts of major cities, exciting night life and incredible culture, it is a country with a serious rate of crime to watch out for. Since there are staggeringly poor areas in this country, it is not at all uncommon to hear about muggings and armed robberies in this country. And though usually the motive of these crimes is theft, rape also occurs from time to time, which is especially relevant for female visitors. There have also been reports of food and drink spiking, with victims ending up being assaulted and robbed after the incident. Traveling with a rented car is also not very safe: there have been tragic instances of foreigners being carjacked and murdered.
However, what is more important than knowing what kind of crimes tend to occur in South Africa, is knowing the areas and hotspots where they’re more likely to occur. You should, generally avoid townships as they experience a higher crime rate than other areas, and though you shouldn’t steer clear of them at all costs, if you have to visit them, do it within an organized tour group. Caution should also be taken in Johannesburg, both in city centre and in its suburbs, especially at night. Cape town is another high-risk area, especially after the evening hours. Avoid the areas of Greenpoint, Salt River, Seapoint, Mowbray, Observatory, and the Cape Flats as there’s higher criminal activity there.
- Visas - While U.S. citizens visiting the Republic of South Africa for tourism purposes do not need a visa for any stays shorter than ninety days, along with many other countries, there are some nationals that do need a visa in order to enter South Africa. Make sure your passports are valid for at least 30 days past your planned date of return from South Africa. If you are not sure about your visa status, visit www.doyouneedvisa.com which will let you know whether or not you need visa based on your nationality and the country you want to visit.
- Currency - South African rand is the official currency in South America. ATMs can be found throughout the country and credit cards are widely accepted.
- Weather - Since it is such a large country, the climate in South Africa varies from Mediterranean in the southwest to temperate in the middle part of the country, and subtropical in the northeast. There is a small area in the northwest that has a desert climate. Most of the country experiences warm, sunny days and cool nights.
- Airports - Cape Town International Airport is the busiest and biggest airport serving the city of Cape Town. It is also the second-busiest airport in South Africa and third-busiest in Africa. It is located approximately 20 km from the city centre.
- Travel Insurance - Just like anywhere else, we recommend getting travel insurance when traveling to South Africa, since it covers not only the costs medical problems, but also theft and loss of valuables.