Yes, we have heard that question before. If you want to visit South Africa, and when you told your friends and family, they told you it’s dangerous. We would like to reassure your friends and family; things are ok here. The question of safe shouldn’t be a reason why you miss out on the country ranked as the world’s most beautiful by BuzzFeed and Conde Nast Traveller UK. Millions and millions of tourists visit every year perfectly safely. Here is the truth about safety in SA and what you need to know.
Food and water
We’re always amused hearing about tourists offloading cans of food from their luggage on arrival at their first hotel. South Africa has exceptionally good, fresh food of almost every type. Conde Nast named Cape Town the best food city in the world in its 2016 Readers Choice Awards. Even far-flung game lodges in neighboring Botswana and Namibia manage to produce superb multi-course meals. And water is safe to drink from the taps in cities.
Tourists are normally the victims of petty crime in many popular tourist cities around the world – Barcelona, Rome and Rio all have bad reputations for it. Sadly, so does South African cities, despite it feeling so relaxed, with laid-back locals drinking flat whites while working on their laptops at downtown sidewalk cafes, vibrant all-night parties in gorgeous locations, well-patrolled central areas and lots of security cameras. Tourist hotspots, shopping malls and busy shopping streets are generally fine, South Africa doesn’t have a pickpocketing problem like some European cities. Credit/debit cards are accepted almost everywhere so there’s no need for lots of cash.
Thousands of tourists cancelled their trips to South Africa when Ebola broke out in West Africa a few years ago. If they’d checked a map, they’d have seen that the Ebola outbreak was closer to London, Rio and Rome than South Africa. Africa is really, really big and West Africa is really far from South Africa. There is malaria in small parts of the country, the low-lying safari areas in the north. There’s no malaria in the cities of Joburg, Cape Town and Durban, and there are malaria-free game reserves like Welgevonden and Madikwe. If you are travelling to a malarial area, wear long clothes at dusk and dawn (the mosquito which carries malaria is only active then) and most doctors recommend a prophylaxis.
The best safaris are done in open vehicles, where you’ll feel worryingly close to big dangerous animals with little between you. The funny thing is that they don’t see you as potential lunch when you’re in a vehicle, so you’re safe, and the experience is thrilling. But that changes when you step out – so listen to your guide, talk quietly, don’t feed wild animals (ever), don’t stand up in the vehicle, and don’t leave the vehicle unless your guide says its ok.
Get advice from you hosts on recommended routes, and inform them of your intended time of return. Pack a daypack with water, a jersey and something to eat – this sounds elementary, but visitors in South Africa constantly get in trouble as the mountains are bigger than they seem from below, and weather can change quickly. Carry a cellphone in case of emergency.
Private and public health systems exist in parallel; the latter serves most of the population and service levels vary, but can be poor. However, the large network of private hospitals ranks amongst the best in the world. If you get sick when travelling, you’ll be well looked after at one of these, and so we recommend taking out travel insurance.
General safety tips for South Africa
When exploring your surroundings, get advice from your hosts on the best areas around your accommodation for walking or driving through. Hitchhiking is not recommended, and Uber is widely available in cities. Pay attention to where you park your car, preferably in a designated parking area, most of which will have official or unofficial car guards (the latter should be tipped afterwards) and it’s best not to leave valuables in the car.
Luckily for you if you are coming to South Africa through the assistance of Travel2Africa, we make sure you have a tour guide present with you all the time. Your safety and security is our priority.