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Tourist safety in South Africa

Do not be alarmed if South Africans announce that they were held up by "robots" (their name for traffic lights), however considering that South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries in the world not at war, it does make sense to take special precautions.

  • Avoid ostentatious displays of expensive jewellery, cameras, laptops and other valuables. Including whilst travelling on public transport.

  • Carry a whistle on you, to draw attention if there's an emergency.

  • Explore in groups rather than alone, and stick to busy, well-lit streets. This is particularly important at night time or in quiet areas.

  • At night stay clear of dark, isolated areas.

  • Avoid isolated beaches.

  • Always carry a map (electronic or paper) with you in the event that you do head off course (although being seen with a map is a giveaway that you're a tourist).

  • Keep your passport, plane ticket and other important documents in a safe place (make a photocopy of the documents before you leave, and give them to somebody for safekeeping).

  • If in any doubt about the safety of an area, phone a police station for advice.

Hotels, guest houses & cottages

Book your hotel room between the 2nd and 6th floors of the hotel, as being on at least the second floor creates a gap between yourself and dangers near reception (e.g. robberies, car-bombs, shootouts, etc...). Don't go above the 6th floor as ladders don't reach above that in the case of fire.

Don't leave valuables lying around in your hotel room - theft is common.

Learn where the fire extinguishers are, the staircase and the nearest exit.

If you're renting a holiday cottage, do not assume that because you have electric fencing this will stop robbers - they use matresses to get over, and sometimes 2 or 3 pairs of jeans (apparently it stings less). Keep your valuables away from windows.


Be alert around ATM terminals.

Never carry large sums of money around, just the amount of cash you need. Travellers cheques are your best bet.

Moving about

Plan your route beforehand, and know the type of transport you're going to use, and the time it should take. This is especially NB when travelling in the evenings.

Keep your car doors locked at all times and wind windows up.

Be especially aware at traffic lights and stop streets. There are frequently beggars and hawkers there, which makes it easier for criminals to operate, as you're used to people being around your vehicle.

If hiring a car hire a sedan with a closed trunk (called a “boot” in south Africa), as opposed to a hatchback. Lock valuable items in the trunk. Never leave valuable anything in open display in your vehicle, as thieves roam around checking in car vehicles, and if at night they can't identify something may smash your car's window to see what it is.

Be aware of whether any vehicle or people are following you (being followed from the airport and robbed on arrival at your hotel is relatively common).

Never pick up strangers, no matter how friendly they appear.

When driving, do not use your mobile phone.

Do not consume alcohol or narcotics, as they will impair your driving ability.

At night, park in well-lit areas.

The level of crime in South Africa is unfortunately high and caution must be taken! Robbery, armed assault, carjackings, muggings, theft and pickpocketing occur everywhere in South Africa. Do not make yourself vulnerable to these criminals. If you take care and stay alert you have less chance of experiencing this crime.

These are obviously not the only safety issues in the country and there are other things to keep in mind, such as your health, terrorism, political tension and airline safety. You should be aware of these things at home, but when in South Africa be sure to be informed. Never wander alone, especially into townships or to large gatherings which could turn violent unexpectedly.

South Africa is a beautiful country and many people just like you live here, so it isn't all that bad. Don’t let the crime spoil your vacation, but don’t let negligence ruin your life. Stay alert and be aware. If you take care you should enjoy your holiday with no problems.

South Africa Crime Map

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