Travel guide: Keeping safe in South Africa
South Africa features on the bucket list of any traveller worth their salt. The natural beauty of this country will leave you awe-struck, but it is the eclectic community that will make SA feel like a home away from home whether you are in the bustling streets of Jozi or cruising the east coast. However, as is the case in many foreign countries, travelling can be risky, especially if you are alone. You can improve the quality of your trip by following a few precautions.
Driving in South Africa
Hiring a car is a popular option for those who want the freedom and flexibility of being able to choose their own route, especially for those who want to travel further distances. South Africa is a big country, and many visitors find it worthwhile to explore the diverse terrain in their own time.
The national highways are generally in good condition, with a few toll roads along the way that pay for the upkeep of the roads. You may encounter a few ‘stop-and-go’s where roadworks are being carried out. If this is the case, you may be required to wait for up to 20 minutes to allow for oncoming traffic to make use of the only available lane.
Sadly, drunk driving is not an uncommon practice in South Africa, so keep your wits about you when on the roads, especially if you are travelling at night or over the festive season.
The majority of people in South Africa are affected by poverty so it’s generally not a good idea to leave your valuables exposed when you leave your car unattended, and you should always make sure that you lock your car. Car guarding is an occupation that keeps many people employed in South Africa, but make sure you use a parking lot that has a licensed guard wearing a bib. Although not compulsory, you will be expected to pay a small tip to the car guard when you leave.
Crime by location
The crime rate is higher in major cities and is even worse in informal settlements. If you want to explore the latter (and we recommend that you do), it is certainly advisable to go with an organised tour group like Hylton Ross. If you are a keen hiker, crime quite low in nature reserves, but hikers should never walk alone and should always leave valuables at home.
ATM scams in South Africa
One of the most common non-violent crimes in South Africa is ATM scams. You can, to a large extent, prevent this from happening by taking the following measures:
- avoiding using ATMs at night (you should ideally use them during banking hours) and in a busy place.
- don’t accept help if someone offers to help you use the ATM
- carry your bank’s emergency contact details with you
Out and about in South Africa
In terms of the money you carry with you, it’s better to carry small notes with you, rather than large denominations. For example, carrying around R20, R50 and R100 notes will attract less attention than if you keep R200 notes with you.
Some visitors like to keep separate stashes of money so that if one is stolen you are not left without any money. Keep a small amount of cash handy rather than keeping a large wad that you have to keep taking out when you pay for something. You should also try not to keep money in your back pocket.
If you are staying in a hotel, try to make use of the safe if one is available especially for your passport and other important documents. Make sure that you always lock the door to your room, whether you are in the room or not.
It’s never a good idea to flaunt wealth, so try to avoid wearing expensive jewellery and don’t advertise costly cameras and mobile phones if you can help it.
Walking around alone at night or in secluded places or hiking trails should also be avoided. There are many affordable transport options that can get you safely to where you need to be, including private taxis, buses, car hire or ride-sharing services like Uber. You may need to call your taxi beforehand to secure a ride. Public taxis are cheaper but are known not to be the safest option. Catching a train at night is also not recommended.
It may be necessary to keep a cell-phone with you in case of an emergency. You can either put your own phone on roaming or get a South African phone/sim card to make use of the local networks. If you do wish to purchase a local sim card, bring your passport along with you as most retailers require it even when buying a pay as you go sim card. Vodacom and MTN are the best networks to use.
Travelling to or from South Africa by air
Although theft is uncommon when using South African airport services, there are certain measures you can take to reduce your risk of being a victim of crime. These include:
1. Vacuum wrapping your checked-in luggage before you board. This is a reasonably priced precaution you can take that can act as a deterrent.
2. Keep your valuables with you in your hand luggage instead of packing them with your checked luggage.
3. Keep an eye on your belongings at airport security checkpoints. If you have placed high-value items in the security tray, it is a good idea to wait for the tray to enter the scanner before you walk through the x-ray machine yourself. This tip is applicable worldwide.
4. Consider using putting your hand luggage in the overhead locker opposite your seat (not above your seat). This way you can keep an eye on it.
Depending on the package you choose, your travel insurance company might be able to help pay for any items that are lost or stolen during your travels in and around South Africa. Make sure you have all the information you need about routes, roadmaps and breakdown services in the country before you embark on your journey to South Africa.
When making a flight booking on our site, you will be offered travel insurance as an optional extra.
If you are doing a game drive in a wildlife reserve, you should never leave your vehicle. There have been incidents in the past where people have left their vehicles and been attacked by predators. However, it should be noted that these incidents are limited to reserves, where animals are enclosed.
Many living in or visiting South Africa would argue that it is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich places to visit in the world. If you stay aware, take precautions and use common sense, visiting this amazing country can be a rewarding and life-changing experience.
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