I have more and more couples coming to South Africa to elope or have their beautiful Destination weddings. (YAY) And I’ve mentioned before (in my very biased opinion) why South Africa is the perfect place to get married and Honeymoon to.
But with friends & family coming from all sides of the globe the excitement of ‘Oh my gosh South Africa looks AMAZING’ is often followed by ‘but is it safe to travel there?’
Obviously, this is a very valid question with 100 different possible answers, depending on who you talk to, when and what you Google. (I found this article – I really like the ‘Be aware & listen to your instincts’ section & this one with some good practical advice) Although good, I personally don’t feel that any of the articles or blogs I have read so far cover this question from a locals point of view.
So, these are my tips on how to be a street-smart tourist in South Africa (I don’t like to say safe or safety because who are we kidding anything can happen to any of us no matter where in the world / country / house / comfort zone we are) And although my few tips won’t be all you need to know about traveling ‘safely’ in SA I do hope it plugs some of the holes.
It’s pretty simple…Street smart traveling tip’s all really just revolve around NOT making it easy.
Even though parts of South Africa don’t feel at all third world, we are a developing country with a low employment rate.
You will see many street side entrepreneurs & artists selling things, car guards (people telling you where to park, how to reverse & carrying your groceries to your car in hope of a small tip), newspaper sellers, people collecting & selling recycling or scrap, and 100 other people trying to make a legitimate, legal way of life & income.
This creativity & entrepreneurship is one of the best qualities of South Africans, it is also unfortunately used to make a quick, not so legal income and is the reason for our bad crime wrap.
The harder you make it for people to take advantage of you the less likely you are to be taken advantage of.
- Don’t drive with your windows open or leave valuables on the seats of your car.
Generally, unless I am on an open road I keep my windows up and my car doors locked. Having your windows open just make it too easy to grab a cell phone or bag. This ‘windows up’ rule goes for when visiting game reserves or animal parks too BTW.
When I park my car, I make sure all valuables are locked in the cubby hole, boot or are under the seat.
Keep this in mind for where ever you are staying too, when you leave the house or at night, lock up & pack away things on the balconies/garden.
- Plan Township & City tours with someone who knows the place.
Unless you are meeting a local friend (that you met prior to your trip here) who will be showing you around, use legitimate tour operators or meet up with organised local groups when venturing into townships or into city CBD’s.
Most main town CBD’s are going through or are in some stage of regeneration and are home to the most amazing start-ups, restaurants, bars & artists, and are a must see while you are here. Similarly, Townships or informal settlements are home to their own unique culture & vibe that will show you a different side to South Africa (we aren’t just all safari & wine lands)
Unfortunately, these areas are still largely low income areas which makes petty crime more probable.
- Our Public transport is probably not like it is in your country. (unless in your country it is a semi shambles, not reliable & not used by anyone who has another option – in which case its exactly like your country)
Side note – The app WAZE is a great navigation app that gets you around city traffic and has very up to date road maps etc. For longer trips or if you don’t have data you may want to rent a GPS.
- Don’t flash your dollars or big chunks of cash.
Our exchange rate is one of the reasons South Africa is a great place to come and get married or honeymoon but it also creates the assumption that you as a tourist will be carrying a lot more cash on you than any local… don’t go prove that theory by flashing the cash.
Most places in South African cities will take card machines and have ATMs while you are in those areas try use your card instead of carrying big amounts of cash on you.
When going into Smaller towns, craft markets & rural areas take cash but try carry only what you will need for that day.
- Know where you are & where you are going.
Like every place there are some nice areas and not so nice areas, some perfectly fine times of day to visit a place and sometimes you don’t want to be visiting.
Before you go exploring (because you still must go exploring), know where you are and ask the people at your accommodation if there are any streets, beaches, pubs or areas to stay away from & what time of day is the best to visit.
To my surprise many ‘Travel warnings’ to SA said to stay away from protests – now I’ve never EVER casually stumbled into a protest or march – but knowing where you are & asking before you go out should help you avoid these to.
- Donate to a legitimate charity or foundation
As I mentioned we do have a high rate of unemployment and areas suffering from poverty. If you feel you want to help people in South Africa research a legitimate NGO or foundation to donate to rather than giving directly to an individual.
This helps decrease the abuse of children, elderly & disabled people (who are often used to beg)
If you have any other questions around Traveling to South Africa, please ask away by leaving a comment below! If you want to explore some more WOW S.A places & Facts please have a look at our tourism website – and if you would like to share these tips on Facebook or by email please do, I would really appreciate you helping me spread the S.A travel love.