Pass on That
South Africa is incredible. It’s probably the prettiest country that I’ve ever visited, and that’s a pretty big statement. Unfortunately there are some pretty big downsides to the country, many of which revolve around safety, especially in the larger cities. For more on that, see my post “Is South Africa Safe?”. Here are some things not to do, or to avoid, when visiting South Africa.
1. Walk at night, especially by yourself. Cape Town is mostly safe, although opinions vary as well as neighborhoods. Downtown at night is not that safe, and the beach areas you could easily have a problem too. At night in Durban, and Johannesburg, safety is a complete gong shows. I phrased it in a funny way, but even armed I wouldn’t walk around those cities alone at night.
2. Use public transportation like trains or buses – if you do you’re putting yourself at risk. The bus and train stations themselves can create issues for you too. I met an American girl walking into my hostel who has just been robbed at knife point (in the late afternoon) on the street corner waiting for an Uber ride.
3. Tour downtown JoBerg, for any extended period of time by yourself or without a guide – Even in the day time Johannesburg isn’t safe. It brings me no joy to say so, as the city was once an international treasure. Now it’s mostly fools gold for traveler’s. I did tour downtown JoBerg but hired a professional driver/tour guide for it from my hotel. He was all business and was extremely wary every place we went. He was black and lived in the city all his life…and still wasn’t comfortable.
4. Use and show your smartphone (especially iPhone) in public areas. People do take selfies in South Africa, but using your smartphone in public areas isn’t very common. If you’re walking around at night it’s a no no. If you have an Apple iPhone, well that’s like flashing $100 bills to local thiefs. If you venture out to party on Long Street in downtown Cape Town, it’s an interesting atmosphere but outside nearly every bar are guys leaning against the wall staring at you while you walk by. Most aren’t looking you in the eye, but looking at what you’re wearing and sizing you up.
5. Don’t wear things that make you look, or even hint at you being a wealthy tourist. There’s a movie line (from Blood Diamond) that holds pretty true in South Africa. DiCaprio once said “In America it’s Bling Bling, but in Africa it’s Bling Bang!” Save the bling look for resorts and U.S. travel. Modesty is your friend in Africa.
6. Keep your cell phone or wallet in your front pocket. It probably won’t last a day if you’re touring around with it in your back pocked.
7. Keep valuables in the front of your car at worst, but better yet in your trunk/boot even if you are driving – Theft called smash and grab, or breaking a window, and grabbing your stuff at any time of the day, is an unfortunately possibility.
8. Park your (rental) car anywhere thinking it’s safe – Rental car agencies will make very sure you have coverage for their vehicle, but especially for theft. This is especially true in JoBerg. Even local drivers and tour operators are very careful where they park and often pay individuals to watch their car while they take you on tours.
9. Take photos of people without their permission – Sometimes a photo of strangers in the city or poor areas will upset someone, and often that might be in an area where you don’t want conflict.
10. Pick up hitchhikers – You’ll see hundreds if not thousands of people walking along roads, and interstates while touring the country. Lots of hitchhikers too. It’s hard to know who’s walking to work, where they are going or what their motives are. I often wanted to pick someone up when I toured in a rental car, but don’t.
11. Feed, pet, or agitate wild animals in any of the national parks or countryside – Sure they might look cute, but people have been killed and maimed doing that. This is especially true for baboons and animals in national parks. An absolute no no.
12. Not visit Cape Town’s surrounding area including Chapman’s Peak, Table Mountain, the wine regions while in the country. The area in and around Cape Town is beyond beautiful.
13. Visit a township / settlement by yourself – You may think you’re super tourist, or perhaps someone told you it’s safe to go to a settlement alone without complication, it’s not worth the risk. most are good people that present no danger to you, there are quite a few who will cause you trouble. Take a tour; they are not expensive, you’ll learn something, and they are safe.
14. Visit Carlton Centre building – although it’s the tallest building in Africa, it’s not that great. Views are ok, but the lookout is from dirty windows that aren’t great for photos. The building is located in the JoBerg CBD (or downtown) and it’s not that safe. If you have the time or it’s included in a tour that you want to do, that’s fine, but it’s not a must see. If you’re looking to save time, cut this spot out of your itinerary.
15. Visit Durban – if you have the luxury of time and extra money, well then Durban might be a spot that you want to check out. But in general it’s not a great place and isn’t that safe. Best for most to just leave it off your list.
16. Think the airport is safe – Cape Town’s airport is fine, but JoBerg’s airport is not. Believe it or not, but you can actually get robbed in the airport. There is a shopping area connected to the airport terminals and people from the outside that have no business there can just waltz on in and loiter. On the way to the Joberg airport, you’ll see homeless sleeping on the grass directly outside the entrance doors with a 5 start Crown Plaza hotel just steps away. It’s a strange mix that should keep you on your toes. Watch your stuff in JoBerg everywhere you go, airpot included.
17. Have sex without a condom (or sex in general) – the Aids rate for many parts of Africa is off the charts (roughly 12% of the population). You can play roulette if you want, but it’s a risky bet.
18. Ride in the mini-bus at night alone – mini buses in South Africa are basically small privately run vans that pack in as many people as possible. You get in and get off and the driver charges you accordingly, basically whatever price he wants. They are cheaper alternatives vs. taxis and many of the working poor utilize them. The price isn’t the main issue, it’s the safety. The drivers also go very fast and literally get within inches of other cards on the street. How there aren’t car pileups involving mini-bus drivers in South Africa is beyond me.
19. The V & A Waterfront area in Cape Town is nice, but it’s not worth much time – It’s probably best to see the same time as a visit to Robbin Island (where Mandela spent many years in prison), as the ferry departs from that area. There are some cool tourist shops, a shopping mall, and a ferris wheel too with views of the mountains, sea and city. Still very touristy though.
20. Travel to the country without experiencing the wildlife – from a safari, to self guided park tour, to great white shark cage diving, to whale watching, to renting a car and just driving around. The South Africa has so much to offer.