We are totally in love with South Africa and think it is a wonderful place to go. If you’re seeking adventure, amazing wine, and incredible food, then this country will deliver! South Africa has beautiful landscapes, wildlife, and (if that wasn’t already enough) is one of the top places to see the infamous “Big Five” (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and rhinos).
It is the perfect destination for thrill-seekers. You can see Great White Sharks up close (from the safety of a cage, PHEW), paraglide from the top of mountains, and skydive over Cape Town! South Africa is also where you’ll find the one and only Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves on the continent.
South Africa has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to safety, and, while we wish we could say it is undeserved… It can be pretty dangerous. That being said, the risk of violent crimes towards tourists in popular tourist destinations is generally low. It is a fantastic country, and as long as you follow some safety rules, your visit should be trouble-free! When it comes to what to avoid in South Africa, there can be quite a few things to remember. Keep reading our list for our top 12 things you shouldn’t do!
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Walking around at night
Our advice for a lot of countries is to avoid walking alone at night. In South Africa, even walking around in a group can be risky. People on foot are an easier target for petty and violent crimes than those on public transport… even if you’re walking in a group. If you must walk around at night, be especially wary of anyone approaching you or your group and give the Central Business Districts (CBDs) of major cities a miss.
CBDs are known to have a greater threat of crime, including armed robbery, than more suburban areas. Once the sun sets, this threat only increases. Even during the day, you should be hyper-vigilant in these areas.
Flashing your valuables
Wearing nice jewelry, designer clothes, and flashing your expensive gadgets are all sure-fire ways to get noticed by thieves and pickpockets. If you MUST bring your camera/phone (we totally get it), then be sure to keep it hidden away in a secure bag and only take it out when you need it. We also highly recommend leaving your passport locked up in the hotel reception safe.
Remember, the more likely you look like a tourist, the more likely you are to be a target for petty theft. So if you can, keep the vacation selfies to a minimum, walk with confidence, and maybe avoid wearing that “I Love Cape Town” t-shirt you just bought??
Always hike in a group
There are some unreal national parks in South Africa. However, breathtaking views aside, your safety should always come first. There have been reports of attacks and muggings in and around Table Mountain National Park, so some basic rules need to be followed to ensure your safety. South African National Parks advises hikers to go in groups of at least four and to avoid splitting up even if they get lost.
You should take care in quieter parts of the park, and be extra aware during the early morning and just before the park closes at 6pm. If you’re traveling solo, coordinate with others in your hotel or hostel, or check local social media groups for any large group hikes you could join in on!
There’s a possibility you could encounter some venomous snakes while hiking, the best way to avoid being bitten is to always look where you’re walking and stick to the hiking trails where there’ll be less cover for snakes to hide. If someone in your group gets bitten, keep calm and get medical help as soon as possible.
Walking alone in isolated areas
Don’t walk alone in isolated areas such as long stretches of beaches, forests, riverbanks, or picnic areas. It’s always good practice to have other people within your view at all times, and even better practice avoiding walking alone altogether.
Getting out of your vehicle in a game reserve
This one may seem like an obvious thing to avoid in South Africa, but you’d be surprised how many people do it! There is some incredible wildlife in the country and some of the best places to guarantee a sighting are inside game reserves and parks. But remember, no matter how cute or calm an animal seems, these are WILD animals and you are in their territory. It isn’t safe to get out of your vehicle at any time except at designated spots like rest camps or picnic areas.
If a wild animal crosses your path, you should turn off your engine and wait silently and patiently for it to move. Keep inside your car and don’t hang out of the windows, play music, be loud, or make sudden movements. Just sit back and bask in the glory of nature!
Stopping for hitchhikers
If you see a hitchhiker or someone on the road who needs assistance, whether in the street, motorway, or open road, do not stop to assist them. Instead, keep driving and report the matter to the police. This tactic is known to be used by car hijackers.
You should also keep driving through or around any roadblocks that aren’t manned by the police. It has been reported that criminal gangs set up fake roadblocks to get motorists to stop. If you can’t get past or around, back up, turn around, and report the roadblock to the police. Roadblocks can look official, or they could be something as simple as logs or branches blocking your way.
Driving after dark
After dark, the risk of vehicle robbery and hijacking is high. If you must drive, make sure to avoid rural areas, and in the city, keep to main roads or well-lit streets. Areas where this type of crime is particularly high are at traffic lights, petrol stations, junctions, and directly in front of driveways. Keep your windows closed and your valuables hidden away. There are reports of car windows being smashed and valuables being stolen while cars are waiting at junctions. For extra protection (and peace of mind) you can ask your rental company for a car with special film on the windows to prevent forceful breakage.
Robbers may use tactics to bring your car to a stop, these include throwing spikes, pieces of glass, or rocks in front of the car. If you’re unlucky enough to be targeted, keep driving for as long as is safely possible before stopping.
Not filling up with enough petrol on long journeys
South Africa is a MASSIVE country and you may not realize just how much petrol you need for a long journey. On long journeys fill up the gas as often as possible and make sure your vehicle is in tip-top condition before setting off (no one wants to break down in the middle of nowhere). If you do break down, remain in your vehicle with the doors locked and windows closed while you call and wait for roadside assistance to come and pick you up.
If you’re planning on driving to some remote areas, you should talk to your hotel or some locals to gauge the safety of the area and the best route. Crime in rural areas is generally lower than in the city, but incidents could still occur.
Not being careful around ATMs
Credit card fraud is a problem in South Africa and “card skimming” is a common scam. If possible you should always try to use ATMs in secure shopping malls or banks. Try to be discrete when withdrawing money, and don’t draw out large sums of money in busy crowded areas. This goes without saying (we hope) but ALWAYS hide your pin number when making withdrawals and be aware of the people around you.
Some fraudsters may take a direct approach and offer to help you if your card isn’t working, or try to lure you to a particular ATM. If someone tries to assist you, just firmly decline and find another location. ATM scammers tend to work in a team so be hyper-aware of any person or people trying to distract you as card swapping is also a common scam.
A good tip is to always watch the ATM machine before using it to see if other customers are having any problems. You could also try to only use ATMs that have security guards on duty.
If you’re parking at night, always park in well-lit areas and remove all possessions from the car. During the day, keep all valuables hidden, even when you are driving. Lots of city streets have “car guards” on duty. While they can’t guarantee the safety of your car, they are a good deterrent against thieves. Only use official guards wearing an official uniform (a bib), and tip them when you leave (this is expected).
If you are feeling a little more than apprehensive at the thought of leaving your car parked in the street at night, you could also consider adding a steering wheel lock as an extra deterrent. Most cars also have a lock on the fuel cap, but you may want to double-check if you are renting a vehicle.
Not locking your car doors
While locking your vehicle when you leave may be pretty standard practice worldwide, in South Africa you should also keep your car doors firmly locked while you’re driving. This is especially important in the city, as car hijacking can still happen in the day, even if it is less common!
Visiting townships without an organized tour
Visiting townships has become a popular thing to do in South Africa for visitors who want to understand the hardships and challenges faced by local people. They can also give you an authentic glimpse into the lives of locals, and raise awareness around the Apartheid Era when townships were established to segregate white and non-white people. Some people argue that visiting townships is unethical, however, as long as the tour directly benefits the neighborhood and its residents, they can be ethical. They also bring jobs into the area, helping to improve the local economy.
However, townships can often be extremely dangerous, and most violent crimes in the country happen in townships located on the outskirts of big cities or in isolated areas. We only recommend visiting a township as part of an organized tour, preferably one recommended by your hotel or locals.
What to avoid in South Africa – the verdict
We hope you haven’t been deterred by our list of what to avoid in South Africa. It is a truly remarkable country that everyone should visit! However, when we say South Africa is FULL of adventure (trust us, it is), it isn’t the type of place to throw caution to the wind and be too adventurous.
While South Africa isn’t one of the most dangerous countries in Africa, you’ll need to follow some basic travel rules (plus the extra ones outlined above) to ensure your safety. Millions of people visit every year without any problems, but generally they stick to the more touristy areas, act with caution, and don’t let their guard down!