South Africa is arguably one of the most beautiful countries in the world. However, it has its share of problems. Particularly a very high crime rate, which leads most travellers to ask the question – Is it safe to visit South Africa? Let’s check out some safety concerns about traveling to South Africa and if it’s worth the risk.

South Africa is a fascinating country with a colourful history and diverse culture. In 2020, South Africa was listed as the 45th most visited country in the world with over 4 million international arrivals.

Most tourists are attracted to its natural landscapes, wildlife, and sunshine with hundreds of possible adventure activities including shark cage diving, abseiling down Table Mountain, and bungee jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge. It is also a home to beautiful reserves, national parks, and game drives where you can get up close to the “Big Five” – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo.

The country is also home to thousands of species of other mammals, reptiles and birds. The Kruger National Park is one of the most famous safari destinations in the world where you can see more than a thousand animal species and over five hundred different birds.

Is it safe to visit South Africa in 2023?

South Africa is one of the most loved tourist destinations for adventure seekers and nature lovers. However, it is not without its share of problems and safety concerns. Just like any other country, here are some of the safety concerns you might have about traveling to South Africa:

Crime rates

The crime record is evident, especially in big cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. According to the crime index, South Africa was the third most dangerous country in the world as of 2021. There were high cases of assaults, rape, robberies, drug-related offenses, and other violent crimes. Pickpocketing, car hijacking, and home invasions are also common. Although police presence is increasing, they cannot always respond quickly to emergencies.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that the whole country is dangerous. There are many safe places to visit in South Africa, especially in the least visited cities and rural areas. Also, tourists can avoid most crimes in specific areas by taking precautions like not walking alone at night, being aware of the surroundings, and not carrying valuables.

A young man standing at the base of a waterfall - Is It Safe to Visit South Africa In 2022?
Chasing waterfalls in South Africa | @lost_at_me

What can you do?

  • Research the crime hotspots and find out which areas to avoid. Take precautions when traveling to these areas.
  • Plan your trip carefully and choose accommodation in safe areas. Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Do not walk alone at night, especially in unfamiliar or dangerous areas. If you’ll need a ride, do not hitchhike nor accept rides from strangers.
  • Do not carry valuables with you. Leave them in a safe place like your hotel room. Keep copies of important documents like your passport if it gets lost or stolen.
  • Be cautious when using ATMs.
  • Use licensed and reputable tour operators and keep up to date with local news and developments

Political unrest

South Africa has been through a lot of political turmoil and there is still some instability in the country. However, it is generally safe for tourists to visit. Political protests and rallies do happen from time to time, but they are usually peaceful. There were protests against gender-based violence and femicide. And in 2021, a wave of civil unrest occurred which was caused by the imprisonment of the former president Jacob Zuma. The protest resulted in damage to public property and some businesses.

Some areas to avoid are townships like Alexandra and Atlantis which are located near Cape Town. These areas can be volatile, especially during protests. It is best to stay away from large crowds and political rallies.

Colourful beach huts in Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town - Is It Safe to Visit South Africa In 2022?
Colourful beach huts in Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town – South Africa | @ryanwarneke

What can you do?

  • Research about the current situation of the country, particularly the cities you’re visiting. Keep up to date with local news and developments.
  • Avoid areas where there are reported protests or rallies. If possible, avoid large crowds and demonstrations.
  • Do not get involved in any political activities.
  • Avoid commenting on political issues, especially on social media.

Natural disasters

South Africa is prone to natural disasters like floods, storms, earthquakes and wildfires. In 2017, severe storms and floods hit the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal which caused damage to infrastructure and homes. Two years later, wildfires broke out in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay which forced people to evacuate. Every year, there is a risk of these occurrences happening.

What can you do?

  • Be prepared for any eventuality by packing the necessary supplies like food, water, medicine, and a first-aid kit.
  • If a natural disaster does occur, follow the instructions of the authorities and evacuate immediately if told to do so.
  • Find out the emergency evacuation procedures in your accommodation and follow them.
  • Keep up to date with local weather reports and forecasts.
  • Do not camp or hike in areas that are prone to wildfires.
Purple Jacaranda trees along the side of the street in South Africa
Jacaranda lined street in a South African suburb | @amateurphotogfromsa

Road safety

South Africa has a high rate of road accidents and fatalities. In 2015, there were almost 13,000 reported road deaths due to speeding, drunk driving and dangerous overtaking. To make matters worse, the roads are in bad condition due to lack of maintenance and it is not uncommon to see potholes and other hazards. Driving at night is also dangerous with several pedestrians and animals on the roads.

What can you do?

  • If you must drive, make sure you are familiar with the local traffic laws. Drive defensively, obey the speed limit and always be alert.
  • Rent a car only from a reputable company and make sure it is in good condition. You can check for reviews online.
  • Do not drink and drive. Use a designated driver or take public transport if you’re going to be drinking.
  • Avoid driving at night if possible. If you must, drive slowly and be cautious of pedestrians and animals on the road.
  • Be aware of common scams which may consist of fake police officers, carjackings, and hijackings.
  • Pedestrians should be extra careful when crossing the road. Do not assume that drivers will stop for you.
  • Do not overtake recklessly.
  • Use main roads and avoid shortcuts through unfamiliar or deserted areas.
Picturesque highway with a mountain view and trees in South Africa
Open highway in South Africa | @kris.goes.traveling

Health risks

There are some health risks to consider when traveling to South Africa such as Malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis A and B. Malaria is a risk in rural areas, especially if you’re visiting during the rainy season. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) published that between 2015 and 2019, South Africa is reported to have 10,000 to 30,000 notified cases of Malaria every year. HIV/AIDS is also prevalent in South Africa with an estimated 7.6 million people living with the virus as of 2019. Tuberculosis as well as Hepatitis A and B are other health problems caught in the country.

These are serious and deadly diseases, so it is important to take the necessary precautions.

White sand beach between Noordhoek and Kommetjie, South Africa
White sand beach between Noordhoek and Kommetjie, South Africa | @craighowes

What can you do?

  • Before traveling, consult with a travel health specialist or your doctor about the vaccinations and medications you may need.
  • Avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, and sleeping in a mosquito net.
  • If you are traveling to a rural area, make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical evacuation in case you contract Malaria.
  • Do not drink tap water unless it has been boiled or filtered first.
  • Only eat food that has been cooked thoroughly and is still hot. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables unless you can peel them yourself.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating.
  • Be aware of the symptoms of these diseases and seek medical help immediately if you start to feel unwell.
  • Avoid contact with sick people and do not share utensils or other personal items.
  • Be cautious of traditional healers as some may not be qualified and could make your condition worse.
  • Prevent from going to super crowded places which are the perfect environment for the transmission of diseases.

Infrastructure problems

South Africa is known for its raw beauty, but the infrastructure in some parts of the country is not well-maintained or well-developed. This can pose a safety risk to travelers or lead to problems with accommodation, transportation, and communication. There might be cases when there are no paved roads, running water, or electricity. Consequently, this might make it difficult to get around or even find necessities.

For example, there have been several reports of sinkholes appearing on the roads. In January 2020, a sinkhole measuring 10 meters wide and 20 meters deep appeared in the middle of a busy road in Johannesburg. It caused major traffic disruptions and damaged several cars.

A woman walks across a suspension bridge at Storms River Mouth, South Africa
Suspension bridge at Storms River Mouth, South Africa | @jacq.rohde

What can you do?

  • Do your research before traveling and try to find out as much as you can about the area you’ll be visiting. Be flexible and patient as things might not always go according to plan.
  • Be prepared for a long journey as some roads might be in bad condition. Make sure your vehicle is in good condition and has a spare tire.
  • Pack essential items such as a flashlight, batteries, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, hats, etc.
  • Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical evacuation in case of an emergency.
  • Pack light and only take what you need.
  • Learn some basic phrases in the local language to help you get by.

Local customs

It is always respectful to learn about and adhere to the local customs of the country you are visiting. In South Africa, there are a few things to keep in mind such as:

Greetings: When greeting someone, it is customary to shake hands. The traditional greeting is “Sawubona” (SAH-wu-BOH -nah) which means “I see you” in Zulu.

Names: It is considered impolite to address someone by their first name unless you are invited to do so. Addressing someone by their title and surname is the norm.

Taboos: Topics such as race, politics, and religion can be sensitive subjects. Some locals are still uncomfortable discussing these with foreigners. Oftentimes, people become triggered when opposing their beliefs and this may result in heated arguments.

A closeup of a newborn zebra calf and its mother - Is It Safe to Visit South Africa In 2022?
Zebra mother and calf in South Africa | @ladzinski

What can you do?

  • Do some research about the local customs before traveling. Avoid doing anything that might be considered offensive or rude.
  • Respect the local customs and traditions.
  • Learn some basic phrases in the local language and be humble when interacting with locals.
  • Be patient and tolerant as some things might be done differently than what you are used to.
  • When in doubt, always err on the side of caution. If you are not sure about something, ask a local for guidance.
  • Be open-minded and try to see things from the other person’s perspective.
  • Avoid sensitive topics such as race, politics, and religion. It is best not to initiate this type of conversation unless initiated by your host.
  • Be aware of your body language and do not touch someone without their permission.

Tips and Treasures for Travellers

Travel in Groups. Traveling alone can be dangerous, especially if you are unfamiliar with the area. Traveling with your friends or family is always best as there is safety in numbers. With the right company, you’ll have someone to rely on for support if something goes wrong. Moreover, it’s more fun and enjoyable to travel with your loved ones and they can help you with logistics as well as the cost of accommodation and transportation.

Blend in with the locals. Do not dress or act in a way that would make you stand out as a tourist. Be aware of your surroundings and do not flash your valuables in public. Keep your belongings close to you at all times and do not leave them unattended.

Final Thought

South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world with a lot to offer. It is a land of contrasts where you can find natural and man-made wonders. The country is also home to diverse people, cultures, and languages.

When traveling to South Africa, it is crucial to be aware of the risks involved and take the necessary precautions to stay safe. Be respectful of the local customs and traditions. Learn some basic phrases in the local language, be mindful of your body language, and avoid sensitive topics. By doing some research before traveling and being flexible, you don’t have to worry too much.

With the right precautions, you can have a safe and memorable trip to South Africa!