South Africa is the southernmost country on the African continent; a vibrant and dynamic destination that is popular with tourists wanting to see deserts, mountains and beaches, explore large bustling cities and try out a variety of thrilling activities. From the diverse ‘mother city’ of Cape Town to the scenic Kruger National Park, South Africa offers a wide range of sights and experiences that make it an excellent place to visit.
The country’s political past is particularly turbulent however, and the effects of the 20th century apartheid system that enforced racial segregation are still being felt. What you can expect when travelling in South Africa are developed areas of wealth and modernity alongside poorer, more neglected communities, but this should not deter your decision to visit to the country. As long as you are careful, prepared and aware of the issues that the country still faces, it is safe to travel in South Africa.
Travel insurance is vital to ensure that you are covered in case of any misfortune, and this guide will provide South Africa travel advice to prepare you for a safe and hassle-free trip.
Health Concerns in South Africa
Several vaccinations for South Africa are recommended or required depending on how long you will be visiting and what you will be doing during your stay. It is best to consult your doctor at least 6-8 weeks before you travel, but an immunisation against Diphtheria and Hepatitis A are usually advised, and other vaccinations can be considered.
Anyone aged one year or over who is travelling from a country that has a Yellow Fever risk of transmission will also be required to present a certificate of vaccination against the disease before entering the country.
Malaria is common in some parts of South Africa, but can be easily prevented. If you are travelling to a high-risk area you will be strongly advised to take malaria medication, and all visitors should take precautions such as using insect repellent, wearing long, loose clothing, and sleeping under a mosquito net.
It is recommended that you do not swim in any freshwater lakes and rivers, particularly in rural locations, to prevent exposure to parasites that live in the water and can cause a disease known as bilharzia. The infection is treatable but unpleasant, so it is best to avoid any chance of contracting it by only swimming in water you know to be safe.
South Africa has a high rate of HIV/AIDS, and visitors should consider the best ways to minimise their exposure to this if they are likely to be in a situation where transmission is possible.
Food and Drink Safety in South Africa
If you are only travelling to South Africa’s larger cities then you are unlikely to run into any trouble with food and drink, as long as you are cautious with where you choose to purchase meals and remain aware of the risks that some foods may carry. The country’s cuisine is delicious and varied, with a number of different cultural influences inspiring dishes from curries to cocktails, and should definitely be sampled during your trip.
If you are staying somewhere in South Africa that is more remote, be particularly careful with meat or dairy products, and always ensure that what you are eating has been peeled, cleaned or properly cooked.
Cholera is a water-borne disease that mainly occurs in some rural areas of the country, and if you are visiting one of these you should not drink anything other than sealed or boiled water in order to protect yourself. Most tap water in major cities is safe to drink, but you can always buy bottled just to be on the safe side.
Crime in South Africa
South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world, and it is vital that travellers remain vigilant and take as many precautions as possible to remain safe when in the country.
The statistics may be scary, but it is important to note that most of the violent crime the country is known for will not affect visitors, as it takes place predominantly in areas that are not for tourists. Therefore, it is strongly advised that you do not visit any of South Africa’s isolated ‘townships’ to avoid running into any trouble.
Incidents such as theft or tourist scams are much more likely to affect those who are travelling in South Africa, which you can protect yourself against by staying alert at all times, using common sense, and ensuring that you have travel insurance that will cover you in the case of any unfortunate occurrences.
As you would in any busy holiday destination, never leave any personal belongings unattended and make sure that no expensive items are on show when you are in a public place. Credit card skimming is a common problem in South Africa, so keep cards hidden and safe and always cover your PIN if you need to use an ATM.
Before arriving in the country, make yourself aware of the kind of tourist scams you might encounter during your visit, so that you know what to look out for. Again, as in any country that is popular with tourists, these kinds of incidents are easily avoided by trusting your instincts and being wary of anyone who approaches you, even if they seem friendly.
There has not been a serious terror attack in South Africa since the 1990s, but the country’s history of violent extremism and political unrest mean that the threat of terrorism does remain present. Action by the terrorist organization Daesh is the main threat in South Africa, with a number of reports of radicalisation in the country as well as links to planning and financing terrorist acts.
There is currently an increased threat of terrorism globally, and British Nationals are particularly at risk. Advice against staying safe from terrorism whilst abroad can be found on the Gov.uk website, but it is best to be vigilant in areas such as shops, places of worship, popular tourist attractions, and when travelling on public transport.
Whilst the apartheid period in South Africa ended long ago, the effects of civil unrest and government corruption are still felt across the country, which has increased the likelihood of violent demonstrations and acts of terrorism. Travellers should always avoid any large, political gatherings such as protests, as these are likely to be particularly unsafe.
Family Travel Safety
From exciting safaris to brilliant beaches, South Africa is a fantastic location for an adventurous family holiday, particularly when staying in larger cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg which are well equipped for families of tourists and very safe. Places like the Kruger National Park and several other game reserves also have family lodges and are malaria-free, offering special guides and safari trips for children that combine sightseeing with learning about the area.
There are many family-friendly attractions across the country, including animal parks, museums and galleries, and outdoor activities such as water sports and ziplining which are all safe for children and make for excellent days out. Trips to the beach or visits to popular locations such as Table Mountain outside of Cape Town are also a great way to spend your time and experience a variety of South Africa’s beautiful scenery.
Temperatures in South Africa do not tend to reach much over 30°C in its hottest months between November and March, but precautions against sunburn, sunstroke and dehydration are necessary for both children and adults, as is protection against insect bites.
And as when travelling in any foreign country, make sure that children are never left on their own, know what to do in an emergency, and are not taking any risks. This will ensure that a family trip to South Africa is entirely safe and relaxing for everyone, meaning you can spend your time enjoying every moment of your holiday.
The entry requirements for bringing children into South Africa used to be complicated, but now under-eighteens entering the country with a parent for a holiday now only need a valid passport, making it much easier to travel as a family.
Female Travel Safety
Assault, rape and murder rates in South Africa are unfortunately very high for women, but again it is important to note the vast majority of these crimes happen in places that travellers to the country are unlikely to be, meaning that the risk for visitors is low.
Female tourists should follow the normal personal safety procedures they would take when anywhere in the world; paying attention to their surroundings, avoiding walking alone at night, and making sure that somebody else knows where they are going to be and for how long if they are travelling on their own. As in any country, make sure that drinks are never left unattended when in a bar or a club, and remain in public areas if you are meeting and socialising with somebody new.
Tips for Staying Safe in South Africa
Know Where to Avoid
As previously mentioned, the districts in South Africa known as ‘townships’, which remain from the apartheid period of racial segregation, should be avoided by travellers, as these areas tend to have a higher proportion of crime and visitors who are not local are more likely to be targeted if they enter. It is possible to visit a ‘township’ as part of a tour, but always make sure that you are with a trusted guide who knows the area well, and always visit during daylight hours.
You can research the places you are planning on staying in South Africa before your trip, to make sure you are aware of any locations that are less suited to tourists and avoid running into any trouble by being unprepared.
Don’t Walk Around at Night
Walking around an unfamiliar location at night tends not to be advised wherever you are, and South Africa is no different. Even when in a group, it is better to use a trusted form of public transport or just avoid having to make any long journeys on foot in the evening, especially through less populated areas.
It is also worth noting that it is safer to arrange your flights so that you arrive in the country during the day and don’t have to find your accommodation in the dark.
Keep All Valuables Hidden
Tourists tend to be easy targets for pickpockets and thieves in busy cities, and you can protect yourself from theft by making sure that valuable items are always kept close to you and hidden when in public. It is recommended that possessions such as expensive jewellery or technology are not brought on your trip, and that anything important you do decide to bring with you is kept close by in your hand luggage whilst travelling.
Stay in A Group
Travelling on your own can be an exciting and liberating experience, and many independent visitors have hassle-free experiences of South Africa. However, it is often a lot safer to be in a group whilst exploring the country, especially when walking around at night or hiking in the mountains.
There are a variety of excellent group tours on offer to those who are travelling solo but don’t want to be alone, with experienced guides leading safe and interesting excursions around South Africa.
Spend More to Stay Safe
Whilst it can be tempting to try and save money and travel cheaply on your holiday, it is always best to spend a little more money to ensure that your accommodation and the area you are staying in are safe and secure. The exchange rate for foreign visitors is good in South Africa, meaning that you can afford to take taxis instead of risking public transport and pay more for activities that won’t put you at risk.
Listen to Your Instincts
Ultimately, you are unlikely to run into any problems whilst travelling in South Africa, especially if you are always making sure to be cautious, alert, and aware of what you might encounter during your stay. Applying the same common sense as you would when on holiday anywhere will get you a long way, and allow you to make the most out of exploring such a diverse and beautiful country.
Almost everyone who visits South Africa finds themselves coming back again, and no other country has quite the variety of culture, landscape and activities on offer to travellers wanting to explore the tip of one of the world’s most diverse continents. Whilst more care should be taken to make sure that you stay safe, South Africa is not a dangerous place for visitors who come prepared, and can be enjoyed throughout the year as a holiday destination.