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How safe is South Africa for tourists?

My husband and I are planning independent travel in South Africa and are wondering about safety conditions. Also, beyond physical safety, are whites made to feel uncomfortable? Actually, I am assuming the answer to the last question is “yes,” since I was at times uncomfortable being white in the Brazilian Amazon (hey gringa!) and in China (but not in Japan). So, I suppose I am asking people how bad was it for them if they traveled independently.

Thanks!

Posted by
1122 posts

I assume you mean hazards to safety from other humans? The national statistics make grim reading, but I think they partly reflect very high crime in areas few tourists are likely to visit. We stuck to the usual visitors' places such as tourist Cape Town & the Garden Route and faced no problems or felt uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I think even in these areas some precautions are sensible, for example avoiding after dark in parts of city centres or back-roads. If you get any guidebook it will include advice that is wise to follow, including when driving. We didn't visit Johannesburg or any township.

Posted by
5618 posts

In China, really? I have taken three trips there and never experienced any discomfort at all for being white.

Posted by
197 posts

I spent some of my formative years in South Africa, and as I still have family there so I am a fairly frequent visitor.

Will it be safe to visit? Almost certainly yes - it can be a very violent country, but you are extremely unlikely to be in the parts where violence is likely to occur. The areas where tourists are likely to visit are relatively safe if you are sensible.

Are whites made to feel uncomfortable? Not in my experience. The vast majority of tourists will be white and the country is dependent on tourism.

South Africa is a beautiful country - I highly recommend it. It is also easy as an independent traveler, particularly with the rise of AirBnB and similar.

Posted by
1523 posts

We took our kids to S. Africa in 2016. My kids still talk about that trip (it’s their favorite). Will you be in the minority? Yes, sometimes. That might make you uncomfortable because you are not used to it. We loved S. Africa and never felt unsafe. We went to a township (District 6) on a tour. We also went to Langa township (Cape Town) and went to Mazansi for dinner. A restaurant in a woman’s home. It was a fantastic cultural experience!

Posted by
41 posts

Suki,

Yes, really. I suppose you could call it positive discrimination in a sense — we were white, therefore rich, therefore ripe for the most outrageous scamming; we were white, therefore cool, interesting, and exotic, therefore total strangers would stop me and ask if they could get their picture taken with me. But it was pervasive in Beijing when we were there. Then again, we were on our own and not with a tour group.

Posted by
2662 posts

Janet,I can't speak for South Africa, but you will find similar situation in East Africa as a 'rich mazungu (traveler)'. I still prefer that area of Africa, but it can be disconcerting if not used to it.

Posted by
5817 posts

I didn't feel particularly uncomfortable for being white when I was in South Africa. We were made to feel very welcome by everyone we met. But I suppose I live in a very multicultural city, and I'm often the only white face on the bus so I don't really notice it.
I also think to some extent feeling "uncomfortable" is up to you and how you choose to approach a situation. When we were in Beijing my friend and I obviously stood out and also had people looking at us and taking our photos. At first it was a bit wierd but we just went with it. We DID look odd to them so why wouldn't they stare? There was no malice in it. I also don't remember feeling like we were being targeted for "scams" for being white. I'm sure I overpaid for some tourist tat but what the hell, I was happy with the price. I had some really interesting conversations with locals in China and South Africa.
Safety is definitely an issue in some areas of South Africa, but if stick to the main tourist routes, and follow the advice of the locals you should be fine. Nowhere is 100% safe.

Posted by
3975 posts

I spent a month driving around South Africa a few years ago and it generally felt safe. However, we didn’t drive at night (some of the potholes were crater sized) and we didn’t stay in the larger cities other than Cape Town. We weren’t made to feel uncomfortable at any time.

Posted by
30931 posts

Janet,

I'd suggest having a look at the U.S. State Dept. travel warnings, especially the Safety & Security and Health sections. If you need vaccinations for the trip, it's a good idea to get those done well in advance. If you need Malaria suppressive med's for the areas you're visiting, I would not recommend using Lariam. You can find more detailed health information on this website - https://www.iamat.org/country/south-africa/risk/yellow-fever .

Posted by
1097 posts

Cape Town is one of our all time favorite cities. We never felt unsafe but we were ignored in a couple places where they never did come over to take our order for food and drink. We were stunned by the hotel safety requirements in Johannesburg where we had business. A high stone wall topped with two strands of concertina wire and that topped with an electric fence. We were cautioned by staff that it was "probably" safe to walk a block to the Nelson Mandela mall which we did without trouble. When at the mall, a large grocery store in a mall a few miles away was hit by a dozen armed men that robbed all of the customers and the store's cash registers. Unless changes have been made I'd avoid Johannesburg. We had no problems in Bloemfontein where we spent 4 days hunting, then south to the Cape and Simonstown where we stayed, saw the penguins, fished off the coast, took a harbor and seal island tour, but did not do the shark cage dive. Simonstown was great to spend a few days, right on the waterfront. Good luck. Send me a PM if you want some names of hotels or day trips, or even golfing at Cape Town.

Posted by
4119 posts

I have been to most of the countries in South America, but not Brazil.
Everyone that has been to Brazil tells me that physical safety is a concern is some places. You need to be very careful there, but if you take tours, they will likely avoid those places.

We did China for three weeks and never felt unsafe. The authoritian government is a terrible solution for freedom, but does deter crime. Japan is perfect for touring, very safe.

My Son and several of our friends have been to South Africa and you do need to be careful. It is not Afghanistan, but best done on a tour.

Posted by
2070 posts

I was in South Africa last year. We spent five days in Cape Town, and never once did I feel unsafe. It is a very diverse city, and I can't see why anyone would feel uncomfortable. People were quite friendly to us. Of course, we were in predominantly tourist areas. I had read that it is not a good idea to walk around at night in the dark, so we did not. But during the day, it felt very safe.

We flew through Johannesburg and spent one night at a hotel near the airport. The people in the hotel were super friendly. Of course we were paying customers. The only "issue" was at the airport where there seem to be quite a few people looking to help you and then asking for a tip. Just something to be aware of. I never felt unsafe.

Posted by
4 posts

As I heard, you will have no need to worry about it while you work with the professional guide provided by the reliable tourist company. The thing is that they are really responsible on your health and going home. So if you are traveling on your own, it is no guarantee that you will come back. But after additional reading of such resources you can see all the advantages fo such a travel. Moreover, Africa now has so many safe places, that you can even create the list 'to do' from them.

Posted by
66 posts

Best piece of advice I got from someone while I was there was not to smile at the baboons. Do smile at the people, however!

Posted by
42 posts

I have been to South Africa 5 or 6 times between the mid 80's and eight years ago. I hope to return this fall or next. I am a Canadian of Scottish-German descent so am as "white" looking as they come. I have not felt any animosity on that account. As in most countries, including the USA, there are neighbourhoods that should be avoided for the sake of safety but a guidebook or hotel staff can advise you. The only time I was threatened was in 1986 when two guys approached me one early morning in Cape Town and made veiled threats of theft. I warned them that that would be "Very Unwise" and they left: and they were white. For a good read I would recommend "Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah.