South Africa is an amazing travel destination that consistently wows travelers of all ages, especially adventure lovers, but like most places in the world, there is a certain level of crime that travelers should be aware of before they set off to explore. To brush up on some key points to keep you safe, guest contributor, René De Klerk, a South African travel and conservation journalist, is here with some great tips on how to stay safe in South Africa.
Staying Safe in South Africa
South Africa is a country known for its spectacular scenery, rich cultures and extreme diversity. However, the news is often filled with stories of crime, hijacking and even murder. This does not mean you have to avoid the country or let crime spoil your vacation. With a few precautions, you are that much closer to a South African adventure without problems. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning your trip, as well as when you are on the ground.
Be Vigilant at all Times
Unattended Luggage and Valuables: Never leave your luggage and valuables unattended. Not only is this a safety risk, especially at airports, but criminals are always looking for easy targets and items to take from unsuspecting travelers. This applies at airports and accommodation spots such as hotels. At hotels and guest houses, make sure your valuable items are locked away in the safe provided. You don’t know who is trustworthy and who is not, so don’t let anything lie around. Leaving a wallet on a desk next to an open window is an invitation for someone to push their arm through the window, and take it.
Documents: Before you leave, make sure to make copies of travel documents. It is a good idea to keep copies of your passports and travel documents in the cloud of your mobile phone, computer, etc. You would not want to lose your items and not be able to get back home as a result.
Hotel Safety: Of course, while at your hotel, keep your doors locked and only open once you are certain of who is on the other side. This is especially important when staying at off-the-grid lodgings that may have little to no security.
Safety while Road Tripping through South Africa
By Car: Whether you are renting a car or hopping in a taxi (make sure it’s licensed driver/company!), lock your doors when you enter a vehicle. It is easy for criminals to open your doors when stopping at a traffic light. Never leave windows wide open when coming to a stop, especially at traffic lights, as robbers can easily grab anything in your vehicle. Beggars are often known to stand at traffic lights in cities.
Tipping car guards: You will find ‘car guards’ in most towns and cities. These are just informal people on duty, asking to look after your car. They can’t actually guarantee the safety of your vehicle, but these guards (often wearing a bib) pretty much expect a tip when you return to your vehicle. People generally give them R5 for this service.
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Leave things out of sight: Keep your valuables out of sight to prevent unnecessary attention at traffic lights. When leaving the vehicle, make sure you leave everything in the trunk where it is not visible to passers-by.
Road trip safety: If you’re planning to explore South Africa by road trip, plan your trip in advance and know where you are going before pulling off. Use a GPS to prevent getting lost. If you are traveling to a remote location where cell phone reception is bad, call them in advance informing them of your expected time of arrival. It is also a good idea to find out about the best routes to travel to destinations before setting off on your trip.
Common sense: Don’t pick up hitch-hikers even if they look like they really are in trouble. Criminals have been known to set up situations to lure motorists to stop, just to steal the car and leave the occupants stranded.
Be aware of your surroundings: When nearing your guest house or destination, especially in cities, make sure you are not followed. Rather pass your destination and go around the block if you suspect someone is following you.
Safety in South African Cities
Leave the bling at home: Avoid wearing flashy jewellery or showing off your phone as these draw unwanted attention. If you are heading somewhere, walk like you know where you are going. If you look like you are lost, you will get people asking if they can assist, and it might be the wrong crowd.
Never flash your cash: Never give beggars money as this gives them the opportunity to see how much money you really have on you. Also, never carry large amounts of money with you, but rather use travelers’ cheques or cards.
Drawing money from ATMs: If you need to draw money at an ATM, never accept help from strangers. If your car does not want to go into the machine, rather leave and find another machine.
Parking safety: Make sure you park in well-lit areas when you stop somewhere to prevent the element of surprise or unnecessary danger.
Choosing Township tours: If you go on a tour, do so with an organized tour. It is not safe to venture into informal settlements alone.
Visiting South Africa’s Game Reserves and Parks
Wildlife is exactly that: Always stay in your vehicle, unless there is a sign to say that it is safe to get out, especially in Big Five game reserves. Predators are wild and your vehicle is the safest place. Stories of elephants rolling vehicles in places like the Kruger National Park are not unheard of, but this generally happens when people don’t respect their space. It is good to have an escape route while game viewing as wild animals is unpredictable.
Looking for some tips on planning a safe safari through South Africa? Check out Alan and Donna’s experience on a South African safari.
Hiking safety tips: When going on hikes, always hike in a crowd, even in national parks and nature reserves. This is especially important for reserves close to cities as cities often attract unwanted elements. Apart from safety in numbers, if you were to slip and fall, it might be difficult to alert someone, especially if you are unconscious.
Choose your adventure carefully: Avoid isolated beaches as there won’t be help nearby. Swimming in the ocean with no lifeguards on duty is a bad idea as tides are often unpredictable.
These are just a few tips for staying safe in South Africa, but it’s always better to trust your instincts and be safe than regret it later. If something feels wrong or out of place, act accordingly. Having emergency numbers on hand can also come in handy.
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