Is South Africa safe for solo travel?

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When I made the decision to backpack solo through South Africa, my safety seemed to be the topic on everybody’s lips. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice that I have friends, family members and old acquaintances concerned for my well-being, but what I didn’t find nice, was the fact that many of these concerns and opinions about the dangerousness of South Africa seemed inherently racist and dare I say, ignorant.

It’s a sad fact that before my departure, a girl I hadn’t spoken to or seen in years, contacted me through Facebook Messenger and told me that not only was I stupid for travelling to South Africa alone, but also that I was going to get myself raped and murdered, and when I did, it would be my own fault.

That was a message that I found confronting, upsetting and disturbing. It frustrated me so much that I simply deleted it and set out to prove her wrong. Which I did. My travels through the gorgeous South Africa were safe, unforgettable and like nothing I’d expected in the very best way.

Despite me having an incredible trip, I am aware that South Africa has a bit of a bad reputation. The apartheid inflicted wounds on the country are still healing, and over the past few decades the country has had more than its fair share of problems. But what many people don’t know is that despite these problems, during the past several years the country has been busy undergoing an incredible transformation.

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So, is South Africa safe for solo travel? If so, what can you do to keep yourself as safe as possible?

The answer to the first question is yes, within reason. South Africa is a big country and some parts are safer than others. Cape Town is very much a safe and cosmopolitan city, whilst places such as Johannesburg and Pretoria are less so. However, regardless of where you are, there are always going to be nooks and pockets of the city or town that are less safe than others. So do research before you depart, and ask locals and hostel employees what areas of the city are safe, and which ones should be visited with caution.

So then what can you do to keep yourself as safe as possible?

Where avoidable, do not carry anything that you cannot afford to lose.
This tip is pretty basic and is sound advice no matter where in the world you are travelling through. It’s pretty simple, things like your passport, significant sums of cash, expensive phones, jewellery, cameras and credit cards should only be carried if you absolutely need to use them. Leave everything that isn’t necessary for your days outing locked in a locker back in your hostel or hotel. Yes, robberies of hostels, hotels and hotel safes do happen, but robberies such as these are much less common than robberies by pickpocketing or mugging. When I would go out for my adventures, I would take my phone OR my GoPro (only occasionally did I use them both in the same day), plus a small sum of money. My passport and credit cards would only be taken out when I moved from one hostel to another or if I needed to withdraw cash.

Be crafty with packing.
This is one that is optional, but I always leave an emergency sum of cash hidden. When I stay in a hostel, my 70L backpack is kept in a locker then locked with combination locks. But even if a robber were to slit open my backpack looking to take valuables, I doubt many would look inside packets of tampons or inside tubes of lip balm, so these make for good hiding places.

Make sure your hostel is secure.
Make sure the hostel has lockable lockers and strong security before you book. In most places this is a given, but it’s worth being sure and double checking.

Do not walk alone at night.
I admit, I hate this tip. I love walking around at night, and would happily do so in most European cities. I hated feeling unable to safely walk wherever, whenever I wanted. But it is a fact of life that in some places, extra precautions are absolutely necessary and South Africa is one such place.

If using a taxi, only hail one from a taxi rank.
Unlicensed cabs have been known to take people to townships where they are then robbed. It’s upsetting and it’s disturbing, but it does happen. Also, make sure the driver has a meter and make sure he uses it, otherwise you do risk being ripped off.

Do not visit a township alone.
Townships are the enormous villages on the outskirts of town where people live in third world conditions. Crime IS extremely prevalent in these areas. Only visit a township with a trustworthy local or if you must, a tour group. For moral reasons, I don’t agree with these ‘Township Tours’; as personally, I believe that touring poverty seems insensitive and reinforces negative stereotypes about those that live in less fortunate conditions, but that is another blog post for another day.

Ignore beggars.
I must admit, I find this one especially tough. No matter where I am in the world, I struggle to say no to beggars. But in South Africa it is vital that you do, as in the short second it takes you to pull out your purse or wallet, you become an easy target for a ‘snatch and run’ robbery.

Don’t carry valuables on Long Street.
This is one area of Cape Town where violent crime is down but pickpocketing rates are soaring.

If you are going to catch minibus cabs, check first to see which routes are safe.
I loved the minibus cabs for their affordability and speed, but I only used them for a few specific routes that I knew were usually quite safe, not all routes have a good reputation, so check with hostel employees before you ride.

If you are driving, always keep your doors locked.
Carjacking is still somewhat common in some parts of SA (I’m looking at you Jo-Burg) so always be alert when driving. Also, it isn’t uncommon for drivers to run red lights in dodgy areas, so if you don’t feel safe and you are sure running a red light won’t cause a hideous car accident, it’s something you may want to consider doing. That being said, SA has high rates of motor vehicle accidents, so proceed with caution.

If you are going to hitch-hike, only do so if there are women or children present in the vehicle.
I’ll be honest, hitch-hiking isn’t exactly a way of getting around that is inherently safe. But this won’t always stop people. Having women and children in a car does not ensure safety, but it’s something that always makes me feel more comfortable.

Lastly, don’t let fear dissuade you from the adventure of a lifetime.
While I was in South Africa I abseiled from Table Mountain, did a 216m bungee jump, I skydived in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. I paraglided, I fed elephants, I cage dived with Great White sharks. I swam in the open ocean with seals, I hiked my butt off in deserted forests, I went canyoning in empty rivers and each one of those experiences I will remember for the rest of my life. Not only that, I did it on a shoestring.

South Africa is an absolutely incredible country, filled with some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you will ever meet. Though it has a bad reputation, with a little bit of extra caution and alertness, you would most likely be able to have a very safe and incredibly memorable trip. South Africa is one of the greatest countries I have ever visited and I can guarantee that I will go back in the (not so distant) future.

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

162 thoughts on “Is South Africa safe for solo travel?

  1. What a great piece!
    The sad thing is that people don’t really realize just how vast and complex Africa is. As with anywhere there are good places and bad, but because of the way the media projects Africa (and by extension Africans), everyone believes that as soon as you land, you’ll be manhandled.
    I’m glad you had such a great time and thanks for sharing your wonderful experience. I’m planning my ultimate dream tour from Nigeria to S.Africa for next year and this really put a smile on my face.

    1. Thankyou for reading!
      I agree with you wholeheartedly, Africa gets such a bad reputation and it often isn’t warranted at all. Western media is strife with fear mongering and inaccurately portrays what African countries are really like.
      Wow Nigeria to SA! That will be absolutely amazing. I hope I can do a trip like that myself in the near future, I would love to explore lots more of Africa.
      Please make sure you come back here and send me a link next year when you write about your travels, I would be so excited to read about it!

  2. I spent 3 months in South Africa between Cape Town and the Garden Route, doing a mixture of backpacking and working; took taxis, public transport and hired multiple cars; and did a mixture of exploring urban and rural areas. On one occasion I drove right into the midst of a township to take our cook home at the end of the day. To this day, this trip remains one of the best experiences of my life. I loved it there, and never really felt unsafe, although at times there were murmurings afoot. There is too much goodness there, it would be foolish to miss it because of misconceptions. (And just like you, my father informed me I’d get shot if I went there!)
    https://mistynites.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/south-african-odyssey/

    1. I agree! So much amazing culture to experience and it would be such a shame to miss it! I am glad we both had great trips there. I will be sure to go and read about yours. Thankyou for reading!

    1. Thank you for reading! I am glad you enjoyed 🙂 As for you hoping to do this in the future, you definitely should! I can guarantee you would have an amazing adventure!

  3. Hi. Loved your article on my birth country and totally agree. It is an absolutely jewel of a place from a travel and adventure perspective. And if ever anyone get’s the opportunity, don’t hesitate. I go back every year to visit all my family and every other year to do extended travel again. However as mentioned countless times, do your homework first on do’s and dont’s. While Cape Town is the last city left that is the equivalent of Sydney and has so much to offer, it is not without its dangers. Travelling alone is not advisable but doable with caution. you mentioned “The apartheid inflicted wounds on the country are still healing”, sadly these wounds will never heal and a peace treaty will never see the day of light and unless you’re South African and lived in that climate and understand our history and everyday life, this is our fate. However this should not stop anyone from experiencing some of the wonders once can only find in South Africa and/or Africa. The most important tips to take away with you is yes, if travelling alone, especially a woman. Stay in well populated areas (day and night). Don’t display valuables on you (jewellery, expensive clothes or handbags), Don’t wear revealing clothing, Don’t flaunt an expensive camera, Don’t travel with large amounts of cash on you. Essentially if you think about it, most of these are fairly common sense. If you have no choice but to travel alone, book into tours and safari’s. You’ll be amazed at the extensive area’s and attractions they cover. But always a bonus if you know a local as we can take you to the ‘off the beaten path’ locations that are not in the tourist books and coastal towns that one often bypasses or cafe hangouts etc. Enjoy !!

    1. I must admit, I actually found travelling on my own as a woman to be very safe, and I met many other people along the way who were travelling alone and loving it. For me, the best part about travelling solo is the ease with which I met amazing and wonderful locals like yourself who would show me around the cities! Thank you for reading! 🙂

  4. Every country in the world has places you would be sensible to avoid…the big difference is that you are more streetwise at home. It is so great you have done it and can share it with all of us…unlike the person who said you would be raped…what a narrow-minded (and objectionable) individual!

    1. My thoughts exactly! There are no overseas trips that are risk free, but as long as you are cautious and streetwise it will often be fine! Yes that person was very narrow minded, hopefully they saw my wonderful travels on my social media accounts and gained a new perspective. Thank you for reading!

      1. I hope so too. I have met a lot of (white) South Africans since coming to NZ and they seem to have been happy to leave a threat of violence behind…but I also get the impression that perhaps they resent the new rainbow nation and its government too. Interesting. I think your blog is great…where to next?

      2. Next up is Iceland, Greenland and Scotland! Then who knows? Lots of ideas but haven’t made up my mind yet 😊 feel free to give me suggestions!

      3. Excellent. I am from England so if you head south of the Scottish border I can help. As for Scotland, you have to see Edinburgh but there are loads of great places like Inverary or Fort William or Stirling or Perth or Ullapool…lovely scenery. Fantastic. When do you head back to Oz?

      4. This will actually be my third time in Scotland! I’ve been to Edinburgh (lots), Stirling, Fort William, Isle of Skye etc before 😊 this time I’m heading to Oban and hanging out on the Isle of Mull 😊 I’m in Oz at the moment! Working and saving some extra money as the Greenland trip will be burning a hole in my bank balance! Are you headed away any time soon?

      5. The tour of the Oban distillery is worth a go…I am visiting Australia soon and seeing Melbourne, great ocean road, Canberra, Blue Mts and Sydney. Looking forward to it…so do tell if there are any things you would recommend…? 😃

      6. I’ll definitely have to give it a visit! As for Australia, I’m from South Australia and honestly haven’t travelled much of my own country :/ the Northern Territory is probably the most beautiful area in the country!

  5. I’m from South Africa and I find it really disappointing that people still fall prey to stereotypes. Yes, we have crime in some areas in South Africa but there are so many other places in the country that you can travel to safely. Thank you for this post, it’s good to see that not everyone believes that SA is a crime-ridden hell hole.

    1. Thank you for reading. I absolutely adore your home country and I hope to come back soon and continue to help give SA the better reputation that it deserves!

  6. Great post, South Africa is a beautiful country and while it has some safety concerns it shouldn’t be written off. Another good way to see the townships is to volunteer with a reputable NGO, which I did for a few months while there, and got to work with and know people whose lives were extremely different than mine. The concept of touring extremely impoverished areas is pretty disturbing.

    1. When did you visit SA? I absolutely agree, some people dub it ‘poverty porn’ but whatever you call it, it just doesn’t sit well with me.

  7. great article! And very sound advice that could apply anywhere in the world. Good on you for having the guts to go,and seek out some amazing adventures! I want to go there now!

    1. Thank you for reading! I am glad you enjoyed it. If you are thinking of visiting SA you absolutely should! It’s an amazing country and extremely affordable to visit. Happy and safe travels!

  8. This is definitely true. I have not finished my trip yet and I am already yearning to come back. So many nice and friendly, welcoming people here – just had a guest where I volunteer offer me a place in her home near CT from just 2 days of knowing her.
    I was mugged at knifepoint in London a week before departing for SA – one of the ‘nice’ parts of the city – so these sorts of crimes can happen everywhere, which just goes to show you have to be vigilant everywhere. I also faced some hard objections (from my Mum, mostly) about coming here, with many difficult exchanges; blogging and posting pictures of my time proved how wrong their initial views were of SA.

    Julia

  9. I have been full of admiration since I started reading your blogs (thanks to your dad for putting me on to them). I also am a solo traveller albeit not as adventurous as you. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t experience life to its fullest as there is so much to see and experience out there in the world.

    Keep on having adventures especially for those of us who live vicariously through them.

    You go girl!!!!

    Cheers Caron

    >

    1. Thank you so much! I love getting comments like this! Where did you meet my dear dad?
      You keep having adventures too! And will do, I look forward to sharing many more with you.

  10. I’ve been looking for my next big solo adventure, and I think I just found it! Thank you for your insightful post, im inspired to visit South Africa!

    1. Awesome! I absolutely adore getting comments like this! You will love SA! If you have any questions or need any info feel free to ask 😊

  11. Thanks for your article. I am South African and get more depressed from how expats down our country who do not live here themselves anymore than living here myself. Also I find talking to new overseas friends there is definitely a wrong perception out there. Bottom line of what I want to say is when we visited Italy and now going to Barcelona in our research we found warnings EVERYWHERE against crime as well, being mugged, being pick pocketed. It was frightening reading up on it and almost being mugged ourselves in Italy. But the point is, we felt we overreacted after reading everything. The point I am making is you will find it everywhere and people forget that. I do agree you have to be careful and streetwise and there is a lot of crime here yes, do not forget that and get yourself into a bad situation. BUT I so wish people would stop downing our country and never look at the positives. Thanks for your article on reflecting the good as well, as I am proud of our beautiful country and what we have been able to survive for so long. I pray it only gets better in the future and SAFER.

  12. Loving your adventures! I know every “township” has it’s good and bad areas to them. Thank you for sharing your tips on travel, and thank you for sharing your “life” with us! Have fun and be safe, and make a great memory!

    1. Thank you so much! I only have a few more SA posts so hopefully you’ll continue to follow me on my worldwide adventures 😊

  13. I appreciate your sharing your point of view, and the tips are great as well. You’re encountering other travelers, so you’re not completely alone at all times — otherwise, how would we see you in these photos. Some people are afraid to venture out even a little bit. One of my friends told me when I went to Madrid that I was either stupid or very brave for taking public transportation to my hotel instead of a cab. That kind of thinking can hold you back, and that’s one reason why solo travel is great.

    1. That’s absolutely right! Solo travel is never completely alone travel, travelling alone means making lots of new friends along the way.

      It’s a shame people have those small minded views, hopefully that sort of thinking eventually dissipates.

  14. Well said: I live in a small country town but I would not walk through the town centre on my own late at night. Common sense had to prevail where ever you go and that include the “more civilised countries”. I think we have one life and we must live it to the best of our abilities, otherwise we are wasting it. Think safe but have fun, that is what life is about.
    Regarding your point on begger’s; I do not give money ever, as in some countries young children are purposely maimed to help the family make a living, such things will never change while we encourage them by giving money. If you must give, make it clothing or food, a child’s shirt or skirt often mean a lot to a really needy family.

  15. Great post, and a hot topic as ones safety is frequently the fist thing that pops into mind when you tell people you are going there, like you point out. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Great posting, I’m always far too trusting in people – especially taxi drivers! It’s a good reminder to be sensible and aware of your surroundings. Happy continued ‘safe’ travels.

  17. Thanks to you and your blog posts about South Africa i am now saving to do a trip there, its somewhere that i never considered before but now im itching to go! i want to see and do all the things you’ve talked about and shown in your blog, i know its really cheeky but i would be so grateful if you could let me know the route you took and budget all things like that for activities such as the sky dive and cage diving things, i know you’ll prob do some posts about top places and all that anyway but i just want to get planning so i know how much i have to save!!! thank you so much for showing me what an amazing place South Africa is x x x

    1. I am so glad you are planning to visit SA! You will love it 😊 my next (and final) South Africa post will be all about my budget and should be up early next week. If you have any more questions after that, feel free to let me know! South Africa is a really affordable place to visit though! I was there 7 weeks and I was able to do it on around $30/$35 a day with some days being more and less expensive than others 😊

      1. Great thanks I can’t wait for the next post then 🙂 ive took note of the places with all the activities I want to do and all the places I want to go from your posts im planning already 🙂 it looks really affordable, when I was looking on all the links I was thinking omg I could tick off half my bucket list for cheap here. Your posts have really made it look so amazing and unique 🙂 x x x

  18. Thanks for sharing! I travelled solo for quite a few times for fun (and always for work). In fact, my work is related to travel so I get to meet with a lot of really cool travellers (which are my clients or travel media) around the globe. Recently, I met a lady from Zimbabwe who is such an inspiration to me. She has started her own travel agency years ago to share her love of South Africa and East Africa to other travellers. I learnt so much from her regarding Africa and I saw her passion to change people’s perception towards the country. I wish one day I can travel to South Africa as well as more parts of Africa and try the stuff you have done there. Although I think travelling solo to SA is a bit too exotic for me but the tips would be handy no matter how big/small the group is, thanks again!

    1. It definitely isn’t too exotic for you! You should definitely consider making your way to SA, there is something for everybody there 😊

  19. Thank you so much for this post!! I’m going to South Africa in November and I will admit that safety has been on my list of concerns. It seems like an amazing place and I can’t wait to visit 🙂 Thanks especially for the townships advice – I agree with you about tourist tours of places like this and I’d generally avoid them, but I’ve been wondering how to visit them otherwise whilst remaining safe as a solo female traveller. Going along with a trustworthy local is a great idea, and I’m in Cape Town for a conference so I’m sure I’ll meet some local people I can travel there with.

      1. I haven’t decided yet! Definitely at least a couple of weeks, possibly three. But I’m landing in Ethiopia first and doing a tour of Kenya & Uganda with a friend who lives in Uganda. I figure if I’m flying all the way there I might as well stick around for a few weeks!

  20. This is amazing. Your information is so accurate and true. I love how you made the best of it despite concerns from friends. I think most people only get what they see on the news and come to a conclusion that it’s not safe. Yes there are dangerous parts but you can still travel and live.
    Your comment about touring the townships is very interesting. I would think most people would see something wrong in touring impoverished places but they don’t. I guess it brings in a little something if tourists visit the area. I wish we had crossed paths I would have shown you whatever I could about beautiful South Africa. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

  21. This is great! I had some reservations about travelling South Africa but this just reinforces the notion that it’s safer than people think. Thank you for posting! I’ll get to planning 🙂

      1. No plans just yet, but it’s been on my list for a while. Maybe next year, when I’ve built up more of a plan!

  22. It’s just sad that people believe a female can’t do things by herself. I commend you for what you do! I have a friend who’s currently traveling the world alone and I’m super impressed by her too. She’s an inspiration. I’ve done some solo travel and certainly plan to do more. Carry On!

    1. It is sad! I still can’t believe in this day and age that people don’t believe in women doing everything for themselves! Thank you for reading, I hope you get to do more solo travelling soon 😊

  23. Thank you for this post! South Africa is definitely on my list and it’s always a little more reassuring when a fellow solo female has been there and done that. 🙂

  24. Not everyone is so enlightened. My family used to have a lot of worries but the fact that I’ve made it this far has them somewhat convinced I know what I am doing, I guess. =) You need to take precautions wherever you go. Cheers

  25. I have visited South Africa in 2008, and I fell in love with it. It truly has the loneliest of sunsets and the people that I have encountered are beautiful and warm. I stayed for an entire 3 months because there is so much to see and I fell in love with the people too. Definitely a place I’m willing to visit again. In my 3 months of stay, I have never witnessed a crime. I know that there is some legitimacy in the news about crime there, but over all, it is still a place that surely one must see. Can’t way to go back! and thanks for the wonderful write up!

    1. I agree with everything you just said, especially the part about the beautiful and warm people 😊 I can’t wait to go back too! Hopefully both of us will get back there in the near future.

  26. I enjoyed this post so much! South Africa is a place I’d love to visit but there were so many things about it I wasn’t sure of; however, your post has inspired me to go there someday. 🙂 I love how you covered so many details and did it from the perspective of a solo traveler, as most articles/books don’t really address that. Very helpful!

    1. I am so glad you found this post helpful, you should definitely think about going there one day, it’s a wonderful country and one that solo travellers should definitely not avoid.

  27. Thought really does make things, and if you expect the best in life; you receive it, and the same with: expecting the worse. Your Facebook commenter is obviously a pessimist 😀

  28. Thank you for clearing some misconceptions of South Africa. I am a white female living in Johannesburg since I was 4 years old and yes you do have to be cautious but I couldn’t see myself living in any other country because to me this is my home. I am so glad you enjoyed your holiday.

    1. Thank you for reading. Your home country is absolutely amazing and it really doesn’t deserve the negative press it seems to get. Hopefully people start to realise how wonderful the country is soon!

  29. Reblogged this on Soul-O-Sista and commented:
    South Africa (flying soulo) was meant to be my adventure this year. Alas, I have chosen Cuba instead. I must say, safety was one concern of mine. But more so, I decided that Africa was a destination I wanted to experience with someone (probably because most Safari trips are in tours and I hate tours. I would prefer a private tour for 2 or 3). It was though, extremely satisfying to hear (from Traveling The World Solo), that SA can be done (and enjoyed) by a fellow female Soulo traveler!!

  30. Just added you to my “linked” list on my blog. Why? Because your adventures tug at the strings of my heart and since many of my readers are “van dwellers” and nomads it seemed fitting. As always I encourage people to go out and adventure, even if it’s not at the level of path you follow.
    “Get out, Be safe, Go adventure.

    Love reading your travels, so keep on going and if you ever make it to the U.S. come see the Red River Gorge area. I know a pretty good guide. 😉

    1. I shall definitely keep that in mind! I’m looking at heading for Central American countries next year so I wouldn’t be too far away… 🙂

  31. South Africa is where I live. Your post about the safety in this country as well as the tips and advice are also well thought through and true. I don’t know if you’re still in SA but I’d appreciate it if you’d give a quick glance at my blog – I have posts on some nice trails in the Western Cape. Enjoy our country!

  32. Thanks for the great article. I wish I had the ability to roam freely when I was in India recently. But the company that I was working for restricted my activities in the interest of my safety. I will have to go back there later this year and I will keep your tips in mind when I “sneak” out of my hotel room to explore.

  33. Heck, you can get pickpocketed in Milwaukee and ripped off by a cabbie in Chicago. And people here in Charlotte run red lights all the time. Safe travel means planning and understanding, and you’ve got this down pat.

    Also, I’m glad you took on this adventure the way you did, to dispel the myth, but also to point out that it isn’t without caution that any of us should travel anywhere.

  34. I loved this post! Many of my acquaintances are anti solo travel in any form, so it can get discouraging at times. This was certainly a post that I needed to read.

    1. I understand that completely, so many people still dislike that I travel solo. But at the end of the day, it’s safer than most are aware and travel is something you do for yourself, not anyone else, so pay no mind to the negativity 😊

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