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How safe is it for a woman travelling on her own around South Africa?

edited October 2010 in - Southern Africa
Hi everyone,
I'm planning a trip to South Africa over winter (Summer in South Africa) during my December and January break. I'll be travelling around the country on my own. I'm a 26-year old young woman. How safe will it be for me to travel through South Africa, are there any areas I should avoid?

My vague itinerary:
Land in Johannesburg - see Soweto, and the Apartheid Museum.
Travel to the Kruger National Park - stay at a bush camp and see the Big Five
Travel back to Johannesburg and then fly to Durban - visit the beaches and St Lucia
Back to Durban and fly to Cape Town - more beaches, Table Mountain, Cape Point, Robben Island, wine tasting.
Hire a car and drive to Knysna and then to the Eastern Cape.
Return to Cape Town before flying home.

Will it be safe for me to drive on my own? I've heard about people that have been robbed at gunpoint or mugged...which city is the most dangerous?


  • South Africa is a lovely country and your itinarery sounds good and well plan but note that you can drive on your own since is your first time to south Africa and for robbery is not just common as you think but you have to be 100% careful on places you go and who you interact with.
  • edited 1:27AM
    Thanks for your reply g_b_t. I'm really looking forward to my trip. Are there any other places you could recommend? Shoul I see more of the West coast? Also what health concerns should I be worried about - is Malaria a big problem in South Africa, some websites say that I should take Malaria medication but others say that I needn't worry, what do you think?
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hi Footloose:)
    I lived in SA for 40 years and finally left ...due to violent and senseless crime.
    My do not travel alone, do not hire a car and BE VERY CAREFULL.

    South Africa is a beautiful country ...but sadly, rape,car hijacking,murder,mugging and robbery...are EXTREMELY HIGH.

    So go but TRAVEL IN A LARGE GROUP> SAfety in numbers.

    TAKE CARE out there.
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hi footloose,

    I currently live in South Africa and while I do not disagree with the previous commenter's experience I'd like to say that you'll be fine travelling here.

    South Africa is an amazing place and provided you go in with the right positive mindset you're sure to get the most out of your trip. I'm a single woman and I've travelled around the country on my own many times to a whole range of different places both remote and in the larger cities and I've had nothing but positive experiences with people.

    I think that you should always bare in mind that like most countries crime does happen, be it petty theft or violent crime. If you take the usual precautions and use common sense you'll be fine and you'll get to experience this really beautiful country properly.

    Hope you have a great trip.
  • edited 1:27AM
    South Africa is a great place to travel. We traveled a group of five friends that had gone to Africa last year and it was a wonderful trip. We hired a car there from .We booked the car about 2 months before. It was a well planned trip. Travelling anywhere foreign in the world holds a risk – it is not the environment you are used to, that’s why you are a tourist and therefore more prone to mis-happenings.
    But at the same time, many people travel their whole lives without a hitch, it is all about being sensible and sometimes taking a step back and think of where you are.
  • edited 1:27AM
    I was there earlier this year and you will be fine! The drive from Johannsburg to Krugar is a fairly lengthy drive depending where you are planning to enter the park. There will be plenty of safe places to stop along the way. We drove ourselves all the way from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town and there are definately a few places you don't want to stop the car but since you are flying you will be fine. Stay in Camps Bay area of Cape Town and you will love it. Very safe and it has dozens of wonderful restaurants on the beach. We walked home every night to our accomodations without worry but you can park right in front of the restaurants. Take a trip out to the wine country and I highly recommend Ernie Els winery as it is awesome. However, always keep an eye out when you are driving though a poverty area as there will be thousands of people on the road and they will approach the car. Just like here in Memphis, don't go where the crime is and keep your windows up and doors locked. Most places that you might get 'highjacked' are actually signed 'hot spot for highjacking'!
  • edited 1:27AM
    Wow, Thanks for all the responses everyone.
  • edited 1:27AM
    hi. i am new here in SA and i must say this is such a lovely country with so much to offer for tourists. however, i don't really recommend for you to travel alone. go with a group, i can not over-emphasize this. if you plan to drive, bring a gps with the latest SA road map. enjoy.
  • edited 1:27AM
  • edited 1:27AM
    I agree with Charlieking. I have lived here for 35 years but am packing up to leave. In the past few days a tourist has just been gang raped in Bloemfontien whilst taking a morning stroll through a park; 3 tourists were mugged drawing money from an ATM machine; 2 Germans were held at gunpoint whilst having their breakfast at a guest house and 5 South Africans have been murdered (that we know of). You folk from overseas have no idea what goes on in this country and you may well have a holiday without incident but you are taking a chance going it alone. South Africa is a beautiful country and leaving will be hard but I'd rather live in a safer country.
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hi I am proudly South African, my daughter has just come back from Israel via Ciaro where you can't even go for a camel ride incase you get kidnapped, in Israel armed soldiers walk around in the dinning room while you enjoy a meal. You would not travel on your on around America without being careful nor would you travel around Britain or Europe without being careful. Don't take lonely walks anywhere parks, beach etc, don't pick up hitch hikers, when drinking in a bar or night club never leave your drink unattended always make sure that you see your drink being poured and never trust the barman or drink too much. Be careful at atms, never carry too much cash and expensive equipment. This is good advice no matter what country you visit.
  • edited 1:27AM
    How is safe in Durban, for a woman travelling alone
  • edited 1:27AM
    My Comments - from a South African who were attacked 6 weeks ago in Johannesburg and broke my Collar bone. Thank God I am still alive!

    Land in Johannesburg - see Soweto, and the Apartheid Museum.

    - 80% chance of getting hichjacked / Raped.
    This statistics is due to Anti-Apartheid, else it would have been a save country.

    Travel to the Kruger National Park - stay at a bush camp and see the Big Five -

    5% Chance of being caught by a wild animal.

    However there is a company called City bug to transport you from Airport to Nelspruit where you can hire a car.
    Travel back to Johannesburg and then fly to Durban - visit the beaches and St Lucia - Beautifull places

    - 50% chance of getting murdered

    Back to Durban and fly to Cape Town - more beaches, Table Mountain, Cape Point, Robben Island, wine tasting.

    50% chance of getting mugged

    Hire a car and drive to Knysna and then to the Eastern Cape. Farely safe

    Return to Cape Town before flying home. Good idea
  • edited 1:27AM
    @Leslie a woman travelling alone in Durban is quite safe. You'll of course want to avoid wandering around in dodgy areas like South Beach or the townships, but I used to walk around the city centre and beach daily and never experienced a problem.

    Of course there is a risk of crime in South Africa, especially when you travel alone. But one of the best things about the country is how easy it is to make friends along the way.
  • edited 1:27AM
    as a South African,It is a real beautiful and attracting country,come to South Africa and see places of the origin such as robben island,soweto,kruger national park and go to the beaches with south africans,yes crime exists,but if you make friends with people early no body can identify that you are a foreigner or a visitor as we have different languages and we are different people,the robbers are also foreigners in South Africa because they come from their countries and be the burden in South Africa,It is hard to control the crime in South Afria, but we have hosted the World cup perfect,you have seen by yourself that many people were arrested for trying to commit crime,were foreigners.The President of South Africa excellence Jacob Zuma delivered the State of Nation Address on the 10 Feb 2011.He mentioned that the crime rate in South Africa has reduced by 6.3%,hoping soon there will be much difference,what will stop you to not come to South Africa as you see that the state or the president of the country is considering the crime,nothing to fear,just book a good place and recognised place to stay only

    come one, come all,South Africa is the country for making businesses and is the country which loves all those who loves it,In South Africa we got independence in 1994 but there is no fight no matter the Afrikaaners were treating our parents bad,as youth,we are just one nation,we just try the way of surviving by studying and work wherever we want. if you also come and get better education and do whatever with main purpose ofdeveloping,"let me tell you deveolpment is not only by doing even by talking", you are welcome and you will get enthusiastic excitement from South Africa

    by Luvuyo Cebo
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hi Footloose

    South Africa is a great country to visit, and your itinarery sounds like it covers most of the must-see places! Do not obsess about your safety, just take the normal precautions that you would take had you visited any other country, such as not walking around or parking in deserted and poorly lit areas at night. You should be fine!
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hi Footloose

    There is a reason I'm not in South Africa anymore. Yes it is a beautifull country but there is only two ways you visit it.
    1.You go with a tourgroup
    2.Get life insurance your family would apreciate the payout.
  • edited 1:27AM
    @ExSouthAfrican - what utter nonsense. It is disappointing to see how many ex-Saffers troll bulletin boards looking to vindicate their decision to leave by persuading other people not to come! South Africa was one of the very few countries that grew tourist numbers last year, and exit-interviews showed tourist's positive experience of the country to be higher that any other major tourist country.
  • edited 1:27AM
    David F, I agree with you - these people who leave South Africa because they cannot stand CHANGE in our country and then they write all kinds of crazy stuff in these blogs! Well, I am a proud South African who is here in USA to study and return home and I am sad to tell you all that the world is the same. People get pit-pocketed here in the subway/metro (train) and not so far from the White House (DC) our car window was smashed and they took off with our stuff one night. A guy walked into my friend's place one night and attacked her. Trust me, all these incidents happen in the calmest, nicest surburbs here in America.

    Anyway, I can go on for days but my point is- you have to BECAREFUL wherever you are and like your mama taught you "Don't talk to strangers".

    To the original poster: Go on & enjoy South Africa, I was there for three months visiting and I was safe and so are my friends and family. Just watch your back and don't flash $$$; as you wouldn't anywhere else in the World!
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hi Footloose, if you've not been yet - SA is great. I am single and travel SA and neighbouring countries on my own all the time. Be aware of the risks (there are areas in your own country that people will not dare go into!) - e.g. don't go into Soweto by yourself (I don't and I live here), go with a tour group. Same with the bush camp, etc. If you've not been here yet (not sure of original date of your post, you may have been in SA Dec 2010), let me know and I'll give you some recommendations and mode of transport, safety, etc. You will love it!
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hello, Roads to Roam.

    I, too, will be seeking your tips on safe travel, accommodations etc., as I will be flying into Johannesburg in October for two weeks throughout SA.

    Here's where I do have transportation all ready arranged from friends: From the airport to Pretoria and at sites within Pretoria (close by) and I will have accommodations that they arrange that are safe. And, once I arrive into Port Elizabeth, friends who will also provide guest accommodations on their personal property with private security already in place.

    Now, Here are my concerns:

    1).Travel from Pretoria into Limpopo province (taking in Kruger and other magnificent sites)...and travel within Limpopo (around Polokwane, around Kruger and to a reputable bush camp in the Oliphants area (Royal Oliphants Lodge - fortunately with group safari guides added into the camp package). I will be alone staying at the Lodge, and in these occasions of travel and sightseeing (except for the guided safari from the bush camp, The Big Five, etc).

    2). I must travel alone from Pretoria into Port Elizabeth to meet up with my friends. Honestly, I am quite nervous about this...and I am quite experienced in traveling. I have to make sure it's during the day (of course) and I hope I don't get lost (I'm pretty good with directions, etc. Is an easy trip...straight forward or can one get lost easily?).

    3).Also, I will visit certain parts of the Cape while staying in Port Elizabeth, so my travel from Port Elizabeth into the Cape...and around the Cape....and of course, back to Port Elizabeth. (can these feasibly be day trips?) I will want to walk around Cape Town...and look out over the Cape (Cape Point with it's magnificent views).

    4). Then, finally, From Port Elizabeth back in to Johannesburg for my flight back to the USA. Can this be done in a day ...and in daylight hours in October?

    Okay, safest mode of transportation in these scenarios? Anything else I need to know that I haven't considered?

    Assuming you are willing to provide it, can't tell you how much I appreciate any help and information from you. Thank you so much!!
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hi SATraveller, I suggest you get a map and start looking at the distances involved in the excursions you're planning. For example, Port Elizabeth is a good 8 hours drive from Cape Town, so not really a day trip. And Pretoria to PE by road is a 12 hour drive. You should fly from OR Tambo to PE, and from PE to Cape Town. Both flights on discount airlines are both quicker, cheaper and safer than driving. Once in Cape Town, rent a car or book tours to the places you want to see.

    As for prices, if you book in advance, a flight on from Johannesburg to PE will cost around R600 ($100) one way, whereas the petrol alone would cost around R900.
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hi, DavidF...

    Thank you so much for taking the time to offer suggestions. I do appreciate it.

    The idea about plane travel to the Cape area is excellent. However, I would fly into Port Elizabeth from PE, instead (where my "hub" base and accommodations are arranged). Then, from Port Elizabeth to Cape is hours? Wow. That was the area I had not researched, yet. Staying in Port Elizabeth as that is where my business consults are located...and wanted to do some sighting for a day or so at the Cape (Cape Point, specifically) while staying in Port Elizabeth. For the excursion from Port Elizabeth to Cape town and then back, is train travel and option in that area vs. plane or rental car? (then I can rent a car while in Cape Town, stay the night or two there and take the train back to Port E.) If so, is it a fairly safe mode of travel? If local plane fare is so inexpensive, that might indeed be an option vs. train...but, I would like to know if it exists as consideration.

    Thank you again so much!
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hi SATraveller,

    There isn't much in the way of train travel in South Africa, and those that are available are either cheap, filthy and not very safe; or ridiculously expensive and very slow. I would echo Dave's suggestion that you rather fly to get the most out of your time. There are several local budget carriers like Kulula that will even sell you a flights + rental car package.
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hi SATraveller - you can fly PE to Cape Town return on for about R750 each way - gets cheaper if you book in advance. The flight is less than 1 hour. TRain is not a viable option. You could also get a night bus like Greyhound or Cityliner, which is around R400. Driving is another option because the Garden Route is really beautiful but it takes a full day and it sounds like you need more time on your hands. Happy travels..
  • edited 1:27AM
    I am traveling with a group of 30 women to South African in December. We are traveling to Jo'burg and Cape Town. I am a bit concerned about attire. Could you please suggest what to wear or more importantly not to wear. We do not want to attract a lot of attention yet do not want to be under or inappropriately dressed. Please help!
  • edited 1:27AM
    My husband and I just returned to the Bay Area (California) after a two week visit to South Africa, including Jo'burg, Madikwe Game Preserve, Wine Country and Cape Town. The hospitality of strangers was amazing and gracious. The scenery spectacular. The food was overwhelmingly good.

    Everywhere we went we were constantly warned about crime and personal danger. We did not experience any threats or have any bad experiences. We drove to Madikwe and back to Jo'burg, and also drove from Cape Town to Wine Country and around False Bay. Although we were more cautious than normal (we do, after all, live in an urban, mixed race, and relatively speaking high crime community in the US), the constant emphasis upon personal safety in South Africa creates a level of anxiety which I have not experienced anywhere else on my travels. My assumption is that the concerns are valid --- everyone knows someone who has been attacked, robbed, raped --- but also that the fears are exaggerated. South Africa is a county in a cultural/societal transition and a country with enormous economic disparity. It has no established "normal" and no history of a legitimate police force. It will probably take a long time for any sense of security to occur in South Africa.

    By the way, as incipient senior citizens, we were probably good targets for any spontaneous or orchestrated criminal efforts. Or perhaps we looked too dilapidated/frail for anyone to make the effort to accost us?
  • edited 1:27AM
    Hey i would add that Summer in South Africa is very hot..
    if u like the climate it would be quite enjoyable for u..
    thanks for sharing a great information.......
  • edited 1:27AM
    SA is absolutely beautiful. But please do NOT travel alone. The rape stats are very high in SA, and the crime rate has spiralled out of control despite the attempts by the Government to deny this. Violence is at a premium, and robberies are no longer just a 'purse snatching', but more often end in gross bodily harm and very often in death. The police are extremely corrupt and offer little or nothing in the way of assitance should an occassion arise and you need that assistance. Hospital ER Rooms are packed with gun shot victims and rape victims. It breaks my heart to say all of this - I was born and raised here and in my view and in all my travels there are few places that can compare to the beauty of our country. But unfortunately we are heading towards a Zimbabwe situation at a very rapid rate. An example 2 weeks ago in a very nice neighbourhood 2 sisters were stopped by policemen, raped and beaten. The policemen got off on R2000 bail, and have returned to work. At dinner parties everyone has a horror story to tell. It's more uncommon NOT to have endured some form of violence or trauma. Incredibly sad but true. Visit a country where you will be safe, or travel with at least 2 male companions. Be safe!
  • edited 1:27AM
    With all due respect, the post above is totally alarmist and paranoid. As a woman who has personally travelled around South Africa alone, I wouldn't hesitate to tell anyone to visit South Africa. You'll find very friendly people and may even meet up with travel companions on your way.
  • edited 1:27AM
    Go...but be aware of your surroundings, don't go anywhere out of the ordinary, make sure that there are always people around you. South Africa is a safe place and it's a dangerous place but then so is any city in the world! I am an ex South African that lives in Australia. I lived in South Africa (Joburg) for 31 years...loved it and I travel back whenever I can. South Africa is beautiful!! I have read all the above blogs and agree with most...but what most don't say is that you can get yourself into trouble by going to the wrong place and that can happen in most major cities. Do some research and you will be fine. Travel safe and you will be fine...LOVE SOUTH AFRICA
  • edited 1:27AM
    I have lived and travelled in many countries in Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia, so would like to give a comparative perspective. South Africa is simply more risky in terms of crime against the person than any country I have experienced with exceptions of some undergoing a war at the time. This is a plain fact, there is a lot of denial in South Africa and many have little experience of living in other countries or of the comparative crime figures and so do not appreciate how far from the norm South Africa is. This is not to say South Africa is not worth visiting , it does have some beautiful landscapes, it is easy to travel into and out of and an English speaker will be able to communicate in most areas of the country (you may struggle in rural areas but someone will usually be on hand and friendly and willing to help). In reference to an earlier post, the police are hopeless but no less so than many other African countries, it is just thrown into contrast by the high violent crime rate and theft. If you are looking for "off the beaten path, see what comes along, sample the confusing local culture" kind of trip then do not do this alone in South Africa (further North in Africa, South America, Cuba or Southern/ East Asia would be a better bet). If you want to see the sights in the guidebook and use tour operators to sort out the itinerary and transport then you'll be fine.
  • edited July 2012
    Once again I'll disagree. South Africa is among the best backpacking destinations in the world because of its great value for money and tourist-friendly infrastructure. Websites like are a great resource for looking up budget accommodation and planning meandering routes.

    I've taken many spur-of-the-moment trips, and even run into some difficulties, and have always found people willing and eager to assist. The police in South Africa are much better than many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and whatever their faults they take crimes against tourists very seriously.

    It's always a good idea to have a basic plan for itinerary and accommodation when you travel (this South Africa travel guide can help), but remember that backpackers and hotel staff have a vested interest in keeping you safe, and usually have the best advice on which areas of the city to avoid.
  • edited 1:27AM
    My family and I (my husband and two children, ages 5 & 7) have booked tickets to Cape Town (5 days) and then onto Kruger for 5 days. We are flying to both destinations via Jo-berg. We are coming from one of the lowest crime rate States in the US (we don't lock doors etc..). After reading these posts, I am ridiculously scared and having a lot of regret in booking this VERY expensive family trip. My children are huge animal lovers and we know everything about the BIG 5 but never seen them in person. I have been dreaming of traveling to South Africa for years, but after all our plans are in order, now I am fearful that I'm taking my children into a bad environment. Am I being a negligent mother bringing my precious family to a city where the murder/rape rate is so high? We have scored the internet about the crime (probably not a good idea). My husband is having nightmares of having to defend his family against criminals. I'm not sure what to do? We will be out thousands of dollars at this point to cancel but this message board has vastly differing opinions regarding safety. Any thoughts from others would be greatly appreciated.
  • edited 1:27AM

    Many thousands of tourists travel to Cape Town and Joburg every year without incident. I come from a similar place in the US originally, but have lived in South Africa for nearly a decade and would not hesitate to tell anyone in my family to come visit. South African expats especially love to bang on about how the country is unsafe, corrupt, and a generally terrible place, but those of us who are here love it for what it is. If you follow some very common-sense guidelines, you'll have no trouble:

    -Listen to the locals (hotel staff, etc) as to where you should and should not go.
    -Avoid walking around at night (exceptions are tourist-friendly places like the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
    -Do not wave around expensive cameras and jewellery when out in public (you can definitely take pictures with nice cameras, but put them in a bag when not in use).

    Please don't cancel your trip, you'll have a wonderful time and come back with amazing memories of an unforgettable trip! Feel free to ask any specific questions you might have, I'll do my best to help you.
  • edited 1:27AM
    Thank Anya K. I feel much better knowing that you live there are are fine. I know we will be careful and not go out at night or near the townships. We are experienced travelers but haven't really travelled much these past 10 years. Its so different with children because you start to think about safety in a whole different way. Thanks for your advice.
  • I am shocked at some of the comments coming from South Africans! Thanks Anya K and DavidF and others who have commented and assured tourists that it is safe to visit our beautiful country.

    I grew up in one of the most violent residential areas in Cape Town, Mitchells Plain, which is actually considered a township and not a "regular" residential area. I have never felt that my life was in danger. MOst of the violent crimes in our townships are related to gang violence and drug abuse, these do not affect tourists. The common crimes tourists should be aware of which occur in Cape Town are petty crimes such as pick pocketing and possibly "smash and grabs". The smash and grabs occur at traffic intersections in or around townships and mostly occur when a female is alone in her car and has something clearly visible like a handbag or cellphone on the front or back seat.

    Walking around in tourist hot spots are definitely safe. If you dont plan on going into a township then you will be perfectly fine, chances of getting robbed are almost non-existant at tourist hotspots. You should be concerned about pick-pocketing in the CBD so keep your valuables safely packed away in your backpack or travel bag.
    Hiking alone is not a good idea no matter what country you are in so hike in groups, there have been a number of incidences where tourists have been robbed while hiking alone...robbers will generally approach you and ask for your money and cellphone. Easiest way to avoid this is hike in a group, dont carry loads of cash on you, dont flash your cellphone out and about, but like I a group you would be perfectly fine. If you are ever faced with a situation like this its best to just hand over what they ask for and move fact a fun way to solve it would be to keep some small cash somewhere LOL like R10 or something so if they approach you that's what you hand over LOL, its not a traumatic experience at all if you handle it properly and stay calm of course.

    Most tourists want to see our townships and I would say the best way to do so is to go with a local person. Especially in Cape Town. Walking around in a township is fine actually especially if you're in a group, most of the people and kids in townships find tourists super interesting LOL and they will stare at you and talk to you and want to pose for photographs haha. A lot of the people who live in our townships barely ever get out of the township especially kids, which is why they are so fascinated by tourists, I have met people who have never seen the ocean yet they live 10min drive from it, people who have never seen the city yet a taxi is R10 to the city and a train even cheaper.  If you're with a local person you'll have a blast of a time and they'll be able to take you to all the interesting spots. Sometimes it could be sad to see how most of the people in our townships live but overall its an eye opener and definitely a fun and exciting, colorful culturally diverse trip for a tourist.

  • All very good points, thanks Zoobizkit! Many tourists do want to have some experience of a township, so the safest way is to find a local guide or go with a tour group.
  • edited June 2013
    Anya K ,i agree with you that South Africa is among the best backpacking destinations in the world
    because of its great value for money and tourist-friendly
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