Is South Africa safe?

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 22.05.2024

Planning a trip to South Africa but unsure about safety? Read on for the answer to that all-important question — is South Africa safe? – to make your trip safer and more rewarding.

Is South Africa safe?

Like many popular tourist destinations around the world, South Africa presents a paradox of incredible experiences — from safaris and wine-tasting, to adventure sports and enriching cultural activities — alongside some safety concerns.

It’s fair to say South Africa’s crime rate is higher than that of many other popular tourist destinations. For example, in comparison with Canada, Australia and most European nations, where tourists can feel relatively secure pretty much anywhere, South Africa requires more vigilance.

However, for wider context, millions of tourists visit South Africa safely each year and enjoy incredible crime-free experiences. 

As with any travel destination that has a nuanced safety profile, the key lies in preparation and staying aware. It’s all a question of taking sensible precautions that’ll enable you to enjoy a safe and — in all likelihood — unforgettably rewarding trip.


Johannesburg, South Africa © Shutterstock

Crime-prone areas in South Africa

While it’s advisable to be vigilant wherever you travel, it’s worth highlighting a few areas of South Africa that are more prone to crime.

As is often the way with cities — no matter where you are in the world — places like Johannesburg, Durban and parts of Cape Town exhibit higher crime rates, including petty crimes like pickpocketing and more serious crimes like armed robbery. 

Particular areas within these cities are known for being riskier, such as the central business districts of Johannesburg at night, and less touristy townships around major cities.

While rural areas are generally safer in terms of violent crime, they’re not immune to crimes like burglary and car break-ins.

Cape Town, South Africa - aerial view © Mark Van Overmeire/Shutterstock

Wondering "is South Africa safe?" Many popular tourist areas are © Shutterstock

Safer areas in South Africa

Good news — some of South Africa’s most popular, most exceptional tourist areas are also good on the safety front, whenever you decide to visit.

For example, areas like the Kruger National Park and private reserves in the Eastern Cape are well-patrolled and considered very safe for tourists. 

If you're set on a South African safari, read our guide to how to plan a South African safari, or save yourself the hassle and book our customisable Kruger Adventure trip.

In addition, while certain parts of Cape Town face crime issues, major tourist areas like the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain, and the Cape Winelands are relatively safe, with robust security measures in place.

The same is true of the Garden Route. This popular stretch from Mossel Bay to Storms River is renowned for its beauty and safety, making it ideal for families and solo travelers alike.

Editor’s tip: read up on the best time to visit Cape Town and check-out our customisable Luxury Cape Town and the Garden Route trip.

Chacma baboon Kruger National Park, South Africa © Shutterstock

Chacma baboons, Kruger National Park, South Africa © Shutterstock

Pre-trip tips for staying safe in South Africa 

Here’s a checklist of general pre-trip tips for safe travel in South Africa. 

  • Check what vaccinations you need a few months ahead of travelling. 
  • Check travel advisories from reputable sources, like your government, and stay informed while on the road. 
  • Book accommodation in areas that are known for being safe and tourist-friendly. 
  • Plan how you’re going to get around — we cover that in detail below.

Want to cut-down pre-trip planning hassles? Our local experts can craft your perfect customised South Africa itinerary


Knysna, South Africa © Shutterstock

Getting around South Africa safely

Read on to find out how to get around South Africa safely by public transport, or on a self-drive trip. 

Public transport

While minibus taxis are the most ubiquitous form of public transport in South Africa’s cities, they’re not the best option for tourists. And the reasons? Driving habits tend to be somewhat erratic, they’re usually overcrowded, and the complex route system can be tricky to navigate.

In contrast, buses and coaches in major cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban are reliable and safer, with long-distance services like Greyhound, Intercape or the Baz Bus (popular among backpackers) being excellent options for travelling between cities. 

Find out more about getting around South Africa.

The Garden Route in South Africa ©  LMspencer/Shutterstock

Along the Garden Route, South Africa ©  LMspencer/Shutterstock

Driving in South Africa

In good news if you’re looking to take to the open the road, South Africa has a well-developed road network, especially the national highways and main roads in urban areas. Just note that roads can be poorly maintained in rural areas, and potholes are common.

As for the rules of the road, you drive on the left, and non-nationals should have a valid driver’s license from their home country, ideally accompanied by an International Driving Permit. 

Speed limits are generally 60 km/h in urban areas, 100 km/h on secondary roads, and 120 km/h on highways.

When it comes to safety, lock your doors while driving and never leave valuables in plain sight in your car. Be cautious at traffic lights and stop signs, especially at night, as vehicle break-ins can occur.

It’s also advisable to avoid long road trips to isolated areas without a reliable navigation system or pre-planned route.

Fancy taking to the open road in South Africa? Take inspiration from our self-drive itinerary.


Umhlanga pier. Durban, South Africa © Shutterstock

Staying safe on safari

It goes without saying that going on a safari in South Africa is truly exhilarating. To ensure your safari experience is safe and memorable, here are a few simple tips.

First up, you should choose a reputable safari provider that prioritizes safety and environmental conservation. Making your life easier, established parks and reserves like Kruger National Park, Addo Elephant National Park, and private reserves in the Sabi Sands offer professional services with experienced guides.

It’s also important to follow the instructions given by your guide. They’re trained to handle close encounters with wildlife and know how to react in emergency situations.

Except in designated areas, you should remain inside the safari vehicle at all times and wear neutral-colored clothing (browns, greens, and khakis) to avoid attracting wildlife attention.

As well as wearing sunscreen, it’s advisable to wear long sleeves and trousers to protect against the sun and insect bites.

Lastly, be sure to respect wildlife and the environment. This means no unnecessary noise that might disturb wildlife, no feeding, and no dumping of trash. 

Fancy mixing city sights with safari experiences? See our customisable South Africa Gems itinerary.

Or how about an active trip, like our Cycling South Africa’s Garden Route itinerary?

Kruger Park, Limpopo, South Africa © Rich T Photo/Shutterstock

Rangers in Kruger National Park, South Africa © Rich T Photo/Shutterstock

Safety considerations for solo female travellers

Before booking anything, research the safest neighborhoods for accommodation, and know the areas to avoid. Social media groups and travel forums can provide up-to-date advice from other female travelers.

In general — and this applies to all solo travelers — it’s safer to travel during the day, and to be cautious when meeting new people.

Note that public transport and taxis can pose risks, especially at night. Apps like Uber are generally safer than hailing taxis on the street, and it’s best to avoid public minibus taxis.

Lastly, it’s worth having a local SIM card with data for live GPS tracking and emergency calls. 


Feeling reassured and ready to plan you trip? Get The Rough Guide to South Africa and read up on the best things to do in South Africa.

Not keen on planning? Browse our customisable South Africa itineraries before talking to our local experts to kick start curating your dream trip.

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 22.05.2024

Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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