South Africa has a history of violence and disagreements between different ethnic groups. The Apartheid era has definitely had a major impact to what the country looks like today. It did not only affect South Africa, but also the rest of the world. As a result of this there are still several preconceptions about South Africa and many of them include security and safety.
Now we want to bust these myths, once and for all. We have asked our Product Manager, Katarina Mancama, to answer some of the most common questions when it comes to safety in South Africa. She has been living in South Africa for more than 10 years, grown to love it and now proudly calls it her home.
If I am traveling with children, are there any safety precautions I should take into account prior to my trip?
If you are renting a car, I suggest that you bring your own car seat for children. When travelling with small children, try to avoid malaria areas (Kruger National Park and surroundings, as well as the northernmost parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal). There are plenty of malaria-free safari options, both in North-West and Eastern Cape that we can suggest. South Africa also has a fair amount of dangerous ocean currents, so never let children swim without supervision.
– South Africans love children! It is actually quite normal for them to pick children up and give them a hug. It may perhaps feel a little uncomfortable for visitors, both parents and children, but it is only a sign of the great love they have for the young ones!
Is there anything you would like to bring to attention regarding general safety issues in South Africa? For example, where not to go, do´s and don’ts etc.
– In areas that tourists visit regularly, the largest risk is pick-pocketing and muggings such as bag-snatching. In the cities, act as you would in any city that you are not familiar with: stay in areas with lots of social activity (if you suddenly find yourself in an empty area, just backtrack), do not wear flashy jewellery or other valuables in a too obvious fashion (these days, almost everyone has a camera, or mobile phone, and this is fine but wear it with a strap around your neck or keep it in a bag when not using it). If you want to visit a certain location you are not sure about, consult with your hotel concierge. If you are still unsure, take a taxi rather than walking. In other words – be street smart – just like you would in any other big city that is new to you.
Outside of the cities, ask your hotel or guide what areas are safe to visit. It is a fantastic and memorable experience to visit villages and local markets, but do so in a safe and respectful manner. Do not bring or wear a lot of valuables. If you want to take photographs, always ask for permission first. And don’t just be the “observing visitor”; talk to people, ask them how they are and what they are selling. Buy a fruit or a drink from someone. This will enrich both their and your experience!
How are the hospitals like in means of insurance, medical knowledge and hygiene?
– South Africa has world-class private health care. However, the public (free) hospitals and clinics should be avoided. There are also well-stocked pharmacies in almost every little town. The most important thing is to make sure that you have a complete travel insurance. If you need a doctor or dentist, your hotel should be able to put you into contact with a suitable facility, otherwise a simple online search will help you. Make sure you call to make an appointment, and explain that you are an overseas visitor since some clinics are not able to accommodate people without South African health insurance.
Is the myth about “car jackings” true?
– Car jackings do happen. However, I have rarely heard of a tourist being the victim of one. Cars that are targeted are usually luxury cars and also, car jacking rarely occur in areas where tourists move.
Avoid driving at night (not just because of car jackings, but mostly because driving behaviour tends to be riskier at night; people speeding and driving under influence). Do not drive in townships unless you are together with someone that knows the area well. Also try to avoid empty industrial areas.
To what extent do I need to be concerned about dangerous animals?
– In general, there are not many dangerous animals in South Africa. If you are hiking, you need to keep an eye out for snakes (but in my ten years here, and as an active hiker, I have only seen one or two of them). The most dangerous animal you will encounter outside of the safari parks are probably baboons. Stay away from them at all cost; never approach one or try to feed them. You should also be very careful with the smaller (and much cuter, but nevertheless with sharp teeth and claws) monkeys. Be especially careful with those that show no sign of fear of humans.
On safari, you will be given a lot of safety rules. Never break these. If you follow the rules explained to you, the likelihood of anything happening to you is very small. The rangers (wildlife guides) know the animals very well, and can read their signals. They know when to back off, and give them some space. They also know when the animals are relaxed, and may allow them to come very close. Always listen to, and follow your ranger’s rules and you will have a great experience.
Travelling to South Africa will definitely be just as exciting as memorable. We will soon release some new, fully tailored tours where taste, memories and activities are in focus.