How To Stay Safe as a Tourist in Cape Town

This post was inspired by a question one of my favourite Women’s Travel groups that I enjoy using on Facebook. The question was, “Has anybody experienced crime in Cape Town? A friend told me, that (white) women aren’t safe there.”

The first responder was mature enough to explain that this question was bigoted and insensitive, without causing further offense, however, it did spark an interesting stream of comments.

Tips such as, “Don’t go out at night”, “Stay within the tourist areas” and “just use common sense” were advised, however, this advice is all relative as not everyone comes from the same level of safety in their home country.

As a female Capetonian, I thought it may be helpful to share my tips on how to stay safe in Cape Town.

10 Tips To Stay Safe in Cape Town

1. Can I Walk Around at Night?

“Walking around at night” is a bit of a general statement so here are a few examples that may assist you:

Can I walk around the V&A Waterfront at night? Within the mall, yes. This is a perfectly safe and secure mall, however, I would not walk away from the Waterfront after dark.

(Unless there’s a concert at Green Point stadium which literally sees thousands of people walk from the V&A parking to the stadium with lots of traffic officers around. This is safe.)

Can I walk around Long Street at night? Yes and no. If you’d like to cross the street or go to the club next door, this is not problem. Keep your head down (meaning, don’t engage with anyone vying for your attention), know where you are going, walk briskly and you should be safe.

If you’d like to walk from one end of Long street to the other, I would strongly advise against this. There are a lot of “dead” zones between the busy blocks that will make you vulnerable.

Street kids also beg or commit petty theft, which you don’t need to endure on your night out.

TIP: “Nice sneakers” is a DEAD easy way for you to go home with NO sneakers, wallet or mobile. By complimenting you, street kids often distract your attention while slipping out your wallet or mobile.

Can I walk back to my hotel? At night, no. Many tourists stay in Tamboerskloof, Bokaap or St George’s Mall, which are all within the city bowl and are easily accessed by a short walk. However, the city quietens down hugely at night and this makes you a target.

Get an Uber from Long street, V&A Waterfront, Fugard Theatre or Kloof street and avoid walking into any dark and quiet areas at night. Don’t get out until you can see your hotel, ensure they drop you in the lobby.

If you’re feeling worried, don’t walk. It’s not worth the safety risk and mission of trying to get your documents or valuables back if stolen.

I’ve personally walked around a number of parts of the city, over the years, for various reasons. I know it very well, but it has still been a risk doing it alone and I wouldn’t do it now. 

2. Securing Your Passport

There are many local and international members of the hospitality industry who take great pride in their positions within South African hotels. There are also, however, a great number of moving parts and people within hotels. This makes any person vulnerable and routing checks are important.

TIP: Every day, when you wake up and before you go to sleep, check if you have your passport, extra cash, valuables. Make sure you know when the last time you saw them was.

How Best to Secure Your Passport

My advice to best secure your passport, jewellery and cash would be to lock it in your hotel safe. As South Africans, this is what we do when we travel throughout the country. Here’s why:

  • You’re able to lock the same with your own code that no one else knows.
  • It eliminates the risk of being pick pocketed while walking in the city.
  • It reduces the risk of losing it while doing a physical activity (swimming with penguins, climbing Lion’s Head, kayaking in the bay).

Most importantly, it gives you a touch point that allows you to know where your passport was last seen. If you’re pick pocketed, you may only realise a few hours later. How do you begin to retrace your steps if you don’t really know when or where it was taken?

At least, if it IS stolen from your hotel room (which shouldn’t be possible in a safe), then you will absolutely know the last time you saw your passport and this may assist police, use of CCTV and staff members on duty to potentially find your passport.

This has never personally happened to me or anyone else I know.

3. Best Type of Handbag for Cape Town?

Sigh…All the beautiful handbags in the world so often grab my attention! But, before I can add them to my cart, I realise they are just not safe for practical use in South Africa. Why? Too easily accessible.

Beach bag type bags or bags with many outside pouches make it FAR too easy for eager criminals to use their “long fingers” (Afrikaans idiom for thieves) to steal items out your bag.

The best type of bag is one that can zip closed. This makes is tricker for criminals to infiltrate. If you can zip, clip and flip a cover over the bag, you’ll be winning!

For clubbing, try to use a clutch bag so you don’t take a lot with you and that it’s always in your hand. I do this these days and have had zero incidents.

I have had 2 mobile stolen off me, one out my bag in a bar, the second out my dress pocket in a club. I was drunk on my birthday though so wasn’t very discrete with my new iPhone. 🙁 

Good for the beach, not for valuables.

Clutches are good for clubs.

4. Should I Take Off My Jewellery?

This depends. For example, I wear a diamond engagement ring and travel around the Western Cape quite happily. I do, however, have my own vehicle and have control of where this ring is on display (like bars and restaurants).

Should I expect to walk down Long Street or around the city at night, I will leave the ring at home. If I go clubbing in Long street, I am likely to leave it at home as well. Remember, a luxury for you is a lifeline for others, don’t give them any temptation to “improve their lives”!

I have never had jewellery stolen off me personally, however, my friend had her necklace snatched off her neck right while we were leaving a club in a dodgy part of town.

5. Don’t Get Absolutely Smashed

Look, we all love a good party, but having your wits about you in a foreign country is best, particularly in South Africa. Unfortunately, stumbling out of pubs and clubs at 4am makes you extremely vulnerable so try to be sober enough to get home safely.

It also won’t harm to know where the nearest police station is just in case you do need to find your way there. Save it into your Google maps so you can easily access it should you need their services.

6. Can I Leave Things in My Car?

Preferably not. Your valuables are no more safe in a car than on you. The only time I will leave items in a car is if I’m at the mall, have too much to carry and want to have something to eat. I’ll go to the car, drop off my new purchases and return to the mall for dinner. This does not, however, include laptops, cameras, musical instruments, passports or cash. Keep those items on you at all times.

I have had my car broken into a number of times over the years (including in Woodstock this past July) even though I was parked under a street light. If the area is deserted, then your vehicle is vulnerable.

TIP: If you do have to leave anything in the car, ensure they are out of sight such as under the seat or in the boot/trunk. Do this BEFORE getting to your new destination. If people see you moving things to your trunk then they know you have valuables and may break. Make any changes before driving to your next location.

I have had so many things stolen out my car I could probably write a whole other blog post about it! The less valuable items you leave in the car, the better. (You 100% will not get them back.)

 

7. To Backpack or Not to Backpack in Cape Town?

Backpacks are great because they offer a lot of space without much effort to carry. They are not, however, great for keeping valuables safe.

If you are keen on hiking up Lion’s Head and would like to take a long a water bottle, towel to sit on, sunblock, a hat, etc. that is perfect for a backpack.

If you would like to walk around the city then either leave your valuables at at the hotel (so there’s nothing to actual steal) or don’t use a backpack at all. They are too easily accessed by thieves and will make you vulnerable to losing your possessions.

I only use backpacks for day time at festivals or visiting wine farms, haven’t had any incidents.

8. Checks For Uber

Uber is a fantastic service and I’ve personally never had any incidents with the service. Having said that, there have been a number cases where passengers have become victims of crime. To avoid this, use the following tips:

  • Check the number plate before getting into the Uber. There are a lot of similar cars, particularly in a busy areas. Ensure you get into the correct car when ordering an Uber.
  • Check the driver’s name is to be expected. Many Uber drivers do not own their own vehicles and actually drive cars owned by Uber. This makes many of the cars the same so check the name of your driver before getting in. When they pull up, simply ask, “Hey! Are you Simon/John/Sipho?” to ensure you’ve got the correct car.
  • Load your destination to Google Maps. There’s no harm in having a second route on your mobile to ensure you’re going where you want to go. It’ll give you a time estimate which will avoid being ripped off by taking the long way and it’ll help you know how close you are to “home”.

You’re not likely to be stabbed, but they will absolutely try to take advantage of you. This also includes using Uber to get home. Have a party, but make sure you are sober enough to be able to read the Uber number plate to ensure you are getting into the correct vehicle.

9. Don’t Put Things In Your Back Pockets

Oh gosh! The amount of times I’ve seen foreigners with their iPhones in their back pockets! My husband and I literally look at one another, shake our heads and say, “Bye phone!” You are LITERALLY asking for trouble, don’t do it! It’s too tempting for poor or devious people not to try and gain. Never put anything of value in your back pocket. Period.

10. Lock Your Doors

Whenever you get into your car, lock your car door. Street kids and criminals like to “smash and grab” meaning, they’ll rip open your door (or smash the window), grab your items and run for life. By locking the doors, you cut down the opportunity to access your items.

Also lock your front door at night to stop anyone entering your temporary home. If you have a window with an ledge on the outside, close the window as well. The cat burglars are rather talented in South Africa and you don’t want to invite them in!

*This has personally never happened to me, however, my husband did have robbers in his house a few years ago.

11. Where To Draw Money (bonus)

While cash back is available in some super markets here, it is a relatively new concept in South Africa. The best place to draw money is either in a mall or at a bank that has ATMs inside the bank.

Look out for ATMs that have a foyer, so to speak. There is often a security guard sitting inside the foyer which adds extra security. Try not to draw money at night, particularly not from ATMs inside cafes. There are a lot of people loitering around who will try to “assist” you, but they will simply assist themselves to your cash if you’re not careful!

What To Do If Something Goes Wrong

If someone does approach you and tries to harm you, let them have what they want. Causing bodily harm over a mobile or money just isn’t worth it. If you are in a dark place, immediately look for street lights and follow the cabling to a brighter location.

Immediately make your way to the nearest open shop, hotel or petrol station. Petrol stations tend to be open 24-7 in South Africa, someone there will help you and call the police. Often security company cars also park at the petrol stations and are on high alert.

Make a police report. Even if you have no hope of getting your things back, you can use it to claim on your insurance back home (if you are covered).

In Closing…

Cape Town is an incredibly beautiful city with loads to see, eat and do. Sadly, like many third world countries, there is a lot of poverty and financial inequality leaving millions vulnerable.

The people are friendly and proud, but daily life is a struggle here. Not just for the lower class, but for the middle class as well (families can no longer live on one salary). This makes people very sensitive about their money and value for money is extremely important to the people of South Africa.

When visiting, don’t be flashy with your possessions. Don’t be insensitive to those around you who have less than you do.

Tip 15% on your meals and tip the petrol attendants if they clean your windshield at the garage. A small gesture can go along way.

I hope you have the most amazing time in South Africa and if you’ve visited before and have any more tips for others, please leave them in a comment below. Happy visiting! And don’t forget when you leave the house, “Got the passports?”

 

 

 

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