This post was inspired by a question in one of my favourite Facebook travel groups, “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 and immediate precinct, 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? Long street was once Cape Town’s most famous clubbing strip and still hosts many venues to this day. It has, however, become increasing unsafe since the Football World Cup, which saw many upgrades to other parts of the city – driving most young clubbers away from Long Street.
If you are visiting bars or clubs in Long street, it’s safe to walk short distances between venues, cross the road, etc. However, it can become very crowded with slow-moving traffic, street stalls, beggars and pickpocketers. So keep your head down, be clear where your next destination is and move with purpose.
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 to opportunistic crime.
TIP: “Nice sneakers” is a VERY 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.
What’s the Alternative?
Most students and young professionals have moved one road up to Bree street. You’ll be amazed at how the energy shifts just a few hundred feet away from Long street. Keen to know where we go? Click here to find out.
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 or Kloof street and avoid walking into any dark and quiet areas at night. Ensure the Uber drops you at the hotel foyer, not nearby, for the most safety (and cameras).
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 routine 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 touchpoint that allows you to know where your passport was last seen. If you’re pick-pocketed, you may only realise a few hours later, which makes retracing your steps difficult.
At least, if it IS stolen from your hotel room, you will have an absolute last point of contact, will be able to request hotel camera footage of who entered your room and will assist any staff members in collaborating with the police.
This has never personally happened to me or anyone else I know.
3. Best Type of Handbag for Cape Town? Zip, Clip & Flip!
Sigh…to all the beautiful handbags in the world that I wish I could use, I’m sorry. But most of you are just TOO accessible for the South African lifestyle.
Beach bag type bags or bags with many outside pouches make it an easy target for eager criminals’ with “long fingers” (Afrikaans idiom for thieves) to steal items out of your bag.
The best type of bag is one that can zip closed. This makes it 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 my person; 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. 🙁
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 out you or your belongings at risk.
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
As much as we all love a good party, it’s best to keep your wits about you in a foreign country, 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 ok with them getting stolen. This means I often don’t double down on work errands because I won’t leave my technology in the car. If you are insured though, of course you can take the risk.
I have had my car broken into multiple times (even when there was nothing to steal), so the less admin you need to deal with, the better.
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 once you’ve parked, then they know you have valuables and may break in.
7. To Backpack or Not to Backpack in Cape Town?
There certainly is place for backpacks in Cape Town, but not in all scenarios.
- Good – hiking, which will include a waterbottle, towel to sit on, sunblock, hat, etc.
- Bad – Walking around the city with all your valuables in it.
Try to keep your city walking bags to a minimum size, just big enough for your camera and wallet. Less is more in this instant. For festivals, moonbags or pockets are best. Again, less is more.
8. Checks For Uber
Uber is a fantastic service and I’ve personally never had any incidents with them. In saying that, there have been a number of reported incidents 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 on the app and once you open the door. 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 into 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”.
It’s always good to message a friend to let them know you’re on your way home or have arrived home. There’s a South African meme which says, “Text me when you get home.” Basically to always ensure you arrived safely.
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 often 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 the poor or devious to not resist. Never put anything of value in your back pocket. Period.
10. Lock Your Car Doors, Lock Your House Doors
As soon as you get into your car, lock your doors. While criminals may still “smash and grab” – which is when they smash the window to grab your possessions on the passengar seat, locking your doors immediately gives you safety.
When you go to bed at night, lock your front door (and any other doors). If you have a window with a ledge outside, close and lock those too. The cat burglars are like parkour experts sometimes! So just ensure you have locked yourself in for peace of mind.
11. BONUS TIP! Where To Draw Money
While cashback is available in some supermarkets here, it is a relatively new concept in South Africa. The best place to draw money is at a bank with a banking hall (various ATMs inside a foyer with a security guard) or at a petrol station where it is well populated.
I never withdraw cash from cafe ATMs (unless an emergency) or on street ATMs. I personally feel too vulnerable and prefer to drive somewhere safer.
What To Do If Something Goes Wrong
If someone does approach you and tries to harm you, give them your possessions. Causing bodily harm over a mobile or money just isn’t worth it.
If you are in a dark place, 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 through your insurance back home (if you are covered).
Cape Town is an incredibly beautiful city with loads to see, eat and do. Sadly, like many developing nations, there is a lot of poverty and financial inequality leaving millions vulnerable. South Africans are incredibly sensitive about money (particularly value for money) so don’t be flashy with your possessions (unless you’re in a club that welcomes that culture).
The people of South Africa are friendly and proud, but daily life is a struggle. Tipping 15 – 20% in restaurants (not takeaways) and leaving a small tip (R20) for the petrol attendants who fills your tank and cleans your windshield is the norm.
I hope you have the most amazing time in South Africa! If you’ve visited before and have any extra tips, feel free to leave them down below! Happy visiting and before you leave, “Got the passports?”