20 Rules for Safe Travel in South
Enjoy a Culturally Varied and Naturally
Article by Pearl Harris,
photos by Tanya Linnegar
| The Hole in the Wall on the
stunning Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape, near the
town of Coffee Bay. ©Tanya Linnegar Photography.
I emigrated from South Africa to Europe
and re-visited recently. South Africa is truly a beautiful
country, with friendly, hospitable people, incredible scenery,
and incomparable wildlife. I believe that these qualities
are certainly more worthy of publicity than the crime and
other negative aspects. Indeed, I can think of no other
place on earth so rich in a diversity of scenic beauty,
wildlife, sights, sounds, music, and varied cultures as
| The Victoria and Albert waterfront
at Cape Town, with Table Mountain in the background.
©Tanya Linnegar Photography.
South Africa’s population is a
unique mix of Africa, Europe, and Asia. I can think of no
other nations with 11
official languages! Out the total South
African population of approximately 57 million, 44 million
are black South Africans, 4.6 million are of mixed
race, and 1.3 million are of Indian or Asian descent.
The white population is 4.8 million
(8% of the total population.) and descends mainly from Dutch,
German, French, and British colonial immigrants who came
to settle in the country between the 17th and 19th centuries.
The black South African population is comprised of the Nguni
people (Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi), the Sotho-Tswana,
the Tsonga, and the Venda tribes.
| The son of a Sangoma (traditional
healer) in a Xhosa village on the Wild Coast near
Coffee Bay. ©Tanya Linnegar Photography.
South Africa is renowned for its floral
wealth. The 553,000-hectare Cape Floral Region is one of
South Africa’s eight World Heritage sites. It
was declared by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee
to be of “outstanding universal significance to humanity” and “one
of the richest areas for plants in the world.”
The National Parks are among South Africa’s
premier attractions. The more than 20
National Parks in South Africa include the famous Kruger
National Park, the vast Kgalagadi Transfrontier National
Park, Addo Elephant, Golden Gate, Agulhas, Augrabies Falls,
Bontebok, Camdeboo, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Karoo, Madikwe, Mountain
Zebra, Tsitsikamma, and Wilderness National Parks—each
one with its own very distinctive character, flora, and
fauna. See SA
Places for a detailed map of the South African National
Apart from the numerous National Parks,
there are also many privately-owned game reserves. If you
wish to see “The Big Five” (buffalo, lion,
leopard, African elephant, and black rhinoceros) you have
a better chance of doing so in South Africa than anywhere
else in the world.
| In the Addo Elephant National
Park, the visitor gets really close-up to the elephants! ©Tanya
| Getting up close to a rare white
lion in one of South Africa’s game parks. ©Tanya
In South Africa, apart from “The
Big Five”, over 200 different species of mammal may
be observed. The Springbok (South Africa’s national
animal—made famous by the Springbok rugby players),
white rhino, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest (gnu),
warthog, monkey, hunting dog, hippopotamus, kudu, impala,
sable antelope, and hyena are but a few of these!
South Africa is also a bird-watcher’s
paradise with over 800 species to be spotted, including
the Ostrich, Kori Bustard, Tawny Eagle, Martial Eagle, Hornbill,
Lourie, Kingfisher, Lilac-Breasted Roller, Secretary Bird,
and South Africa’s national bird, the Blue Crane.
You will find most South Africans of
all races warm and welcoming, eager to show off their spectacular
land to visitors from abroad. If you get a chance to
meet a local family, you will no doubt be invited to share
in the ultimate South African experience, the braai (barbecue). South
Africa is keen to welcome tourists from abroad and to repair
the recent poor international image of the country. Accommodation
standards are high and you will enjoy an abundance of food
and drink—not least of all the famous “Castle” beer,
and outstanding local wines.
| A traditional Xhosa village
near Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast. ©Tanya Linnegar
Certainly, present crime statistics
are frighteningly high, but the visitor to South Africa
need not walk around in fear, provided that the necessary
care is taken to behave in a common sense manner, thereby
not becoming an easy target for criminals.
20 Common Sense Safety
Rules when Traveling in South Africa
If you heed the following 20
important rules, you will greatly minimize the
risks of becoming a victim of crime in South Africa
and instead be able to experience fully all that
this warmly welcoming, African country has to offer:
- In large cities, avoid
the central business districts at night.
- Never walk around any city
at night, even if you are part of a group. If
you need to go anywhere after dark, ask your
hotel or guesthouse to order a reliable taxi
for you. Do not just hail any passing taxi on
- When out walking anywhere,
avoid wearing flashy, expensive watches and
jewelry and carrying large amounts of cash.
Carry your camera unobtrusively in a bag, rather
than slung over your shoulder. Walk purposefully
as if you know where you are going and are not
a “lost tourist.” Hold your bag
close to your body and beware of pickpockets
and other confidence tricksters on the streets
and in crowded stores. Be aware of ATM theft—never
be distracted by a stranger asking for assistance
at an ATM!
- If driving in a car, keep
the doors locked at all times in city traffic.
Do not drive with the windows down. Disregard
any stranger who tries to confront you at a
red traffic light or stop street.
- When parking your vehicle
anywhere, do not leave any valuables or any
other possessions at all in sight. Put everything
in the trunk. Use a good steering-lock at all
times when leaving your car unattended. A lock
on the fuel tank cap is also an essential and
is fitted to nearly all vehicles. Use only a
removable car radio and lock it in the trunk
when leaving your car.
- You will find “car
guards” on duty in many city streets,
but they cannot guarantee the safety of your
car. You will be expected to tip the guard when
you return to your car—he is at least
a buffer of some kind against car theft or robbery. Only
use the services of a person wearing an official “bib” stating
that he is a recognized car guard.
- Distances between cities
in South Africa are large and gas stations not
all that plentiful, so be sure to fill your
tank whenever possible and ensure that your
car is in a good mechanical condition before
you set out on any journey.
- Travel with a good, detailed,
up-to-date map (available at most gas stations)
and plan your route in advance. Note that many
cities, towns and streets in South Africa have
undergone—or are still undergoing—name
changes, so it is essential to get the most
recent road and city maps available.
- Do not stop for any hitch-hiker
or other person seemingly in trouble on the
open road, in the street or at motorway off-ramps.
Drive on and report the incident to the Police.
Only stop at official Police-manned roadblocks.
Criminal gangs have been known to set up “roadblocks” to
lure motorists—either drive on past or
around these or turn back and report the incident
to the Police.
- Always travel with a cell
phone. The emergency number to call for the
Police is 10111. A functioning cell phone is
essential to carry with you at ALL times. Find
out before leaving home if your phone will work
in South Africa. If not, hire a cell phone when
- Before travelling to remote
areas such as the Wild Coast, check with the
locals as to the best route and the security
situation in the area. In general, the country
people are most welcoming and hospitable and
crime less common than in cities—but it
is wise to obtain recent local information before
venturing out on your own to remote areas. The
National Tourism Information and Safety number
to call is 083 123 2345—they will give
you up-to-date information on safety in any
- If staying in a hotel or
guesthouse, leave your passport, air tickets
and other valuables in a safety deposit box
at the reception. Carry copies of your passport
on you at all times. Keep photocopies of your
credit and debit cards in a safe place.
- Keep your hotel room locked
at all times and only open the door if you are
certain who is on the other side.
- Park only in areas which
are well-lit at night.
- Do not walk by yourself
in any lonely area such as a stretch of beach,
river bank, forest or the countryside without
keeping other people in sight at all times.
It is best to walk in a group at any time of
the day. Avoid walking in lonely areas (even
in groups) after dark.
- If you wish to visit one
of the African townships, only do so on an organized
tour, recommended by locals or by your hotel
- Be especially watchful
at airports or bus stations, where criminal
gangs are known to operate.
- Wildlife is plentiful in
South Africa—confined to the numerous
game parks and reserves within the country.
It is not safe to alight from your vehicle when
driving through a game park—except at
designated rest camps and picnic spots. Remember,
these are wild animals and you are a guest in
their territory! Do not attempt to approach
any animal too closely—if one crosses
your path, stop your car immediately and remain
silent. Avoid loud noises, playing the radio
or other music, shouting, hanging out of the
windows, pointing etc. and simply enjoy observing
Nature at her best.
- Always carry on you at
all times the essential numbers of your travel
and health insurance and important local phone
numbers to call in case of emergency.
- If you are a member of
the AAA, find out about affiliation to the AA
(Automobile Association) of South Africa—an
invaluable organization for the motorist, providing
all types of travel information and assistance,
route maps, weather, road information, and breakdown
services throughout the country.
Follow all the above safety rules and
do not be deterred from getting to know this very special
For More Info
South Africa has a wealth
of excellent accommodations for all price ranges,
and in all areas. The visitor is spoiled with
the wealth of choices, so it is wise to consult
the knowledgeable Automobile Association of
South Africa, unless you have contact with local
people, who would be able to recommend suitable
accommodations for you.
This comprehensive AA
database includes all types of recommended accommodations
from luxury hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses, self-catering
chalets and apartments, game and nature reserves,
lodges, caravan and camping sites throughout
South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi,
Seychelles, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, and
| Accommodations in South
Africa. ©Tanya Linnegar Photography.
The International Airports
in South Africa are Johannesburg (OR Tambo International),
Durban and Cape Town. Many other cities have smaller
airports e.g. Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg,
East London, George etc. SAA (South African
Airways) is the major domestic and international
Travel Within South
The traveler has various options
of getting around the country:
1) Organized Tours
Many companies organize
tours, either custom-made or on various tourist
routes: www.intrepidtravel.com or www.gadventures.com.
2) Inter-City Coach
3) Car Rentals
Car rentals are the best
bet for the independent traveler. It is also
the ideal means of seeing as much as possible
of the scenic beauty and wildlife in South Africa’s
game parks. It is wise to shop around. Numerous
car hire companies operate in South Africa,
Worth noting when
driving in South Africa:
- Drive on the left
- All road signs are
- Roads are generally
in a good condition and a 4x4 vehicle is
not necessary, even on unpaved country roads
- Beware of some erratic
driving, especially from mini-bus taxi drivers,
who are a law unto themselves! There
are also unfortunately many unlicensed drivers
and un-roadworthy vehicles on the roads.
Expect the unexpected and drive defensively.
- Automatic transmissions
are not the rule of the day, the majority
of cars having manual transmission, so do
request an automatic if you require it from
the car hire company.
- Any valid foreign driver’s
license which contains an identity photograph
is acceptable. If yours does not conform
to this, it is best to get an IDP.
- When asking for directions,
do not be surprised when told to “go
to the next robot.” No, you are not
in outer space, a “robot” is
the unique South Africanism for a traffic
4) Domestic Air
Considering the vast distances
between cities, this is probably the most convenient
option for the traveler on a tight schedule,
with the possibility of picking up a rental
car at any airport.
Apart from South
African Airlines, the following airlines
operate in and around South Africa. Shop
around for the best fares:
5) Rail Travel
the South African rail travel provider. However,
it is not advisable for the foreign visitor
to travel long distances by normal passenger
train, due to the criminal element. However,
for train-travel fundis, Spoornet has introduced
its Premiere Classe with 11 coaches accommodating
only 84 passengers, for travel between Johannesburg
and Cape Town (and return) twice weekly. The
trip between Johannesburg and Cape Town takes
25 hours and the route passes some of South
Africa’s premier tourist destinations,
but stops do not allow time for excursions from
The famous Blue
Train is for the traveler able to
afford real luxury train travel. There is
a one-way fare from Cape Town to Pretoria
per person. This includes accommodation,
all meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks,
and off-the-train excursions. For exact
fares, routes, and other information visit www.bluetrain.co.za.
Rovos Rail is
another exclusive train, known as “the
most luxurious train in the world.” offering
many different routes and traveling as far as
the Victoria Falls. For full details visit www.rovos.com.
6) Local Public
The visitor to South Africa
is not advised to use any local buses or commuter
trains. These are generally jam-packed
with commuters and not a good place for the
average traveler.The urban public transport
infrastructure is not to be compared to that
of Europe or the USA, and serves mainly the
huge workforce and local population, so is best
avoided by the overseas visitor.
Unless you are driving
yourself, in towns and cities, use only recommended
taxis—which have been ordered for or recommended
to you by your hotel or guesthouse. Thousands
of mini-bus taxis (usually white in color) operate
in and out of urban areas—these are generally not safe
for the foreign traveler to use.
Important Facts About
- Population: 57,000,000
- Currency: South
African Rand—at the time of writing
approximately R14 = US$1.00. One Rand = 100
- Code: ZAR
- Electricity: 220/230V
- 11 Official
Languages: Afrikaans, English,
Nedebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Tswati,
Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu. English
is generally understood everywhere.
- 9 Provinces: Eastern
Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal,
Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North-West,
Capital: Cape Town
- Time Zone: GMT
dialing code: +27
and Measures: Metric
Other Useful Websites
and Phone Numbers
- Emergency Services:
10111 (the equivalent of 911)
- Hotline for American Travelers:
- USA Embassy in Pretoria,
South Africa: +27 12 431 4000
- The South African National
Tourism Information and Safety: +27 083
AA (Automobile Association) of South Africa
Please note: Due
to regular fluctuations in the Rand-$ exchange
rate, all the above prices should be checked at
the time of travel using a currency calculator
Pearl Harris was
born in South Africa where she spent most of her life
before emigrating to the Czech Republic with her husband,
Ian, in 2002. Besides travel, her passions are writing,
photography, reading, and animals. She has a B.A. in
English & Linguistics, post-graduate Diploma in
Translation and TEFL qualification. Formerly an EFL teacher,
Pearl now freelances and you can find more information
on her website about her
work proofreading & editing.
Pearl has been widely published
in magazines and on the web. Her travel memoir, From
Africa to Buková, and the sequel Where is my Home? are available on Amazon.com.
Tanya Linnegar, Linnegar
Photography has authored an article on Coffee
Bay in South Africa for Transitions Abroad.