Signal Hill, Cape Town, South Africa

Short answer: yes. But read to prepare…

Some cities really seem unfair. Cape Town, South Africa sits near the Southern tip of the world, with crashing waves, jagged picture perfect mountains and a city built along heavenly coast line. It’s one of the very best places in the world to eat, relax, surf and unwind and its residents are amongst the very friendliest anywhere. Yet for many travelers there’s just one tough question: is it safe to visit Cape Town?

The answer is yes, but there’s a lot you need to know…

chairs on a deck overlooking a cityHow Safe Is Cape Town Overall?

St. Louis, Missouri, USA had more murders per 100,000 people than Cape Town last year. There is definitely crime and extreme inequality, but that’s true everywhere and most Cape Town crime occurs outside of main tourism areas and does not involve tourists. Putting things in perspective:

South Africa holds a “level 2” travel warning from the U.S. State Department, which is the same level held by the United Kingdom, Spain, Barbados and Italy. The warning was recently updated after a bout of violent crime, predominantly in Johannesburg and other parts of the country.

Basically, If you’d visit one of these other countries like Spain, you should consider South Africa equally. Most tourist crime involves theft and muggings.

Driving From  Cape Town Airport

Know this: during your drive from Cape Town (CPT) Airport to wherever you stay in Central Cape Town, you’re going to see more poverty than you were possibly prepared for. These areas, known as “townships” are heartbreaking, and you will see them. They are an important reminder of what a privilege everything in life is, especially travel.

Crime is very high in these regions but they are far removed from what the Cape Town tourists see and experience, and that’s definitely by design. Though it’s a nice thought, don’t get any big ideas about wandering into these townships with goods to help or honorable intentions, because you will leave with nothing if you do and maybe even less.

a landscape of a city and mountainsExtreme Wealth Disparity And Crime

Much like Rio De Janeiro or Cancun, where vast pockets of wealth are juxtaposed by extreme poverty, there will always be an element of crime. Sticking to Central Cape Town one should feel safe and easy. It’s totally ok to stroll along the waterfront. Cape Town is a city where private tours are affordable and recommended, especially if you plan to go further afield to explore up and coming neighborhoods or head out to coastal areas on day trips.

For anything which feels “maybe we should ask”, asking a hotel concierge is always a good idea.

That doesn’t spell out the obvious, which too many people need spelled out. Cape Town is a city where it’s best not to wear your Rolex out at night. The Diamond ring should get tucked in a hotel safe too, as should any real valuables. It’s common sense after dark in New York, so it shouldn’t be any different here. Wear that stuff, you may get robbed – but that’s true in every major city of the world. Flaunting is rarely in good taste, and that’s especially true in cities with such disparity.

When possible, venture out with at least one friend, loved one or fellow traveler.

While also extremely safe, it’s good to get driving directions and advice if you’re heading out to amazing local areas like Constantia, Hout Bay, Mowbray or Claremont, which are really cool, but less sheltered by the very active police presence you’ll find elsewhere in the most touristy areas. Go, they’re great – just be smart about it. You don’t want to get lost in Mitchell’s Plain after taking some wrong turns, that all.

35857495 - colorful bathhouses at muizenberg, cape town, south africa, standing in a row.Getting Around Cape Town

Uber is extremely reliable and shockingly cheap in Cape Town. In addition, many hotels provide complimentary shuttle services to popular evening areas, and even if this isn’t proactively offered it’s worth inquiring about while making plans.

Many of the best restaurants and bars are in areas which are largely safe, but areas you may not want to walk all the way home at night. Always write down the number and address of your hotel and keep it in a safe place. Most restaurants know the story, and will offer to ring your hotel while you pay your bill so that a shuttle will come collect you.

When renting a car, be very mindful of where you park and leaving anything at all in the vehicle. This is not unique to Cape Town, in fact San Francisco encourages the same, but you just don’t want to draw attention to your belongings. Always use GPS and be sure to plan routes to avoid prolonged time in rough areas.

You Should Really Go

Cape Town is simply remarkable.There just aren’t many places where you can enjoy unmatched natural beauty, great hiking, surfing, beach time and also explore some of the finest cuisine and culture in the world. It’s where the world’s best Michelin starred chefs go for inspiration. Side trips to Cape Point and to nearby game reserves bring South Africa full circle, and there’s hardly a person who’s been who wouldn’t put it atop their list. Don’t let fear win. Just be smart about it.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Great article. Very useful and relevant advice. 9 years ago we traveled to South Africa for the World Cup. Had reserved tickets 11 months in advance and about 4 months out got cold feet after reading all of the negative stories about the country. Called Delta to cancel the tickets and by chance got a reservation agent who knew South Africa (not sure if she was South African) and encouraged me to not be fearful and to reconsider. I actually did, and we went. It didn’t help when on the shuttle from the (new) Durban airport to downtown an Englishman told us “you know why Americans come down here to visit? Because you all are too naive to know how dangerous it is!” Hmmmm. Although not reassuring, it turned out to be the most amazing trip we’ve ever taken. We saw the poverty in Joburg and Rustenberg which is heartbreaking, but that was tempered by meeting some of the most friendly and amazing people one would encounter anywhere. Visiting St. Lucia and the Apartheid Museum were highlights (in addition to the World Cup games and visiting wildlife parks!). We are glad we went. As a country, SA has come a long way but has a long way to go. As you state, just practice being smart about your surroundings and don’t be flashy.

  2. Well done. You seldom read anything as balanced as this. As a South African who used to live in a Cape Town (now in NYC) I concur – be sensible and you will be fine! It’s am amazing country to visit.

    1. Thanks Bob, means a lot. I’m a huge fan of Cape Town, always love going back and wanted to give a really fair look. Glad to see you think that’s been accomplished!

  3. Great article. We are actually in cape town right now and totally living it. Brought my in laws and a 19 month old baby. Be careful like you would be in any country and you will be absolutely fine. Gorgeous country, lovely people, amazing food and extraordinary atmosphere. Don’t be discouraged by the statistics… totally worth the visit!

  4. Used to live in Pretoria, South Africa…the entire country is amazing, minus political and racial (reversed) bias now.
    Cape Town remains the best of the best Mother Earth can offer, wonderful people, cozy atmosphere, wild night life and incredible hotels! A week of vacationing there still warms me up, some 20 years ago!
    Be a Man amongst Men and all is fine!

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