Is it safe to visit Cape Town
7 minute read09 Apr 2020
Cape Town is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that’s world-renowned for its incredible beauty, outstanding biodiversity and stunning destinations. Affectionately known as the Mother City, Cape Town attracts hundreds of thousands of travellers to its beautiful shores every year.
Is it safe to visit Cape Town? Yes, definitely… as long as you practice good travel common sense and avoid doing anything or going anywhere in the Cape that puts your life and the lives of your family and travelling partners at risk.
Emergency numbers for Cape Town
To report any safety incidents, visitors can call the following numbers:
112 All emergencies from your mobile phone
107 All emergencies from a landline
10111 South African Police Service (SAPS)
10177 South African Fire & Rescue Service
What is 10111?
10111 is the police emergency number in South Africa. It’s the same as the famous 911 in America.
If you are a victim of a crime, you are witness to a serious ongoing crime or your feel your safety is threatened: call 10111.
A Flying Squad patrol vehicle will be assigned to the case and dispatched with all haste.
CAPE TOWN : WHY IT’S ONE OF THE BEST CITIES IN THE WORLD
In 2019, Cape Town was chosen as the world’s top tourist city for the 7th time in the international Telegraph Awards. Some 39 000 Telegraph readers cast their votes for their favourite holiday destination and Cape Town came out tops, trumping magnificent cities such as Vancouver in Canada (2nd place) and Kyoto in Japan (3rd place).
A representative of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Opportunities and Asset Management attributed it at the time to the fact that “thousands of travellers voted for Cape Town as the best city to visit as a result of the hard work delivered by the City’s Place marketing team and its destination marketing partner, Cape Town Tourism”.
Cape Town is the second-largest city in South Africa and, while Johannesburg is the economic hub of the country, the Mother City is the tourism epicenter. The list of places to visit in Cape Town is endless; from breathtaking tours of the iconic Cape Peninsula and the vibrant City Bowl to the windswept shores of the West Coast and the lush, fertile valleys of the Cape Winelands.
The city of Cape Town is rich in history and has its roots in the Dutch East India Company, followed thereafter by British colonial rule. There was no indigenous tribe found in the Cape at the time. When the seafarers sought refuge in the sanctuary of the safe bays of the Cape coastline, they built the city from scratch.
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The need for cheap labour that was brought in from as far afield as Indonesia, Malay and India for both building and agricultural needs gave rise to Cape Town’s rich multi-cultural diversity. Today, Cape Town is home to a diverse population and its melting pot of cultures is one of its most endearing features.
It goes without saying that stunning scenery, beautiful beaches and its rich fauna and flora are what make Cape Town one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit but that’s not all that brings tourists to the fairest Cape.
The Cape is famous for its outdoor attractions which makes it the ‘Playground Capital of South Africa’ (competing for the title with KwaZulu Natal). And in the past two decades, Cape Town has firmly established itself as one of the ‘Gourmet Capitals of the World’. Cape Town offers travellers a smorgasbord of culture, nature, outdoor adventures and a world-class wining and dining.
What’s more… you don’t have to sacrifice a Big 5 safari tour if you only have time to visit Cape Town. The Cape boasts a choice of superb Big 5 safari destinations that are located within reasonable travel distance for the Mother City. While these safari destinations don’t compare with Kruger National Park on sheer scale and diversity, they still offer tourists a wonderful safari experience in spectacular bushveld settings.
KEEPING TOURISTS SAFE IN CAPE TOWN
Tourism is the lifeblood of Cape Town and the city has worked hard to ensure its visitors are safe and enjoy nothing more than wonderful memories during a holiday in the fairest Cape. At the same time, Cape Town - like many regions in South Africa - battles with socio-economic issues, where there is a great divide between the affluent and deeply-impoverished communities.
This gives rise to trouble spots in Cape Town with high levels of violent crime, gangsterism and a raging drug trade. These problem areas are mostly restricted to the impoverished townships and suburbs that tourists rarely visit and therefore, are not exposed to the socio-economic issues that affect these communities.
Cape Town Tourism has worked tirelessly to improve and bolster security measures within the city. The Cape Town Safety and Support Plan as well as a devoted Visitor Support Programme strives to simultaneously prevent crime and address the root cause of criminal elements as well as assist any tourists affected by criminal activity.
The tourist-heavy areas in Cape Town are well protected and there is a strong security presence in places that attract foreign tourists. This includes the large shopping and entertainment centres, Cape Town City Bowl, national landmarks and the major tourist attractions.
CAPE TOURIST NO-GO AREAS
The Western Cape faces extremely high levels of crime and violence. However, it’s well known that violent crime in the Cape is concentrated in micro-locations, such as specific communities, blocks of streets, parks, shopping malls, taxi ranks and township taverns.
Almost half of all violent crime perpetuated in the Western Cape is recorded in just 10 police stations. The Top 10 Murder Police Precincts in the Western Cap have remained unchanged in the past decade. Tourists must avoid these areas at all cost, particularly at night and over weekends.
The Top 10 no-go areas to avoid on a holiday to Cape Town are:
- Philippi East
- Harare 164
- Mitchell’s Plain
- Bishop Lavis
Cape Town is a ‘city of two cities’. The one that tourists see and the one that is out of bounds. The poor communities of the Cape Flats experience at least 90 to 95 percent of the crime while the Cape Town City Bowl, Atlantic Seaboard, Southern Peninsula and northern suburbs experience very little crime. These areas are generally only affected by street muggings, house break-ins and petty localised crime.
In the Western Cape, gang-related crime is the biggest issue and tragically gangsterism has its roots in the province’s turbulent history. Domestic violence is the third most-common factor driving up the crime statistics in the Cape and again, lies rooted in alcohol and drug abuse in the impoverished communities. Another product of the city’s past.
HOW TO KEEP SAFE ON A TRIP TO CAPE TOWN
Use common travel sense that applies to any big city in any country around the world. Keep to the main Cape Town tourist attractions and don’t go to places that are no-go crime hotspots.
Let’s look at the more risky aspects of a holiday to Cape Town and how you and your travelling party can keep safe.
Book day and overnight tours with a reputable tour operator.
This is not a marketing line but wise advice, considering the fact that tour operators make the safety of their clients a priority.
Firstly, the popular tour operators in Cape Town know the places they take visitors to very well and know what is safe and what is not safe in those areas.
Secondly, there is safety in numbers and if you are travelling solo around Cape Town or as a couple or pair; you’re better off booking a tour and joining a group to visit the places you want to see.
Cape Town is one of the easiest destinations in South Africa to get around on a sightseeing holiday. You can book a seat on the double-decker ‘hop on/hop’ off buses that are operated by the City of Cape Town. They’re safe to use and cheap for overseas travellers.
Car hire safety
Car hire is very reasonable for overseas visitors and having your own car gives you the freedom to come and go as you please. For this reason, many people visiting Cape Town opt to hire a car from a reputable car hire company and enjoy a self-drive holiday.
This is perfectly fine as an alternative to joining a tour group but make safety a priority. Road safety is a problem is South Africa and car accidents tragically claim many innocent lives. Stick to the main highways and main roads and avoid driving in areas with poor lighting. Keep to the speed limit and be aware of other drivers so you can take corrective action quickly.
The top tips for driving around Cape Town in a hired car are:
- Keep the windows shut, particularly driving through built-up areas where you’re stopping at traffic lights and intersections. Hire a car with air-conditioning so you don’t need to wind down the windows on hot days.
- Keep the doors locked. Do this as soon as you get into the car and make it a habit. This is to avoid petty criminals at traffic lights opening one of the car doors and grabbing valuable items.
- Keep valuable items out of sight. Preferably, hire a rented car with a proper boot. This is so you can put items such as your camera and laptop in the boot while you’re driving. You don’t want to keep them on the seat because this makes you a target for a ‘smash and grab’.
- Top up your fuel tank regularly. Don’t risk breaking down on the side of the road because you’ve run out of petrol. Play it safe and fill up before driving off for an outing. That way, if you misjudge the distance, you won’t have a problem with an empty fuel tank.
- Know where you are going. Hire a car with a GPS device or download an app like WAZE that you can use for directions to the places you are visiting. Before you leave your hotel, put the destination into the GPS app and familiarise yourself with the route.
- Avoid travelling after dark. Plan your day so you’re back at your hotel before or just after the sun goes down. If you plan to go out for dinner, choose a restaurant close to your hotel so you’re not travelling far and on unknown roads after dark.
- Park your car in parking lots that are well guarded. Most tourist hotspots have official guards supplied and trained by Cape Town Tourism. The big shopping malls employ full-time guards to watch cars and all they expect is a nice tip when you return to your car.
If you go out at night, only park in well-lit parking lots that are right next to the restaurant you’re going to or in underground parking that has good security.
- Keep important numbers on your phone that you can call if you get into trouble, such as a breakdown service or the local police number. Car rentals should provide you with the names of tow companies that clients are allowed to use. Don’t hesitate to contact the car rental company if you’re concerned that the car you’ve hired has a mechanical fault.
Cape Town has a well-functioning train system but it’s not recommended for tourists. There have been incidents of muggings on the Cape trains and more recently, incidences where trains have been burnt during protests over service delivery.
If you do take a train from the Cape Town City Bowl to the southern suburbs for a fun family outing, make sure you only travel during the day and get back on the train and to your hotel before the sun goes down.
Uber is available in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. Uber the safest mode of transport for tourists in Cape Town who don’t want to hire a car. However, it’s your responsibility to use the international driving service with caution.
Uber prices are quite reasonable for foreigners but you might find them a bit hefty in peak holiday periods. Ask the Uber driver to quote you on the estimated cost of the drive before you take off. Uber uses a ‘dynamic pricing’ model during busy seasons which go up heavily when the demand is high and are reduced massively when demand is low.
Uber introduced a call-line to an incident response team for all Uber passengers in South Africa. The call-lien links you to Uber’s Global Incident Response Team and they’ll get in touch immediately with the police or response team if you find yourself in trouble on an Uber ride.
It’s wise to have this help-line number in your phone on your Uber app to call in any emergency. If you feel uneasy when an Uber driver pulls up, don’t get in the vehicle. Always check the driver matches with the driver’s details sent to you via the Uber app.
How to access customer support line
- Open the Uber app
- Select the menu button (top left-hand corner)
- Select HELP
- Select CALL SUPPORT
- You’ll then be connected to the support team
Can’t access the Uber app?
If you’re a driver looking to get in touch, please dial 0800172957.
Riders can access the support line by dialing 0800172956.
In an emergency where a crime as been committed, call 10111.
or use the in-app emergency button which connects you to Uber’s third-party security providers.
The most important safety tip is ‘don’t flash cash’ when you’re out and about in Cape Town. Tourists stand out like beacons to robbers at the best of times and if you’re ‘flashing your cash’, you put a target on your back. Visit the main tourist attractions with just enough cash to pay for entrance fees and snacks and refreshments and use a banking card for other purchases.
Like any country in the world, it’s a good idea to bring with you a travel banking card. This should have enough money transferred into it for daily activities and purchases. If it’s swiped or skimmed, you won’t lose too much money.
If you need to withdraw money, avoid using an ATM on a street; particularly in remote or isolated areas. Rather, go to a large shopping centre and withdraw money from an ATM inside the banking mall. Don’t withdraw large amounts that get people’s attention. Draw less, more often.
Keep your wallet in a handbag or travel backpack that you can keep close to your body and won’t be pick-pocketed. Tips like ‘don’t hang your handbag over the back of your chair’ are common sense, regardless if you’re on holiday in Cape Town or going out in your hometown.
Jewellery and valuables
Just like cash, don’t flash your expensive jewellery and valuable items when travelling around Cape Town. Leave your expensive jewelry at home and keep your cell phone, laptop and big camera out of sight in your backpack.
The only wild animals you’ll have a problem with at the main tourist hotspots in Cape Town are baboons. The baboon troupes that cruise the tourist hotspots on the Cape Peninsula have become quite pesky and can be quite aggressive.
Don’t feed baboons and monkeys and keep food and drinks out of sight. If you’re parked at a scenic lookout point, keep your windows closed if there’s a troupe of baboons around.
Cape Town is growing in popularity as the ‘new Big 5 safari destination’ in South Africa. Many visitors like to combine a holiday in the Cape with a safari tour of one of the popular game reserves in the province.
You know what to do… don’t hang your arms out of the window or sit on the car doors if you’re watching a pride of lions. Listen to the game ranger if you’re on safari tour in an open vehicle and never wander off into the bush on your own when there are wild animals in the area.
In case you were worried, wild animals don’t roam the streets of Cape Town. Animals with big teeth and sharp claws are kept safely behind fences in the private game reserves. You don’t have to worry about walking into a lion in Cape Town on a trip to the shops.
Cape Town is a malaria-free province and all the popular Big 5 safari destinations in the Western Cape are located in malaria-free areas. The fact that the Western Cape is a malaria-free area is one of its major attractions, particularly for holidaymakers with young children.
Malaria is only an issue if you’re visiting the Kruger National Park and private game reserves in the northern parts of South Africa. It’s then advised you take anti-malaria tablets to avoid getting ill. Malaria is a life-threatening disease if not caught and treated early.
Cape Town has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world which is why hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers descend on the area for a beach holiday. The Atlantic Ocean is icy cold on the Atlantic Seaboard and starts to warm up on the Fish Hoek and Muizenberg size, otherwise known as the ‘Surfing Capital of the Cape’.
Sharks are only a problem if you go swimming and scuba diving in areas that are not protected by shark nets and shark spotters. The main beaches in Cape Town are generally safe and you’ll be told to get out of the sea if a spotter sees a Great White lurking in the waves.
Swim between the red flags and on the beach side of the shark nets. This will keep you safe from dangerous currents and insight of the lifeguards.
Cape Town nightlife
Like any big city, Cape Town has its fair selection of nightclubs and party spots that are notorious drug dens. Either stay away from these areas on a night out on the town or be extremely careful when you visit these popular party streets.
The biggest problem is drink spiking, where drugs or alcohol is added to someone’s drink without their permission with the intent of doing something nasty. This could be anything from sexual assault and robbery to kidnapping.
If you’re a party person and want to experience Cape Town’s vibrant night life at places like Long Street and Bree Street in the Cape Town City Bowl, be very, very careful. The clubs and pubs in these busy nightspots are notorious for drugs and drink spiking,
Follow the same rules and common sense you would back home. Never walk around on your own after dark, buy your own drinks, never accept a drink from a stranger and never let your drink out of your sight. Party with friends you trust and if you’re on your own, be very careful who you make friends with because not everyone can be trusted.
Cape Town’s gang warfare and drug trade
We won’t beat around the bush. Cape Town has a serious problem with gangsterism and a very active drug trade. Again, much of the violent crime in Cape Town is isolated to areas with extreme gangster and drug dealing problems. The area with the biggest problem is the Cape Flats, or the Flats as the locals call it.
It’s not known exactly how many gangs there are in the Western Cape Province but gang membership has been estimated at more than 100 000 individuals. The prominent gangs are well-structured and make the bulk of their money from buying and selling illegal leisure drugs such as heroin, cocaine and dagga.
Of more concern are the ‘cheap drugs’ such as tik (crystal methamphetamine) and nyaope (as street drug that’s a mix of serval illicit drugs). The authorities have even resorted to using ‘foot soldiers’ in the townships tormented with extreme gang violence, which are members of the South African Defense Force. They have some success for a while but it’s a battle the authorities and poor community members will wage for a long time.
Gangsterism in the poorest areas in Cape Town has its roots firmly embedded in the city’s traumatic past. The devastating forced removals by the old government of South Africa during the apartheid era set off a chain reaction that gave rise to places like the Cape Flats which have become a breeding ground for the worst criminal activity in the country.
Enforced under the Group Areas Act, hundreds of people classified as Coloured were moved by mass eviction to areas that were barely inhabitable. Dumped there, the Coloured communities lost all sense of family unity and were grossly neglected in every sense from healthcare, infrastructure, schooling and social services.
It was a social tragedy that would see the whole culture of the Coloured people ripped apart and values of kinship, brotherhood and family began to disintegrate. One of the biggest problems that came out of this era was the collapse of social control over the youth, made worse by high levels of unemployment.
Out of this tragic scenario emerged socio-economic problems and the emergence of violent gangs. The harsh living conditions in the Cape Flats saw fierce gangs forming and an increasing use of knives and handguns.
The impoverished communities of the Cape Flats continue to battle under the strain of poverty and neglect and today, live in fear of the brutal Flats gangs. As mentioned, at least 95% of violent crime in Cape Town occurs in these no-go areas and more than half are reported through 10 hamstrung police precincts.
The government and policing authorities have a war on their hands and have even resorted to military intervention in the worst-hit areas. There is little the average man-in-the-street can do except stay safe by staying away from these notorious gang lands.
For international tourists, the Cape Flats and surrounding informal settlements must be avoided at all costs.
CAPE TOWN COVID-19 UPDATE
Cape Town attracts an estimated 3 million international tourists each year but the Covid-19 crisis of 2020 saw these numbers plummet in an effort to flatten the curve and contain the coronavirus outbreak.
A travel ban was imposed and the whole country was put into lockdown in March 2020 under instruction by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Like the rest of the world, we wait with bated breath for the crisis to abate so we can welcome back foreign visitors to Cape Town.
For the most up-to-date Covid-19 safety information for South Africa, please consult the WHO.
For information on travel to Cape Town in 2020, consult the official website for the Western Cape Government.