Cape Town is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world with lots of things to see and do. Unfortunately it’s also regarded as one of the most dangerous. A long history of political, economic and racial struggles has led to high rates of crime in certain parts of the city and safety concerns. But don’t let the negative hype put you off. As with any big city, it’s a matter of being streetwise, sticking to the safe neighborhoods and trying to avoid petty crime. Here are some tips on how to make your time in the great city of Cape Town safe and trouble-free.
Know where not to go
Most major tourist spots such as the V&A Waterfront and the Atlantic Seaboard (Mouille Point, Camps Bay and Clifton) are safe and well patrolled by police at all times so stick to these parts of the city. You’re likely to spend quite a lot of time in the City Bowl too, where petty crime does occur, but just have your wits about you. Although crime rates are higher in the townships, it doesn’t mean you should steer clear of them altogether. They’re interesting places and people are friendly but it’s more advisable to visit them during daylight hours with a local guide or someone who lives there. Steer clear of Cape Flats in the east of Cape Town, as it’s one of the most dangerous areas. For more detailed information about the safety of different neighborhoods in the city, here is a useful map.
Don’t walk alone or at night
Where possible, take private or public transportation instead of walking long distances in the city, particularly if you’re on your own or it’s nighttime. Always stick to busy, well-lit areas. During daylight hours, public transportation such as the trains and buses are perfectly safe to use. When taking a taxi, make sure it’s a registered one and if you’re going to uber it, double check the license plate matches the number on your phone before you get in the car.
Don’t be flashy
Try to be inconspicuous when you’re out and about. Keep your expensive, flashy jewelry at home and avoid waving around your smart phone or fancy camera equipment on the street. The more you look and act like a tourist, the more you’re a target for petty crime. Avoid carrying around large sums of money with you too. Purse snatching is common so, if you are going to carry a purse, make it a small one that you can wear across your body and keep a tight grip on.
Carry a dummy wallet
Another trick is to carry a dummy wallet around with you containing a few old credit cards and a small amount of cash. If anyone approaches you, you will be prepared and can offer the person your fake wallet, while your real wallet is safely tucked away in a secret pocket.
Lock your car doors
Car break-ins and car jackings are extremely common in Cape Town. If you decide to hire a car or use a car while you’re in Cape Town, keep the doors locked while driving and keep all your steal-worthy items hidden away when you leave the car parked. If you can’t find a proper parking lot, you’ll see unofficial parking attendants on some streets, who will “watch” your car for you in return for a small tip.
Be aware and go with your gut instinct
Be aware at all times. If you are walking somewhere, pay attention to what’s around you and keep your head up and looking alert so that no-one catches you off guard. Stick to busy roads and if you find yourself down a quieter street, turn back and head for civilization. If a stranger on the street approaches you, step into the nearest store or try to catch up with other people walking ahead of you or behind you.
Be careful at the ATM
To avoid debit card crime and scams, play it safe when you’re taking out money from the machine. Only use ATMs that are part of a bank or inside a respected store or mall. Card scammers are common and they will take your debit card information when you insert your card in the ATM.
When in doubt, ask
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from the right people. Avoid asking people on the street but, if you need assistance, go into the nearest hotel, restaurant or shop. The locals working in these places are generally friendly and willing to help.
For more information about staying safe in Cape Town or if you’re unfortunate enough to be affected by criminal activity, this website is a useful source of information.
If you’ve spent time in Cape Town and have any other safety tips or would like to share your experiences, please do so in the comments section below.