Safety in Cape Town - Travel Safety Tips

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Cape Town is a popular tourist destination because of its natural splendour and countless tourist attractions. Whether you are travelling alone or in a group, Cape Town is a very welcoming place and quite safe for tourists during the day and at night. It also boasts of excellent sanitation and is a very clean city; you are at very low risk of facing any health issues. The most popular areas, such as the city centre, tend to be the safest owing to increased police vigilance, but other neighbourhoods are also fairly safe. However, as is the case with most places, Cape Town registers several cases of crime, especially in certain townships, which is mainly due to extreme poverty. As a tourist, you might have some unpleasant experiences (depending on where you are in the city) such as pickpocketing, scams, mugging and maybe even harassment, although the chances are very low. This means that you must be vigilant and take all the necessary precautions to avoid any mishaps, especially at night. 

So, here is all that you need to know about safety in Cape Town:

Crime Risk in Cape Town

While no city is completely safe for tourists, Cape Town records more cases of crime than many other tourist destinations. Some of the most common risks you might encounter here are as follows:

Pickpocketing:
As is the case with many popular tourist destinations that tend to have large crowds of tourists, Cape Town has its fair share of pickpocketing incidents. It is especially common in crowded places where you might be slightly more distracted and surrounded by people on all sides. However, the cases have progressively gone down over the years.

Mugging:
Unfortunately, mugging is quite common in Cape Town and can happen anytime during the day. People wearing jewellery and carrying anything expensive like cameras, phones or other gadgets make for easy targets. Moreover, it tends to happen more in places that are less crowded.

Violent crimes:
Cape Town records high cases of violent crimes like assault, murder and even rape, though most of them occur in the townships. There are also many cases of gang and drug-related crimes, so make sure not to visit the areas known to be dangerous.

Scams:
Cape Town is known for many tourism scams; you need to be very careful and vigilant as people might try to get you to pay them money or find a way to get it by force. 

Travel Scams in Cape Town 

  • ATM “helpers”: It is quite common for people to come up to you at an ATM and offer help while intending to get your card details. They might approach you if you seem to have some trouble or offer a way to avoid bank fees by scanning your card using a skimmer. They will then try to see your pin code and ultimately drain your account. It is best to refuse help and to always cover the number pad. 
  • Picture scam: Someone might come to you asking for you to take their picture, and once you return their camera, they might drop it and blame you for having broken it. They then demand money as compensation. You must refuse anyone who comes up with such a request to avoid any problems.
  • Bar scams: If you plan on mingling with locals, especially at bars, it is best that you suggest the place and always ask for a menu. Many scammers work with certain bars, and after a couple of drinks, you might find that the price progressively increases. You might be forced to pay for it, and if you don’t comply, the bar’s bodyguards might take you to a nearby ATM to withdraw cash. 
  • Guessing game scams: It is quite common for people to pickpocket you on the streets by keeping you distracted with a game. Usually, there is a group of people pretending to play a game of guessing which box contains a ball, and upon getting it right, the person is given some money. Then, once this happens a few times, a bystander is asked to play and, while distracted, is pickpocketed. 
  • Taxi scams: Tourists might be taken advantage of because they are usually unaware of the routes and usual taxi fares. Drivers might overcharge you, so it is advisable to use a service like Uber. If one isn’t available, map out your route in advance, ask the driver for an approximate fare before getting in and ask them to turn on the metre.  
  • Bird poop scams: In order to pickpocket you, someone might drop some white paste on your clothes and then offer to help you clean up while keeping you distracted with a conversation. The best way to avoid this is to refuse any help unless absolutely necessary. 
  • Fake authorities: You might come across people pretending to be officials or staff who ultimately try to pickpocket you or get you to pay them money. People dressed as airport staff might often ask you for money in exchange for a service receipt or as police looking to rob you while pretending to check your baggage.

Is Cape Town Safe for Women, children and LGBTQ+ people?

Women's safety in Cape Town
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Owing to the fact that Cape Town does record numerous cases of crime, especially in the townships, it is advisable for women and children to be extra cautious while out and about as they often make for easy targets. Women should avoid walking alone at night, taking unlit roads or alleyways, giving out their information to strangers, and always being on the lookout for suspicious people. It is a good idea to let someone know of your whereabouts at all times too. And children shouldn’t be left alone, especially in crowded places, for there have been instances of kidnappings. They should also have a mobile phone in case of an emergency. 

With regard to people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, there are strict laws in place to protect you against any discrimination and ill-treatment. Therefore, Cape Town is welcoming and inclusive, as evident by its many pride events and establishments.

Health Related Risks in Cape Town

Safe water in Cape Town
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Although Cape Town is the cleanest city in South Africa, it is key to have some basic idea about the city’s general health situation in mind before visiting. Here is some information that might be helpful:
  • Water: The entire city (especially the urban areas) has access to safe drinking water, and you can easily drink out of a faucet without worrying about anything. 
  • Diseases: Some of the most common infectious diseases known to occur in Cape Town (or South Africa) include malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. Given the large green spaces and wilderness, tick bite fever is also quite common. It is advisable to get shots prior to arrival. The city has an excellent healthcare facilities, including public and private hospitals.
  • Food safety: Food in Cape Town is generally quite safe to consume and very less likely to cause any health issues as all traders as well as eateries are required to comply with strict rules. You must however be careful while eating something on the streets owing to the dust and any insects that may be around. 
  • Pollution: Being a metropolitan city, Cape Town’s air is moderately polluted but not dangerous enough to cause any harm to you. 

Safety Tips for Travelling to Cape Town

Safety in Cape Town
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  • When walking around the city, especially in sketchy areas, always be aware of your surroundings to identify suspicious-looking people.
  • Keep your belongings in a bag that you keep on yourself at all times, preferably towards the front, to avoid getting pickpocketed, and never leave anything unattended. 
  • It is advisable not to carry too much cash on you and to keep only as much would potentially be required throughout the day. Furthermore, don’t take out a bundle of cash while paying for something.
  • Never allow strangers to assist you in withdrawing cash from ATMs.
  • If children or beggars approach you for money, it is advisable to give them food and not money or to directly contribute to a registered charity. 
  • While checking into your room, don’t forget to do a thorough sweep to spot any hidden cameras and ensure that the doors and windows lock properly.
  • Always make copies of all important documents and keep them in a safe place within the room so that you don’t have an issue if the originals are misplaced.
  • Try to blend in with the local crowd; don’t stop in the middle of the road to marvel at the surroundings, and don’t take out your camera too frequently as it might single you out as a tourist and make you an easy target. Also, avoid wearing flashy clothes and carrying expensive accessories.
  • It is important to always inform someone about your whereabouts and always have the local emergency numbers at hand. It might also help to tell someone about your approximate time of return.
  • Avoid walking alone in unlit places at night, especially alone; don’t take any dark alleyways and lanes as shortcuts.  

Areas to Avoid in Cape Town

Langa in Cape Town
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When booking your room or looking for areas to visit in Cape Town, you must know to avoid the slightly more dangerous ones. 
  1. Nyanga: It is one of the most dangerous parts of the city and the country and records extremely high murder and sexual assault rates.
  2. Khayelitsha: Given that it is a poor township, Khayelitsha is known for having fairly high rates of murder, sexual assault and robberies. 
  3. Mitchells Plain: Mitchells Plain is synonymous with a lot of gang and drug-related crimes as well as murders and assaults. 
  4. Hanover Park: It is best to avoid Hanover Park as it does tend to have numerous cases of violent crimes. 
  5. Langa: One of the city’s oldest townships, Langa is known as a very dangerous area, and it’s best not to visit. 
Manenberg, Stellenbosch, Gugulethu, Bishop Lavis and some sections of the Cape Town City Centre (CBD) are also some of the parts of the city to avoid. 

Transportation in Cape Town

A Cape Town taxi
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  • Walking: One of the easiest ways of getting around Cape Town is walking; a lot of attractions, eateries, shops, galleries etc., are located within the city centre. Moreover, there are many walking tours available to explore the city. 
  • Metered taxis: You will easily find metered taxis all around the city, and they are a safe option as you can see the price displayed on a small screen and would need to go to a designated taxi stand. All of this is administered by the local authorities. 
  • Transport apps: Uber and Taxify are easily available cab services in Cape Town; all you need to do is download the app and book a cab!
  • Hiring cars: If you want to avoid the hassle of constantly looking for cabs or taxis and want the flexibility of going anywhere you want at any point in the day, you can simply hire a car and drive it around yourself. 
  • Bus: The Golden Arrow and MyCiti bus networks have buses running throughout the day to take you around the city. However, they mostly run on a schedule and don’t go to every location, especially the remote ones. However, you can opt for the City Sightseeing bus if you wish to visit a few popular attractions in one go. 
  • Metrorail: A popular public transportation service, Metrorail is a good way of getting around the city. The tickets are cheap, but there are often many delays.
  • Bicycle: You can also rent a bicycle to roam around the city. It is faster than walking and would also help you get some exercise!

Cape Town Emergency Helpline Numbers

Mobile and landline emergencies: 112 and 107
Fire and medical emergencies: 021 535 1100
South African police service: 10111
Ambulance: 10177
Table Mountain NP Emergencies: 021 480 7700
National Sea Rescue Institute: 082 91
Sea & Mountain Rescue: 021 948 9900

As with any city, it is key to be vigilant at all times because you can encounter a problem at any point while touring Cape Town. Tourists are often seen as easier targets, and so you must have all the necessary information about the city before arriving so as to be able to make your experience very pleasant and to avoid running into any issues.

This post was published by Arushi Bhowmick

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