Solo Women’s Tourism in South Africa – Is it Safe?
South Africa is one of my favorite places on the planet – especially for traveling alone. It is a country that I love instantly, a country that I have visited to travel extensively on three different trips. South Africa fills me with deep happiness that I find very few places in the world.
But is it safe?
That’s the question most people ask about South Africa. And for good reason – South Africa has a high crime rate and you must guard against theft and assault in a way that you don’t even need to think about in other countries.
Is it crazy for a woman to consider traveling to South Africa alone? Not. That’s not crazy. I am very confident that with the right research and preparation, almost all the goals on this planet can be safely reached by a woman alone. I write this guide to be a strong source for your research.
There are many South African travel guides for women who can underestimate the danger (“Common sense, you will be fine!”) Or very afraid of fear (“DON’T GO THERE, NOT GOOD!”). I do not agree with the two approaches. The truth is among them, and there are many safety issues specifically for South Africa. You have to be careful of beggars who don’t just stay in one place but follow you. You can take Gautrain, of course, but Metrorail can be uncertain. And your vacuum wrap is usually not necessary, but you have to do it if you fly through Johannesburg.
I have traveled to South Africa several times and spent part of my time traveling alone. I stay safe and have fun – once again, I am a very experienced solo traveler who writes about women’s solo trips to earn a living. I think traveling alone in South Africa is the best for experienced female travelers with lots of solo travel experiences under their belts.
Why Travel to South Africa?
Because it is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. I believe this seriously. South Africa does not get enough credit for its amazing natural beauty. The coastline, mountains, deserts, even Kruger are very beautiful. And Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.
Because it has some of the best wildlife in the world. Kruger National Park is one of the most remarkable wildlife destinations on the planet. There are tons of animals, from elephants to giraffes, zebras, lions and rhinos, and they are very concentrated. The Safari guide says that you should not plan to see the Big Five – leopards are always the most difficult – but much easier here than some other safari hotspots in Africa.
Because the adventure activities are extraordinary. New Zealand may have a reputation as the adventure capital of the world – but South Africa has a LOT to offer (and cheaper here too). Bungee jumps from the bridge at Storms River, crocodile dive at Outdtshoorn, paragliding over the Lion’s Head in Cape Town, diving diving with a large white shark in Mossel Bay, jumping from one of the most frightening swings in the world at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
Because wine is some of the best in the world. South Africa is actually my favorite wine country! If you don’t think you are a fan of Chardonnay, wait until you try South African chardonnay, with its magical vanilla note. Chenin blanc and Pinotage are two prominent local products, and it doesn’t make sense how cheap the bottles are.
Because it’s very affordable. South Africa is an affordable country to start, and above that, the local currency has taken a number of hits in recent years. You can visit South Africa and make an extraordinary, adventurous trip at a much cheaper cost than the cost of traveling to Australia or New Zealand.
Is South Africa Safe Today?
There is a lot of fear about South Africa, especially in my home country in the United States. If you watch American TV news, you would think that this is a hotbed of piracy and robbery and that apartheid ended yesterday.
That’s an exaggeration, of course – but once you arrive and see that every house has a giant fence built around it, it might confuse you a little. Then talk to middle-class South Africans and listen to how much they talk about their security system and that will make you even less excited.
South Africa has a high crime rate, including violent crimes such as rape and murder. Most are localized (especially in environments where no tourists will leave). The following is GOV.UK (the UK government’s travel advisory site, which I think is less alarming than the US site) with what they say about South Africa:
South Africa has a very high crime rate, including rape and murder. The risk of violent crime for visitors traveling to major tourist destinations is generally low. The South African authorities give high priority to protecting tourists and tourism police are deployed in several major cities. Crime risks are increasing in urban areas throughout South Africa, especially in the central business districts of big cities, and cities on the outskirts of big cities. Higher awareness is needed if traveling through these areas. Most cases of violence and murder tend to occur in remote cities and remote areas. Consult a reliable tour guide if you visit the city.
And there was a remote incident – when I was on the Blue Train back in 2012, one of the most luxurious trains in the world, the farmers protested by throwing rocks at the train, breaking windows from several cabins. No one was hurt, even though the glass broke in the entire cabin of my friend. (I’m taking a shower and miss everything.)
One thing I found in my journey is that so many people associate the 90s conflict with today. Colombia is a perfect example of that – people assume that the drug war and kidnapping in the 90s is still going well. So many people, especially the older generation (ie your parents) haven’t heard much about South Africa on the news since the end of apartheid, and the pictures were burned in their heads.
In the last decade, only two stories about South Africa have received major coverage in the US: the death of Nelson Mandela and the Pistorious Oscar who killed his girlfriend. Not a story that truly praises the beauty of the country.
South Africa can be explored safely – but you need to know about this context. Read on to find out how to stay safe in South Africa.
South Africa Good for First Time Female Single Travelers?
I don’t recommend South Africa for first time female solo travelers. This is a country where you must always be on guard, especially in terms of theft, and I think beginner people are better off wetting their feet elsewhere.
Instead, if you have a strong desire for South Africa, I suggest you take a group tour.
G Adventures offers dozens of tours to South Africa. I have traveled with G before and recommended them, because they use local guides, focus on sustainability, and keep their tour sizes small. They are also very fun! Here are some of their tours in South Africa:
South Africa & Swazi Quest (17 days, Johannesburg to Cape Town) – This budget, the 18-30s trip covers most of the main highlights in South Africa, including safaris on Kruger, with the Swaziland rapid detour. You can also do half of Johannesburg to Durban (9 days) or half Durban to Cape Town (10 days).
Climb South Africa (17 days, Cape Town to Johannesburg) – This trip will take you to some of the most amazing parts of the country and include hiking in the Drakensburg Mountains, Tsitsikamma Rain Forest, plus stops in Lesotho and Swaziland.
Mozambique, Kruger, & Inventor Swazi (13 days, from Johannesburg) – This tour combines safari time in Kruger and Swaziland with coast time in Mozambique.
The less structured tour option is Baz Bus.
Baz Bus is a hop-on, hop-off backpacker bus that moves along the coast and takes you to hostels. Although I have never used it, I always want to try it, and I will definitely use it if I plan a South African trip that travels along the route.
The bus route is hop-on, hop-offs move from Cape Town to Johannesburg and turn around, including cities popular along the Garden Route and more inaccessible places such as Cintsa and Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast.
You can add Kruger National Park safaris or a number of other day tours, completing the most challenging parts of solo trips.
Is South Africa Good for Experienced Female Single Travelers?
Yes! South Africa is fantastic for women who have traveled solo! I made my first solo trip in South Africa after I had several years of solo travel under my belt (as well as 10 days traveling with a group in South Africa) and I didn’t have any problems.
If you are an experienced solo female traveler, you can do whatever you want. Nothing in South Africa is too touristy for you. Oh, and don’t think you’re too good to take a bus, take a bus in Cape Town – I think it’s one of the best ways to see Cape Town! I’ve done it on two different trips!
Travel around South Africa as a Single Traveler
This can be a challenge to get around South Africa – public transportation here is not as good as Europe, for example. Public transportation is limited to a number of destinations and not elsewhere. So what’s the best way to get around the country?
You can get around by flying and using public transportation. If you base it on several areas during the trip, you can do it this way. South Africa has tons of domestic flight routes, including on budget airlines such as Kulula. I continued the safari that picked me up from Hoedspruit airport; I had time to use Uber in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch; and while a local friend drove me on an hour-long trip from Cape Town to Stellenbosch, I could rent a Uber or a private car to do the same.
In Johannesburg, I enjoyed riding the Gautrain train, a modern and sleek train that runs between the city center and the airport. I do not recommend using Metrorail, a train system in and around several cities in South Africa, because of poor infrastructure and risk of theft.
For longer distances, you can get around on the South African bus network. Two bus lines are South African Greyhound and Intercape. I took Intercape from Cape Town to Knysna and back, and even though it was a long journey (eight hours one way!), It was quite comfortable. (Interestingly, Intercape is a Christian business and there are prayers before the trip.)
You can rent a car. South Africa is a great country for road trips – I love my trip along the Garden Route! This gives you maximum freedom, and it’s very nice to stop at strange places along the way (you MUST read about my visit to Ronnie’s Sex Shop). Keep in mind that in South Africa they drive on the left.
If you rent a car, avoid driving in big cities at night. While carjacking is no longer as big a threat as it once was, piracy still occurs in today’s rough environment. Some of my South African friends did not stop for red lights in certain environments at night. Because you don’t know the environment, avoid driving in big cities at night.
Destructive car robberies often occur. For that reason, keep valuables from your parked car. In fact, you might want to avoid saving ANYTHING in your car at all.
Finally, there is the Baz Bus, a backpacker bus that will take you along the beach and from the hostel to the hostel. The good thing about Baz Bus is that the bus stops exclusively at tourist destinations, this bus connects you to the network of travelers, and takes you from the hostel to the hostel so you don’t have to worry about additional transportation. (And South African dormitories often have private rooms if the hostel is not yours.)
I never rode the Baz Bus, but I always wanted it! If I plan another trip along the route taken by Baz Bus, I will definitely try it.