Whenever traveling to the beautiful city of Cape Town is brought up, unfortunately the number one concern is safety.Is Cape Town dangerous?
Cape Town, and South African cities in general, has a pretty dismal reputation for being unsafe due to its high crime rates in recent years. However, the answer to this question is not as simple as “yes” or “no.” Nowhere in the world is entirely safe and each place has its own unique risks to consider. As with many places in the world, criminal activity in Cape Town comes in many forms and there are many factors.
Is Cape Town Actually Dangerous?
Although Cape Town was ranked 10th on the list of the world’s most violent cities, there are many places where it definitely does not feel dangerous.
Most of the crime stats in Cape Town are directly linked to poverty and the still-recovering social system after apartheid. There is immense inequality in the city, with some of the country’s richest and poorest citizens living side by side.
Higher risk of violent crime can be found in the Cape Flats area and surrounding townships. Many of the worst and most violent crimes tend to happen here.
Sadly, these areas are some of the most underprivileged in the city and the families that live there are still trying to escape from the poverty they were forced into during apartheid.
Gang violence is an ever-increasing problem in these areas, accounting for a vast percentage of the crime statistics and often leads to armed robbery, rape and murder. This is not the case in Cape Town’s more affluent areas.
As a tourist with common sense, it is very unlikely that you will end up in these areas. Many local South Africans living in the suburbs around the CBD (Central Business District) have never even had a reason to visit either.
The dangers that a visitor encounters are a lot less dramatic than organized or violent crime. In many tourist areas of Cape Town, the most prevalent crimes are minor and opportunistic, such as muggings and pickpockets.
Private security is a booming industry here and most businesses in the CBD and surrounding suburbs have some form of security at their doors or in the neighborhood. Often, the security guards will respond more quickly than the police.
15 Safety Tips For Your Time In Cape Town
Although many of these safety tips should be followed regardless of where you travel, here are some that are especially important to Cape Town:
1. Pick Pockets
As is the case with many touristic areas in major cities, whether it be New York or Rome, pickpockets are frequently lurking around Cape Town too. Most locals in the city have their belongings closed up tightly and within sight at all times.
In the US, you often see people carrying their phones and wallets in their back pockets. This is not the case in Cape Town. Pickpockets are incredibly crafty and you might not even feel that they have just taken your phone or wallet from your pocket.
Unfortunately, pickpocketing occurs almost everywhere in Cape Town, even in the most seemingly safe neighborhoods. It may be an even more significant concern in the areas attractive to holidaymakers since tourists are considered wealthy and easy targets.
For example, my phone was stolen from my bag a few months ago when I was browsing books in Kalk Bay, a quaint little fishing suburb known for its cozy cafes and antique shops. My purse was open and I thought I was in a safe place.
While Cape Town isn’t always considered “dangerous”, make it a point to be aware of the people around you, especially those that “accidentally” bump into you.
There are many ways to get around in Cape Town and as a tourist, everybody will want to give you advice regarding their safety.
Before arriving in Cape Town, you might hear that public transportation is dangerous and that the only safe form of transportation is calling an Uber. This is not the case.
Ubers are considered a bit pricey amongst locals and many people simply cannot afford to use them regularly to commute to work. Therefore, thousands of people use public transport every day.
Important Note: It is recommended that you only use these forms of transportation during the daytime, it’s not a good idea to use public transport at night. It is better to spend the money on an Uber at night.
Here are the main types of public transportation in Cape Town:
The Taxi (Minibus Taxi)
Almost all big cities in South Africa use minibus taxis (often referred to as “taxis”). These white vans fit up to 16 people and are an experience in themselves to ride.
They travel along main routes, from taxi rank to taxi rank, while picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. There is no exact route laid out like a bus schedule, so it can be pretty confusing at first.
Fortunately, in Cape Town, the city is laid out on main roads, so you can get a general idea of where you will go much better than in other cities.
✔ Make sure you know where you are going before you take a taxi. There are usually signs in the front window signifying the ending destination.
To take a taxi off the main road, simply wait for one to drive by and wave your arm. When you get in, you will likely pay between .50 and $1 for the ride. The ride itself can be an adventure, often with loud music and speedy driving, but it is a relatively reliable way of getting around.
Note: Do not take a taxi at night in Cape Town as this can be dangerous.
There are two main bus services in the city: Golden Arrow and MyCiti. Both operate in different parts of Cape Town and both are very reliable.
Trains were once very reliable in Cape Town, but since 2020, this is no longer the case. The trains are frequently late and or not running at all and you will need to give yourself ample time or leave early if planning to travel by train.
Some train lines in Cape Town are rumored to be dangerous, but the Southern Suburbs line (running from the city to the southern town of Fish Hoek) is relatively safe.
If you have time to spare, it is absolutely worth it to travel by train through the city. Nothing beats that moment when the train reaches the coastal suburb, Muizenberg, and the ocean bursts into view. The train tracks run beside the coast, so it is quite a beautiful ride into the deep south of Cape Town.
✔ To avoid dangerous situations on Cape Town trains, try not to be in a completely empty car and always be aware of your belongings.
✔ Don’t have your phone or wallet lying around when the train stops because people have been known to grab belongings and jump off the train before the doors close.
You might occasionally stumble across the outdated metered taxi (especially at the airport), but these are generally not recommended unless you’re traveling short distances or have no other option.
While these Cape Town taxis might not be physically dangerous, taxi drivers will often charge 3-4 times the cost of a trip, particularly if they see that you are not from the area.
Other E-Hailing Services
A few other e-hailing services are competing with Uber in Cape Town. Many locals swear by using Bolt, the most popular competitor. While it is indeed cheaper, it is not safer.
The car itself might not be up to standards or you might have a strange encounter with the driver. However, the biggest problem with Bolt is that if and when something goes wrong, it is nearly impossible to contact support through the app or email.
✔ When using any e-hailing service, always make sure that the driver ends the trip at your destination. Sometimes the driver won’t end the trip after dropping you off. These drivers will try to take advantage of a situation, especially if you are arriving home late at night or traveling to the airport.
While you are dealing with airport security and navigating through the airport, the driver travels across town on your dime. This ends up costing 2-3 times as much as the original ride.
Uber is very good about rectifying the situation and correcting the price, but Bolt is not.
3. Is Driving In Cape Town Safe?
If you prefer not to use public transportation or plan to explore more remote areas, renting a car is easy and relatively affordable.
People drive on the left side of the road in South Africa, so be prepared for the difference if you are coming from another country. Most cars in South Africa are manual transmission, so be sure to check with the rental agency if you need an automatic.
Driving in Cape Town is not especially dangerous, with traffic not being too aggressive. Minibus taxis have a reputation for driving erratically, so it is good to be aware of them while driving.
✔ It is also essential to be aware of theft while driving. One somewhat common occurrence is the “smash-and-grab” while stopped at a traffic light. If drivers have valuables lying in sight, there is a chance that someone can run up, smash the window, and take their belongings.
✔ Another common scam is people acting like they need assistance on the side of the road and asking a driver to stop and help. Don’t stop and help, but instead drive to a public place and call the police to assist them.
✔ When you park your car, be sure to lock your doors and keep all valuables out of sight. In many parking lots and streets of Cape Town you will see “car guards,” who watch the cars while the owners are away. They usually wear a green or yellow vest and will expect a tip of R2-R10 (less than $1) when you return to your car.
This type of service is considered a job and helps car guards to survive, so it is good practice to pay them and contribute to the local economy.
4. Going Out In Cape Town At Night
Cape Town has an incredible nightlife scene that is an essential part of life in the Mother City.
Cape Town is known, in comparison to Johannesburg, as being more relaxed and with a better work-life balance. There is always something happening in this popular city. Every day of the week. Great bars, live music, DJs, and countless happy hours.
Anyone coming to Cape Town should have at least one night out. However, it is best to maintain safety at all times so that your evening stays fun.
If you’re visiting Cape Town, chances are you’ll probably have at least one night out while you’re here. Before 2020, restaurants closed at midnight and bars closed as late as 5 in the morning.
✔ Try to avoid walking alone at night, especially if you’re a female. Unless you’re familiar with the area, taking Uber to and from your destination is advisable.
✔ Be aware of which area and which bars you are going to. For example, Long Street is famous among tourists and locals for its club scene, with dozens of bars and restaurants crammed among souvenir shops and hostels.
However, because of its notoriety, many opportunists are waiting to take advantage of someone who is distracted and not paying attention to their wallet in these busy areas. On the other hand, just a short walk away, you’ll find nearby Kloof Street. This street has just as many restaurants with DJs and live music, but it’s more relaxed and you are less likely to be seen as a target.
✔ Another important tip, which applies to anywhere in the world, is to watch your drink and make sure it isn’t spiked.
Due to the current state of the world, South Africa has a nationwide lockdown that requires most places to close before midnight. If you happen to stumble upon a bar or club in Cape Town that is open later than that, be aware that they are operating illegally and that it may be dangerous.
5. Is It Dangerous To Walk Around Cape Town?
Walking around is often the best way to explore a new place and Cape Town is no different.
Although you might hear that walking around in Cape Town is dangerous, this is not entirely true. The best places in Cape Town are located in safe areas to walk around, it’s a fascinating city to explore on foot. But you probably shouldn’t walk a very long way alone.
✔ If you decide to explore the city on the ground level, always pay attention to your surroundings and take note of the nearest police station.
✔ Always make sure that your bag is closed and all valuables are secure. Try not to make it known that you are carrying large amounts of cash or anything expensive.
✔ Take note of anyone who appears to be following you. If you notice someone, either alert security or step into a nearby business and wait for them to leave. Do not let them follow you to an empty street.
Be mindful of where you choose to walk around. Many areas are safe, but some are not. If you end up in a neighborhood that does not feel safe, turn around or call an Uber and wait inside a shop.
✔ If you get lost and need to check a map, it is better to do so discreetly on your phone rather than using a paper map. Try to minimize looking like a tourist as much as possible.
6. Are ATMs In Cape Town Dangerous?
ATMs are easily accessible throughout South Africa and almost all ATMs accept foreign bank cards. There is usually a fee of $3-$5 for each transaction.
ATMs in Cape Town aren’t typically dangerous, but there is the occasional risk of ATM fraud. When using ATMs in Cape Town, follow the same rules that apply to using ATMs anywhere.
✔ Don’t allow anyone to help or approach you at the ATM. Try to avoid using ATMs that seem to be causing problems for others. Many ATMs have security guards posted around them, which decreases the likelihood of any issues.
7. Carrying Cash
Unlike many travel destinations in Africa and worldwide, you can use a debit or credit card at most businesses. This means that you don’t have to carry around wads of cash all the time.
On a given day, you might need at most R200-R300 ($15-$20) cash; otherwise, you can use your debit card and withdraw as needed. Other forms of payment include SnapScan, Zapper, and PayPal.
SnapScan and Zapper are both apps that can be downloaded on a smartphone and then connected to a card or bank account. The businesses have their own QR codes that you scan on your phone to pay. This method of payment is incredibly convenient and easy to use.
Although many businesses do not use PayPal, Uber does, which works great as a backup payment method.
✔ Unfortunately, if your bank charges an international transaction fee, it might make sense to use cash instead. If you do decide to only use cash while you are exploring the city, do not make it known that you are carrying around a lot of money, as this can make you a target.
✔ While traveling anywhere, it is recommended that you leave a backup card or extra cash hidden in your luggage, just in case.
Note: Most businesses do not accept American Express, so plan accordingly.
8. Accommodations In Cape Town
Accommodations in Cape Town aren’t typically dangerous and most businesses pride themselves on the precautions that they take to ensure the safety of their guests.
A key or code is usually needed to enter a hotel or hostel, which prevents strangers from wandering in. There is often night-time security as well, which further increases safety.
✔ Most hostels have lockers or cupboards in which you can keep your valuables, so be sure to bring your own padlock and utilize them.
The food in Cape Town is safe to eat and usually very delicious.
Cape Town cuisine is a unique melting pot of many different cultures, making it an excellent destination for foodies. If you are more into buying your own groceries, you will find that locally grown fruits and veggies are fresh and delicious.
10. Can I Drink The Water In Cape Town?
Tap water in Cape Town is safe to drink. Most of Cape Town’s water comes from reservoirs on top of Table Mountain and tastes like fresh spring water.
If you prefer to buy bottled water, nearly every coffee shop or restaurant business offers still or sparkling water at affordable rates.
11. Is Hiking In Cape Town Dangerous?
There are so many incredible hiking trails in Cape Town. Every visitor should go on at least one hike to experience the stunning nature around the peninsula. Hiking is relatively safe in Cape Town, as long as you follow a few guidelines:
✔ Don’t hike alone. It is better to hike in groups of 2 to 4.
✔ Stay on marked trails to ensure that you don’t lose your way.
✔ Hike according to your fitness level. Hiking on trails that are too difficult may cause injury.
✔ Always bring enough food, water, and appropriate clothing for the hike
12. Are There Sharks?
If you plan on visiting any of Cape Town’s world-class beaches, then be prepared for the possibility of sharks. Although they are not common, they are present in the waters around the peninsula.
Some beaches, such as Muizenberg, have year-round shark spotting stations that sound an alarm if a shark is nearby.
13. Ocean Currents
Another thing to consider while swimming at the Cape Town beaches is the safety of the water.
✔ Some beaches in Cape Town have powerful currents, so be sure to pay attention to specific signs to know if swimming is recommended at the beach you are visiting. During the summer months (November-February), lifeguards are present at many of the most popular beaches and regularly patrol the coastal areas of smaller beaches.
Practicing safe sex is always advised anywhere in the world. It should be noted that South Africa has the largest population of people living with HIV globally and as much as 20% of the population are HIV-positive.
Fortunately, protection is widely accessible in Cape Town and South Africa in general. Many hostels provide condoms for free in their bathrooms, making it easy and convenient to be safe.
✔ If you see the jar of condoms, feel free to take one, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
15. Giving Money to Beggars In Cape Town
Sadly, Cape Town has a substantial homeless population that seems to have expanded since 2020. Many people lost their livelihoods and homes when South Africa entered into lockdown.
Whether you are a tourist or a local, chances are that you will encounter someone asking you for money at some point or another. If you have some coins, it is okay to give them, but you probably won’t be able to give money to everyone. That’s okay.
✔ If you say “no,” do so sternly, or the person will think you might change your mind and continue to ask you. Never give money to children.
✔ An alternative is to give people food. If you have any snacks in your bag, then feel free to share them.
✔ Oftentimes, someone might ask you to go to a nearby shop with them and buy something to eat at the shop. A common scam is that they return the item to the shop for cash. If you purchase something for someone, open the package first and do not give them a receipt.
✔ Another common practice in Cape Town is to give people your leftovers. If you eat at a restaurant, be sure to take anything you didn’t finish and give it to someone on the street. This is not a common practice in the United States, so it might seem strange at first, but people do appreciate it.
Safest Areas To Stay In Cape Town
The safest places in Cape Town are generally found closer to the city center or some of the more affluent beachside suburbs. These neighborhoods usually have their own hired security to patrol the streets and prevent crimes from happening.
You will often find that places with higher-end tourist accommodations also have less crime. Here are some areas in Cape Town that aren’t dangerous to stay in and are also enjoyable and exciting.
Note: There are many other neighborhoods in Cape Town that are considered safe, so this is not a comprehensive list by any means.
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront – One of the most popular tourist destinations in Cape Town with plenty of mid to high-range accommodation options. With epic views of Table Mountain and the harbor, as well as countless shops, restaurants, and museums, the Waterfront is a must-see for visitors of Cape Town.
Gardens, Oranjezicht, Tamboerskloof, Vredehoek – Four leafy suburbs that overlook the CBD that are reasonably safe and have plenty of hidden gems. Situated just above the heart of Cape Town, these mountainside neighborhoods make sightseeing easy and convenient.
Areas by the Ocean
Sea Point – A cosmopolitan neighborhood with a massive promenade that attracts locals and tourists alike.
Green Point – Nestled between Seapoint and the CBD, this neighborhood is home to the Cape Town Stadium and the massive Green Point park.
Camps Bay – A trendy neighborhood with an epic beach and vibrant nightlife, you’re guaranteed a good time.
Muizenberg, St James, Kalk Bay – three very relaxed beachside suburbs on the Southern Peninsula, usually with excellent security and plenty to do and see. Although these Cape Town neighborhoods aren’t considered dangerous areas, there are the occasional opportunists ready to make a buck off the unsuspecting tourist (watch out for pickpockets and other petty theft in Kalk Bay!).
Observatory – A bohemian area close to the CBD, filled with many bars and restaurants. Many students like to stay here because of its proximity to the University of Cape Town.
Constantia – Situated under the backside of Table Mountain, this lush, green neighborhood is safe and secluded. There are even a few wine farms that offer delicious tastings.
Areas To Avoid In Cape Town
In general, the areas prone to crime are in the outlying townships and the Cape Flats area. As a traveler, you will probably have very little reason to go to these areas in the first place.
However, it is good to note that some areas are very safe during the day but can get a bit sketchy at night.
For example, bustling Woodstock is an up-and-coming neighborhood with many hidden gem restaurants, shops, and bars that are barely noticeable amidst all of the traffic and noise of the main road.
Long Street is another area in the CBD that is relatively safe during the day but gets a bit dodgier at night. As this is a famous nightclub street, it is often hectic on weekends, making it difficult to pay attention to your surroundings and possessions.
Cape Town Emergency Numbers
Unlike the US and many other countries, there is not just one emergency phone number, so it can be pretty confusing to know which number to call if you need help.
Here are some of the main emergency numbers in Cape Town:
Cape Town Police: 10111
Cape Town Ambulance: 10177
General Emergencies for Landlines: 107
General Emergencies for Mobile Phones: 112
Cape Town Mountain Rescue: 021 948 9900
Cape Town Sea Rescue: 021 449 3500
The fire department has different phone numbers for different areas of the city, but the general emergencies number should work if you need to report a fire.
Note: If you do not know exactly which number you need, the call centers are generally helpful and can direct you to the correct number.
Safety In Cape Town: FAQs
To make sure we’ve covered all of the safety concerns that travelers tend to have regarding Cape Town, here is a list of frequently asked questions:
Is Cape Town Dangerous For Solo or Female Travelers?
The short answer is no. Cape Town is no more dangerous to travel than any other place for solo travelers or females.
As with any place, some risks must be considered, but the people in Cape Town are quite friendly to solo travelers. Most hostels offer female-only dorms and accommodation staff are always happy to recommend activities or give tips about Cape Town safety.
Sadly, it should be noted that there is currently a Gender-based violence (GBV) crisis in South Africa. Rates of violence against women and children are 5 times higher than the global average.
Although the South African government and many NGOs have focused on improving the situation, the fall-out from 2020 and multiple economic losses have strained homes and livelihoods all over the country.
Most instances of GBV occur as domestic abuse cases, so visitors are unlikely to encounter this while they are in Cape Town. Nevertheless, it is something to be aware of.
Why Is Cape Town Considered Dangerous?
Cape Town is considered dangerous due to the high rates of crime in many of the outlying areas with increased rates of gang violence and high rates of petty crime.
Most crime derives from extreme poverty and stratification throughout the country and is often based on need rather than any kind of true maliciousness.
Is Cape Town Dangerous For Families?
Like other places in the world, there are risks involved when bringing your family to Cape Town. However, Cape Town is a very family-friendly city with many activities for children.
Because of its unique history, Cape Town offers children the chance to broaden their perspectives and learn valuable lessons about race, class, and other cultures.
There are also many game reserves just outside the city, where families can see wild animals native to South Africa, such as lions, elephants, and zebras.
Cape Town is absolutely worth visiting for a family vacation.
Is Cape Town Dangerous For LGBTQ?
No, Cape Town is not dangerous for LGBTQ. In fact, Cape Town is considered the “Gay Capital” of Africa. There is a vibrant LGBTQ scene throughout the city, with many nightclubs specifically catering to queer people.
One of the best beaches in Cape Town, Clifton 3, is also known for gay culture.
If you’re looking for Cape Town’s “Rainbow District,” head over to De Waterkant and Green Point, which are both centrally-located and eclectic neighborhoods.
There are also multiple pride events and LGBTQ festivals that happen throughout the year in Cape Town. Although traveling as an LGBTQ person may not be 100% risk-free, Cape Town is a very open-minded and progressive city.
Overall, Is Cape Town A Good Place To Live?
Yes! Despite the occasional crime tarnishing the safety of Cape Town and the necessary precautions that one must take, this amazing city is an incredible place to live.
With all of the breathtaking scenery, natural beauty, stunning coastlines, and the vibrant mix of cultures, there are more than enough reasons to take the risk. Some locals have lived in Cape Town their entire lives and have never had any kind of bad experience of mugging or pickpockets.
Many who have experienced crime in the city agree that it is a minor part of daily life. Many would choose to stay in Cape Town again and again, regardless of the crime.
Despite all of the negativity in the media, many would agree that Cape Town is the place to be.
The Wrap-Up: Is Cape Town Dangerous?
Although there is a somewhat high rate of crime in Cape Town, there are extra precautions that you can take to minimize the risks of it happening to you. Keep a good head on your shoulders and you will likely be just fine.
Nowhere in the world is 100% safe, so the dangers in Cape Town are very relative. However, few places are as beautiful and unique as the Mother City, so it is definitely worth visiting.
While the world may view Cape Town as one of the most dangerous cities, it’s essential to take this with a grain of salt. While it can be dangerous in some areas, Cape Town can be just as safe as any other major city in the world.
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