South Africa has very few earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, terrorist incidents or contagious diseases (with the notable exception of HIV).
However, South Africa has some of the highest violent crime rates in the world, though by being vigilant and using common sense, you should have a safe and pleasant trip as hundreds of thousands of other people have each year. The key is to know and stick to general safety precautions: never walk around in deserted areas at night or advertise possession of money or expensive accessories.
Do not accept offers from friendly strangers. Do not wear a tummy bag with all your valuables; consider a concealed money belt worn under your shirt instead. Leave passports and other valuables in a safe or other secure location, although most banks and exchange bureaus require your passport in order to exchange foreign monies to Rands. Do not carry large sums of money. Do not walk by night in deserted places. Hide that you are a tourist: conceal your camera and binoculars. Do not leave your valuables in plain sight when driving in your car, as "smash and grab" attacks sometimes occur at intersections, and keep your car doors locked and your windows open no more than half way. Know where to go so that you avoid getting lost or needing a map: that will avoid signs.
If you are carrying bags, try to hook them under a table or chair leg when sitting down, as this will prevent them from being snatched.
Visiting the townships is possible, but do not do it alone unless you really know where you're going. Some townships are safe while others can be extremely dangerous. Go with an experienced guide. Some tour companies offer perfectly safe guided visits to the townships.
Taking an evening stroll or walking to venues after dark can be very risky. It simply is not part of the culture there, as it is in Europe, North America or Australia. It is best to take a taxi (a metered cab, not a minibus taxi) or private vehicle for an "evening out". The same applies to picking up hitchhikers or offering assistance at broken-down car scenes. It is best to ignore anyone who appears to be in distress at the side of the road as it could be part of a scam. Keep going until you see a police station and tell them about what you have seen.
Beware that if you are driving in South Africa, when police officers stop you to check your licence, and you show them an overseas driver's licence, they may come out with some variant of `Have you got written permission from government department to drive in our country?' If your license is written in English or you have a International Driving Permit then they can't do anything. Stand your ground and state this fact - be polite, courteous and don't pay any money (bribes).
Take extra care when driving at night. Unlike in Europe and North America, vast stretches of South African roads, especially in rural areas, are poorly lit or often completely unlit. This includes highways. Be extra careful as wildlife and people often walk in the middle of the road in smaller towns (not cities like Pretoria, Johannesburg, or Cape Town). You must also take extra care when driving in South Africa due to the small risk of carjackings.
Operators at the airport occasionally steal valuable objects such as iPods, laptops, digital cameras, cellular phones and jewelry while scanning the checked-in luggage of passengers. They may take advantage of the scanner machine to detect valuable objects and steal them. These events do occur and the stolen items include anything from electronic devices to designer perfumes.
Place any items of value in carry-on luggage, remembering that more than 100 mL of lotion and other liquids are not allowed to be taken in carry-on luggage. When checking in at OR Tambo the check-in attendant will remind you not to place valuable items in your luggage. A service to wrap luggage in cling-wrap film is available at the airport, and others cable-tie the zip fasteners together to deter easy access to the contents of luggage.
One of the main reasons travellers visit South Africa is to experience the outdoors and see the wide range of wildlife.
When driving in a wildlife reserve, always keep to the speed limits and stay inside your car at all times. On game drives or walks, always follow the instructions of your guide.
Ensure that you wear socks and boots whenever you are walking in the bush; do not wear open sandals. A good pair of boots can stop snake and insect bites and avoid any possible cuts that may lead to infections.
In many areas you may encounter wildlife while driving on public roads, monkeys and baboons are especially common. Do not get out of the vehicle to take photos or otherwise try to interact with the animals. These are wild animals and their actions can be unpredictable.
Sometimes you might find yourself in the open with wild animals (often happens with baboons at Cape Point). Keep your distance and always ensure that the animals are only to one side of you, do not walk between two groups or individuals. A female baboon may get rather upset if you separate her from her child.
Always check with locals before swimming in a river or lake as there may be crocodiles or hippos.
Most major beaches in KwaZulu-Natal have shark nets installed. If you intend to swim anywhere other that the main beaches, check with a local first.
Note that shark nets may be removed for a couple of days during the annual sardine run (normally along the KwaZulu-Natal coast between early May and late July). This is done to avoid excessive shark and other marine life fatalities. Notices are posted on beaches during these times.
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