Cape Town safety tips & resources | Tourist guide

Cape Town is a fantastically beautiful city, with epic mountains, oceans abundant with life, unique biospheres of plantlife, and a wonderful local culture of diversity and joy-despite-hardship. It’s a great city. But the question most foreigners I’ve talked to ask me is the crime and danger aspect. Isn’t Cape Town unsafe? Because of course, it is a real concern!

So, since there are genuine concerns about safety in Cape Town, I’ve put together this post on tips to avoid danger. As well as transport options and safety tips, helpful local resources, emergency numbers, and areas to avoid.

Is Cape Town safe?

The short answer is, no, not entirely. The city consistently ranks among the top 10-15 most violent cities in the world and pickpocketing is even more common than violent crime.

However, despite the bleakness of the short answer, most people find living in Cape Town comfortably safe if they follow the below advice. Almost all violent crime in the city is restricted to the densely packed impoverished communities, which, while the conditions are deplorable, form kind of a second city alongside the far safer center and coastal region.

So, despite the city being rife with crime, that crime is unlikely to be within your realm of experience, or directed at you. If that doesn’t sound very reassuring, I’ve got plenty of tips from years of walking and catching public transport around our fair city.

General tips to avoid danger

1 . Don’t walk around alone at night

Most parts of the city are less safe in the dark, and locals avoid being outside unless in a large group or in a well-lit, well-populated area.

2. Don’t walk in places you don’t know well at night, even in a group

Certain areas are dangerous even to groups – unless you’re walking with people who are confident about what they’re doing and where they’re going, rather catch an uber.

3. Don’t resist if you’re robbed

It does happen – you can be robbed at knife or gunpoint, or just through physical intimidation. Don’t resist this; losing your things is always better than risking your life.

4. Leave your valuables at home

If you don’t need your passport or your favourite jewellery on a trip about town, the surest option is to leave them at home. The same goes with any wads of cash!

5. Carry a R100 note within your clothing or shoes

A bag is relatively easy to steal, or steal from, if you’re not paying attention, and you don’t want to be left with nothing if your bag is snatched. So, an easy option to mitigate risk is to carry a note or two in your shoe, bra, or in a tight pocket. It also doesn’t hurt to have the number of your accommodation and the South African emergency number (112) on a slip of paper on your person.

6. If you want to give money to beggars, keep some change in your pocket 

Taking your wallet out in the street and fumbling around with it is risky in many areas.

It’s also, technically, a greater kindness to buy that person some food (unless they’re specifically asking for money to access one of the Haven shelters, which cost R15 per night). Drug addiction is unfortunately something many of our homeless are struggling with, so directly buying food is the best way to ensure they’re using the charity to eat.

You will find that some beggars ask persistently for money as they follow you down the street. Really, they’re demanding not asking. Your best response here is to say ‘no’ firmly and just keep walking. It’s intimidating, but they will eventually drop away.

7. Don’t use your cellphone in the street

Of course, sometimes you have to use your phone. But when you do, stay conscious of your surroundings. It’s also best to check your map route while you’re indoors, and keep eyes-on-phone to a minimum while walking.

8. Avoid the eastern outskirts of town

Most of the crime that happens in Cape Town happens in the impoverished communities in and beyond the city’s eastern suburbs. However, tourists usually have no exposure to these areas. No guidebook will ever recommend them, and they’re far from the popular tourist neighbourhoods, so they’re easy to avoid.

9. When hiking alone or in pairs, be vigilant

Cape Town has some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world! With our unique biosphere and spectacular views, they are so worthwhile. However, we do occasionally have safety issues on the mountain, with individuals being robbed and even stabbed.

So, hike during daylight hours, stay vigilant, leave any valuables at home, and ideally, hike in groups.

10. You can even get self-defence training

If you live in Cape Town or you’re spending a while here and you feel some concern for your safety, I highly recommend self-defence training with TrueKrav. I spent over a year training with them, and in addition to getting fitter than I’ve ever been, I learnt skills that left me a lot more confident that I could survive an attack.

11. When swimming, stay between the markers

Our currents can be super strong here, which is why the lifesavers set and regularly move clear, bright markers to show which parts of the beachfront are safe and calm. Stay within those and you’ll be all good!

If you’re swimming at a beach without lifeguards and you’re carried out on the current, don’t fight it, as this will expend your energy. Rather tread water and let the current carry you as calmly as possible – it will sweep you out no further than the back break and to the side, and you’ll be able to paddle back in a straight line beyond the current.

The only thing to worry about is panicking and wasting energy by fighting the current. If you remain calm and preserve your energy, getting caught in a rip current is no concern – in fact surfers usually try their best to jump straight into the rip to make getting out into the waves easier!

Car safety tips & public transport in Cape Town

So, car safety first! Here are some quick tips for staying safe as a driver:

  1. Keep your windows up and doors locked at intersections.
  2. Have your keys ready before you reach your car.
  3. If you feel a little unsafe, check your backseat before getting in your car or Uber.
  4. Park your car in a garage – every shopping center has a parking garage, as do most accommodation options. These cost a little to park in, but they’re safe and secure.
  5. If you can’t find a garage in your area, park under a streetlamp in a well-populated area.
  6. Never give lifts to strangers – this is always a pity, but the only cars that can and do pick up hitchhikers are open-backed bakkies and trucks.
  7. Always lock your car – this is not something you’d ever have to tell a South African, but I hear you can leave it unlocked in some countries! Not this one.

Public transport options and how to stay safe with each of them

We have a number of public transport options in Cape Town. We’re a sprawling city with an incomplete infrastructure, so none of them cover all areas of the city.

Still, you’ve always got a public transport option during the daytime! I’ve personally never had my own car, so I know each of these very well, and I’ve got a few tips on how to use them consciously and safely.

Trains

I used to take the train to university most days, so I’m intimately familiar with the ripped seats, witch-doctor pamphlets and graffiti that characterise our Cape Town trains. This is one of our main public transport options, and it crisscrosses the Southern Suburbs in particular, while coastal neighbourhoods south and west of the City Center have no train routes.

The trains are super cheap, and can be a really interesting way to experience the city, allowing you to peer out as you pass non-touristy neighbourhoods. The train to the coastal village of Kalk Bay is my favourite!

Still, the trains can be quite unsafe, particularly if you look like an easy target.

If you choose to take a train in Cape Town, be sure to catch it before 6pm, as it gets significantly more dangerous in the evening. You should also always find a carriage that’s reasonably full – to this purpose, it’s better to buy a third-class ticket rather than a first-class one. You might not get a seat if it’s rush hour, but far more people sit in the cheaper carriages, making them a lot safer.

You should also be aware that the trains are usually late, and while most of the time I’ve only had to wait an extra ten minutes, there are times when I’ve sat for up to two hours!

Minibus taxis

Minibus taxis are another popular form of public transport among locals. I’ve taken plenty of these, and even done multiple taxi-rides from my childhood hometown of Oudtshoorn 420km away. They go everywhere!

You can catch a taxi from one of the taxi ranks, or just stand on a main road anywhere in the city and stick your arm out a bit when you see one. They’ll stop for you if they’re not already packed.

The minibus taxis are also not the safest, particularly as they’re risky drivers, stopping wherever clientele can be picked up, and largely ignoring the rules of the road. Talk to any driver in Cape Town, and they’ll be happy to have a proper rant about our taxis!

However, they’re cheap, quite fast, and another interesting experience. If you take a taxi, always only get in one that’s pretty full – it’s unsafe to get into a near-empty car, and if it isn’t a risk, you’ll likely have a much longer trip on your hands, as the driver will usually stop till he has enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile. It’s also important that you don’t catch a taxi in the evening – I’ve been told that by a taxi driver, actually!

One last taxi safety tip is to be particularly careful if you have to get in or out at an actual taxi rank. I’ve had my phone stolen twice at two different taxi ranks. So learn from my mistakes, and if using a bag, keep your valuables in the most secure pocket, preferably under a few un-valuables.

MyCiti busses

The MyCiti busses are Cape Town’s most trustworthy transport system. They’re safe – including their stations (although not so much the unenclosed stops), although even here I try to stay away when it’s dark. And while they unfortunately don’t cover the Southern suburbs, they crisscross just about every other neighbourhood.

While both the taxis and the trains just take cash, the busses work on a card that you top up at one of the proper stations, and then each trip you take draws from this amount. You scan your card on entrance and exit. Because of this system, you can’t just stand at one of the streetside stops and pay when you get on – you need a card first. If you’re spending a week or more in Cape Town without a car, I’d recommend getting one. The card itself costs R50, and the trips usually cost between R10 and R30.

The MCiti system even goes to the airport! So if you have the energy for a slower trip to your accommodation, you can buy a card and take the bus right when you get off the plane. I’ve done this once, and it was actually really smooth.

You may need to take more than one bus depending on the length and route of your trip, but their website is user-friendly, and if you enter your location and your destination, it’ll tell you which busses you need to take.

Uber

Our last option is Uber. You can order an Uber from anywhere in the city, and relative to international prices, they’re nice and cheap. They’re also the safe night-time option, and the only one I would recommend to take you home after a night out.

Emergency numbers

  • Emergencies from a mobile: 112
  • Emergencies from a landline: 107
  • South African Police Service: 10111
  • Ambulance: 10177
  • Medical & Fire Emergencies: 021 535 1100
  • Table Mountain National Park Emergencies: 021 480 7700
  • Sea & Mountain Rescue: 021 948 9900
  • Shark Spotters: 078 174 4244

Handy resources

These are a pair of helpful resources for locals and visitors to Cape Town. Namely, a loadshedding app every local has on their phone, and a general community resource platform!

Eskom se Push

South Africa has regular power outages, called ‘loadshedding’, as our electricity infrastructure has not been effectively expanded to match population growth (along with a few other issues).

Sudden and unexpected outages can be super inconvenient and sometimes unsafe, so a handy tool is the Eskom se Push cellphone app. You can enter your neighbourhood into this app, and it’ll keep you updated on the sudden shifts of our loadshedding stages and times, allowing you to plan around these electricity-less times.

The government’s community health & safety resources

The local government website has a really handy and comprehensive resource on community health and safety. This provides contacts for if you find animals or children in need of safety services, reporting for fires or environmental risks, and just a lot of good information on a range of safety issues. It’s handy for tourists to have access to, but it’s main aim is to serve the Cape Town community, helping us stay informed and equipped.

Cape Town safety

So there you have it, all of my tips and resources for a safe trip (or life) in the mother city. Whether you’re considering moving to Cape Town, or you’ll just be here for a few days, these tips should keep you safe and sound.

I hope they put your mind at ease, rather than freaking you out! If you have any other questions regarding safety in Cape Town, leave me a comment and I’ll see if I can answer you or direct you to a helpful resource that can. You can also check out my post on the best time to visit Cape Town to continue your holiday planning!

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