IS JOHANNESBURG SAFE FOR TOURISTS IN 2023?
Johannesburg is a bustling city with a rich cultural history, vibrant nightlife, and spectacular native animals. Like many major cities, Johannesburg is not without its safety concerns. Many travellers who wish to see the city question, is Johannesburg safe?
In this blog post, I will provide you with the safety tips that helped me navigate Jo’burg safely and will allow you to confidently plan your trip. I had a wonderful, safe trip where the worst I encountered was a stomach bug…
Crime is the biggest safety issue in the city, and tourists and locals alike need to be aware of the risks and take steps to ensure their safety. It’s essential to know how to stay safe in the city, including areas to avoid, how to use public transportation safely, and what to do if you are ever in a dangerous situation.
Whether you’re exploring Johannesburg for the first time or are a seasoned resident, these tips will help you stay safe in the city.
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Is Johannesburg Safe?
Yes it is, but…
The answer to this question is not that straightforward as it largely depends on where you are in the city, the time of day, and the safety precautions you take to.
Like any other city in the world, Johannesburg has areas that are considered more dangerous than others, including Hillbrow, Yeoville, Berea and the inner CBD.
That being said, many areas in Johannesburg are safe to visit, especially during the day.
Places like Sandton, Melrose Arch, and Rosebank are popular among locals and travellers for their shopping, dining, and entertainment, and are generally safe.
Johannesburg has a lot of tension due to how poverty and wealth aren’t shared equally. When you visit Jo’burg for the first time it truly is the riches on one side of the street with gorgeous homes, and the poor on the other living in slums. This causes a lot of the crime that occurs, particularly at night.
Another important aspect of staying safe in Johannesburg is being aware of the local customs and practices. For example, it is common for drivers to run red lights late at night, so it is important to be careful when crossing the road.
It’s worth mentioning the thriving private security industry in South Africa, which has led to many businesses and neighborhoods hiring their own security guards. These guards are highly skilled and equipped with firearms. Security is present at many locations across the country, making it easy for you to get help, should you ever need it.
Warnings & Dangers in Johannesburg
Below I will go through the main dangers you need to be aware of in Johannesburg.
Overall Risk: HIGH
The Australian government’s Smart Traveller website recommends visitors exercise a high degree of caution in South Africa due to the high level of serious crime. Violent crimes such as carjacking, murder, assault, food drink spiking, rape, and muggings do occur in South Africa.
Criminals operating out of O.R. Tambo have followed tourists to their accommodations and robbed them.
Keep valuables such as cameras, jewelry, and smartphones out of sight and beware the wallet inspector: criminals posing as Tourist Police (these don’t exist).
Protests are also expected across South Africa, avoid these areas by keeping up to date with the media.
Pickpockets Risk: MEDIUM
Pickpocketing is a common risk in Johannesburg, particularly in crowded areas such as markets, public transport, and tourist attractions. Pickpockets often work in groups, distracting their victims while the others steal their valuables.
To avoid being a target, keep your valuables out of sight and in a secure place such as a cross-body bag that zips shut and you can keep close to your body. Don’t carry a lot of cash and pay attention in crowded areas, keeping an eye out for suspicious people.
If you are in a group, look out for each other and keep an eye on each other’s belongings.
Natural Disasters Risk: LOW
Jo’burg is not typically associated with natural disasters.
The main risks are flash flooding and wildfires.
Mugging Risk: HIGH
Mugging is a major risk in Johannesburg, particularly in certain areas and neighborhoods.
It often involves violence or threats to steal valuables such as cash, phones, and jewelry. If targeted, do not fight back, hand your valuables over and avoid making eye contact.
They typically occur in busy urban areas, such as city centers, markets, and public transport hubs, especially after dark. Criminals will target tourists, who may be perceived as easy targets.
To reduce your risk it is essential to be aware of your surroundings and avoid walking alone after dark, especially in areas that are known to be high-risk.
When traveling around Johannesburg, stay alert to any suspicious activity, such as people following you or watching you closely. If you ever feel uncomfortable or threatened in any way, trust your gut and seek help immediately.
Terrorism Risk: LOW
While the risk of terrorism in Johannesburg is generally low, there have been isolated incidents in South Africa in recent years.
The most significant threat comes from extremist groups that may seek to target high-profile locations, such as government buildings, tourist attractions, and transport hubs.
The South African government has taken several measures to prevent terrorism, including increasing security at airports and other high-profile locations, and monitoring potential threats.
There is also close cooperation between South African law enforcement agencies and international partners to identify and disrupt terrorist activities.
Scams Risk: HIGH
Scams are a huge risk in Johannesburg, as they are in many other cities around the world. Scammers target tourists or vulnerable individuals, and they often use a range of tactics to defraud victims of money or valuable items.
Common scams in Johannesburg include “419” or “advance-fee” scams, in which scammers promise a large sum of money in exchange for an upfront payment. Other scams may involve fake or inflated prices for goods or services, fake charity collections, or offers of fake job opportunities.
To reduce your risk, it’s important to be cautious and skeptical of any offers that seem too good to be true. Always research companies and individuals before doing business with them, and be wary of any unsolicited offers or requests for money.
It’s also important to be cautious when using ATMs, as criminals may try to steal card details or PINs. Always cover the keypad when entering your PIN, and watch out for anyone who is acting suspiciously.
If you believe you have been scammed in Johannesburg, you should report it to the police and seek legal advice. Additionally, you can report scams to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC), which is an organization that helps to combat financial crime in the country.
Transport Risks: HIGH
To minimize your risks with transport and taxis in Jo’burg, it’s important to take precautions such as using licensed taxis, always avoiding unlicensed operators, being aware of your surroundings, and planning your travel ahead of time to avoid rush hour traffic.
It’s also worth noting, not all the roads in Jo’burg are well-maintained, so you could be in for a bumpy ride.
Importantly though you need to be aware that thieves can disguise themselves as vendors or beggars and will target cars on highways off-ramps, intersections, and traffic lights.
In particular, “smash and grab” thefts and carjacking are common along major routes, major intersections, during traffic congestion, and after dark.
To make matters worse, criminals often place debris on roads to bring cars to a stop, and road spiking is also a huge issue, where spikes are placed on roads to damage cars and force drivers to pull over.
When I was in Jo’burg I experienced the windshield washers that come up and start washing your windscreen in hopes of a tip. Just be careful with this as they can be very demanding. Make sure to clearly say no.
It is essential to keep doors locked and windows up at all times. Also, keep valuables hidden from view, avoid driving after dark, and maintain situational awareness, stopping only at safe areas such as petrol stations or shops.
If you suspect that you are being followed by a suspicious vehicle, head to a police station, petrol station or alert a security company.
Is Johannesburg Safe to Get Around?
Getting around Jo’burg safely can be a challenge due to the high crime rate in the city.
One of the most important things to do is to use reputable taxis and rideshares and avoid using informal taxis or minibus taxis, which are known to be involved in criminal activities.
Additionally, it’s best to avoid walking alone after dark, especially in areas that are known for crime. If you need to, it’s best to walk in groups and stay in well-lit areas.
Planning your route ahead of time and avoiding unfamiliar or high-risk areas is highly recommended to stay safe and secure.
It’s also a good idea to stay informed about the latest safety information and travel advisories. This can help you to make decisions about where to go and what to do while traveling in Johannesburg.
Be prepared to adjust your plans if necessary and to have a plan in place if something goes wrong.
Uber in Johannesburg
Taking Ubers in Johannesburg can be a safe and convenient way to get around the city. The main downside however is the cost. If you are travelling a lot around the city by Uber, it may end up costing more than renting a car.
As with any destination, it’s important to only use the official Uber app to request rides and ensure that the driver’s photo and vehicle details match what is displayed in the app. This can help to prevent scams and ensure that you are getting into a legitimate Uber vehicle.
When getting into an Uber, confirm the driver’s identity and the destination. It’s also a good idea to sit in the back seat of the car. Keep your phone charged and have a backup plan in case of an emergency.
If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe at any point during the ride, you can end the trip early and request a new ride or contact the Uber safety team for assistance.
There are still traditional metered taxis floating around but they are costly, unreliable, and not recommended, just stick to Ubers.
The Gautrain is a popular way to get around Johannesburg that provides a safe, efficient, and convenient way to travel around the city.
It has a network of stations that cover major destinations such as OR Tambo International Airport, Sandton, Rosebank, Pretoria, and many others.
The Gautrain stations and trains are equipped with CCTV cameras and security personnel, which adds an extra layer of safety for passengers.
I suggest you use the official Gautrain app to purchase tickets and check train schedules, as this can help you to avoid the long queues at ticket counters.
Driving Around Johannesburg
Driving around Jo’burg can be an easy way to explore the city at your own pace.
Johannesburg roads can be congested and busy, particularly during peak traffic times. I would also suggest avoiding driving in unfamiliar areas after dark and parking your car in secure, well-lit areas.
Always keep your car doors locked and windows rolled up, particularly in areas where there is a high risk of crime. And, avoid leaving valuables visible in your car.
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Safest Places To Stay In Johannesburg
The majority of Johannesburg’s hotels are concentrated around its northern suburbs but Norwood and Melville are the best options if you also want to be within walking distance of great bars and restaurants.
Sandton is another great area and is on the Gautrain line. It is safe and clean (though some would say soullessly so). The burgeoning downtown area is also an option, with artsy CBD-fringe precinct Newtown a great choice.
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Is Johannesburg Safe At Night?
Johannesburg has a vibrant nightlife, home to many bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues that come to life after the sun goes down.
But is Johannesburg safe at night?
As we know Johannesburg has a reputation for high crime rates, and that does not exclude the night. However, that being said, many people do enjoy Johannesburg’s nightlife without any problems. The key to staying safe in Johannesburg at night is being aware of the major dangers.
Street crime is the biggest risk in Johannesburg at night. Muggings, pickpocketing, and theft are not uncommon, especially in deserted areas.
Always stay alert. If you are carrying a bag or purse, keep it close to your body and avoid leaving it unattended.
Carjackings are another significant concern in Johannesburg at night, particularly at traffic lights or stop signs. Keep car doors locked and windows up at all times. Also, avoid driving alone at night and use well-lit and busy routes.
Robberies and assaults can also occur, particularly in high-crime areas. Try to avoid walking alone at night and only take reliable transport.
And lastly, drink spiking is a risk in many cities, and Johannesburg is no exception. It is essential to be careful when accepting drinks and to keep an eye on your drink at all times.
By knowing the dangers you can take the proper safety precautions. At the end of the day, it is always better to err on the side of caution, especially at night.
Is Johannesburg Safe for Females?
Women can be vulnerable targets in Johannesburg. However, that being said, many women do live, work and visit Johannesburg without experiencing any issues. The key to staying safe in Johannesburg, as a woman, is to take extra precautions.
When traveling alone or at night, opt for taking a rideshare like Uber or Bolt rather than walking. If you must walk, avoid poorly lit areas and walk with others. It is also essential to keep your valuables out of sight and avoid wearing expensive jewelry or carrying large amounts of cash.
When it comes to accommodation, make sure to stay in a reputable hotel in a safe area of the city.
If you ever feel uncomfortable in a particular situation, walk away and seek somewhere safe such as a store. It is better to be safe than sorry.
I would also suggest dressing more conservatively and to try and blend in with the locals. Avoid drawing attention to yourself as a tourist such as by frequently looking at maps, which could make you a target.
Overall, while Johannesburg does have safety concerns, women can still travel to and enjoy the city.
Which is Safest Cape Town or Johannesburg?
Both Cape Town and Johannesburg have areas that are safe and areas that are not so safe. It’s important to keep in mind that crime can happen anywhere in the world!
That being said, Johannesburg has a higher crime rate than Cape Town. Numbeo’s Crime Index, rates Johannesburg’s crime index at 80, while Cape Town’s crime index is 73. Both cities do have high crime rates compared to other cities around the world.
Personally, I found Cape Town to feel safer than Johannesburg.
If you’re planning to visit either city, it’s recommended that you research the areas you’ll be visiting and stay updated on local news and travel advisories.
What to Avoid in Johannesburg?
While Johannesburg has many attractions and is a vibrant city, there are some areas and activities that you may want to avoid.
Here are some things to keep in mind for your upcoming trip to Jo’burg!
- High-crime areas: Some areas of Johannesburg are known for high levels of crime. These areas include Hillbrow, Yeoville, Berea, and the inner city. Alexandra is another place that is easy to stumble across as it is on the road from the airport to Sandton. This is another place you should always avoid.
- Taxis and minibus taxis: While taxis are a convenient way to get around, some taxis and minibus taxis in Johannesburg have been known to be involved in criminal activity. Take an Uber instead of hailing a taxi.
- Walking alone at night: Joburgers are friendly people, but the city is still rife with poverty. Don’t wander alone at night when you feel it’s unsafe to do so. Travel in a group or order an Uber to take you to your next destination.
- Wearing your flashiest jewellery: Avoid showing off your grandma’s diamond ring, carrying the latest camera, and wearing your designer cross-body bag, as this may make you a target for theft.
- ATMs: Be cautious when using ATMs, especially if they are located in isolated areas as they can be a hotspot for theft. It’s best to use ATMs located inside a shopping mall or bank.
- Political protests: Avoid political protests and demonstrations, as these can turn violent.
- Patting stray dogs: Rabies is a serious risk in Jo’burg so DON’T pat any stray dogs, cats or any wild animal for that matter. If you are scratched by an animal, head straight to the emergency room for a round of rabies injections to be safe.
10 Safety Tips For Travel To Johannesburg
Here are 10 safety tips to keep in mind when traveling to Johannesburg.
- Stay in safe areas: Before you travel to Johannesburg, research the areas you plan to visit and learn about their crime rates.
- Use reliable transportation: Make sure to use reliable transportation, aka Uber, especially at night. Avoid using public transport or walking alone at night.
- Keep your valuables out of sight: Protect yourself from pickpocketers and theft by avoiding wearing expensive jewelry, flashy items or carrying a lot of cash. If you are ever confronted with a robber, do not fight them. Simply hand over your belongings, avoiding making eye contact or saying any comments.
- Stay aware of your surroundings: Be aware of your surroundings on your travels and trust your instinct! Avoid getting distracted by your phone and if something doesn’t feel right trust your gut, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Visit a travel doctor: Before you head off talk to your doctor about the vaccinations you need and medications you should pack if you do get sick. Some vaccines and boosters to discuss with your doctor include hepatitis A & B, rabies, typhoid, and tetanus.
- Stay in well-lit areas: Stay in well-lit areas when walking at night and avoid shortcuts through dark alleys.
- Stick with others: Whenever possible, travel in groups, especially at night. Safety in numbers!
- Carry a copy of your passport: Carry a copy of your passport with you at all times in case of an emergency.
- Be cautious with strangers: Be cautious with strangers and avoid giving out personal information or accepting drinks from them.
- Act like you know where you’re going: Try and blend it, you’ll draw lots of unwanted attention if you look too lost. Head into a cafe or shop to check directions to be more discreet.
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By following these safety tips, you can enjoy all that Johannesburg has to offer while staying confidently safe!
So is Johannesburg Safe For Travel In 2023?
Ultimately, Johannesburg is a city that rewards the adventurous traveller, offering a rich and diverse cultural experience that is unlike anywhere else in the world.
With careful planning and preparation, travellers can experience the best that Johannesburg has to offer while staying safe and secure throughout their journey.