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Reports From the Forum

Is It Too Dangerous to Travel to Cape Town Right Now?

Is It Too Dangerous to Travel to Cape Town Right Now?
Jeff Edwards

The FlyerTalk Forum is a pretty big place, so, when a particularly good piece of FlyerTalk comes across our desks, we put it on the front page for regular Reports From the Forum. Want to read more? Check out the Reports From the Forum tag, or head to the forum yourself to see what the FlyerTalk is about.

If you spotted the recent New York Times story about the recent increase of gang violence in Cape Town, South Africa and considered changing your travel plans, you’re not the only one. One FlyerTalk member with plans to fly nonstop from Newark to Cape Town took his concerns to the “Africa” corner of the world’s largest community of expert travelers to ask, “Is Cape Town really dangerous or is the media sensationalizing the risks?” to get information about what it’s really like in Cape Town, South Africa from the FlyerTalkers who live in Cape Town or know it well.

“Just read the NYT article below about the huge spike in gang violence and the military being called in to suppress,” user spartacusmcfly wrote in a concerned post. “Is this just the NYT creating drama or is the city really dangerous?”

The Official Position

While the FlyerTalk community was generally more positive about the relative safety of Cape Town than both the New York Times and the Department of State, like the official U.S. Government position on travel to the South African capital city, FlyerTalk members urged visitors to “exercise increased caution.” This is, of course, a good rule of thumb no matter where the destination.

“Exercise increased caution in South Africa due to crime, civil unrest, and drought. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, rape, carjacking, mugging, and ‘smash-and-grab’ attacks on vehicles, is common,” the most recent official U.S government travel advisory warns. “There is a higher risk of violent crime in the central business districts of major cities after dark.”

Safety Tips

The agency specifically suggests travelers to South Africa, “avoid walking alone (especially after dark), avoid visiting informal settlement areas unless you are with someone familiar with the area, do not display cash or valuables and drive with doors locked and windows closed.” While frequent flyers familiar with the Cape Town area shared similar advice, there were also a few more specific tips along with a few surprising revelations.

Beyond not displaying cash or valuables, one FlyerTalk member suggested actually trying to look poor.

“Dress down,” The_Bouncer wrote. “Try not to look wealthy. Casual clothes, little or no jewelry. Cheap rental car. If (when) you are approached by beggars, plead poverty. Just tell them you don’t have any money … I take my oldest and crappiest clothes (and usually throw most of them away at the end of the trip). I don’t even bother having a haircut or trimming my beard. I literally walk around looking like a bum – and it works.”

Other members took things a step further, advising tourists to adopt a “backpacker’s uniform” of “well-worn jeans, a top and scuffed up hiking shoes.” The obvious added benefit here being that hiking clothes are designed for comfort.

Skywardhunter, on the other hand, offered the most concise (and perhaps most useful) advice of all. “Don’t be stupid and you’ll be fine,” the frequent flyer offered.

Respecting Boundaries

FlyerTalk member Ditto kindly provided a helpful map indicating Cape Town business and tourist districts (circled in red) along with the areas that have been trouble spots in recent months (circled in blue). There is reassuringly no overlap between the two. “As a tourist in Cape Town you will spend most of your time in the areas I circled in blue, the suburbs mentioned in the article are marked in red, so really nothing to worry about, ” the visually-minded user offered.

Hidden Dangers

One FlyerTalker suggested that violent crime is much less a threat to travelers’ safety than the prospect of getting behind a wheel of a car in the city notorious for traffic scofflaws. “If visitors to SA want to worry (an activity I don’t recommend), then it is the horrendous road traffic fatality numbers. DUI, unlicensed drivers, unroadworthy vehicles and road rage are widespread and common, not restricted to certain townships or extremely violent rural areas,” Johan Rebel cautioned.

A Surprising Risk

Cape Town-based FlyerTalk member Cheetah_SA offered an unheralded and unexpected activity to reconsider – getting back to nature. The recent crime wave to hit the area has claimed a surprising number of mountain hikers as victims.

“The gang violence making the headlines is, as many have said, not really relevant to tourists,” he explained. “However, the one place a tourist could easily be in serious jeopardy is walking on the mountain. Very recently a Ukrainian man was killed just minutes up a path off Chapman’s Peak. My partner and I were mugged on the slopes of Signal Hill two years ago – less than 300 meters from the road we live in. This is a situation that has been deteriorating steadily over the past few years to the point where I, as an elderly man, do not feel safe even when in a group.”

Would you take your family to Cape Town or would you prefer a less adventurous getaway? The discussion in the FlyerTalk Forum might help to make that decision easy and the safety tips being shared might just save travelers a world of hurt.

View Comments (5)

5 Comments

  1. fotographer

    September 16, 2019 at 3:55 am

    you could ask the same about London, UK

  2. spin2nd

    September 16, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    Just returned from SA and spent a few days in Cape Town…didn’t seem any different than any other big city you visit and never once felt unsafe being a tourist. We also had a couple of days with a local tour guide; he actually used to live in the US for college and echoed the same (compared it to NYC/LA/ETC). Said it’s no different than visiting any other big city in the world; just be smart about it.

  3. Flying Lawyer

    Flying Lawyer

    September 16, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    And being shut in the US has the same likelyness

  4. alangore

    alangore

    September 16, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    But at least in the US, you can shoot back. In my state, gun control means using both hands.

  5. TheCount2

    September 18, 2019 at 9:41 am

    I was there in March, stating the Westin attached to the Capetown International Convention Center, a safe touristy/business area of the city, close to museums, good hotels and the V&A Waterfront. After an evening event the bus dropped the meeting attendees at the Convention Center, and a gentleman walking to his hotel across the street was mugged, robbed and injured. One needs to exercise more caution than normal, and simply don’t walk out after dark

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