I must admit that the bad reputation and everyone’s “excellent” advises made me feel a little bit reluctant for this trip. But then I saw the number of tourists visiting South Africa every year and I figured that 10 million people just can’t be wrong. If things weren’t any good this number wouldn’t have been that big and constantly rising! South Africa cannot be as unsafe as the rumors say! In the two weeks I was about to find out how the reality is there.
I spent the way from Johannesburg airport to the hostel in silence, trying to remember every single detail of the world passing by. I did my best to figure out how my time in South Africa will be: hiding in touristic spots or walking around easily. The first impression wasn’t the greatest: every single house was surrounded by high fence topped with barbed wire or every crossroads was full of people waiting for the cars to stop so they could beg for money. But once we entered backstreets it seemed to be much calmer there – the weather was really lovely and a lot of locals went for a walk, the atmosphere was relaxed. After a scaring beginning I had a feeling we will get along fine with South Africa!
The first week there was spent on crazy backpacking trip with BazBus. And I loved it, a lot, but I kind of felt like I’m living in a bubble, avoiding the reality of South Africa. I was taken from the doorsteps of each hostels, then drove to the doorsteps of another one (the story was the same when I went for organized tours). And I really enjoyed that way of travelling as it helped me to prepare to the next week of independent exploring. In Durban the hostel was in a dodgy area next to the harbor that I knew I don’t want to explore but since we arrived in the evening and were leaving early in the morning I was more than fine to hang out in the hostel and admire the city from the rooftop. When the bus broke down close to the Indian Ocean the driver kept telling us we should be in the group when going around and heading to the beach. He seemed to be more worries than we were and of course nothing bad happened, no one bothered us, people were just looking at us curiously.
Eventually, in Knysna and Cape Town, we had to set off on our own. I didn’t want to admit it loud, not even to myself, but I was a little bit scared. All the negative comments about the safety in South Africa made their trick and left me paranoid about the place. I nervously looked around on the streets, I carefully looked at people around me in the train, I felt strained for most of the time. But guess what! Everything and everyone were fine! I didn’t feel in danger, not even once and all the struggles were only my own fault, I was the one who made my stay in South Africa a little bit difficult. I took local trains (even in a second class that apparently is a big no there), I walked around in the evening (mostly around the awesome Observatory) and for all the time I felt really safe.
Then there were townships. It’s advised to go there with a local guide that knows the place and people and that’s what I did in all the townships I visited. The crime rate might be higher than usual there but I don’t think going there in the daytime is such a risky thing. It’s more about knowing the way around the maze of streets and houses (sometimes these two seem like too big words for the reality there). There was only one situation in Kliptown, Soweto when a young guy (who is volunteering there) showed us around and at some point asked not to take pictures as there was not-so-legal gambling business going on on the street. We listened, of course we did, and when we walked by with our cameras hidden no one really bothered us.
For most of the time I felt like the local people are creating the atmosphere of South Africa being an unsafe country. And I get it, with the statistics being a shocking evidence of the situation within the country (every 36 seconds the woman is raped, around 50 people are murdered each day). Everyone we met kept telling us how dangerous it is, from hostel workers to bus drivers to tour guides. But I believe deep inside that every person is good and has no intention in harming me and as long as I follow the basic safety rules, like I do back at home, I should be fine everywhere (I’m not talking about bad luck as some nasty situations can happen in my hometown as well)
So how to survive in South Africa and enjoy it to the fullest without getting into too much trouble? Don’t go crazy paranoid as I did at the beginning as it might spoil your South African adventure. And then just follow the basic common sense rules that you use at home too: don’t go into the backstreets in the dark, don’t trust people you don’t know, don’t overexpose valuable items, respect the local culture and people, don’t go to the areas that have bad reputation – basically all the things you on daily basis at home, without thinking too much about them.
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South Africa is an amazing country, totally different from anything I’ve seen before. There’s an intriguing history, breathtaking landscape, interesting culture, wonderful cities (yes, Cape Town, I’m talking about you). It’s a shame to miss it all because of the prejudice how unsafe it is. Every city in every country can be dangerous in some way but that’s why we travel, not only to visit fascinating places but also to see the reality behind it. What I wrote above is only my own experience but I believe that with the right attitude everyone can enjoy the time in South Africa as much as I did!
Did you visit any places that were considered dangerous? Which ones?
If you think of visiting South Africa or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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