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Is Johannesburg Safe For Tourists To Visit?

Is Johannesburg Safe For Tourists To Visit?

If you’re dreaming of an exotic destination, home to a rich cultural history and spectacular native animals, visiting Johannesburg, South Africa, may have crossed your mind. But like many major cities, Johannesburg is not without its safety concerns. Many travellers wishing to see the city ask, is Johannesburg safe? 

In this blog post, I will provide you with the safety tips that helped me navigate Jo’burg safely as a female traveller and will allow you to plan your trip confidently.

After all, crime is the most significant 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 visitor, these travel tips will help you stay safe in the city.

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Is Johannesburg Safe?

The answer to this question is more complex as it largely depends on where you are in the city, the time of day, and the safety precautions you take. 

Like any other city in the world, Johannesburg has areas considered more dangerous than others, including Hillbrow, Yeoville, Berea, and the inner CBD. 

Don’t let it put you off as Johannesburg does has areas safe to visit, especially during the day. Places like Sandton, Joburg’s central business district, Melrose Arch, and Rosebank are popular among locals and travellers for their shopping, dining, and entertainment.

Johannesburg has a lot of tension due to poverty and wealth not being shared equally. When you visit Jo’burg for the first time, it truly is the rich on one side of the street with gorgeous homes and the poor on the other living in slums. This causes a lot of crime, 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 essential 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 neighbourhoods hiring 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.

Johannesburg slum town.
Jo’burg slum / shanty town.

Warnings & Dangers in Johannesburg

Below, I will go through the main dangers you must know about in Johannesburg.

Overall Risk: HIGH

It is recommended that visitors exercise a high degree of caution in South Africa due to the high level of serious crime. Violent crime like carjacking, murder, assault, food and drink spiking, rape, and muggings does 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, jewellery, and smartphones out of sight, and beware the wallet inspector: criminals posing as Tourist Police (these don’t exist). Even better, leave valuables at home!

Protests are held frequently across South Africa; avoid these areas by keeping current with the media. 

Group of people demonstrating in the streets of Johannesburg.

Pickpockets Risk: MEDIUM

Pickpocketing is a common risk in Johannesburg, particularly in crowded 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 of petty theft, 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. Only carry a little cash, pay attention in crowded areas, and watch 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 significant risk in Johannesburg, particularly in certain areas and neighbourhoods.

It often involves violence or threats to steal valuables such as cash, phones, and jewellery. 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 centres, 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 high-risk areas.

When travelling around Johannesburg, stay alert to suspicious activity, such as people following 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 considerable risk in Johannesburg, as they are in many other cities worldwide. 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 phoney job opportunities.

To reduce your risk, it’s important to be cautious and sceptical of any offers that seem too good to be true. Before doing business with them, always research companies and individuals, and be wary of unsolicited offers or money requests.

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 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) on +27 11 847 3000, an organization that helps 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 only some of the roads in Jo’burg are well-maintained, so you could be in for a bumpy ride.

Importantly, 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, where spikes are placed on roads to damage cars and force drivers to pull over, is also a huge issue.

When I was in Jo’burg, I experienced the windshield washers who would 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 say no clearly.

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 you are being followed by a suspicious vehicle, head to a police station or 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 known for crime. If you need to, walk in groups and stay in well-lit areas.

To stay safe and secure, it is highly recommended that you plan your route ahead of time and avoid unfamiliar or high-risk areas.

It’s also good to stay informed about the latest safety information and travel advisories. This can help you decide where to go and what to do while travelling in Johannesburg.

Be prepared to adjust your plans if necessary and to have a plan in place if something goes wrong.

Uber in Johannesburg 

Uber in Johannesburg can be a safe and convenient way to get around the city. The main downside, however, is the cost. Travelling around the city a lot by Uber can cost more than renting a car.

As with any destination, it’s important only to 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. Doing this can help prevent scams and ensure that you get into a legitimate Uber vehicle.

When getting into an Uber, confirm the driver’s identity and destination. It’s also a good idea to sit in the back seat. 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, request a new ride, or contact the Uber safety team for assistance.

Traditional metered taxis exist but are costly, unreliable, and not recommended. Stick to Ubers.

The Gautrain

The Gautrain is a popular way to travel around Johannesburg. It is safe, efficient, and convenient.

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, adding extra safety for passengers.

I suggest you use the official Gautrain app to purchase tickets and check train schedules. This can help you avoid the long queues at ticket counters.

Yellow train going along the tracks in Johannesburg.

Driving Around Johannesburg 

Hiring a car in Jo’burg can be a way to explore the city at your own pace.

Johannesburg roads can be congested and busy, particularly during peak traffic times. Avoid 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 with a high crime risk. And avoid leaving valuables visible in your car.

Guided Tours of Johannesburg

Tours of the city with a local guide are a good way of ensuring you stay as safe as possible.

Is Johannesburg Safe for Females?

Women can be vulnerable targets in Johannesburg. However, many women do live, work, and visit Johannesburg without experiencing any issues. As a woman, the key to staying safe in Johannesburg is to take extra precautions.

When travelling alone or at night, take 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 jewellery or carrying large amounts of cash.

Regarding accommodation, 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 shelter in a safe place, such as a store. It is better to be safe than sorry.

I would also suggest dressing conservatively and blending 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.

While Johannesburg has safety concerns, women can still travel to and enjoy the city.

young women walking through a township with small south african children in Johannesburg.

Is Johannesburg Safe At Night?

Johannesburg has a vibrant nightlife. It is 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 nightlife. However, many people do enjoy Johannesburg’s nightlife without any problems. The key to staying safe in Johannesburg at night is awareness of the significant 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 carry 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.

Knowing the dangers allows you to take the proper safety precautions. Ultimately, it is always better to err on the side of caution, especially at night. 

orange sunset over Johannesburg.

Safest Places To Stay In Johannesburg 

Most of Johannesburg’s hotels are concentrated around its northern suburbs. Still, Norwood and Melville are the best options if you also want to be within walking distance of great bars and restaurants.

Sandton is another excellent area and is on the Gautrain line. It is safe and clean (though some say soullessly so). The burgeoning downtown area is also an option, with the artsy CBD-fringe precinct Newtown a great choice.

✔️ Agterplaas Guesthouse ⭐ 9.1/10 (230 reviews)

This property is located in Melville and is safe, affordable, and ideally located! Find pricing, availability and reviews here.

✔️ Hoeveld House ⭐ 8.9/10 (572 reviews)

If you’d rather splurge a bit, why not try Hoeveld Houd? This boutique hotel is located in Sandton. Find pricing, availability and reviews here.

Which is Safest, Cape Town or Johannesburg?

Both Cape Town and Johannesburg have safe areas and unsafe areas. It’s important to remember 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 have high crime rates compared to other cities around the world.

Personally, I found Cape Town to feel safer than Johannesburg.

If you plan to visit either city, research the areas you’ll be visiting and stay updated on local news and travel advisories.

table-mountain-cable-car-Cape Town

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 crime levels. 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 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. Do not wander alone at night if 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 protests and demonstrations, as these can turn violent.
  • Patting stray dogs: There is a severe risk of rabies in Jo’burg, so DON’T pat stray dogs, cats or wild animals. If 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 ten safety tips when travelling to the bucket list-worthy Johannesburg.

  • Stay in safe areas: Before you travel to Johannesburg, research the places you plan to visit and learn about their crime rates. 
  • Use reliable transportation: Use reliable transportation, like 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 jewellery, flashy items or carrying a lot of cash. If you are ever confronted with a robber, do not fight them. Hand over your belongings, avoiding making eye contact or saying any comments. 
  • Stay aware of your surroundings: Be mindful of your surroundings on your travels, and trust your instinct! Avoid getting distracted by your phone; trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Visit a travel doctor: Before heading off, talk to your doctor about the vaccinations you need and medications you should pack if you 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: Always have a copy with you 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 to 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. 

✔️ Bonus Safety Tip!

Make sure to get travel insurance! It is essential to protect yourself financially against unexpected events such as trip cancellations, medical emergencies, and lost or stolen luggage.

By following these safety tips, you can enjoy all that Johannesburg has to offer while staying confidently safe!

You can check out my travel resources page for helpful information on insurance, accommodation and activities to book in Johannesburg.

So, is Johannesburg Safe For Tourists? 

Ultimately, Johannesburg rewards the adventurous traveller, offering a rich and diverse cultural experience unlike anywhere else.

With careful planning and preparation, tourists can experience the best of Johannesburg while staying safe and secure throughout their journey.

Please PIN for Future Travel to South Africa

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