Johannesburg can be a pretty mean and dangerous city for travellers or visitors who have not had a few basic lessons in street-smart behaviour before visiting this giant African melting pot. Johannesburg is a very large city with two general business zones, a more affluent north and a more working class centre. The north is pretty chic with upmarket shops and fine restaurants exuding more of a European feel, while the centre is busy and bustling with street vendors exuding a distinctly Africa feel. Generally, it is safer in the north than in the city centre, and naturally safer during daylight hours than after dark. The Gumtree South Africa team presents us with some high-quality tips on how to stay safe during your adventure in ZA.
The most important safety tip might well be to first understand the city layout and know where you are, especially after dark. Like most big cities in the world, being lost in the wrong part of town in the dark is usually a recipe for some calamity or the other, though not always. Be sure to be in the northern suburbs after dark if you are unfamiliar with Johannesburg and visiting this great city for the first time, which means getting your downtown Johannesburg city acclimatisation done during the light of day. Of course, the theatre district of downtown Johannesburg, for example, is pretty safe at night, but then you need to know how to get there directly.
A second big safety tip when in any city with a reasonably bad reputation is to not stand out as a visitor – undecided, unfamiliar, vulnerable, naïve, or unguarded. Have a look at the dress sense and behaviour of the local inhabitants, and try to emulate this. Behave casually, and try to be anonymous in your dress and behaviour. Be a tourist but be cool about it. Have a camera, but carry it discreetly. Sit in a coffee bar, check your maps, and plan your walking route, then explore that area with confidence and try not to make too many obvious referrals to guidebooks and maps. These are probably two of your best guards against petty crime and theft in big, dangerous, and foreign cities, namely know where you are and then try not to stand out.
Other safety tips are mostly practical and relate to passports, money, and credit or bankcards. If you are in a decent hotel, then leave all your valuables, including passport and cards, in the safe. Out on the street, carry only your cash, and be clever about how you handle it in public. Keep the small notes on the outside and then just a few hundred bucks at a time in one pocket for small purchases, keeping the big loot in a secure pocket if you have plans to spend big. In other words, be discreet with your money in public, and don’t make it obvious that you are carrying large amounts with you.
Also, get local advice before you head off into the city – advice about where you are planning to go and what you are planning to do. Ask at the hotel, or at the backpackers, whether your day’s tour plans seem reasonable and what the risks might be. Don’t be shy.
Finally, be very careful about your transport plans at night, including how you plan to get back to your accommodation. Take only certified taxies, or only get a lift with somebody you are familiar with and then preferably be in a group. Of course, most importantly, stay in control and don’t get intoxicated. Afraid of traveling alone in South Africa? Find yourself a travel buddy to explore the area with.