6 Rules for Safety in South Africa

Is South Africa safe?

This question seems to be at the forefront of every traveller’s mind. We’ve heard the horror stories, seen the statistics that seem to undeniably confirm our fears: South Africa is dangerous. However, in our scramble to get as far away from South Africa as possible, we’ve neglected to recognize a simple fact. Every place is dangerous to a certain degree. That said, if you take a few simple considerations into mind, you can make the best of your South Africa trip, travelling in safety, comfort, and style.

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Cape Town ain’t got nothin’ on Queen Vic!

1. South Africa today is very different from South Africa in the past

True, South Africa today might not be the safest place in the world. However, it’s so much safer than the South Africa of the past. Though there are still many social issues, apartheid ended 20 years ago and the majority of South Africa nowadays is pretty peaceful.

2. Solo does not mean solitary

It’s great that you’re embracing solo travel, but it’s less great that you’re embracing secluded-area-dark-alley travel. Avoid going to secluded areas, especially if it’s dark out. However, going out alone in a public place should be completely fine.

3. Embrace the inner tourist

Sometimes, when you just aren’t too sure about your ability to have a great visit somewhere, going with a tour group can be a great option. For example, if you want to visit the Cape of Good Hope from Cape Town, you can usually go with a tour operator and around 7 or 8 other people. These tours can be arranged at the reception desk of your hotel and are a great way to meet some new people. I’m usually not a fan of group tours because they only give you the tourist experience, but sometimes they’re worth it if they provide you greater security and brainpower to enjoy the experience.

4. You are NOT afraid

If your appearance doesn’t give you away as a visitor immediately, your lack of familiarity with your surroundings will. Don’t carry yourself like you don’t know what you’re doing. Even if you’re so terrified you think you might piddle your pants, don’t show it. Those who prey on tourists can see your fear from a mile away.

5. Use your common sense

 

This is the best advice I can give you on safety while travelling anywhere. Your gut feeling is never wrong. If something doesn’t feel right, get yourself out of there! Book a hotel that’s reputable and has security or a 24/7 reception desk. Spend a little more money on a taxi or private driver if that makes you feel safer. Don’t wander around deserted alleys frequented by gangs in the dead of night.

6. Don’t let us turn you off South Africa

Now that I’ve given you all the ominous (they weren’t so bad, were they?) details about visiting South Africa safely, don’t let us turn you off your journey. South Africa is one of the most beautiful places in the world, in my opinion, and South Africans, 99.999% of the time are very nice people. Most of the people who visit South Africa do so with no incident. Heck, I’ve broken some of these rules when visiting South Africa (I don’t recommend you do the same) and I came out unscathed! South Africa is one of the must visit destinations of a lifetime and don’t let any of us tell you otherwise!

Happy travels!

My trip to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

July 15 2014

Dark and early, we are driven to Harare Airport. The domestic terminal is a desolate and lonely place. It is so early that no stores are open yet. The scales at check-in are not electric, security takes up one line in a narrow hallway, and the gate takes up all of a single room.

At Victoria Falls, the terminal is no bigger than the one at Harare. We’re greeted by two men and a rental car, hired to take us around town. The airport is remote, and we drive down a small two-lane road for twenty or so kilometers to get to our hotel. Elephant Hill Hotel is classy, the staff polite, and the orange cocktail that they give us refreshing. It is a pity we do not get to spend more time exploring the grounds, but we do spot some baboons lounging about.

We take the van to Victoria Falls Park, rent raincoats, and queue in the line to wait for admission. The park looks typical of the African bush in winter: yellowed grass, bare shrubbery, and dry leaves all around. I can hear the faint noises of rushing water in the distance. We have no idea where we are walking, but it seems fun. We see the statue of Livingstone, some flowers that are still alive, and the end of the trail. Turning around, we brave the eastern part of the trail, running along the waterfall and all of the spray that comes along with it. We are accosted by spray so heavy that our raincoats keep only our backs dry. Near the bridge connecting Zimbabwe to Zambia, we see a double rainbow, a reward for our efforts. A little farther, the water mercifully stops and we see a family of three baboons gathered around an overturned trash bin.

We change into dry clothes before lunching at the Victoria Falls Hotel. It evokes thoughts of colonial Rhodesia. The view is superb. A vast back lawn where the restaurant is situated gives a clear view to the bridge on the border. Numerous black and white sparrows and a wild hog putter about on the lower terrace of the back lawn. The restaurant food seems substandard in contrast to the view. On the way to the ladies’ room, I see a massive portrait of the Queen Victoria.

Right after lunch, we go to the sunset cruise, though it is far from sunset. The drinks being complimentary, we order Cokes and red wine. The captain and bartender know what they are doing, as they point out various animals along the banks of the Zambezi River: crocodiles, hippos, and elephants. We watch the sunset and are immediately hurried back to the dock.

We have dinner at the Boma for a bit of cultural context. Cloths are tied around our shoulders in the traditional African way. The guava juice is good, though the crocodile starter tastes like really tough chicken. Not much in the buffet is to my liking, though the Sadza, a traditional south-eastern African dish, is good. Eating cooked insects come with certificates of accomplishment here. The performances are great, but the audience participation is truly awkward.

July 16 2014

An early morning awaits us as we wake at 5:30 to go on the game drive. We get on a safari vehicle and the driver hands out thick ponchos that double as insulation against the early morning cold and protection against the harsh wind. The driver picks up more people before we bump all the way out into the bush.

We spend more than three hours driving through the dirt roads in the reserve. I swear that all the poop that we see is equal in weight to all of the animals we see. The driver points out countless zebras, a herd of buffalo, a mass of rhinos, bush and water bucks, kudu, giraffes, vultures, and even a lion ravaged kudu carcass. We have breakfast in the reserve (it’s included in the game drive) and then return to the hotel.

The largest portion of our morning is spent at the helipad where we spot antelope and ride a helicopter for 12 minutes. A visit to the crocodile farm follows, and we are bored by the crocodiles but enamoured with the lions. We then visit the Big Tree where we are peddled to by determined souvenir vendors. Lunch at the Ilala is amazing; they do know how to cook. At the flea market behind, we haggle for a wood carving and some coasters. On the drive back to the airport, we ask “Do people live in the bush?”

“Yeah. They just don’t go out at night without a vehicle.”

“Why not?”

“You remember all of the animals you saw on this trip?”

Happy travelling!

-Chelsea

Guide: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

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Victoria Falls is the world’s largest waterfall by volume, 108 meters high and 1708 meters wide, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sits on the Zambezi River, straddling the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. On the northern side is the Zambian town of Livingstone, on the southern side, the Zimbabwean town of Victoria Falls.

David Livingstone is believed to be the first European that viewed Victoria Falls in 1855. He named the falls in honour of the Queen Victoria. However, the indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders” is also commonly used.

The Falls are a short distance north of the town of Victoria Falls. The best (and only) way to get close to the Falls from the Zimbabwean side is through the Victoria Falls National Park. Make sure to rent a poncho (just outside the entrance to the park) and bring a change of clothes! At certain parts of the national park, the mist will leave you as drenched as if you had been in a torrential rainstorm. You can also fly over Victoria Falls in a helicopter or a microlight, if you prefer not to get up close and personal with the mist.

Victoria Falls is not the only place you can visit in Victoria Falls. There are Boma Dinners where you can learn about the local indigenous cuisine and culture. River cruises take you down the Zambezi river, and usually you can catch a glimpse of various animals like elephants, hippos, and crocodiles. A wide range of safaris and game drives exist early in the morning and late at night. These are superb and well worth the money for the amount of wildlife they take you to see. Many other activities exist for a wide range of travellers, such as riding and fishing.

You can fly into Victoria Falls Airport, or take a bus or train in from larger cities. If you want to see Victoria Falls from both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides, the combined cost of visas will be less than 100 USD. It is best to visit during rainy season, December to March, when there will be more water in the Falls. However, visiting in the dry season is also fine, as there is usually more than enough water in the Falls until October, when the water may dry to a trickle.

Happy travelling!