What I Learned as Solo Female Traveller After 3 Months in Cape Town
The first time I went viral on TikTok, I somewhat awkwardly attempted to answer the question, “is Cape Town safe for solo female travellers?”
In my video, I shared that I had never felt in danger while in South Africa as a woman on my own. I immediately got a lot of hate and threats, as well as many concerned comments. While some weirdos said things like “I’m going to track you down” and others ominously cautioned, “just wait a few weeks”, that told me a lot more about TikTok trolls than the actual situation in Cape Town. I still couldn’t help but think that this was my Kim K moment.
I do admit, however, that my blanket statement about safety in South Africa deserves a less biased amendment, which I’m going to address in this blog post.
So if you ask me today, “is Cape Town safe for tourists?”, I’ll give you a somewhat different answer.
Should You Visit Cape Town as a Solo Female Traveler?
Cape Town is, hands down, one of the most beautiful destinations on the planet. You have kilometres of white sandy beaches, mountains steps from the city, an amazing foodie and cafe scene, world-class art and entertainment, and sensational views wherever you look.
I loved Cape Town so much that I plan to return every winter for the rest of my life. But if you ask me if you should visit Cape Town as a solo female, my answer depends on your own personality, mindset and previous travel experiences.
Cape Town Compatibility Test
Cape Town is the perfect destination for you as a solo female, if:
- You’ve travelled solo before, preferably through Mexico or other countries in Central or South America.
- You’re okay with not flashing your wealth. If you love wearing jewelry and carrying designer handbags around, you might have to change your style a little bit while in South Africa.
- You’ve seen poverty and understand that people are people everywhere.
- You have a lot of sympathy for folks coming from all walks of life (more on this later).
- You don’t mind the occasional electricity shortage.
- You like researching your destinations before you travel (research is key to ensuring you have a hassle-free stay in Cape Town).
- You’re okay with not walking around outside after dark.
If the above doesn’t faze you, read on for my take on how Cape Town can be safe for safe for a solo female traveller is yes.
Are There Many Solo Female Travelers in Cape Town?
One way to answer, “is Cape Town safe?” is to look at who else is visiting the city.
While planning my trip, it struck me just how many other solo female travellers were spending European winter in Cape Town.
I was able to connect with some girls even before my arrival, thanks to Facebook groups like Cape Town Digital Nomads.
When I arrived, I was also pleasantly surprised to see a number of ladies of all ages walking down the street with yoga mats and sipping lattes on the outdoor terraces – either on their own or in small groups.
On my flight back from Cape Town to Frankfurt, I was even sitting next to an elderly woman who told me she had been travelling to South Africa alone for over 35 years!
Pro Tip: a great way to meet other solo female travellers is to join a group tour or maybe even a local cooking class!
Things to Be Aware of Before Visiting Cape Town
Before diving further into the question “is Cape Town safe”, I’d just like to share a few words on socioeconomic dynamics in South Africa. It helps to be (almost painfully) aware of the following things before you visit.
Understand Your Own Privilege
So, you might make 40,000 € a year and take the subway to work every day at home, but in Cape Town, you’ll feel rich. Your dollars (or Euros) will go a lot further than in your country of origin, and you’ll automatically have access to many, many things that locals cannot incorporate into their daily lives.
A 5 € latte in Berlin will cost 1.50 € at a beautiful, architect-designed cafe in the nicest neighbourhood. You’ll be able to cross the city in an Uber for just a little bit more than the price of a one-way ticket on the metro in Paris. I was able to purchase 6 items of clothing at a department store for 40 €, whereas at home, I would have easily given out 200 €. And my monthly rent was 600 €, which included daily housekeeping and laundry.
While life might seem very, very affordable to us, it is essential to remember that even these lower costs are prohibitive to South Africans.
Unfortunately, during my time in SA, I came across a number of foreigners – your average everyday Europeans – who were acting like kings in Cape Town and became extremely contemptuous of (and rude to) locals.
Please, please don’t do this. Try to remember that, if it weren’t for a flicker of fate, you might be in your waitress’s shoes. And also, when your 3-month visa expires, you’ll be back to battling the crowds in the Berlin subway at rush hour.
Social Inequality in South Africa
This leads us to the next point, which is something I wasn’t expecting to be so explicit. Very quickly, you’ll notice blatant social inequalities as you wander around Cape Town. Even in the richer neighbourhoods, you’ll see people living in tents a few hundred meters from skyscrapers and country clubs.
I definitely want to stress that, even though there were beggars on the street, I not once felt threatened or in danger. There seemed to be a “live and let live” policy. I favoured walking around over calling an Uber as much as possible, which led me to sometimes go past homeless “camps” on my ventures.
Apart from occasionally being asked for money – or more heartbreakingly, food – I was left alone. So is Cape Town safe, given these circumstances? I’d still say so.
How to Interact with Beggars
You might wonder, is Cape Town safe, given the number of beggars around? I cannot stress this point enough, but I not once felt intimidated by or scared of beggars who approached me. (In fact, the most aggressive attention I received on the street was from drunken European male tourists.)
Usually, beggars were very respectful. If they happened to insist, the best way I found to deal with the situation was to smile sympathetically and either give them a small amount of change or say, “sorry, I don’t have anything” and be on my way.
The worst thing one can do is get annoyed or angry and yell at them – or ignore them. In Europe, we are often taught to ignore beggars on the street, but in South Africa, that sort of contempt might make people more aggressive.
As I genuinely felt sorry for those who approached me, I didn’t have to feign sympathy when I was approached. I would look people in the eye and apologize, though I wasn’t sure if I was saying sorry for not having any change or for the fact that they were in this terrible situation to begin with.
If you stay cool and are sympathetic but firm, you shouldn’t have any issues with beggars in Cape Town.
Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
As you know by now, the question, “is Cape Town safe” has many layers to it. But I’d go so far as to say that Cape Town is incredibly safe if you remain aware of your surroundings at all times. Stay alert – not fearful, but alert – as you explore.
Concretely, this means knowing where you are and not randomly going down a street or visiting an area until you’ve confirmed it is a good idea. I would always double-check with the people at my guesthouse or local friends before venturing off anywhere alone.
While in Europe, I’m rarely without my headphones, I didn’t use them at all on my Cape Town walks. I did, however, take my phone out to record videos and take a million photos – but only when I had previously walked in an area once before and gotten my bearings.
I also didn’t carry my phone in my hand or text for too long. Instead, I would only take my phone out when I needed it and then put it safely back in the bag I had strapped across my body. These were precautionary measures more than anything, but being street smart definitely didn’t do me a disservice in Cape Town.
After a few days, you will get the hang of staying alert but also living in the now and having a good time.
Take Expat Stories with a Grain of Salt
If you ask people who’ve actually been to South Africa, “is Cape Town safe”, you are likely to get a resounding yes. But some people will warn you of things that happened to friends of friends of friends.
A lot of these claims have been passed on from person to person, but no one seems to remember exactly what happened. So don’t let these outlandish tales dissuade you from visiting. Be mindful that fear plays a huge role in making a situation seem less safe than it is.
Do Your Research
I am by no means advocating that solo female travellers blindly go galavanting about the city. In fact, research is key to ensuring you have a good time in Cape Town.
Perhaps the most important aspect of planning a safe trip to Cape Town is to figure out where to stay. There are plenty of neighbourhoods where you can walk around freely (during daylight hours) without worrying about petty crime.
For example, I stayed in Sea Point, a lovely area bordering the ocean. While I did still see signs of poverty, I felt very safe and comfortable.
Where to Stay in Cape Town As a Solo Female Traveler?
Below, you’ll find a list of areas that are the safest for solo female travellers (and other tourists) in Cape Town. Most of these are along the Atlantic Seaboard, so they have the added bonus of gorgeous ocean views. These are wealthy areas with private security, so you shouldn’t have any problems:
- Sea Point
- Bantry Bay
- Camps Bay
- V&A Waterfront
- Hout Bay
Many people I know also ended up staying in the Central Business District (Cape Town’s downtown core). This area is definitely more happening – as such, you are more likely to get stopped by beggars or be a target of petty crime. In addition, you can quite quickly turn down a sketchy street without realizing it – and your surroundings can change in a matter of seconds.
Once again, however, you can be out and about during daylight hours without worrying too much (just practice a heightened level of vigilance). It is unlikely that anything will happen, especially if you aren’t displaying excessive wealth (e.g. visibly carrying a camera or iPhone). So is Cape Town safe in the city centre? I’d still say yes.
How I see it, the biggest disadvantage of living in the CBD is that you’d always have to grab an Uber to go to the ocean. I wanted to live within walking easy walking distance of the water, so I never truly considered the city center as a base. But that’s more of a personal preference than anything else.
Connect to the Expat – and Local – Communities
One of the reasons I felt very confident travelling to Cape Town on my own is because I connected to the expat community before I arrived.
As briefly mentioned, I leveraged Facebook groups to meet other solo travellers. This is how I almost instantly got in touch with half a dozen women in the same shoes. It reassured me to think that I wasn’t the only one, and once I arrived, I already had a built-in sense of community.
Once you get your bearings, I recommend that you connect with locals! I met one of my best friends in Cape Town on TikTok, actually – a local content creator who showed me so much more of the city from a Capetonian’s point of view.
Since I stayed at the same guesthouse for 3 months, I also become close to the landlady. She even gave me her phone number in case I had trouble catching a car in the evenings and would help me whenever I needed support. The sense of solidarity amongst women of all walks of life in Cape Town was unparalleled.
How to Dress in Cape Town as a Solo Female Traveler
On top of wondering, “is Cape Town safe”, one of the biggest questions I had before travelling to South Africa was what clothes should I pack. Mind you, I was visiting at the height of summer.
There is no need to dress very conservatively. I walked around in light dresses, tank tops, shorts and sandals most days and didn’t attract any more attention than I would have in Germany. Locals were dressed much the same way – it is a beach town, after all.
Flying Into Cape Town International Airport
I was told to book flights that arrived and departed Cape Town during daylight hours. The logic behind this is that the route to the airport runs through poorer settlements that are best to be avoided after dark.
There were cheaper flights landing very early in the morning and taking off late at night, but I decided not to chance it.
I had also organized a private driver to pick me up at the airport on arrival. When I got my bearings in Cape Town, I started traveling mostly via Uber, which is a less costly option, but after a 10-hour flight, I was just looking for security, efficiency and comfort.
Pro Tip: Purchase a Local Sim Card at the Airport
A good piece of advice I received was to purchase a local sim card right at the airport. This allowed me to be connected on arrival.
I believe I paid roughly 40€ to get a phone number, 60 minutes of airtime and 20 GB of data. This was a prepaid deal, valid for 30 days. Afterwards, I topped up with a cheaper package, having realized I only needed 10 GB.
You’ll find a few cell phone providers in the Arrivals area. I went for MTN simply because the line was shorter. I enjoyed decent connectivity throughout my stay and cannot complain.
Getting Sick in Cape Town
There is one more aspect to cover when it comes to answering, “is Cape Town safe”. What is the medical system like, and how can you do your best to say healthy?
Towards the end of my time in South Africa, I struggled with a pretty bad stomach bug (like 2 rounds of antibiotics and it still wasn’t going away bad).
While locals say it’s okay to drink the tap water, I would advise foreigners to go to the extra expense of purchasing bottled water – and only drinking that.
A few hours after downing a glass of tap water (which I rarely did), I ended up getting very sick. Of course, there is no way of knowing for sure whether the tap water I drank caused me to be ill, but I will definitely err on the side of caution in the future.
Going to See the Doctor in Cape Town
The good news is that it is very straightforward to see a doctor in Cape Town. As a tourist, I would recommend you a) get travel health insurance and b) go to a private clinic.
When I needed to, I just walked into a GP’s office down the road and was seen both times within half an hour. The clinic was clean and modern, the staff efficient. The doctor took time with me and gave me a complimentary skin check for some moles I was worried about.
My two doctors’ visits cost me roughly 150€ (including antibiotics) and I can claim this amount back through my travel insurance.
It is definitely possible to get first-world healthcare in Cape Town, but of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so please don’t do as I did and randomly drink tap water one day!
Bottom Line: Is Cape Town Safe? Yes, If You Know What You’re Doing
I hope this article helped you answer the question, “is Cape Town safe”, especially if you are a solo female traveller like me. While it might seem intimidating to visit a country often associated with violence and crime, rest assured that Cape Town is not only an overall safe destination but also one of the most beautiful spots on the planet.
Remember that petty theft can happen anywhere, and violent crime is extremely, extremely rare if you stick to the tourist areas mentioned in this post. Furthermore, if you exercise a level of vigilance and caution, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying an amazing destination.