If you’re reading this post, you might be wondering, is Johannesburg safe for travel?
If you’ve spoken to anyone about your plans to visit Johannesburg, then you’ve probably heard some of the crazy stories circulating around the massive, bustling city – about getting robbed with machetes, or thieves setting up elaborate ruses to get drivers to pull over.
You’d think that it was the Wild West. So, is Johannesburg safe to travel to? Or does everyone have a horror story regarding safety when it comes to Johannesburg?
Safety in South Africa is always a hot topic, for both tourists and locals alike.
There is a never-ending debate on which South African city is more dangerous: Cape Town or Johannesburg. This question of safety gets thrown around a lot in the debate on which city is The Best Capetonians swear that Johannesburg is more dangerous.
But is the answer really that simple? Probably not.
Safety in South Africa is a complex issue and one that is closely related to the country’s ugly history of apartheid and inequality. But today we are only going to take a look at Johannesburg, fondly referred to as Joburg or Jozi by the locals.
Read on to take a closer look and find out if (and why) you should add Jozi to your itinerary.
Is Johannesburg Safe?
The answer to this question is not a straightforward yes or no. In many ways, Joburg is not safe.
Like many cities in South Africa, and elsewhere in the world, crime is present in the Rainbow Nation’s largest city and economic hub. But at the same time, it’s not any more dangerous than other major cities around the world.
Should you be careful? Yes, absolutely. You will probably have to be more vigilant than you would in many other places. But most of the reported crime occurs within areas that tourists are unlikely to ever visit.
Sadly, because the root cause of crime stems from poverty and inequality, you will find that the majority of crimes occur in the more impoverished areas of the city and some of the townships.
One thing to note is the booming private security industry in South Africa.
Most businesses and neighborhoods have their own privately hired security guards who keep an eye out for any trouble. And these security guards are the real deal; armed and trained well. Nearly everywhere that you go, you’ll probably find someone to help if you need it.
On the other hand, Johannesburg has another side to it; this side reflects a pulsing, cosmopolitan city with a spectacular mix of cultures and a vibrant energy to it. It is the financial hub of the country, with busy, upscale neighborhoods like any other city.
It also has some of the friendliest people in the country and you will surely find someone to help you find your way. You may even make a few friends that will invite you to a braai (the beloved South African barbecue).
Joburg also has a rich history and a blossoming arts scene. Although it’s not as scenically beautiful as its rival, Cape Town, Johannesburg still has a lot to offer.
Getting Around Johannesburg
One of the most frustrating things that visitors to Johannesburg encounter is just how big the city is. The city sprawls out in every direction and is over 1000 square kilometers in size. Everything feels far away and getting around can be logistically frustrating and costly.
The distances between suburbs are quite far, making it difficult to get from place to place cheaply. The public transport system is limited and confusing (Cheers if you can figure out the minibus taxis in Joburg). Because of this, a lot of people in Joburg drive cars.
The main forms of transport recommended are walking, driving, Uber, and Gautrain.
Walking Around Johannesburg
Walking around Johannesburg isn’t quite the same as walking around Cape Town or many other major cities around the world. Because of its size and how it’s laid out, you’ll most likely need to drive between suburbs first and then walk around.
Of course, you’ll want to be careful about where you walk. Some neighborhoods like Melville, Sandton, and Rosebank are fine. But you should always stay alert no matter where you go and trust your instincts if you start feeling uncomfortable.
Driving Around Johannesburg
If you are visiting Johannesburg, and South Africa in general, having a car can add so much to the experience. You will gain a lot of freedom if you decide to rent a car while you’re in Joburg.
Because of the great distances between… everything, you will be able to explore the city without having to worry about the cost or logistics as much.
The downside of renting a car and driving by yourself is that you will have the additional responsibility of looking after your car. You will be more concerned with where to park, more worried about break-ins, and of course the other drivers on the road (Joburg has a reputation for “crazy” drivers and somewhat dangerous roads).
If you decide to rent a car, make sure that you find accommodation that offers secure parking.
You should also be prepared to tip the car guards. Car guards are the people, usually wearing brightly colored vests, who will watch over your car while you’re away. A reasonable tip is about R5, or $0.30, and is definitely worth not having your car broken into.
Uber in Johannesburg
If you aren’t renting your own car, then plan on using Uber a lot. Uber is a very easy and common way of getting around Johannesburg. It is definitely recommended at night when it is unsafe to walk around. It is also recommended if you plan on having a few drinks at one of the many nightclubs or cool music events around the city.
There is a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving in South Africa, so even one drink is too much.
At one point a few years ago, Uber drivers faced some major resistance from metered taxis, which caused some potential safety issues and a rivalry between the two industries. Because of this, your Uber driver may ask you to sit up front or pick you up away from meter taxis.
The tension seems more under control these days, but you may still be asked by your driver from time to time.
The major downside of using Uber in Johannesburg is the cost. If you plan on traveling all around the city, expect the costs to add up quickly. It may even end up costing more than if you rented a car.
Bolt is a slightly cheaper e-hailing alternative to Uber, but their standards of safety are very low and their customer service is nonexistent if something bad does happen to you.
There are still traditional metered taxis floating around Jozi. But they are costly, unreliable, and not recommended.
➡️ To book a shuttle service within Johannesburg and avoid all of the headaches and possible dangers, click here! Having a local designated driver is a great way to calm your nerves!
Another method of transport that is available to you is the Gautrain. Built in 2011, The Gautrain is a relatively modern mass transit system that links Johannesburg and Pretoria. You can also use it to travel from OR Tambo International Airport (Goodbye sky-high Uber fees!).
It is a clean, efficient, and safe way to get around the city. The one downside of using the Gautrain is the limited number of stops that it currently caters to.
You may be able to use it to travel between some of the major suburbs, such as Sandton, Rosebank, and the CBD (central business district), but then you’ll still probably spend 20 minutes in an Uber to get to your actual destination.
Is Johannesburg Safe At Night?
Yes! And also, no. There are many areas of the city that are safe to hang out in, and maybe even walk around, at night (although one should still exercise caution.) There are just as many areas that you should avoid after the sun goes down. In general, areas with a lot of restaurants, clubs, or shops (or people) will be safer than quieter streets.
Most people try to avoid spending too much time walking and opt for an Uber, even if it’s only a few blocks. It is not recommended to walk too far and use Uber whenever you can to get from place to place unless you are bar hopping on a busy street.
Safest Places To Stay In Johannesburg
✔️ Curiocity Backpackers Johannesburg
Located in the vibey neighborhood of Maboneng, this hostel is safe, affordable, and centrally located.
✔️ The Peech Hotel
If you’d rather splurge a bit, why not try the Peech Hotel? This boutique hotel is located in the leafy suburb of Melrose North.
10 Safety Tips For Travel To Johannesburg
A few things to keep in mind to keep you safe while you’re traveling in Johannesburg.
1. Be Smart and Alert
When you hear travelers recounting the times that something bad happened to them in South Africa, you’ll often hear “I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t being careful. I was stupid.” Much of the crime in Johannesburg is opportunistic and simply happens because someone wasn’t paying enough attention.
2. Don’t walk around with your valuables showing
Better yet, leave the valuables at home. If you’re walking around the city, it’s best to not have your phone or camera visible and of course, don’t flash large amounts of money. Always be aware of your belongings at all times and don’t keep anything in your back pockets. The pickpockets in Johannesburg know what they’re doing!
3. Trust Your Gut
If you start to get a bad feeling about a person, place, street, or situation, then get out immediately. Your intuition is probably right and it’s better safe than sorry.
4. Always lock your doors while driving
And keep the windows rolled up when you can. Intersections are often hotspots for crime, as well as the common practice of “smash and grabs,” in which thieves will attempt to rob unsuspecting drivers while waiting for the light to turn green by smashing the windows and grabbing what they can.
5. Do as the locals do
The locals know their city best. If they warn you against something, there’s probably a good reason for it.
6. Act like you know where you’re going
You’ll draw lots of unwanted attention if you look too lost. If you need to check your phone for directions, pop into the nearest shop or cafe first to have a look discreetly.
7. Don’t stop on the highway or anywhere unexpectedly
Drive until you reach a petrol station. Stopping in an isolated area of the road could lead to carjackings or muggings.
8. Don’t leave valuables in your car
Most people store all of their belongings in the boot of the car so that nothing is visible from the outside. Sadly, even a few coins could be reason enough to break the window of an unattended car.
9. Be Alert around ATMs
This should go without saying, but you should always stay alert when withdrawing money from the ATM. Be aware of any suspicious characters nearby and don’t use an ATM if it seems to be having problems. If you really feel uncomfortable, head to a mall or shopping center to use the ATMs indoors.
10. Don’t forget to make friends
Although there is a lot of hype about crime in Johannesburg, don’t let it stop you from having a great time while you’re there. Jo’burgers are incredibly friendly and it would be a shame to miss out on some awesome experiences because of fear.
Conclusion: Is Johannesburg Safe For Travel In 2022?
In conclusion, although Johannesburg is far from perfect, it really doesn’t deserve the bad reputation that it’s gotten over the years. It is safe enough to travel, as long as you have your wits about you. Be smart and be alert while you’re there. You’ll discover what a truly friendly city it is, with a lot of character, history, and culture that is hidden beneath the rough exterior.