One of three South African capitals but arguably the most iconic, Cape Town is as geographically impressive as it is culturally diverse. The port city sits on a peninsula beneath the imposing Table Mountain with a busy harbor, trendy neighborhoods, and a great food scene. However, Cape Town also has a violent reputation that it can’t seem to shake.
Cape Town has a high crime index of 73.61 and demonstrates the highest rates of murder, robbery, and property-related crime in all of South Africa, but it’s not all violence and bloodshed. There are several safe areas with low crime rates offering a high quality of life like the waterfront and Clifton Bay, but there are also some places you’ll want to avoid.
From the pickpocketing hotbed of the city center to the deprived townships on the outskirts of the capital, here are the most dangerous places in Cape Town and everything you need to know about them. Let’s get into it.
Kleinvlei is a small district in the Blue Downs area on the western edge of Cape Town. It’s a residential neighborhood known for its high levels of poverty and gang-related crime. The district is bound by the Eerste River, and the Kleinvlei bushes in Devon Park, that line the river’s edge, is a particular hotbed for violence since they’re used by gang members for gambling.
It’s not unfamiliar for bodies to turn up in the bush after gangs have settled scores, and property violence is also rife. Kleinvlei has one of the highest attempted murder rates in the country, with 99 reported incidents between 2019 and 2020.
While most crimes are of a gang-related nature, we wouldn’t recommend tourists to visit Kleinvlei at all on their trip to Cape Town, be it day or night, since nonresidents will be more vulnerable to street crime.
Cape Town City Center
Cape Town has given way to a vibrant, bustling, and accessible city center in recent decades and it no longer has the violent reputation it once harbored. You’ll find trendy coffee shops, great restaurants, boutique stores, and plenty of pubs, clubs, and apartments, but not all areas are safe.
Cape Town city center might see lower rates of gang-related incidents than some of the poorer residential neighborhoods, but petty crime is high, especially in busy touristy areas, and drug dealing and alcohol-related incidents are higher than anywhere else in the city.
Pickpockets operate where people congregate so you should be especially wary of your surroundings and careful with your belongings when perusing the shops, traveling on public transport, or eating at outdoor cafes. Today, Cape Town city center has a heavy police presence and there’s also the South African Tourism Police on hand to protect visitors and make you feel comfortable, but the responsibility to protect yourself from thieves is ultimately yours.
Drug dealing and use, especially around Long Street where the best bars and clubs are located, is still rife. Tourists can often get themselves in trouble with the police or criminal gangs by dabbling in drugs in Cape Town. No matter where you are in the world, we always recommend staying away from illegal substances, first and foremost, for your safety, but you could also land a hefty prison sentence of up to fifteen years for the use or possession of Class A drugs in South Africa.
Central Cape Town has a population of around 45,000, but as many as 7,493 crimes were reported in 2021, with armed robbery, carjackings, and muggings being the most common. Crime soars by night and you shouldn’t walk around the center on your own after dark. Be sure to park in a secure, well-lit area with street guards, and never accept help from a stranger at an ATM.
If you plan to enjoy the nightlife when you’re in Cape Town, know your limits and never accept drinks from strangers. Men are just as much at risk as women when it comes to being spiked. Finally, make sure you take an official taxi back to your accommodation, rather than traveling on foot or on public transport.
Stellebosch is a university town located just outside Cape Town in the Western Cape province. Surrounded by the vineyards of Cape Town’s Winelands and the Simonsberg and Jonkershoek nature reserves, it’s a popular choice for holidaymakers looking to escape the city for some peace and serenity.
However, the town of Stellenbosch is a hotbed for crime, with around 154.38 crimes per 1,000 residents reported in 2021. Residents and visitors to Stellenbosch have a 1 in 6 chance of being victims of a crime, which is considerably high, and although contact crime has decreased by 36 percent in the last few years, theft and property crime have seen a 15 percent increase.
Stellenbosch is safe to explore by day and it’s one of Cape Town’s most popular day trips. The oak-shaded streets are lined with Cape Dutch colonial houses as well as cafes, boutiques, and art galleries. The charming village Museum is also set in a period house with landscaped gardens. Still, by night, the safety index drops to 30.56 and it’s not advised to walk around the dimly lit streets alone.
Book an Uber if you need to navigate the town after dark. If you’re eating at one of the outlying wine estates, you’ll need to anyway to get back to the city.
Another town in the Western Cape, but included in the City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality, Kraaifontein is a Northern Suburb of the South African capital. It gets its name from the large population of crows that nest in the region, but they aren’t the only ominous thing about this neighborhood.
Kraaifontein is safer than some areas of Cape Town with 82 crimes per 1,000 and a 1 in 12 chance of becoming a victim of crime, but property theft, car crimes, and petty theft are all still high. It used to be one of South Africa’s “murder capitals”, but homicide rates have seen a 40 percent decrease and there are hopes for an up-and-coming regeneration of the area with all the cheap housing here.
That said, Kraaifontein is plagued by poverty and unemployment. Residents often live in dismal conditions, packed close to each other in township-style lodgings. The area has been severely affected by food insecurity, and many residents have to turn to crime as a means of getting their next meal. This means that criminal gang operations are no stranger to Kraafontein.
It is least safe by night, but we wouldn’t recommend tourists visiting Kraaifontein in daylight either, since outsiders face the risk of falling victim to petty theft or smash-and-grab robberies.
Nyanga is one of the oldest townships in South Africa, after Langa, and it was established as a result of the migrant labor system after residents from Langa were forced to settle here in 1948. There are thought to be more than 60,000 people living in Nyanga and it’s one of the poorest places in the city.
Nyanga isn’t only one of the most dangerous places in Cape Town, but it’s known as one the most crime-riddled neighborhoods in the world. There are as many as 200 murders a year, although this figure is thought to be decreasing.
The area is known as South Africa’s “murder capital” and Nyanga also demonstrates some of the highest reported sexual violence and rape cases in the country. Unemployment sits at 56 percent and HIV/AIDS is also a huge issue in the community.
A poverty-stricken depiction of Cape Town’s urban townships, Nyanga is known for its gun violence and gang murders. Drive-by shootings have become the norm and ongoing gang warfare often claims innocent victims who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The police have little jurisdiction here and criminals are rarely held accountable for their crimes, with the families of victims often refusing to help with investigations in order to protect themselves and the rest of their families from violent backlash.
Nyanga is no place for tourists and should be avoided, day or night. It’s located 20 kilometers from the city along the N2 highway, close to Cape Town International Airport and next to several other townships. You won’t have to worry about accidentally stumbling into Nyanga, but if you’re considering a township tour, we suggest researching the company and itinerary extensively beforehand.
Another large township located in the City of Cape Town, around 28 kilometers from the center, Mitchell’s Plain is one of the biggest residential areas in South Africa. The township contains multiple smaller suburbs across its 40 square kilometers, but none of them are known for being particularly safe.
Mitchell’s Plain was established in the 1970s, and although it’s home to a vibrant, multicultural community, it is also a hotspot for gang crime, drug use, and poverty.
The police precinct here is no stranger to high volumes of serious crimes. Mitchell’s Plain is home to one of the top 10 most crime-riddled police stations in the province. Violence, property crime, and substance abuse are all rife, especially in areas like Cape Flats. The neighborhood ranks eighth in the province and 13th in the country for murders, and number one in South Africa for drug-related incidents and common assaults.
Residents also often live in squalor in Mitchell’s Plain and the government has done little to breathe light into the area. Locals have to ration water and fill in potholes themselves. A life of crime is sometimes the only option for people here who are left with exorbitant municipal bills to pay despite their poor living conditions.
Mitchell’s Plain has been dubbed South Africa’s worst-run municipality and it is somewhere tourists should avoid during their trip to Cape Town.
Khayelitsha is the second target township in South Africa after Johannesburg’s Soweto. It’s situated 30 kilometer southeast of the city center, just off the N2, and is known for its social development projects and energetic community spirit. Rich in culture and diversity, the people are known for their friendly nature. However, it’s only advisable that you visit as part of a guided tour since some crime is rife.
There are a total of 12,000 crimes reported every year on average here, and more than 350 murders—a figure that seems to only be on the rise. There were more murders in Khayelitsha in 2021 than in any other district in Cape Town and seven times more than the national average of 41 per 100,000. The township suffers from poverty, poor infrastructure, and inadequate public lighting which has a connection to the high levels of crime and security issues.
Residents also have to deal with overcrowded living conditions, a lack of formal housing, housing backlogs, high cases of HIV/AIDS, and limited access to affordable public transport, and they live in fear amid high burglary rates. Drug use and gang activity are also big issues here.
Staying Safe in Cape Town: 7 Tips
- Avoid carrying large sums of cash – You should only carry the valuables that you need in Cape Town, and since you can pay by card in most places, there’s no reason to be walking around with wads of cash.
- Don’t allow strangers to assist you at ATMs – This is a common way that thieves blindside tourists in South Africa. If someone offers you help at an ATM, politely decline and consider canceling your transaction and finding a different ATM.
- Learn the emergency numbers – 911 won’t do anything in Cape Town. Dial 107 in the case of an emergency.
- Don’t walk around alone at night – Dimly lit streets invite crime and walking around at night should be avoided wherever you go in Cape Town. Book an official taxi through an app or your hotel instead.
- Know your limits – Getting drunk puts you in a vulnerable position. Don’t accept drinks from strangers, never leave your drinks unattended, and stick to your limits. Trafficking and robbery are rife in Cape Town, but a South African police cell is also not somewhere you want to end up.
- Stay away from townships – Unless you’re doing a guided tour, townships aren’t safe places for tourists, even then, not all tours guarantee safety.
- Avoid public transport at night – The metro and busses are hotbeds for muggings, especially at night. Always opt for a registered taxi instead.
Is Cape Town safe?
Cape Town is no stranger to serious crime. Although the city is a bustling tourist hub and thriving capital, it demonstrates higher levels of murder, sexual violence, human trafficking, gang activity, and robberies than anywhere else in South Africa. A lot of these crimes are restricted to poverty-stricken areas like the sprawling townships, but visitors should still be careful in busy central areas where petty criminals prey on tourists.
Is Cape Town safe for female tourists?
It can seem intimidating, but Cape Town isn’t off-limits to lone females, there are just some precautions that solo travelers need to take. Some areas should be completely avoided, like any of the sprawling residential suburbs around the city. You should also be extra careful with your belongings in the city center and never walk around alone at night. That said, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and is still worth visiting.
When is the best time to visit Cape Town?
A trip to Cape Town is best during the South African summer which runs from December to February. However, these hot months coincide with school holidays and the peak tourism season, so if you want to save money and avoid crowds, consider visiting in Late April to early June for crisp and clear days that are perfect for hiking up Table Mountain.