There are travel myths that the seasoned around-the-world traveller will encounter:
You must have a backpack if you’re visiting more than one country; women shouldn’t travel alone; the plane will crash if you use your cell phone on board; train travel is always cheaper than air travel in Europe…
These have been well and truly explored, and most of them debunked.
But what about travel myths in South Africa – the type the average visitor might encounter whilst enthusiastically planning to fly to our shores?
South Africa is full of crime
Let’s get the proverbial elephant in the room out of the way, shall we? Like elephants in Africa, this highly addressed ‘truth’ does exist, particularly in the big cities. Do you have to worry about it? Well, yes. But there are certain cities in South Africa where it’s safer to walk the streets at night than in a lot of North American cities.
The ‘violence’ tag is unfortunate, but it’s largely due to isolated incidents. You might well find that the opposite is true – South Africa is generally full of friendly, gentle and helpful individuals. Be wise, be selective about where you go, and don’t be obvious (camera and wallet need to remain low key). Ask the locals, they’ll soon set you straight about where you can go, what you can do, and who you should do it with.
The water isn’t safe to drink
I’ve drunk the tap water in Durban, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Pretoria Accommodation and Johannesburg and have yet to drop dead. South Africa, in fact, boasts ‘world class water’. Each city has slightly different tasting water probably because local water service authorities clean it slightly differently, but on the whole water in urban areas is absolutely safe to drink. And it’s a whole lot more eco friendly than buying bottled water.
You need to be a little more cautious when in urban areas (ask the locals), or drinking downstream of human settlements (mountain stream water, however, is heavenly). There is a Blue Drop Certification System in South Africa that rates every city’s water, and you can check in with this here: , depending on where you intend travelling.
South Africa has copious numbers of insects, spiders and snakes
We do have a marvellous selection of insects, spiders and snakes. But no more than most places. You have more chance of being in a car accident in the major cities than sighting a snake. I’ve driven over a snake before – a really large one that was difficult to miss (and remain racked with guilt), but most snakes are shy and will not actively seek you out. In the bushveld, Karoo and hotter climates you might need to be a little more careful (checking your shoes for scorpions before putting them on is generally a good idea).
In urban areas the main irritation will be mosquitoes and these you can keep at bay with repellent. In rural areas, keeping the creepy crawlies away involves closing windows after sundown whilst you have lights on inside, fly screens and possibly sleeping under a mosquito net in malaria areas.
I’m in danger of contracting AIDS
Travelling in South Africa, and indeed Africa, you will be more aware of AIDS than in any other Western city – black and coloured townships face horrific HIV / AIDS rates. It’s a good idea to educate yourself on the subject of the HIV virus, but AIDS is a lifestyle disease when you’re a traveller passing through; as long as your lifestyle is healthy, you will be.
If you are going to experiment, then use condoms – you are responsible for your own protection.
South Africa is technologically challenged
Broadband access in major cities has improved beyond measure throughout the country. By 2012 roughly 10 million South Africans had access to the internet, most of them via cell phones. WiFi spots in cafés, restaurants and hotels are now common place, so you can travel with your laptop, or there are internet cafés where you can pay by the minute for checking on your FB profile.
Dial-up access is available through most of the country, but obviously the more rural, the harder it will be to gain access. If you have to remain connected wherever you are, some internet providers will give you a daily or monthly rate to access the internet from anywhere the company has a hotspot.