This is how you can guarantee an awesome (and safe) first day in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa – even more so if you stay at Pretoria Backpackers in Hatfield.
Keep the ideas and toss the details, then you’ll experience your own adventure, not mine – and your very own adventure is always way cooler!
1. Plan a neighbourhood recce
“Heck, you’re new, just smile and keep going!”
Take time to plan a run or walk around your hostel. Runs are great ways to get a feel of any place you’re in. Grab a map from the reception or even off Google, and start your wandering, using your accommodation as a central point of reference.
The unassuming entrance to Pretoria Backpackers where I spent my first week.
If you feel safe, great! Now, go further!
If you’re getting weird stares – heck, you’re new, just smile and keep going!
If a local stops you and tells you it isn’t safe… listen to them and head back! (see point #5)
Pretoria is a safe city that is a far cry from the terrible reputation that Joburg (Johannesburg, as the locals call it) has. It is generally safe to walk around the city, especially in Hatfield where there is a large student population.
Visit Pretoria in spring (Sept-Oct) with the jacarandas in bloom and see why I call it, Pretty Purple Pretoria.
This was taken just around the corner from my hostel – still my favorite picture ever.
Tree-lined avenues – now tell me, why would you not want to walk here?
A random field next to the Loftus Versfeld stadium – 3 min from home.
2. Let your plans go, move with the flow
“Backpackers are great company to explore with, but they are even better friends to keep.”
Don’t be afraid to ditch your plans, ad-hoc ones are always, always, always the best. Even when they are not the most comfortable, they are still the best.
When random travellers at your hostel stop you from executing your above-mentioned plan and invite you to take a walk around the city, just go with them! There is safety in numbers – especially if there are 3 guys and you are a solo female.
From left, Eduardo (Brazil), Tiago (Brazil), Lars (Germany) – my bodyguards for the day.
If you have no friends, hang out at the breakfast/kitchen area or talk to the receptionist – someone will eventually talk to you.Pretoria is ideally positioned to meet other travellers. Backpackers are great company to explore with, but they are even better friends to keep. Many pass through Pretoria on their way to Cape Town or Kruger National Park.
If you have no friends, hang out at the breakfast/kitchen area or talk to the receptionist – someone will eventually talk to you.
3. Take a walk to and around the city centre
“You take in more than just the sights, you feel the beat.”
A quaintly-beautiful plaza bustling with activity.
You’ll be surprised at what you experience on foot. When you walk, you take in more than just the sights, you feel the beat of the place. In some places, people are relaxed, going about their everyday lives and in others, slight tensions throb through the air. The awareness of such undercurrents will make your experience a richer one and make you, a better traveller.
Church Street in Pretoria is a busy place where both Caucasians and Asians stand out . But aside from the second glances that people throw your way, there’s no reason to feel unsafe. They are just curious, because after all, they don’t see many travellers walking their streets on foot either!
Stop and buy something from a street vendor as an excuse to strike up a conversation. You might find out some interesting things about the city!
4. Eat local snacks
“If the locals do not eat certain stuff, you are better off not eating it too.”
For goodness sake, we are Singaporeans – food defines us! Go eat food that defines another culture! It doesn’t really matter if you have to head to the loo for hours after, the point is that you have experienced the place with your taste buds.
Mopane (moh-pah-nee) worms are a very nutritious source of protein, not just in South Africa, but also in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. They are mainly eaten in (very) rural areas, and according to online sources, can be very tasty. Take it with a pinch of salt though, I thought those worms tasted exactly how I imagined dried creepy crawlies would taste!
If you are feeling adventurous, a cup of dried Mopane worms can be bought in Pretoria for R1 (SGD$0.13). Or just stick to the safe and tastier option of pap (ground maize) and stew.
Mopane worms bought from a roadside stand. We ate it… and survived.
This conversation transpired a short while after the above photo was posted on Facebook – FYI, these are people living in Pretoria. If the locals don’t eat certain stuff, you’re better off not eating it too.
5. Listen to the advice of locals
“The same common sense that you take to Rome is more than sufficient to travel to South Africa and back.”
No, not everyone is a scheming trickster. Locals know stuff you’ll never find on travel guides, they know what to do and what not to do, so talk to them and listen to them.
An attempt at taking a photo of that area as discreetly as possible. Eduardo’s belly ended up being the main focus, but I still have my camera and my photos. For that, I’m thankful.
Somewhere along our walk, a lady warned me to keep my camera. I didn’t have a bag, but she quickly gave me a yellow plastic bag to put my camera in. A few minutes later that I realized that we had walked into a grungy area full of loiterers.
There are some unsafe areas in the city as well, but these are generally limited to the edge of the city north of Church Square.
The usual travel advice applies here, don’t flaunt your wealth and stay aware. Ladies, walk and talk with confidence! (Even if you don’t feel it.) All around the world, thugs can spot a soft target from a mile away!
Travelling to South Africa is not all that dangerous as it is reputed to be, but it isn’t sterile Singapore either. The same amount of common sense that you take to Rome is more than sufficient to travel to South Africa and back.
Last tip: Go visit this amazing country and all that the adventure it has to offer!
If you are interested to have a taste of South Africa in Singapore, read more about this little store selling South African produce! They have awesome cider, chips, and chutney!