There's no reason for paranoia in Cape Town, but there are a few things to look out for. Women and couples are strongly advised not to walk in isolated places after dark. If you want to walk somewhere in the evening, make sure you do so in a large group, stay vigilant at all times, and keep flashy jewelry and expensive cameras hidden, or better yet, at the hotel, much as you would anywhere else. It's difficult for any youthful-looking tourist to pass a street corner in the city's nightlife district without being offered hard drugs or cannabis. Resist.
Street kids and roving teens are blamed for much of the petty crime in the city, but sophisticated crime syndicates are often involved, and many of Cape Town's fraudsters are smartly dressed. Windows will be smashed to snatch cell phones lying on car seats, and phones may even be pulled out of people's hands while in use, so don't talk on your cell phone while walking. Watch your pockets at busy transportation hubs and on trains. It's better to sit in a crowded car; if you suddenly find yourself alone, move to another one. Public transportation collapses after dark. Unless you're at the Waterfront or in a large group, use metered taxis.
Trendy nightlife areas like Long Street and Kloof Street (which leads on via a dogleg from Long Street), are frequented by both teens and adults. These areas are safe, but one should always be vigilant at night. The predominantly gay nightlife scene around Greenpoint has seen some ugly incidents in recent times, so make sure you know where you’re going and with whom.
Despite thousands of safe visits every year, Lion’s Head—the peak below Table Mountain—and the running trails around Newlands Forest have been the sites of several knife-point robberies in daylight. Just be wise and never completely off guard. The handful of incidents in recent years have happened around sunrise or sunset.
Drivers quickly discover that poor signage is a general issue in Cape Town, especially in the black townships, where most streets still have numbers rather than names and many streets are not signed at all. Carry a good map and use a GPS.
Visit township attractions only as part of an organized tour with a reputable operator.
As in other major cities, drug use is a problem in Cape Town, including both IV drugs and ingestibles. The drug of choice for children on the street is glue, and increasingly "tic" or methamphetamine. You will undoubtedly come across many people begging in Cape Town, including kids. Please do not give cash directly to children, as this often supports either a glue habit or adults lurking in the background. If you are concerned and wish to contribute, consider supporting people who sell The Big Issue magazine (associated with a worthy organization of the same name) or giving food instead of money.
HIV remains a problem in South Africa, so exercise appropriate caution. The sex trade carries a high risk of transmission, as does the use of IV drugs.