What Hiking Safety Tips are there for Cape Town?

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Answered by: Marc Stefan, An Expert in the Countries in Africa - South Africa Category
Cape Town has a large number of hiking trails to choose from, catering to both novices and experts. While the terrain and climate is relatively mild, the following hiking safety tips can minimize your risk to dangerous situations on the Cape Peninsula.

There are three main threats to your safety as a hiker in the Cape Peninsula, the small outcropping of land that Cape Town is situated on. They are the weather, the terrain, and criminal activity.

While the weather is mostly mild, it can be very unpredictable, which can put hikers in significant danger on the mountains. Table Mountain is particularly prone to being covered in cloud, trapping hikers and climbers either on the summit, or on the trails and cliff faces. Cloud cover prevents rescue teams and search parties from locating missing hikers. Exposure and falling off the edge of paths are the biggest dangers. Always have plenty of liquid with you, and warm clothing - even if the weather is hot when you start out on your hike. If you end up trapped in cloud cover, try to find a safe place nearby to sit tight until you can safely walk, once the clouds clear. This can take up to day, so warm clothing, energy bars and water, are essential.

The terrain can be very dangerous on the Cape Town mountains. Most of the hiking trails consist of contour path, which aren't too steep. The biggest danger is complacency: In many areas, there are great lookout spots, with sheer cliff faces below, which are obscured by small, dense bushes, known as "fynbos". It is very easy to accidentally fall down a cliff, should you try to make your way through these bushes for a better view. Do not run fast down the gravel paths, since it is easy to lose control on the corners and injure yourself from an unexpected long fall. Be on the lookout for snakes: there are several venomous species on the mountains, and often they will lie on the open paths, to warm themselves up, or hunt for rodents and insects. Wear proper hiking boots, to minimize your skin exposure. Try to stay calm when you see a snake, and slowly leave the vicinity. Almost all snakes in the region prefer avoiding confrontation with people.

Criminal activity is a real danger to hikers, both local and foreign. Thieves tend to target small groups of hikers, in isolated areas on the mountains. Try to choose busier times of the day to hike, and keep other hikers in sight. Only carry copies of your passport with you, and consider purchasing a cheap mobile phone for your trip to South Africa. Expensive phones and fancy cameras are a favorite amongst thieves in the Cape Town region. During peak tourist season, there are mountain patrols conducted by the police and Parks and Forestry departments. Most of the popular forests and trails have car parks with official car guards. Rather use these protected zones for your hikes, since most of the places can only be reached by car - public transport does not cover the whole peninsula.

Avoid leaving bags and valuables in plain sight in your car. Most criminals in Cape Town are opportunists. Even in your hotel room, or guest house or lodge, exercise caution by locking your room and stashing your valuables in a safe. If you choose to do longer overnight hiking trips, rather make use of local guides and tour groups, or hike on private reserves, rather than the state nature reserves.

Cape Town is a beautiful place to spend a holiday, and offers unique experiences, especially for hikers and nature lovers. You just need to do your research and follow hiking safety tips, to ensure that you stand the best chance of avoiding mishaps and disaster.

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