A Traveller’s Guide to Safe Drinking Water in South Africa
A bottle of safe drinking water

“Don’t drink the tap water in Africa!”

How often have you been told this before you have set off for a tour or safari to a place with a bit of a wild reputation, and wondered just how valid a warning it is?

While it is a fair thing to say for some destinations, it is not always one that is completely warranted, especially if you are travelling to a place like South Africa.

Sure, we have some places where drinking water right out of the tap is an ill-advised thing to do, but the same can be said about some places in the USA or Europe for that matter! The truth is, unless you have done your research, you can never know what the water quality is like everywhere.

And although you might think that South Africa is rather rural, and by that assumption, our drinking water is not safe, you would be surprised to know just how serious we are about our tap water quality.

With this guide as your helpful reference to water safety in South Africa, we are going to help you stay on your feet, so to speak, throughout your time spent enjoying this magnificently hot and beautiful destination. 

Clean tap water in South Africa

Tap Water Safety by Region

South Africa is divided into rural and urban areas.

When you are out enjoying the sights and sounds of our beautiful country, your South Africa tour is likely going to give you a taste of both experiences.

In the more developed urban areas, tap water is not only more consistently accessible but it is also carefully inspected and treated ensuring that it is of the highest quality.

The quality and safety of the water supply in urban areas are rated according to the Blue Drop Certification System. When the assessment is complete, municipalities are then awarded a percentage, and the higher the percentage, the better the water.

Many upmarket lodges and hotels have also invested in their own water supplies, choosing to store and filter their own water, to ensure not only safety but also consistency in the supply.

Rural areas work a little differently. Really out of the way places aren’t attached to a reservoir which means the water quality might be well below par. On the other hand, depending on the destination, the rural area you are headed to might make use of what we call a borehole, which is essentially a well, with the water being pure and untouched.

For the most part, all of South Africa’s top tourist destinations have made a point of ensuring water safety, but it still helps to know a little something about each destination you might find yourself in.

cape town tour

Cape Town, South Africa’s Mother City

Cape Town is home to about 4.6 million people, with the nearby surroundings home to millions more. Water in the area is generally safe, especially when compared to the water in nearby destinations such as the Garden Route.

Cape Town is a winter rainfall area, which means that it is prone to droughts during its long, hot and dry summers.  To combat the drought conditions when they arrive, the city has various measures in place to conserve water and to continue to ensure water quality.

Is it safe to drink Cape Town tap water?

Yes, Cape Town water is safe to drink and to cook with, especially if you are travelling exclusively through urban areas.

Johannesburg Cityscape South Africa

Joburg, South Africa’s Business Capital

While once the city was an icon for water safety and access, these days the supply, at least, is not always as reliable as it should be and certain parts of the city are periodically without water. That said, generally, the tap water is safe to drink, with the city regularly subjected to water testing. In fact, Johannesburg is one of the few big cities in the world that is regularly given a safe rating for its drinking water.

Is Joburg tap water safe to drink?

According to the Wits University website, “The Department of Water and Sanitation runs an auditing process of the water treatment works and the water they supply. The results are released as Blue Drop reports. Johannesburg has been classified as having an excellent quality of supply, both chemically and microbiologically. However, the overall scores in Gauteng, the province Johannesburg is located in, are dropping even though they are still high.”

So yes, Johannesburg tap water is safe to drink, especially in the more upmarket areas.

The Garden Route, South Africa

The Garden Route, South Africa’s Natural Forested Oasis

Garden Route tours are immensely popular, as guests seek to lose themselves in one of South Africa’s most beautiful natural landscapes. The Garden Route is mostly located in the Eastern Cape, one of the country’s poorest provinces, but it is quite isolated from the province’s issues, thanks to the private residents who put in the hard work to keep the Route clean and safe.

Is The Garden Route’s tap water safe to drink?

For the most part, the tap water is safe to drink, but the safety of the water varies from town to town along the Route.  When in doubt, you can either ask your tour guide or you can ask your lodge or hotel if the water is safe, or you can buy a few bottles of water.

A rest camp in the Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park, South Africa’s Wildlife Heritage

One of South Africa’s most famous tourist destinations, the Kruger Park attracts thousands of international visitors each year. And it is safe to say that if the water was less than perfect, the world would know about it. Instead, the Kruger goes the extra mile to ensure that the tap water is as clean and as safe as possible.

Can you drink tap water in Kruger National Park?

Yes, you can drink tap water in the Kruger Park. If you are staying in a nearby lodge though, especially in the village of Hazyview, you might want to first enquire about the tap water before taking a sip.

Hazyview doesn’t have the best water safety rating, but most lodges have made a plan and that includes having bottled water available in every room.

While on safari, most tour companies will also have bottled water freely available within the safari vehicle.  

Eco-friendly reusable water bottle

General Water Safety Tips for Travellers

As we said before, in most urban areas, tap water is safe to drink, but outside of these areas, it is always best to be cautious. To further ensure that you stay fit and healthy throughout your South Africa tour, here are a few helpful tips:

  • Buy an eco-friendly reusable water bottle

South Africa has many water filtration shops, such as Oasis Water, and many shopping malls and markets that all sell water on tap. Anyone can fill their bottles in these shops at an incredibly low fee.  

  • Do some reading

The Blue Drop National Report is freely available online and it lists every municipality in the country. You can easily find out what municipality you are visiting by doing a quick Google search (type in the name of the town + the word municipality).

  • Purify your own water

If you want your South African holiday to be even more of an adventure, or if you are travelling somewhere really wild and rural, you might want to consider learning how to purify water. Boiling is the easiest but perhaps not always the most effective way, and aside from that option, you can also try using water purification tablets or a reliable water filter, of which many are small enough to travel with.

Don’t let fears of the unknown put you off planning the South African trip of a lifetime.

Book your South African escape now and discover a world of wonder.