Johannesburg. If you’ve been on safari in South Africa, you’ve probabaly been there. Almost all of my safari guests here in Kruger can say they’ve ‘been to Johannesburg.’ You pretty much have to if your final destination is the Lowveld.
But did you just pass through the airport like the majority of people I’ve asked do? Did you have time to kill there? Time you wish you didn’t have, because everyone you ever spoke to before your African safari told you, “Oh South Africa is lovely, but don’t leave the airport in Johannesburg, or you’ll be MURDERED. Instantly. That’s just what people do there.”
If you had that dreaded day ‘stuck in Johannesburg’ before or after your safari, did you get a shuttle to a hotel in Sandton (which is not Johannesburg) or did you step it up and brave an organized ‘Soweto Tour’ (also not Johannesburg)?
“Oh. Really? We were told not to go there.”
And if you’ve been told not to go, you’re missing out on SO MUCH. You miss one of the most beautiful cityscapes on Earth, set within the biggest man-made forest in the world. You’ve passed by a city barely more than a century old that sprung from nowhere when gold was discovered on a dusty savanna. No ocean nearby. No lake or river either. That makes it unique among the world’s cities. To get to where it stands today, this city has been through more than you can ever know and its story (its millions of stories, actually) will leave you astounded. Yep, Johannesburg was born out of pure stubborn determination, and that’s totally the vibe you get when you explore it.
I’m here to encourage you not to skip the city; not to hide away in a hotel room in the leafy green parts or do a cheesy, artificial group tour around a township, before your charter flight to a private game reserve. Spend your time in Johannesburg, experiencing Johannesburg. It’s easily done, as I learned on Sunday when I was taken on the city’s sightseeing bus. By a very cute boy.
“What, wait? There’s an open-top sightseeing bus in Johannesburg? Aren’t those for like, nice cities?”
Indeed there is, and I totally loved it. You will too. Promise. I moved to Johannesburg from the UK 10 years ago and from the moment I arrived I knew I was home. I just knew. And yet, I never took the time, not even a day, to learn a little more. For 90% of the bus trip, I was travelling roads I’d never travelled before. And that’s tragic. Tragic that I’d been so ignorant. I’m sorry, Jozi. Hearts and kisses.
The bus tour was excellent. The commentary managed to present a reasonably balanced narrative (which is rare around here) and we ended up just staying on the bus and doing the whole thing again! We weren’t alone in doing that either. Popular thing to do on a Sunday…
The second time around I unplugged the earphones and stared dreamily at the boy next to me as he delivered his own version of the tour, complete with now-derelict rooftop ice skating rinks (WTF AWESOME), matric farewells at racecourses and the wild history of Rhodes’ beloved Rand Club. And I got back scratches. Joy.
Had I not been burnt crispy in the style of American bacon by the sun, we would have hopped off the bus for a walking tour of the mining district. Instead, we disembarked at an air-conditioned casino and drank blue cocktails from jars. That’s fine too. But you can bet I’ll do the walking tour next time. And wear sunscreen. I’ve already got a long list of places to explore further and read up on, and I’ve got a boy who’s on fire for all the history that Johannesburg has to offer. I’m in love. In so many ways.
So let’s stop seeing ‘Johannesburg’ as an airport you need to pass through during your trip to South Africa. Add it to your itinerary. On purpose. Be part of a super-vibey place with kudutastic people, crazy history, mad creativity, the finest food and drinks you’ve ever shoved into your face, and tons of hope. Ooh, it’s so Instagrammable. You’ll fall in love too…