Johannesburg has a bad reputation as far as capitals go, but if you’re willing to put some effort in, there’s some gems dotted around.
The hostel situation isn’t great, there’s quite a few, but most seem to be pretty quiet, and lacking in actual travelers – although I guess it was nice to some friendly Africans so early in my trip. And after the long journey I had getting there, I was happy to be able to chill out and watch movies in the TV room.
It doesn’t feel any more dangerous than any other capital city, sure there are areas that you’ll want to avoid, but on the whole you’re at very little risk, that said, you might want to keep your fancy camera and tourist map a little discreet.
As far as tourist attractions, the Apartheid museum is the highlight. It is both somber and sincere while uplifting and positive. It tells the story of the country through the oppressive government that segregated it’s citizens and committed some horrific atrocities. The museum focuses on the strength of the black community, who triumphed despite so many problems. This is the most important stop in Johannesburg, and also on the City Sightseeing Open Top Tour Bus
The Bus covers all the important sections of the city, leading you through potentially dangerous suburbs to those that have more cultural and historical significance. It is the easiest way to see what Johannesburg has to offer while providing insightful commentary. The city centre itself is not very pretty, and the bus tour through is enough time to experience it, without hopping off.
Elsewhere in the city, SoWeTo is another must see. The largest and most developed township, as well as the home of both Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela it has huge cultural significance to the whole of South Africa. It has a huge diversity in its neighborhoods, from large custom built houses worth over 1 million Rand ($100,000) to slums built of tin and brick, with no windows to keep out the weather. The electric network is sprawl of cables seemingly from every shack to every other. Like the wiring in South East Asia there’s no way of knowing what is connected or how safe the whole lot is. On the street with Mandela’s old home, a small stretch of trendy bars and restaurants have popped up to cater for the more affluent locals and take advantage of the tourists. It is lively, with a carnival atmosphere, the local kids singing and dancing to earn some tips from the tourists. Again, keep an eye on your gear, crime is frequent although the place makes you feel very relaxed.
For the adrenalin junkies out there, the Orlando cooling towers are a must. Bungy or swing from the top of these incredibly grafitti’d stacks. With the exchange rate very favourable for most European and north American countries it’s a bargain as well. Finally is the more family friendly Gold Reef City theme park complex. Providing high quality rides and again a very reasonable price it’s worth a stop if you’re in town for more than a few days.
Of course I would be foolish not to mention the huge safari parks that are a few hours drive away, but having not been yet, I’ll let you guys decide whether to go or not.
Benjamin Duff – @versestravel