Back in January, I booked a 10 day trip to South Africa in order to recover from my law school final exams. I just completed the first half of my trip, which was to Johannesburg, South Africa. Johannesburg, also known as Joburg, is a very large city, it takes a lot of time to get to places because of how spread out the city is.
Despite the recent outbursts in violence and rioting caused by xenophobia, Joburg is quite safe and folks are genuinely friendly. The violence, which usually breaks out in the downtown area, is not aimed at tourists, but foreign immigrants. Most tourists stay in the Rosebank and Sandton area of Joburg and there is a visible police presence at all times.
To/From the Airport
- From: Airport Shuttle SA
- I didn’t want to risk not having WiFi to call for an Uber, so I decided to book a shuttle to my hotel in Rosebank. The price was R470, or about $40USD. A bit pricey but if you have others in the same vehicle you can split the cost. The driver was outside of customs waiting for me and was extremely friendly and knowledgeable.
- To: Uber
- Uber is available almost everywhere in Joburg. Getting to the airport during morning rush hour was R224 ($19USD). I do suggest you give yourself an hour to get to the airport during morning and evening rush hour, it took about 55 minutes to get from Rosebank to JNB Airport.
*Note: There is a train in Rosebank that goes directly to the airport and is considerably cheaper than both the shuttle and Uber. However, I did not use it so I can’t comment on it.
Like I said above, Uber is available everywhere. Uber is also cheaper, and in my opinion, safer than taxis. I suggest purchasing a pre-paid mobile plan at the airport. Vodacom, a SA mobile company, offers decently priced plans. You can find the Vodacom store to the right after exiting customs. I used Uber everywhere, even places that were 40 minutes away. At one point, one of the drivers even stuck around for 1.5hrs as I finished a tour to drive me back!
Dining in Joburg can be hit or miss. I’m an extremely picky eater so I usually ate at the hotel. I did enjoy a Chicken burger at the Apartheid Museum which was delicious and hella cheap. I recommend downloading the food app called Zomato, since Yelp does not work in South Africa. Zomato has reviews, menu images, and a rating system. It definitely helped us with finding places to eat outside of the hotel.
We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Johannesburg – The Rosebank hotel, formerly known as Don Rosebank. The hotel is nice and gated. It also has security around the entrances and police presence was visible. Never felt unsafe.
The Crowne Plaza is part of the IHG family so you can take advantage of their latest Share Forever promotion. Additionally, the hotel is currently running a promotion where if you stay three (3) nights you only pay for two (2).
Their standard rooms were clean, large, and comfortable. Housekeeping starts to work as early as 5am so I suggest putting your ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign out if you want to sleep in later. Unfortunately, I did not get pictures of the hotel but you can check out other reviews here. There is a bar, a restaurant, a pool, gym, and other amenities within the hotel. Drinking alcohol at the hotel bar (The Circle Bar) is cheap, which was great.
What to do/see (details below)
- Pilanesberg Game Drive – Safari
- Lion Park
- Apartheid Museum
- Gold Reef City (Amusement Park)
- South African Museum of Military Histrory
- Nelson Mandela Statute
- Keep in mind that they drive on the left side here.
- ATMs are available at JNB airport.
- Take a sweater to the Safari, there is a windchill effect during the evenings.
- Remember, South Africa’s winter is during the U.S. summer.
- Don’t take unmarked Taxis.
- You MUST have two available visa pages to gain entrance into South Africa. In other words, NO stamps on two ‘visa’ pages to be granted entry.
- This might be inappropriate, but be aware that South Africa has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS compared to any other country in the world.
Pilanesberg Game Drive – Safari
We booked our Safari trip with Go SAfari, a local tour company in Joburg. Susan and David, who are the owners, were very quick to get us confirmed. They were also more than happy to give us more details via email and answer any questions we had. A few days before the trip Susan emailed me with the name and number of our transfer driver and with a copy of the itinerary. I also got an itinerary once I paid for the tour, which was much appreciated. Lunch was included with the package we chose, it was a buffet lunch which was very delicious and had something for everyone.
The driver, Stephen, was very knowledgeable about the animals. Stephen even let me use his binoculars while we went on the game drive, which is done by someone else but is included in the package. Stephen had a couple of books about the animals which we were allowed to read as we spotted animals along a brief drive.
Animals seen: CHEETAH! Elephants, Rhinos, Giraffes, Hippos, Wildebeests, Birds, Impalas, Kudu, Water Buffalo, Rabbits, Zebras, Jackals and a few other animals.
- Price: R2,086/pp ($177USD) – Included hotel pick up/drop off, lunch, curio market stop, 3hr game drive, tour guide, and VAT & tourism fees
The Lion Park is about 40 minutes, during traffic, from Rosebank. The park offers a guided day and night game drive around its park, the chance to encounter a lion cub and take pictures with the cub, and also take a walk with either a lion or a cheetah. You can also self-drive yourself around the park and see the animals from your own vehicle without a park guide.
During the drive we got to see different types of lions, cheetahs, wildebeests, giraffes, and a few other animals. The lions come up to the vehicle and stare at you, which called for pretty awesome pictures. The park itself has a restaurant and gift shop as well. The souvenirs were, in my opinion, decently priced.
- Price: Guided Day/Night Drives w/ Lion Cub Encounter = R300/pp ($26USD).
- Self-drives are approximately R100/pp cheaper.
- Walking with lions: R600/pp / Walking with cheetahs: R500/pp.
The Apartheid Museum is an incredible museum filled with so much South African history in regards to the Apartheid. Presently, the museum has a temporary exhibit detailing Nelson Mandela’s struggle and remembering him for the great man — in my opinion — that he was.
The museum opened in 2001 and is deemed to be the first of its kind. The museum illustrates the rise and fall of the apartheid and hosts a series of 22 permanent exhibits. It took us approximately 2 hours to see the entire museum. The museum has a Cafe which has cheap, but delicious, lunch options.
Definitely a must see if you’re in Joburg.
- Price: R75 for Adults / R60 for students (ID required) and children.
- NO PICTURES ARE ALLOWED INSIDE THE MUSEUM!
We enjoyed our stay in Johannesburg. Now we are in Cape Town until Sunday evening. We booked a round-trip British Airways flight, prior to the devaluation, to CPT. The flight is operated by Comair and the aircraft used is a Boeing B737. Then, back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.
If you get the chance to visit Johannesburg, don’t pass it up! Disregard what the media tells you about the violence, just use common sense. And again, the crime isn’t targeted at tourists but toward immigrants.
Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about this trip report!