Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa with over 5 million people. It’s a large modern city, with 9 different precincts, each with a very different vibe. We gave ourselves 3 and a half days to explore the city.
We decided to do a self guided trip in the city by relying on our phones directions. I highly recommend purchasing a sim card or having an international data plan because driving in the city can be confusing. First you’re driving on the opposite side of the car and other side of the street (if you’re American), some streets are clearly marked and then others look more like an alley then a street. We purchased SIM cards from the Vodacom store for $12 for 1gb data (it is possible to purchase from the airport, we heard this was a lot more expensive). The local buses also routinely cut you off, people cross without intersections, and the locals are known to drive drunk at night. Throughout our trip we were consistently warned to not drive at night, lock our doors, and keep our windows rolled up.
Due to the large wealth difference between rich and poor, Johannesburg is one of the highest crime rates in the world. This was the first time for both of us reading about the numerous precautionary measures tactics in the city guides, such as keep a constant eye on your valuables and keep you purse or wallet in front of you. We ended up meeting and hanging out with some really cool local girls and even one of them had their phone stolen when we were out.
We stayed in an Airbnb location in the Maboneng precinct, due to its reputation of being a lively nightlife filled arts district. It was also incredibly affordable st $35 a night, it was called 309@drivelines. It was just two blocks from the restaurants, stores, movie theater and pubs in this area. The building we staying in and numerous buildings around us were made out of shipping containers.
The first night we went to a restaurant called the Living Room. This was walking distance for our Airbnb and located on the roof club. This cool restaurant and bar was really modern and made you feel like you were inside a greenhouse. Afterwards we went to a dance club called Social Club, which is known for their Thursday Night live performances. The guest star of the evening was a 90s singer named Ishmael.
The next full day was Good Friday and because it was a recognized holiday, most places were closed. South Africa had only three nationally recognized holidays New Years, Good Friday and Christmas Day. We decided it was a good day to do a driving tour of the city.
We visited the historic city of Soweto, its name is an abbreviation for South Western Townships. It is a sprawling township located at the edge of Johannesburg, and it was the site of a violent uprising in 1976 that helped to bring international attention to the struggle against apartheid. The city while poor and densely populated (housing 40% of joburg residents) is a highly visited tourist site.
We then visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg tells the story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. The apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa between 1948 and 1994.
Then we visited Constitution Hill a former prison complex that bears testament to South Africa's turbulent past and is today a museum and home to the the country's Constitutional Court. Originally held to hold white male prisoners, but ended up unfairly holding African and minority prisoners, some memorable prisoners being Gandhi and Mandala.
The next we Hector Pieterson memorial, which is a tribute from Mandala to a boy that was killed during the Soweto uprisings. At the memorial there is an iconic image from the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa of the dying Hector being carried by another Soweto resident while his sister ran crying next to him. This memorial is dedicated to all the youth that died fighting against the apartheid.
We the visited the inside of the Mandela House at 8115 Orlando West, on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets, Soweto. He was to spend little time here in the ensuing years, as his role in struggle activities became all-consuming and he was forced underground (1961), living a life on the run. You can see memorabilia, awards, possessions, pictures, and even the bulled holes in the wall here.
The next day we started the morning by having brunch in the Melville district of town at Pablo Eggs, I had the best red shakshuka. Afterwards we headed to Emmertia Park to teach a yoga class. The rest of the day was pretty laid back, we had our clothes laundered and cleaned up our nails at a salon called Tenfold. Then we went to the rooftop bar called Sky Bar and met up with some local Joburg friends.
On our last full day we woke up early and drove an hour to the Cradle of Humankind in Maropeng (means “returning to your place of origin”). Here they have made some of the world’s most important discoveries. The Cradle of Humankind is one of the world's most important fossil sites because it has produced: The first adult Australopithecus, found by Dr Robert Broom at Sterkfontein in 1936. A second kind of ape-man found at Kromdraai and named Paranthropus robustus by Broom in 1938.
After this we visited the Lion and Rhino Safari Park. This was a zoo like safari experience where you can drive through the park where the animals lived in fenced off quarters. For me it was a bit sad to see animals in such small quarters after seeing Kruger National Park. We visited primarily because we were unable to see a rhino previously, here we saw a small group of them. Rhinos are heavily monitored and parks do not disclose their locations even in their own parks, due to poachers. We spent 15 minutes with a baby tiger that decided to land a chew mark on my knee.