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Gateway to South Africa: Using two days to recover at Johannesburg

photo of industrial buildings in Johannesburg taken from the top of africa

Fortunately, there has been a city I have yet to meet that I didn’t find something intriguing. As your gateway to South Africa, you have to keep this in mind when it comes to Johannesburg.

The city may be large but there is also famine, underpopulation, and a question for your safety. That isn’t to say, Johannesburg hasn’t been safe since I first landed there last September. In fact, many Africans do choose to stay in this city because they love it.

However, it also isn’t very…um, tourist-friendly. There aren’t many places to explore and has obviously been used as a simple layover to either Durban, Cape Town, or Pretoria.

Instead, Johannesburg has been used as a gateway for many travellers to get to other cities via plane or bus. Since you can also find many game reserve drives from Johannesburg, you can use the city as your resting ground from the long-haul flight for two days before traveling for far longer.

That’s why this post doesn’t only serve as a guide to Johannesburg but a simple run-down on what to expect, what to see, and what to love.

 

Is it safe to travel to Johannesburg?

I got asked this quite a lot by my friends when I posted my first photo in Johannesburg! The honest answer is yes and no.

Yes, because South Africa has a lot to offer that you can’t just miss out on. Two days in Johannesburg will already open your eyes to poverty, happiness, and dare I say…adventure. Although there aren’t many tourist-y places to go or experience, it’s worth taking a look at the city where there’s a rich history of struggle and redemption.

No, because it’s always better to have a local guide with you instead when you’re going around the city. I went on a paid tour with my mom, a few doctors, and their families to take a look what Johannesburg had to offer. If you ask me about traveling solo there as opposed to Cape Town, I wouldn’t advise it.

So it all boils down to how you feel about visiting Johannesburg and the rest of Africa. One day, I plan to visit North Africa on my own and go on a Safari game drive because I’m no longer “shocked” by the cultural diversity or having to travel alone. It really depends on you.

 

Is it easy to go around Johannesburg?

Since I was on a tour, we took a big bus to go around the city. We didn’t stay at the city centre very much as many hotels are located inside the suburbs which would be a good 40-minute drive from the airport (depending on where you’re going).

Since Johannesburg is the industrial capital of South Africa, many business owners live in this area as well as entrepreneurs. Other establishments like the diamond mining tour, would be in the outskirts of Pretoria instead, the main capital.

With your two days at Johannesburg, you’ll have to take note that many restaurants and malls close at 5 in the afternoon. Six at the latest, and Eight if it’s for dinner. However, on Fridays, many of the restaurants and shops stay open until 8pm.

This is because schools and work usually end around 3pm on Fridays where students have the opportunity to get an early start on the weekends. If you’re only staying two days, it would be best to go to Mandela Square since that’s where many of the great restaurants are at.

 

Should you tour neighbouring cities or towns during your stay?

If you’re staying around Johannesburg longer than two days then yes! But other than that, I’d like to say going to Pretoria would be the most interesting ride.

Since the surrounding area around Johannesburg would consist of…well, multitude of land, you don’t really have a lot of places to explore within the city itself. That’s why the 2-hour drive going to Pretoria would be a great way to find some good coffee or restaurants to explore.

Aside from having government offices in this area, you can also choose to go to little towns where they have tours about diamonds. Having visited around September, the weather isn’t as cold in this area as I had expected (Google told me it would be 15 degrees before I left) which might cost you a headache if you do drive for a long period of time.

But hey – if you’re like me, going from city to city won’t phase you! Especially when there’s so much history to find in Pretoria as well.

 

Where to go after Johannesburg?

From the safari game drive at Pilanesburg or at Kreuger, you can also visit Pretoria, Durban, or my personal favourite: Sun City.

If you’ve seen Blended (2014), the Palace of the Lost City would look very familiar to you. Funny story, I actually didn’t know about the movie until I posted photos about the hotel and people were commenting about it! Now, I consider as one of the prettiest hotels I’ve ever been to.

In my case, after returning to Johannesburg from the 3-hour drive to Sun City, we flew straight to Cape Town where you’ll get to experience of the best cities you’ll ever get to go to.

Overall, Johannesburg is a great place to rest for a while before traveling again. When you’re in South Africa, you’ll quickly learn that 3 hours is relatively near for them and a 2-hour drive is like a stone’s throw away. So my best advice to you is to be prepared for that.

How about you? Has Johannesburg ever been on your bucket list?

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