Jo’burg (aka Jozi) is South Africa’s corporate capitol and a megapolis of at least 7 million. Like many enormous cities, there are islands of beauty and grand architecture, but to a large extent this is a dirty and uninspiring travel destination. Of all our stops in Southern Africa, this was my least favorite in part because I’m not a big fan of sprawling mega-cities.
Johannesburg was founded as a gold boom town some 125 years ago and you’ll still find active mines scattered throughout the city. Jo’burg has evolved over the years as a financial and business hub. It is the gateway to Southern Africa as most international flights travel through Jo’burg before taking you to your final destination, including South African Airways.
Our last two days in South Africa were spent in Sandton, an upscale neighborhood and suburb of Jo’burg known for its pleasant shopping centers and many restaurant. I’d certainly recommend this as a safe and pleasant suburb in which to unwind before a long journey home, even if just for an overnight stay as the Gautrain provides quick access to and from the airport.
During one of our days in Jozi we hired a car and driver to show us around the city. This was an inexpensive and good way to get to know Johannesburg as it’s too sprawling to easily get around on your own (and there are neighborhoods you might want to avoid as their crime rates are high). There were a few highlights to this excursion. We spent several hours at the Apartheid Museum, which provides a fascinating look at the country’s past policy of racial profiling and separation. The layout of the museum is captivating right from the point of entry. You randomly enter a “Whites” or “Non-whites” door and begin your exploration of the museum. The information is impartially presented, without bias, and the vsitor is allowed to formulate his own impressions of Apartheid. A special treat during our visit was a large temporary exhibit focusing on President Nelson Mandela’s life. Mandela was a great and influential leader and his example as President in forgiving whites for his decades long imprisonment on Robben Island is a keystone in having helped the races integrate as much as they have. I would highly recommend a visit to the Apartheid Museum.
Another worthwhile stop is in Rosebank, where there is a large African Crafts Market, a good place to buy gifts and souvenirs. The vendors are polite but gently insistent that you stop at their stalls. The handicrafts range from tacky to of high quality and while not the cheapest we found, you can negotiate a good price (while still leaving the vendors with an acceptable profit).
The city features many skyscrapers and there are attempts to develop many neighborhoods. We stopped at Newtown, with its theaters, restaurants, jazz clubs, etc. We had no desire to visit the large ghetto towns of the city, like Soweto.
I think you’re much better off spending your vacation time around Cape Town, rather in Johannesburg.
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