First Timer’s Travel Guide to Johannesburg

I have been thinking to myself that I need to do better (when money allows) and explore more of my continent. Been following lots of African travel bloggers on Instagram and you know what they say, you become what you see (okay, okay, no one said that, I did). Therefore when opportunity to visit South Africa presented itself, I knew it was God’s answer to my secret petition.

There were so many places to visit and things to do and even though time was on our side, I am more of an aggressively chill tourist in comparison to the ‘let’s do everything, what is sleep? tourist’. With that back story, my trip began with canceling a flight to Cape Town and sticking to my decision to stay in Johannesburg.

Four quick things to do in Johannesburg

Lion & Safari Park

I am a sucker for wildlife. I had never seen a white lion in my life! Yes, they exist. And the lion roar is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. A lion came so close to our vehicle and, I was almost sure that I was its main course that evening but it was still ridiculously beautiful up-close. Of course there’s more to this park than lions, you can feed giraffes, and watch cheetahs and wild dogs feed etc. Definitely a must do.

Mandela Home

Going to Soweto was such a highlight for me. I found Nelson Mandela’s home almost mystical. Walking where he walked and seeing a glimpse of his life and, did you know he was neighbors with Bishop Desmond Tutu? I was thinking this to myself the entire time I was in his home, ‘wow…we got to live with some heroes in our time.’

Hector Pieterson Museum

This place left me emotionally paralyzed. To think that what happened to these students in 1976 could easily happen to any one of us if we were deemed ‘outsiders’ or ‘unworthy’. This museum is a reminder of how cruel the world can be, and I imagine the idea of this museum and all the pictures and stories is to make us painfully aware of what human beings are capable of.

“The museum commemorates the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid and in particular the role played by the school children who took part in the Soweto protests of 1976, many of whom were shot by the apartheid police while protesting against the sub-standard of education in black schools in South Africa.”

My heart felt deeply for the people in Soweto and for every one who had to go through the apartheid regime. It made me appreciate life on a whole different level.

Mall of Africa

This is South Africa’s biggest shopping mall. I can’t tell you how many times I got lost. I understand a mall isn’t the kind of thing that people rave about, but listen you need to go to Mall of Africa and get lost, sit in a corner, fold your knees and ask, ‘why isn’t this in my country?

Planning on going to South Africa for the first time? Here are some little tips I wish I knew beforehand. These tips will save you a migraine or two.

  • I was quite shocked at how strict the country is. Trying to get a tax refund is bloody murder therefore I urge you (if you’re the big shopper type) keep all receipts. I mean ALL receipts. The money exchange receipts, the shopping receipts, print your bank statements for heavy debit/credit card transactions. You’ll need these to claim your money at the tax refund desk.
  • Foreign exchange;  you need to carry your passport showing the entry stamp into the country if you need to exchange money. Otherwise you’ll be chewing on the sole of your shoe because a regular ID won’t do.
  • Electric sockets are different. I’d never seen such huge pin sockets, our hotel apartment had provision for American/British pins but am not sure if that is standard practice in other hotels.
  • Do not be like me. I thought I could just walk into a phone store and buy a sim card. Nope! When I entered Vodacom and asked for a sim card, they asked for my address etc I gave the hotel address and they asked me to get a letter from the hotel verifying my stay. Help yourself and get the sim card before you leave the airport. Thank me later.

If you have South Africa on your list of future countries to visit, I hope these little tips and my experience will be helpful to you.

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