One week in Johannesburg

Sawubona everyone!

I’m back to our paradise island after spending a wonderful week in Johannesburg, one of the biggest cities of South Africa. Known as the “City of Gold” after the discovery of the precious metal in the 1880s, the city seems to be a great country to live in, with loads of places to discover and many things to learn about the history of its people.

In case you are wondering the language used to greet you, it is called Zulu, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa. And yes, it is important to mention that black & white people live altogether peacefully thanks to their hero, Nelson Mandela who fought against apartheid / racism. As far as I witnessed, your skin color does not matter. Also, worth mentioning : I noticed loads of people of Indian origin with huge resemblance to Mauritians.

A bit more about the travel & stay

After spending endless minutes (in fact, nearly 2 hours) in our airport and 4 hours flight time in Air Mauritius’ new A350, named Le Morne Brabant, I landed in Joburg which has a 2 hours’ time zone difference from Mauritius. Again spent another 2 hours in the OR Tambo International airport before riding to the my final destination.

My first impressions : Sometimes it is difficult to grasp what some people there say because I’m not used to the accent. However, most people are nice and welcoming. Travelling around the country is great during weekends but however, there are considerable traffic jams during working days. Unlike in Mauritius, you can have 5 lanes going in the same direction, without any emergency or crawler lane. Despite those 5 lanes, traffic jams are a normal thing. Also, maximum speed limits on some highways are 120km/hr and from what I understood, there’s a minimum speed limit of 60km/hr on some roads.

I can say that I’ve been pretty busy there with sightseeing during the weekend, work during office hours and wandering in the huge malls late every evening. With a booking of 7 nights in a guest house on a bed and breakfast package, I enjoyed my stay in the one of the wealthiest regions, known as Sandton. On top of being a secure area, most shopping malls are easily accessible within less than 30 minutes’ drive while the office was only 5 minutes’ drive.

Situated at around 1,700m above sea level, the temperature is quite good in this region of the world. For the month of February, it is roughly 26 degrees during the day and the temperature can drop down to around 16 degrees at night. Very comfortable climate in Johannesburg right now but however, important to mention that there’s a severe drought in Cape Town right now. So severe that people need to live with under 50L of water per day (for every possible usage – bathing, toilet, cooking, drinking etc) as the city is running out of water supplies.

Currency

The currency used is in the South African Rand, often abbreviated by ZAR or R.

For indicative purposes :

  • 1 rand is approximately 3 Mauritian rupees
  • 1 US dollar is approximately 11 rands

The open-top bus tour

Still remember the big bus tour I mentioned in my Dubai’s post? Well, the open-top bus tour has the same concept whereby you buy your ticket valid for the whole day and you can hop in and out of the red bus any number of times you want. However, if you really want to visit each place along the bus route, I will advise you to book for a 2-days ticket. It can also be a tiring journey, so be fully prepared and careful with small kids.

For less than R200 (roughly MUR600), you get to visit the best tourist attractions of Joburg in one day. You might also need to pay keep some additional cash to pay for entrances at some attractions along the bus routes.

A few places to visit absolutely

The open bus tour allowed me to get to several places along their route but I chose to get off at the few mentioned places only because of lack of time:

Johannesburg Zoo

The first time ever I saw an impressive real gorilla of 1m80 and an elephant.

Carlton Center

Being the tallest building in Africa, Carlton Center is a skyscraper of 50 storeys also known as “Top of Africa”. From the 50th floor, you can have a panoramic bird’s eye view of Johannesburg

Gold Reef City

If you follow me on Facebook, you probably saw the video of the “Tower of Terror” I uploaded a few days back. I still feel goose bumps when I think about the wagon plunging 90degrees downwards from a height of 50m! With several other rides in the park, you can easily spend the whole day there with you family and the prices are very affordable. So, to the left below is a photo of the entrance of Gold Reef City and to the right, a selfie in one of the glamorous toilet of the Gold Reef City 🙂

Additionally, you might want to visit an ancient gold mine and go to Level 2, found 75m deep into the earth. It was an enriching visit, especially when you think that people might not have the same opportunity as water is flooding the old gold mine.

Some years back, visitors were able to go even deeper, but they had to close the access because of natural water flooding. During the visit, you also get to hold a pure 12.5 kg gold bar! And to the right of the picture below, you can find an indication of the depth of the mine.

Downtown Joburg

A place to avoid as a tourist, especially if you are alone but however, you are quite safe if you are driving through the region in the bus tour. Here, you can find shops, small snacks and etc., just like you will find in Port Louis or other towns of Mauritius.

SAB World of Beer

It is some sort of museum for beer. Yeah, the first part of the visit consists of videos showing the history of beer, how it is made etc. You also get to taste “Sorghum”, the traditional beer made by women in the Zulu culture. As per their culture, the “Sorghum” is drank in a special vessel pictured below. Very different from the commercial beer we all know; beer lovers would probably have never be fans of beer if the taste was kept the same lol.

During the visit, you also get a can of chocolate flavored beer along with 2 vouchers for tap beer in their bar. So, at the end of the visit, you are nearly drunk! So, please make sure that this place is last in your list!

Monte Casino

I also loved my visit to Monte Casino. If I had to describe it : It is a large mall building in which there is practically a village built inside, with fake streets, fake rivers, fake sky ceiling and an enormous open-air casino in the center. Everything is so real inside that you might think that you are actually walking on real streets and entering real shops found outside on the streets :

My first experience with Uber

For those who don’t know, Uber is a service whereby you can request a car to travel to your destination using the Uber application on your smartphone. Available in over 600 countries around the world, Uber has a large network of vehicles whereby practically anyone can become an Uber driver and earn a living. Using the mobile application, you just choose your destination and request a ride to the first Uber driver responding to your request. The mobile app also shows the position of Uber drivers in real time, as pictured in the left picture below. On the right side, you can see the estimated fare for the chosen destination :

Here in Johannesburg (and in many other countries), you can add your credit card to your Uber account. From there, you don’t even need to bother about payments. The moment you get off the vehicle, your credit card is charged accordingly automatically! You also get to rate your driver from 1 to 5 stars.

Other means of transport in Johannesburg include

  • GauTrain
    It is a rapid rail service covering over 80km and stopping at around 10 main stations in the city.
  • Uber
    As explained above, Uber remains a very convenient method of travel at a fairly good rate
  • Taxi
    More expensive than Uber rides, taxis operate differently from Uber as they normally require special license etc. just like in any other country. Because of the competition with Uber, sometimes taxi drivers might not appreciate if Uber drivers pick passengers near their taxi stands etc.
  • Taxi vans/minibus
    Available throughout the country and easily recognizable by the thin yellow reflective bands around the vehicles, the 15-seater vans offer a very convenient and cheap way for locals to commute around the country or to their place of work. One interesting thing about these taxi vans; The drivers and passengers communicate through hand signs to indicate where they are going or need to go as the destination is not written on the van itself.

Security

 

Although the first concern of people at the mere mention of “Johannesburg” or “South Africa” is insecurity, I have not felt being in danger at any time, but you need to be careful, especially when you realize that every house or building in regions with the high-income population are protected by electric fences and armed security services ready to intervene anytime. When you drive in regions whereby you can’t find any of these fences or security signs, you know that you are in less wealthy regions inhabited by the middle-class and even low-class population. You can also find slums in regions far away from the main wealthy regions.

Some basic rules are

  • Avoid travelling alone in unknown regions or roads
  • Avoid wearing jewelries or walking around with big cameras
  • DO NOT VENTURE in markets you might find in some regions.

As you can notice, these rules are applicable to any other country (exceptions do exist) but the rate of criminality in Johannesburg (as well as other cities in South Africa) is very high, hence the need to be careful and avoid taking any risks.

To give you another example, it is not advisable for tourists to be on their own in downtown Johannesburg whereby you can find shops and probably very good deals. However, shopping malls are generally safe but as you can guess, prices are quite high because you will find mainly big brands out there.

Shopping

There are tons of shopping malls around Joburg, easily reachable by the vast road network. And in some of these malls, you can find craft markets where you can grab good deals while enjoying a safe and sound environment. For example, I’ve been to Rosebank’s Art & Craft market to buy souvenirs but remember, always bargain!

 

 

I have been constantly comparing prices in Mauritius / Johannesburg and I can say that there isn’t a huge difference whether you are buying food, drinks, clothes or even petrol.

Poverty

Like in any other country, the society is divided into different classes depending on your income and social status. Joburg has beggars too unfortunately. You can see them around shopping malls or near traffic lights. While some of them carry a garbage bag so that you can throw your rubbish into them when you are at traffic lights, others might do some show to entertain you. The reason behind is to get some money from you while they entertain you or help you to get rid of your unwanted stuffs.

Summing up

If I need to come to Joburg again, I will gladly do so. Additionally, I even feel ready to hire a car and drive around here as I have been able to look around and observe the behavior of people in general. Vehicles are right-hand driven, just like in Mauritius. Roads are also in very good conditions and drivers are courteous in general. People don’t drive aggressively or don’t horn unnecessarily. Affordable to live in as a tourist, Joburg seems to be a good place for sight-seeing with your family as long as you don’t take any risks. The only unpleasant surprise I got here is that I had to pay a 10% gratuity fee (tip) of my total bill to the waiter in one of the restaurants. Well, it seems that this is the normal percentage to pay here in the region. I need to read more about my destination before flying next time!

A last thing : Some extra kilos are expected to show up because for the past week, whatever I ate was very bad for health : Oily, fatty food. And beer practically every single day!

Ngiyabonga (Thank you in Zulu language) for keeping tuned to the blog!

Take care!

 

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