Travel Diaries: Johannesburg, South Africa

Some of you may or may not have noticed that I was in South Africa earlier this month. It was actually a surprise work trip, so it was quite rushed to begin with, and our 3 days there were packed with meetings all day.

In any case, I did manage to sneak out for lunch, or the day of my return flight, so I wanted to document some of the photos and experiences for anyone who may be planning to go to Johannesburg.

Getting there

Depending on your nationality/citizenship, you may require a visa to visit South Africa, so you will need to get this step done before anything else.

The visa forms can be downloaded here. My colleague in Morocco had a similar experience as I did here in Dubai, so I feel it can be safely summarized. All you need is the filled out forms, copies and originals of your passport (valid for 6 months atleast, and must have blank pages for visa to be stamped), bank statements, hotel and flight bookings, and an NOC from your employer. The visa process was fairly simple, and we both got ours in 4 working days.

For flights, we are fortunate enough in Dubai to have direct flights to most destinations in the world, so I took an Emirates flight to Jo’burg. However, some other options available are through Paris, Turkey, AbuDhabi, and more.

Accommodation

We were fairly warned by colleagues and friends that Jo’burg is not the safest of cities. We decided to stay in the city area of Sandton, which is a business district, and was very safe. I stayed at the Holiday Inn, but we were surrounded by several other well-known chains such as the Radisson Blu, Hilton, etc.

Our hotel was decent, but the service could be better. There were some delays in hotel pickups, some confusion with the check-in process, and cleaning of the rooms was a bit late on days, but the staff overall was courteous and helpful. I’d give it a 6.5 out of 10 overall.

PS. I checked out at noon, but my flight was not till midnight, so I asked them if there was a place I could shower and change before my flight. To my surprise, they had a crew lounge that they provide to Qatar Airways, and we could get access to it for just $15, which I thought was totally worth it.

Booking.com is probably your best friend for this, as you can apply many filters on location, rating, amenities, etc.

Getting Around

Again, in interest of safety and convenience, we opted for  the hotel car. We had a designated driver who took us around during the day from meeting to meeting. They did not tell us the rate upfront, but it was negotiable eventually; this reminds me, you need to bargain for everything here!

In the evenings, we usually relied on Uber, which worked as well as any other city in the world. Also, if you don’t know what Uber is or how it works, you need to get with the programme ASAP.

Some tourist attractions offer pick-up and drop-off services as well. I used this for my visit to the Lion Park.

Places I visited 

  • Nelson Mandela Square – a shopping centre and open public space, home to the HUGE statue of Mandela himself (pictures below)
  • Monte Casino – Casino in the centre, surrounded by shops and restaurants, with the feel of a Venetian street or town. They also had clothes hanging from balconies, faux pets waiting by the windows, and more, to add to the ambience.
  • Towns of Pretoria, Rivonia, Bryanstone – all part of Johannesburg, these towns are beautifully planned and lush green.
  • Lion Park – Newsweek’s Top 100 Tourist Destinations in the world, and home to families of lions, cheetah, zebras, antelopes and giraffes. Several activities available included guided drives, cub interaction, walk with the lions, cheetahs, and more.

There is lots more to do in Johannesburg, and ofcourse lots of other cities to visit such as Cape Town. I usually like to book and plan my trips using the website Viator as you can choose full day/ half day excursions and filter further by interests. They then link you to local providers and offer pickup/drop off as well.

Food

Unfortunately I did not get to try any of the local cuisine because it was not Halal, and very heavy on meat, but Jo’burg generally had a great variety of restaurants, ranging from Cafes to delis, sushi bars, premium restaurants and more.

Surprisingly, I had a lot of great Italian food in Jo’burg, including Remo’s in Mandela square, and some in Monte Casino. Beware, though – the Penne Arabiatta in Jo’burg is insanely spicy.

Local chains including Nando’s and Mugg & Bean were very common, with prices being very reasonable as well. Eg: An iced coffee at M&B cost around USD2, while the same would cost no less than USD5 here in Dubai.

Shopping

To be honest, I was not so keen on shopping for clothes or shoes, or any personal items, but that did not stop me from snooping around. I did manage to go into a couple of shoe stores, clothing outlets and makeup stores, just to see what I was missing out on. There is a good selection of international brands available in the country, including Apple, Forever21, Call it Spring, ALDO, MAC Cosmetics, etc, and the prices were pretty similar to what we have here in Dubai (if not slightly cheaper).

I was more interested in buying local souvenirs, including beautiful Ostrich eggs. However, if you do not get time to buy these in the city, there are some really good souvenir shops at the Airport as well.

PS. Don’t forget to ask for your VAT slips. You can get a refund at the airport.  However, they do check the items specifically to stamp your receipts, and you have to go to 2 different places to complete the transaction, but that’s fine!

The Duty Free prices were also at par with Dubai in case of perfumes. However, the real shocker for me was the prices for Clarins products which were atleast HALF the price. You can check out my excitement further on my instagram post.

That’s all I could think of, for now. Have a look at some of the pictures in the slide show below! x

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Here are some from the Lion Park Safari (stolen from my Snapchat: sania.wg)

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Pretty Ostrich eggs

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