This past weekend social media was in a frenzy when it got out that there was a “glitch” or “fuel dump” airfare available to Johannesburg (and other destinations like Thailand, Seychelles and Dubai) through January 2018. Folks snapped up tickets by the hundreds to enjoy Mother Africa and once the hype wore down, and hopefully reservations stayed in tact, the question for many became…what do we do now? For many who caught the deal, it will be their first time to the continent and they are lost on where to stay and what to do. If you’re one of those needing a little help in planning your South Africa adventure, here are a few tips that will help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.
What to Know
Weather– Fortunately the “glitch” had flight availability during one of the best times to go to South Africa. If you caught your fare for August/September, expect it to be a bit cool, especially at night, since those months are heading towards the end of South Africa’s winter months. A light denim jacket or sweater will serve you well. If you’re going from the end of September on, welcome to summer in South Africa! Like anywhere else it can get hot, so make sure you pack light clothing, swimsuits and plenty of sunscreen.
Money – Use sites like XE.com to keep your eye on the exchange rate. The currency in South Africa is the South African Rand (ZAR) and currently $1 USD equals 12.95 ZAR. The dollar goes pretty far in the country which will help you rack up on wine and fabric for the family back home – or yourself. Personally, I like to use my Charles Schwab debit card when I travel because the card comes with no fees when used internationally or at ATMs. When I travel I tend to pull some cash out of the ATM when I arrive for current and best exchange rates, and keep the rest on the card. Backup funds are reserved on my day-to-day debit card or credit card, which I try not to use unless it’s an emergency.
Transportation – From O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) you can take the Gautrain, a rapid rail system that runs daily from 5am to 10pm, catch a metered taxi from the designated taxi points, a hotel shuttle (if your hotel provides one) or order an Uber, which is pretty cheap throughout the city. If you’re looking to pop over to Cape Town, cheap round trip flights between the two cities can be found on the usual flight search sites like Expedia, Skyscanner or Google Flights.
Safety – Johannesburg and Cape Town operate like any other major city in the world. There are good folk and bad folk, but in general both cities are relatively safe. Just use the same common sense you would at home – no dark alleys, no flashing cash or jewelry, and most importantly, always trust your gut!
Where to Stay
Airbnb – Airbnb is huge in South Africa, and extremely reasonable. It’s a great option if you’re traveling with a group or want to cut costs in lodging.
Hostels – Curiosity Backpackers is a great hostel in the Maboneng neighborhood, placing it at the heart of Joburg’s vibrant cultural life. Long Street Backpackers is a good option for those who have time to pop over to Cape Town.
Hotels – There are great hotel options in South Africa. The Radisson Blu in Sandton is very affordable, accessible to transportation and close to great shopping and nightlife. Marriott/SPG members can rack up points at any of the Protea properties in the country like African Pride Melrose Arch in Joburg and African Pride 15 on Orange in Cape Town. If you’re a luxe lover the Four Seasons Westcliff in Joburg and the One&Only in Cape Town are where you want to be.
What to Do
There are too many activities to name throughout both Johannesburg and Cape Town, but a few to start off your list are the Apartheid Museum, Nelson Mandela’s House, Soweto (the brave can bungee off the Orlando Towers!) and the Lion & Safari Park. In Cape Town, head to Boulders Beach, Table Mountain, Robben Island (be sure to get tickets in advance), take a stroll and cooking class in Bo-Kaap, go caged shark diving or drink all the wine you can stomach on a winery tour with Wine Flies.
If you’re looking for more in depth details on things to do, where to eat or reliable tour guides, check out awesome Facebook groups like South Africa Glitch Gate, head to South Africa’s official tourism website or look up activities on Viator.