South Africa is often considered a lighter version of the full experience the continent provides— mostly due to its complex history with colonization— but it still should be high on every Black traveler’s list for a number of reasons.
If it’s your first time visiting Africa, this is the perfect introduction. The country is home to an array of diverse cities, unique experiences and cultures that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Yet, the country is very easy to navigate and things are fairly inexpensive.
Even if you’ve visited before, there are lots of new businesses and experiences that have popped up since the country reopened to international travelers.
As of March 23, fully vaccinated travelers are able to enter the country without a negative COVID-19 test. If you aren’t fully vaccinated, you’ll need a negative PCR test result taken no more than 72-hours prior to your arrival.
From places to stay and safety tips, to the best markets and cultural experiences, here’s our guide for the Black traveler looking to visit South Africa.
Where to Stay
Despite what certain media outlets may portray, South Africa— and honestly Africa as a whole— is home to beautiful hotels and accommodations perfect for any budget.
If you’re in Cape Town and want to go all out with the luxury vibes, a stay at the pink-hued Belmond Mount Nelson is your best option. For decades, the hotel has received recognition for its 5-star digs. If you want something a little more budget friendly, try the ANEW Hotel Green Point, located in walking distance to the city’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.
Checking out Durban? The iconic Oyster Box Hotel is a luxury beachfront hotel that has been consistently nominated for Condé Nast Traveler’s ‘best hotel’ title. The hotel even once served as the backdrop for one of Idris Elba’s magazine photoshoots. A little further down the beachfront— and easier on your wallet— is the Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani. Although slightly older, the hotel is situated in an ideal location for those looking to explore all Durban has to offer.
In Johannesburg aka Jo-Burg, the epicenter of the country’s current culture and entrepreneurship explosion, a stay at the all-new voco Rosebank should be on your list. Opened this year, the hotel has a restaurant and wine bar on-site— Proud Mary— and is in walking distance to some of the city’s best malls and weekend markets. A second option is the Radisson Red Rosebank, also a newer hotel in Johannesburg with a rooftop bar and pool, as well as a fun sunset (called a sun downer in South Africa) happy hour.
What to do
The experiences across South Africa are endless, and would take forever to list. But, we’ll start in Jo-Burg. If you are visiting on a Saturday, you’ll want to run to the newly relaunched Playground Market in the Braamfontein neighborhood. This weekend market features up-and-coming designers, the majority of which are Black designers from around the country. Expect a live DJ, food vendors, and other informational booths to be set up as well. A secondary and much quieter market, is the Sunday market located on the rooftop of the Rosebank Mall. You’ll find everything from South Africa-branded souvenirs to handcrafted pieces. There’s also a flea market section where locals set up to sell vintage items they’ve collected over time. Of course, you can’t go to Jo’burg and not visit the Apartheid Museum, which chronicles the country’s struggle and fight during apartheid. Additionally, Jo’Burg is home to tons of galleries displaying works of artists from all over the continent.
In Durban, of course, you can spend time on the beach. But, we highly suggest taking the drive out to see the Nelson Mandela capture site and museum. It’s the exact spot where the South African leader was arrested before spending over two decades in prison. The neighboring museum provides detailed insight on his life, and there is a short rendition of the Long Walk to Freedom that you can take as well.
Now, for Cape Town. It’s a city filled with a melting pot of cultures and people, and it honestly deserves its own guide. But, here are a few of our top suggestions: for unique, handcrafted clothing and jewelry from local designers, check out The Watershed located at the V&A Waterfront. While at the waterfront, you’ll also want to spend a few hours in the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. The state-of-the-art, multilevel museum does not hold back in its approach to highlighting the struggles Black South Africans have faced over the decades. The installations are powerful, and most were commissioned by African artists from across the continent.
A few other things to add to your Cape Town list include: a walking tour of the colorful Bo Kaap neighborhood, taking the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain, having dinner at GOLD Restaurant— an immersive, multicourse dinner experience that also offers traditional African drumming lessons; spending an entire day out in the winelands, and a day in Camp’s Bay— the city’s most luxurious beachfront.
If you’re on the adventurous side, booking a safari experience is also a must-do. They are offered all over the country, with the more popular ones being outside of Cape Town and Durban. Kruger National Park allows you to drive through the park in your own vehicle, or you can hire a tour company to take you through as well. Overnight safaris are also very popular, and allow for more opportunities to spot the wildlife.
Safety tips and tricks
Whether you’re traveling solo or with friends, safety is key. The cities listed are all considered major cities, and will possess the same issues any other city around the world would. But, here are a few tips and tricks to make your South African adventure seamless:
- Don’t hang purses or bags on the backs of chairs when out. Always keep your bags in eye-view or on you. Unfortunately, pickpocketing can be an issue.
- Don’t carry your passport on you while out. This one may seem strange, but it was the suggestion of several locals around the country. Many tourists either lose their passports or, in the extreme case, have bags stolen with passports in them. It is best to keep your passport locked in your room’s safe.
- Never pull out large wads of cash or count it out in the open. Try to break up your cash and store it in different places on your body. When paying for items, try to be discreet when counting out your bills. This isn’t necessarily to combat a theft, but more so to keep vendors and businesses from overcharging when seeing you have lots of cash on-hand.
- Be mindful at night with phones and cameras. Again, always be aware of your surroundings. We understand that capturing the moment is important, but be careful with phones and cameras out in the open.
- It is okay to negotiate at flea markets. Some people are afraid to do so, but it is absolutely acceptable. Also, if you arrive at markets closer to closing, vendors are likely to give better deals.
- The currency in South Africa is the Rand. You can exchange money once on the ground, or at a bank in your home city prior to traveling. Airports typically charge a higher fee.
- Uber is very inexpensive all around the country. If you choose to ride by cab, be sure to agree on the rate before you take off to your destination.