What to do in Johannesburg for 36 hours?
March 2, 2011 5:18 PM   Subscribe

In Johannesburg for about 36 hours - what should I do?

I'll be in Joburg from Friday morning through Saturday night; I'll have Friday night and Saturday before 5ish (flight leaves at 830) free. What should I do? I love good food, scenery, and wandering around cities (but am aware there are safety concerns in Joburg). I am not afraid of being really touristy, but want to maximize my limited time. I'm considering going to the Lions Park and the Apartheid Museum.

I'll be staying in the Sandton area. While I am not on a tight budget, I do need to watch my money somewhat, especially with taxis. I am a 22-year-old white American woman traveling alone.

Any suggestions for dealing with the jetlag (both there and here - I'm expected at work Monday morning) welcome as well!
posted by quadrilaterals to Travel & Transportation around Johannesburg, South Africa (7 answers total)
Stay in your hotel and not get robbed, raped or killed. Dead serious about this.
posted by meepmeow at 8:07 PM on March 2, 2011

Safety concerns is putting it sort of lightly. I personally know 4 males who have been robbed there, in a violent fashion, this year. 2 Aussies and 2 Americans.
I wouldn't go out alone if I were you. I'd be very worried about rape and muggings either way. Never leave anything you are going to consume out of your sight as spiking drinks is very common there.

With that said. Sandton is a relatively safe area to walk. The Apartheid Museum is supposed to be very moving. Moyo is a good place to get breakfast and gives a nice touristy experience.

I don't really have any word of mouth about anything else.
posted by zephyr_words at 8:37 PM on March 2, 2011

You could go to Rosebank Mall, which is a fancy upscale kind of place. You should see if your hotel has a taxi service. It is just a mall but the security is excellent and locals go there. Rich locals.

There is an area of Johannesburg called Mellville that is supposed to be fairly safe to walk around in during the day if you are a woman alone. At least, it was 6 years ago when I (a woman in my 20's) was there. However, it is only 5 streets wide and 2 streets deep, so you run out of walking around space pretty fast and you do not want to step out of it.

But seriously, I would not go out in the evening alone and be VERY careful about where I went in general. I got some absolutely terrifying warnings form the people I knew there about how to behave when traveling through Johannesburg. These included never coming to a stop at stoplights after dark, to avoid being car jacked; not keeping my purse on my lap in a car so that if the car did stop no one would break the window to grab it; and I was simply not allowed to be out of doors alone after dark. There is a lot of dashing between cars and buildings in Johannesburg. Roughly half of the people I met had been shot at in their lives.

The first answer is a bit dramatic but not unreasonable. That is not a safe city. Even the safe parts aren't really safe by North American standards.
posted by keeo at 8:37 PM on March 2, 2011

You might want to read this from the US State Department. They do these write ups for all countries. The one for SA doesn't make great reading. (Nor does the one from the UK Foreign office or the Australian version, either, come to that.)

Wikitravel tends to be less alarmist, and their Johannesburg guide has a good write up on various areas as well as a list of attractions and destinations along the lines of what you asked for. Sandton sounds pretty sanitised but is also regarded as being pretty safe.

They do state "Females should avoid walking alone at all times and should try if possible to remain in large groups." My friend just came back from a week there and said she felt safe enough but she was with a group, so that makes a difference. I love to travel alone but this is one of the few destinations where I would book organised day trips and consider possibly hiring a guide.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:01 AM on March 3, 2011

Joburg is a tough nut to crack, so being touristy is really the only way to do it in one day. Even aside from any safety concerns, it's not really a walking city (think Los Angeles but less pedestrian-friendly).

Regarding safety: South Africans are hyper-paranoid, especially about Joburg. I've found this to be overstated. The idea to stay in your hotel room and hide under the bed is absurd. Where are you staying? Speak to them about arranging transportation for where you want to go. I had a driver in Joburg last week and we went all over the city (from near the airport to Soweto and a couple other places and back to the airport) and it cost me 400ZAR. Renting a car can make sense money-wise, but driving in Joburg is kind of a nightmare, even if you know how to drive stick and are accustomed to driving on the left.
posted by pollex at 5:16 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks very much, everyone. Safety concerns are certainly there, but I am there on business and my company takes security very seriously; I will not be just gallivanting through Alexandra or anything. I will have a car service available. I am staying in Sandton

Any suggestions about particular tourist attractions? A friend mentioned the HP museum might be better for my time frame than the Apartheid Museum.
posted by quadrilaterals at 6:02 AM on March 3, 2011

Here is why people who actually live in countries are more alarmist:
Imagine there is a 5% chance of something bad happening to anyone if they go out.
So you go out once and you are fine because you didn't hit that 5%.
People living there go out on average twice per day, most days of the year.
They want to try to decrease that 5% chance as much as possible and to the best of their ability because its not just a once-off chance for them.
They have also seen their friends and family hit that 5% and see it on the streets and in the local news.
Your % might also be higher if you are alone, female, richly-dressed, have jewelry showing, are unarmed, make eye contact, walk too slowly, talk to strangers, are in a bad area etc.
So we worry about you and would prefer you are safe and try to warn you, but it sounds cheesy and silly and alarmist.
posted by meepmeow at 12:41 PM on March 3, 2011

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