Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, as well as the regional capital of the country’s wealthiest province, Gauteng.
Geographically, the city is positioned on the eastern plateau area of Highveld, at an elevation of 1,753 meters above sea level, on the south side of the mineral-rich Witwatersrand Hills range. As a result, Johannesburg serves as the base for a large-scale gold and diamond trade.
Johannesburg city still bears the marks of the turbulent 20th century and, unfortunately, many inequalities still exist but the city is on its way to becoming one of the most prosperous and modern cities in South Africa.
City’s top attractions:
A visit to the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill can help visitors understand the complexities of South Africa's previous regime and how it affects the personality of the populace today.
Further out of the city is Kruger National Park, South Africa's oldest, largest and best-known wildlife conservation area and home to a vast variety of wildlife. It is also the most famous place for viewing the 'Big Five' - the five large mammals of the African plains.
Located 50 km from Johannesburg and also not to be missed, is the area dubbed the “Cradle of Humankind” where the 2.3 million year old fossil remains of Australopithecus Africanus was found, remaining the most complete and best preserved specimen of its kind to date.
Johannesburg is blessed with a pleasant climate. It remains dry and sunny all year long and temperatures are quite mild due to the city’s high elevation. The warmest month is January and the coolest is June. Winter is the sunniest time of the year, but the nights tend to be quite cool. Snow is rare. Heavy afternoon rains fall between October and April. Summers are pleasantly warm.
January average temperature 20 deg Celsius 124 mm rainfall February average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 97 mm rainfall March average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 84 mm rainfall April average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 53 mm rainfall May average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 18 mm rainfall June average temperature 10 deg Celsius, 8 mm rainfall July average temperature 11 deg Celsius, 5 mm rainfall August average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 5 mm rainfall September average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 28 mm rainfall October average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 74 mm rainfall November average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 119 mm rainfall December average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 109 mm rainfall
Johannesburg is served by the O.R. Tambo International Airport (previously known as Johannesburg International). It is Africa’s busiest airport and also serves as the connecting hub for flights to other South African destinations.
The city was built for cars, so this is the best way of getting around. Public transportation is almost no-existent.
The Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located about 50 km northwest of Johannesburg and has won widespread acclaim. The site encompasses 47,000 hectares and offers the visitors a boat ride on an underground lake and features interactive displays on topics such as the discovery of fire, extinction of wildlife species and the science of Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA. The area is home to limestone caves, including the Sterkfontein Caves, where the 2.3 million year old fossil Australopithecus Africanus was found in 1947. It remains the most complete and best preserved specimen of its kind to date. This discovery and many others like it have led to the area being named the Cradle of Humankind.
Kruger National Park is located around 500 km from Johannesburg and covers nearly 2 million hectares It boasts an unrivalled diversity of life forms, including cheetahs, leopards, lions, rhinos, wildebeest, buffalo, elephants, giraffes, antelope and impala. The park also features stunning historical and archaeological sights and cultural heritage sites, including many native rock art sites.
It is the largest game reserve in South Africa, and offers a wildlife experience that ranks with the best in Africa. The park was created in 1898 to protect the flora and fauna of the South African Lowveld, and is named after its original proponent, President Paul Kruger. The Park is set up so visitors can drive their own or rented vehicles and, indeed, most do.
The museum opened in 2001 and is considered a worldwide authority on the intricacies of 20th century South Africa and apartheid, as an integral part of that era. The museum’s collection provides a moving journey through the country’s turbulent past and present. Allow at least a half day for the visit. Due to the graphic nature of the Museum’s content, it is not deemed suitable for children under 11.
This was the site of the notorious Old Fort prison complex, which takes visitors through the troubled history of South Africa and its transition to democracy. It features a courtroom, museum and art gallery.
Market Theatre is a popular entertainment complex featuring theater venues, bookshops, galleries and restaurants. The adjoining Museum Africa showcases the lives and cultures of the South African people. The complex also hosts a flea market on Saturdays.
Johannesburg Botanic Gardens
Address: Olifants Road, Emmarentia
Johannesburg Botanic Gardens is actually one of the city’s many parks. It lies about 6 km from the city centre and provides a much-needed green space in the middle of the city’s northern suburbs. The park has over 30,000 trees and, in what is probably one of the largest rose gardens in the world, over 4,500 rose varieties. The park is a tranquil oasis ideal for a stroll or a picnic or just a great place for children to play.
Soweto is Johannesburg’s poor south western township, and the most populous black urban residential area in South Africa, home to around a million people. Its name originated from the acronym for "SOuth-WEstern TOwnships", it began as a collection of settlements pushed onto the outskirts of Johannesburg and was mostly home to native Africans who worked in the gold mining industry. It was established in 1903, when inner city slums were cleared on the pretext of an outbreak of bubonic plague.
It is well known as the site of the 1976 riots, when on June 16, violent protests burst out as schoolchildren took the struggle against apartheid into their own hands. On that day hundreds of children around the country died. This bloody toll slowly led South Africa down the road to democracy, a struggle which culminated in the 1994 elections that established democracy in South Africa.
A tour of the township takes visitors to Freedom Square, the Nelson Mandela House, which was declared a national monument, and the memorial of 12 year old Hector Pieterson, who was shot in the 1976 uprising. The area is also home to numerous traditional taverns, serving authentic African dishes.
The Apartheid Museum is located on the outskirts of Soweto.
Johannesburg has a large selection of restaurants and eateries, serving food ranging from local delicacies to international cuisines.
Most visitors go to the suburb of Melville to dine out. Reservations are recommended on Friday and Saturday nights as they can be busy. Greenside is another popular area for its numerous cafes and restaurants. In addition, the CBD also features some nice restaurants, especially around the Market Theatre.
Many South African chain restaurants can also be found in the shopping malls in the northern suburbs.
This 10-day funfair taking place during Easter is one of Johannesburg’s biggest festivals. It is a family affair with activities for all featuring circus acts, talent shows, exhibits, and competitions, amusement park rides and games. The signature event is, of course, the Easter egg hunt.
Joburg Art Fair
Date: March (annual) Location: Sandton Convention Centre
Joburg Art Fair is dedicated to African art and features work brought in by the local as well as international galleries. These include such diverse forms of art as photography, furniture, and installations.
The festival has been running for over a decade. It has made great headway in putting South Africa on the international jazz map. It attracts an audience of 20,000 people and takes place in 7 venues throughout the city. It features an international line-up of top artists, and an exciting mix of local talents.
Melville is a trendy Johannesburg suburb featuring a myriad of venues, ranging from modest to upmarket and is the best place to find anything, from coffee shops and bars to dance clubs. The area hums any day of the week.
The area surrounding the city was originally inhabited by the San tribes. During the 13th century the area attracted Bantu-speaking tribes, who slowly took over.
Dutch-speaking emigrants arrived in the early 19th century and formed the first settlements around Rustenburg and Pretoria.
In the 1880s gold was discovered and it triggered a gold rush. Soon people started swarming in from all other regions of the country, as well as from North America, the UK and Europe.
The city’s major building boom took place during the 1930s. In the 1950s and early 1960s the apartheid government took control and the townships of Soweto emerged. During the 1970s high-rise buildings were built, followed by a decline in development in the following two decades. Today occasional violence still flares up in marginalized townships, most recently in Alexandra in 2008.
South Africa has a very high level of crime, including murder and rape. However, most violent crimes occur in towns outside the city and in isolated areas away from the normal tourist destinations. A reliable provider is recommended for any travel within the country. Major tourist destinations generally have low crime rates as South African authorities give high priority to protecting tourists and Tourist Police operate in most large towns.
Berea and Hillbrow are areas to avoid in Johannesburg. There is a higher risk of encountering muggers at the Rotunda bus terminus in the Central Business District.
Doors should be kept locked while driving. Vehicle hi-jacking and robbery are common occurrences, so be vigilant, especially when driving after dark. Stay on the main roads and always park in well-lit areas. Keep valuables out of sight at all times as there have been incidents of car break-ins while waiting at the junctions in a “smash and grab” fashion.
Thieves operate in busy areas such as airports and bus stations, so keep an eye on your baggage at all times. Passports are particularly vulnerable to theft.
Do not display large amounts of money or other valuables, such as expensive cameras, jewelry, or phones in public.
Be very cautious if you stay out after dark. Stay in well-lit areas. Do not wander around alone. Avoid isolated beaches and other remote areas.
Don’t leave drinks unattended at a bar.
South Africa has a high level of HIV/AIDS infections.
Get comprehensive travel and medical insurance before traveling.
EMERGENCY PHONE NUMBERS
Johannesburg 24-hour emergency service: 375-5911 Ambulance and fire headquarters: 472-1599 Medical Rescue International: 403-7080 St John's Ambulance: 403-4227/2346 Criminal Record Centre: 011 986 9000 Crime Prevention Unit: 011 - 982 1008/ 9 Nationwide Emergency Response: 10111
However, summers (December to January) can be quite hot and humid, whereas spring (September to October) is the most colorful season, when flowers are in full bloom. Winters are mild and cool so it is an ideal time if you want to beat the heat.
Peak tourist season coincides with the school holidays in April and from June to September. The beaches and national parks are often crowded at these times.