I didn’t have much time to explore Johannesburg at all. I built in a 9 hour layover on my last day in South Africa because I really wanted to see the Apartheid Museum – but when I was doing my trip planning, I was rather intimidated by Joburg and the potential for crime. (Next time I’ll stay a little longer and explore more!)
I knew I’d be leaving Johannesburg at around 8:30 pm, which would mean I needed to reach the airport during rush hour traffic. I decided that I would rent a car at the airport when I arrived in the late morning, return it in the suburb of Sandton, and take the Gautrain to the airport on my way back.
I didn’t want to carry all my luggage in the car & on the train with me, so I left it in the baggage storage area in the basement of the airport. I paid 80 rand per bag (about US$5.50 at the time) and then picked up my car from Hertz. They gave me a map of where to return the car (at the Hilton in Sandton) and I was off!
Because of the spiraling freeways, Johannesburg has been described by some as the Los Angeles of Africa. Growing up in a suburb of LA, I felt very comfortable driving there.
It’s about 32 km on the freeways from the airport to the Apartheid Museum, taking about 23 minutes. The museum is just 3-4 minutes away from the freeway, in what appears to be a safe area, across the street from an amusement park & casino. Finding out from locals the best roads to take is important – sometimes Google Maps may route you a “quicker” way that goes through an unsafe area.
I spent more time learning from the exhibits than I did taking pictures of them, so I don’t have a lot of photos to share.
I’m not even going to suggest that South Africa has solved its racial issues, but it seems like they’ve come a long, long way. Civil war was a real possibility in the 90s.
The museum features a lot of displays of propaganda and artifacts used by the white regime. Pictures and videos tell the stories of how people suffered.
The Apartheid Museum was an amazing place to visit. After I left, my friend and I drove in silence for the next 20 minutes. It was hard to talk, to be honest. I’m still in shock that this ended a mere 20+ years ago.
From there, we headed to the leafy suburb of Sandton, where many companies and businesses relocated in the 90s as central Johannesburg started deteriorating.
Nelson Mandela Square is a shopping center attached to another gigantic shopping center, Sandton City, and I did some last minute souvenir shopping there.
From there I went to return the rental car, a mere 1 km drive that took me 10 minutes in the evening rush hour.
I was glad I had decided to take the Gautrain back to the airport – it’s only 3 stops to the airport from Sandton, and a 45 – 75 minute drive only takes 14 minutes. The cost is 135 rand, plus 13 rand to purchase a rechargeable card. (For safety purposes, two cars of the train are designated “airport” cars and the doors don’t open at every station.)
I found the Gautrain to be a safe and comfortable way to travel between the city and the airport.
Next time I’m in South Africa, I’ll take some more time to explore Joburg. I liked the vibe of the city and it seems much less intimidating than I had expected.
Back at the airport, I used an ATM to take out more rands, as the exchange rate was pretty good and I knew I’d be coming back to South Africa in the future! And with my one day visit to Joburg over, I began a very long flight back to the US, Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi, and Abu Dhabi to New York…This entry was posted in Africa, South Africa