This past March, due the graces of the Etihad airfare glitch, I traveled to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. It was an awesome trip and I was super happy to finally meet up with my South African #SmartBrownGirls. An unintentional solo trip, I spent five days in Johannesburg and two + half days in Cape Town.
Let’s cover some of the basics.
I caught a really good sale and was able to score a round trip ticket from NYC to JoBurg for $350. Adding my travel from Houston to NYC, rounded my entire flight up to $520, still a killer deal. I bought my ticket during the Etihad Christmas Glitch, so it was once in a life time deal, though I have seen other sales pop up in the $400-500 price range, which is still an amazing buy. Typically tickets are around $800+ RT. If you’re looking for a great deal to travel anywhere, I would definitely recommend checking out The Flight Deal and AirFareWatchDog, both their sites and Twitter feeds.
I flew Etihad, an United Arab Emirates airlines. This is my second time flying them. I went to Abu Dhabi in 2008, and the flight was enjoyable. That Christmas Glitch definitely blew up Etihad sales, I would say almost 80% of the people on my flight bought their tickets via the glitch. The planes weren’t as nice as I remember them being the first time I flew Etihad. Typically international flights are nicer than domestic flights. A few more amenities, wider seats and better food, but this go around it was all pretty sub par.
If you can afford to, flying business or first class is worth it for long flights. The first leg of my flight was 13 hours, second leg was 8 hours – totaling 21 hours in the air to get from NYC to JoBurg. But for the low cost of my seat, I’m not complaining about the old plane we flew on. I partially think Etihad has found a win in using older planes and selling cheaper seats because I’ve seen a decent number of great sales spring up for international travel with them. Just be ready to watch a lot of movies and sleep. There’s not much else to do.
You can check up to two bags for free with an additional carry on and check in was open three hours before the flight. International flights are NOT flights you want to cut it close with. Getting to the airport three hours early is worth the agony and money saved from missing an international flight, since there is no simple $50 rebook fee here. I would recommend doing your best to back one bag you plan to check with an empty piece of luggage in that (for all the goodies you’re going to bring home) and then a light weight carry on with essentials and a change of clothes.
Weather in Mid-March was mild, South Africa is on the opposite end of the season schedule compared to the Americas and Europe, so I was there at the beginning of their fall season. I did not experience any rain during my week in the country.
I booked an AirBnB in the Melville section of Johannesburg, at $40/night it was affordable and a great stay. If I did it again, I would try and stay in the Maboneng district, it’s the up and coming art district of Johannesburg, and about as central of a location as you can get. I didn’t get the sense that there was a real central area in Johannesburg, where you could stay and be close to everything. Really depends on what you want to do during your stay, as neighborhoods offering different commodities are spread out through JoBurg. Melville was quiet, clean and a had a strip of restaurants, shops and art galleries as the main drag.
Uber is in South Africa! And it’s awesomely cheap and easy to access. I can not over recommend you downloading the Uber app and using it. Use my coupon code [1b7nt] for $20 towards your first ride (essentially a free first ride). Quite a few of the AirBnB hosts offer cab services as well, so getting around it was pretty easy. You can take Gautrain to several of the more popular locations in JoBurg, but I was advised by locals since I was a woman by myself who wasn’t familiar with JoBurg to not take the MetroRail.
I heard a lot of talk about the dangers of South Africa though I experienced none of it first hand. Be smart, be practical and you will be fine. Most shops, museums and sites shut down around 6pm as the sun sets. There is an obvious influx of immigrants from neighboring countries, an obvious discrepancy in the distribution of wealth from Whites to Blacks and then from Black South Africans to Black Africans from other countries. South Africa is not the perfect symbol of forgiveness and moving forward, there’s most definitely still great work to be done, but I felt no less safe then I would walking down South Street in Philadelphia.
So what did I actually do while there?
I got my hair braided!! And it was awesomesauce amaze balls, I’ve done a video and blog post with all the details on my experience. Girl, if you go to any country in sub-saharan Africa, I would highly recommend you get the hook up on that good exchange rate and getting your hair braided for the low. Just be gracious and tip them nicely (I paid $45USD, for a style locals typically pay less than $30USD for).
I visited cultural sites. For Johannesburg, Constitution Hall was the most touching museum experience. Apartheid Museum is a definite must see, but I was just more emotionally evoked at Constitution Hill. I caught the Hector Pietersen Museum in Soweto as part of the City Sightseeing Bus Tours, which are a great buy in, just to knock all the tourist stuff out and make it easy to get around all the major sites.
Maboneng was great, I just wasn’t in JoBurg on Sunday to catch it’s open market, Market on Main, that I heard is a great time. I had my best meal at SHA’P SHISA NYAMA restaurant, local South African style barbecue that was just delicious, even with the pap. Pap is the obligatory starch that every African country must have, where Ghana has fufu, South Africa has pap, the USA has mashed potatoes, and I’m not a fan of any of it. Pap is served everywhere in South Africa. I’ve long been a fan of Nando’s, a South African chain that has franchises in Washington, DC and London, so I was excited to try the original version. It was good but not any better then what I get back in the States.
It is easy to get a diverse array of food options, as there is a diverse international scene in JoBurg. From pizza, Italian to fried chicken and McDonald’s it’s all there for very cheap prices thanks to the USD to ZAR (rand) conversion rates. I’m always looking for the super local experience, which I got with Sha’p and then the “Soweto kato burger” I had in Kliptown. But you can have whatever culinary experience you want to. Overall the food in general just felt much fresher (including the McDonald’s I had) then the over processed foods of United States. Nando’s might not have tasted significantly better then Nando’s in DC, but it did taste a lot fresher.
Neighborgoods Market, is an open air market event in Downtown JoBurg that happens on Saturday. Very similar to Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia and good + chill time. The club scene you can get the same hip hop selection you do in the US or enjoy the vibrant EDM/House scene that South Africa is known for. I got a taste of both, but I’m an old lady with a bed time, maybe if I went with a group I would be more up for the all night jam.
The bestest experience I had in JoBurg, aside from my #SmartBrownGirl event, was visiting the Kliptown township in Soweto. JoBurg does a great job of making you feel like apartheid ended, all was forgiven and everyone is living well, but visiting the townships in Soweto, gives you a good taste of the wealth disparity that looms over the Black community there. Visiting the CNN Hero Kliptown Youth Program, I was able to donate some feminine products, speak with the girls and meet the awesome people who are running the program. I also had a kato burger on my way out, which is a stomachache stuffed between thick slices of bread. Wurst (sausage), chips (fries), achar (seasoning) and some other things I couldn’t quite place, comprise the Kato Soweto Burger that you can grab from a barred window around the corner from the oddly located Soweto Hotel.
My #SmartBrownGirl event was hands down THE sh*t! Many thanks to the Healthy Hair Indaba for helping to pull the event together. But it was so great to connect with my audience and engage in a great dialogue about hair, politics and culture. I was beaming at the end of the event, which we held at The Kitchen Bar in the Design District of Johannesburg.