My dream of visiting South Africa was fueled by my fascination with Nelson Mandela as a teenager, I wanted to know everything about him. I just knew that I needed to see and touch the ground that created Nelson Mandela. For a long time this dream was deferred but in 2014 I accepted a job in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and this decision made it possible for me to finally visit South Africa🤗.
There is a lot written about the violence in Johannesburg as a way to discourage or caution people about visiting and if I had listened I would never have gone there on a solo trip. While it is true that you have to be careful in JoBurg because there is violence; it is still a wonderful place to visit. A place you should visit if you have any interest in the history and influence of Mandela. I have visited the country 3 times and will probably return again some time in the future.
My first trip to South Africa was to Cape Town in March 2015 because I wanted to visit Robben Island and see the cell where Mandela was held captive for 28 years. Cape Town was all I dreamed of and more; I loved the food, the art, the jewelry, the music scene, and the people. I visited two museums, went to hear live music twice, took the hop on hop off bus all four routes including the wine tour; got up close to Table Mountain but didn’t climb it because of the wind that day. I went to Robben Island to visit Nelson Mandela’s cell; ate at great restaurants at the V&A waterfront, and got my hair twisted and styled. I spent time near the ocean on the Cape Town coastal side although the ocean was way too cold in March to do more than stick my toe in. I left Cape Town satisfied and determined to return to South Africa the next year to visit Johannesburg.
A year later I returned to Johannesburg, so I could visit Mandela’s House in Soweto, the apartheid museum, and ride the hop on hop off bus through Constitution Hill. I stayed in Melrose Arch a swanky little neighborhood with lots of boutique hotels and restaurants. My hotel the Protea Fire and Ice was a nice small boutique hotel where the rooms were decorated with themes of famous actresses and the sink and shower was next to bed separated by a curtain. On my first day I saw lots of poverty and parts of Johannesburg that is worn down, dirty and filled with despair. I learned that there are a lack of jobs there for the working class and so there’s a lot of homelessness. I visited Constitution Hill which used to be a prison and now is a museum with a presentation about human rights. The tour ended at the Rose bank Mall one of the newer areas where I had the tastiest wings ever. I enjoyed the fact that I could get around on the train, which is one of the things that I like to do as a city girl when I visit a new country.
My driver/tour guide to Apartheid Museum and Soweto was great; he talked about his own experience with Apartheid, being rounded up by the police as a teenager and being shot by rubber bullets. I enjoyed the vibe of Soweto, visited the home where Mandela lived as well as the Hector Pieterson museum that paid homage to the Soweto Uprising and massacre of innocent children. My visit to the Apartheid Museum was powerful, the images were riveting and the tour guide led you through this maze of a time warp of the Apartheid era and the movement to dismantle it. Although my visit to Johannesburg was short I felt like I got to experience and learn a lot about the city. But I wasn’t finished with South Africa yet, the Mandela exhibit at the Apartheid museum was closed for renovations and I was disappointed because it was one of the reasons I came to JoBurg. This meant I needed to come back for another visit sometime in the near future.
I would return to South Africa again in December 2016 as part of my trip to see Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I was determined to see the updated Nelson Mandela exhibit at the Apartheid museum which had been closed when I visited the year before. I stayed at the same hotel in Melrose Arch and spent New year’s Eve at Moyo a lovely restaurant down the street where there was live music, a photo booth and face painting. This time I ventured out to Maboneng the artsy neighborhood where I met some lovely people. I met guy from Zimbabwe and we had a long conversation about the economy and how foreign Africans are treated by South Africans. I ate some great food, ran across an artist on the street playing the violin, encountered a kind hairstylist who went and bought me credit for my phone so I could call an Uber and got my hair twisted and styled again by a woman from Ghana because why not? It was a great trip and the Mandela exhibit at the Apartheid Museum did not disappoint although I knew so much about him.
To say I am now smitten with JoBurg after three visits is putting it mildly. I love the vibe of the city, the warmth of the people, the food, the music scene. All in all South Africa owes me nothing, my visits were wonderful although there is so much more for me to see and explore. I’m sure I will keep returning. #Dopelife #solotravelcanbefun