Quick Guide to Seeing South Africa Like A Local
After coming back from my Spring Break trip with my friend Jennifer to Johannesburg and Cape Town, I was excited to share my adventures with friends and family. It wasn’t until I started comparing notes that I realized we had packed an insane amount of activities into the 3 days we spent in Johannesburg and 2 in Cape Town. I’ve pulled together some tips to help you see South Africa like a local. May they serve you well on your journey!
Disclaimer: This is not a paid review. I just believe in giving credit where credit is due.
1. Stay with Curiocity Backpackers
When I told my good friend that I was traveling to Johannesburg, he told me that there was no better place to stay than at`1` the Curiocity Backpackers hostel located in the Maboneng Precinct. Their website and Facebook page highlighted game nights, clean bunk beds, an in-house bar, and a prime location in an eclectic neighborhood. We were sold. The Curiocity team were extremely helpful at all points of our trip: they arranged for a driver to come pick us up from the airport (Ask for Arnold, he’s our favorite!), Dudu (sweetest girl ever) was at the front desk to greet us with a warm welcome and show us our room. First thing that struck me about the hostel was that it was the kind of place I would see in a cool urban magazine. From the graffiti wall with “Curiocity” scrawled across it to the upper deck attached to the kitchen, there wasn’t a design element the guys hadn’t thought of. The second thing that surprised me was how young the guys are (pictured above). Bheki Dube brought together a group of entrepreneurial friends and merged their ventures into one awesome experience for young travelers.
#2. Explore local neighborhoods
In my opinion, the best way to see South Africa is through a guided tour with someone who will show you the historical sites as well as the quirky spots in the area. I will admit that upon arrival at Jo’Burg, my main objective was to soak up the sun and eat South African food. So when I signed up for the Inner City walking tour with Bonnie from Curiocity, I had no real expectations other than to have fun. I’m pretty sure Bonnie took us EVERYWHERE in the city and I’m equally sure he knew EVERYONE in the area. We were always greeted warmly because we were with Bonnie. Most of the pictures from my South Africa photo gallery post were taken during Bonnie’s tour. His extensive knowledge of South Africa’s history and connection to the city of Johannesburg helped us understand the significance of the sites we were seeing. We ended the day on a somber note at the Apartheid Museum (which has a student discount if you present your ID). Our town to Soweto the next day was led by Tshepo. His tour “Sowe2 With Love” took us through historical area of Soweto. We walked on Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel Prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu). We also visited the Hector Pieterson museum while we were there. If you’re interested in taking the tours, click on the links above to get more information.
#3. Do something you’re afraid of
As we were wandering through the streets with Tshepo, my friend Jennifer had the insane idea to stop at a place where you could hold a snake. As you can see in the picture above, I had no chill about the entire situation. I did manage to touch the snake and then warm up to the idea of letting it drape over me. This speaks to how comfortable I was on the tour and how confident I was that Tshepo wouldn’t let me die in Soweto. Because Tshepo is very familiar with the area, we were able to see some great spots in area. Just as was the case with Bonnie’s tour, everyone greeted us warmly and invited us into their stores and their home.
#4. Enjoy the scenic routes
After our Soweto tour, we headed over to the Orlando Towers. In between the two towers, you can see there is a small red platform for bungee jumping. I really wanted to do it, but after the snake incident I figured I’d had enough excitement for the day. Behind the wall was a great hangout spot called Chaf Pozi where people were eating braai and jamming along with the music. Braai is South Africa’s version of barbeque meat and it is delicious! I was so busy savoring the flavor and enjoying the atmosphere that I don’t remember to take a picture of the inside. But that’s a good problem to have. This was a great people-watching spot where we could see the young and old dancing, eating, and laughing together.
#5. Ride public transportation
When we were on Bonnie’s tour, he showed us different hand signs you could use to hail a city van in Jo’Burg. Most of the time, when the van pulled up to you it was typically jam-packed with people. It was a cool way to see local people and feel like you were part of the hustle and bustle of the city. Jennifer and I always went around together and we had the help of our new friends to tell us where we were going and . I do not recommend going on the bus alone. It was a little overwhelming and easy to lose your way. The van pictured above taken during our Sowe2 tour where it was just us, Tshepo and our driver friend. We lucked out and just happened to be the only ones on the tour that day so we had to whole van to ourselves that day. Special thanks to Ayo for letting us borrow his GoPro and selfie stick!
#6. Sample the local cuisine
We were given a some good food recommendations of things to eat while in South Africa. The top three things were braai, bunny chow, and an ostrich burger. We got to try all three and they were all delicious. It wasn’t hard to find braai, but we had a little difficulty tracking down bunny chow. We finally found it at the Eastern Food Bazaar when we visited Cape Town. Bunny chow is a hollowed out loaf of bread and filled with a stewed/curried meat (chicken or lamb). The little Nigerian girl in me was taken back to the days of dipping agege bread in stew. This meal was genius and I’m going to find a way to have it again in the States.
Here’s a list of the restaurants we ate at while we were in South Africa:
- Little Addis (Ethiopian food in South Africa. Seemed pretty authentic and spicy…very spicy lol)
- Cadillac Jack’s Roadhouse (The caramelized onions & sauce with the cheeseburger were perfect)
- Soul Souvlaki (I recommend the “mixed grill” with chicken, lamb, and bisteki)
- Fabulous Burger Boys (Try a tasty ostrich burger)
- Chaf Pozi (Enjoy some great braai and great music)
- Truth Coffee Roasting (We didn’t even eat here. We just wandered in and sat down. By the time we left, we’d had a deep conversation about race with an American PhD student we randomly met.)
- Eastern Food Bazaar (Get the bunny chow. Make sure you have a lot of room in your stomach!)
- Little restaurant attached to Curiocity (I forget the name of the place, but we had breakfast there twice and dinner once. The meals are simple and low-cost. The staff is always friendly and willing to feed you early or late. Great place to eat if you’re in a pinch for time or money.)
Word of advice: If you’re trying to sample as many dishes as possible, I suggest that you and a friend order different things and share with each other. This is Jennifer’s style and since she’s been to more than 20 countries already, I think we can trust her advice.
So now you’ve seen all of my trip to South Africa. I already miss my Curiocity brothers and am scheming to return soon. If I didn’t have the travel bug I definitely got it after this trip. I hope this post helps you see the real South Africa, rather than the packaged tourist version. Cheers to more trips in the future!
In case you missed it, check out Part I: Naturale Chronicles Goes to South Africa.