1. Johannesburg goes by many names
Johannesburg tourists should know that the city goes by many names. Here are the most prominent: Joburg, Jozi, “City of gold,” Egoli.
2. Johannesburg is South Africa’s economic capital
Johannesburg is classified as a megacity.
- It is one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world;
- Jozi generates 16% of South Africa’s GDP;
- The city employs 12% of the national workforce;
- Johannesburg’s infrastructure matches leading first-world cities, although the cost of living is far lower;
- Joburg is home to 74% of corporate headquarters.
3. Johannesburg is not Cape Town
If you are expecting the same experiences in Johannesburg as you had in Cape Town, you will be extremely disappointed. These two cities may be in the same country, but they are vastly different from one another. As a Johannesburg tourist, there will be no surfing the waves, sipping on a cocktail by the ocean, or exploring wine routes. Instead, there is wildlife to see at game reserves, historic museums to explore and world-class restaurants to enjoy.
4. You may not entirely understand South African English
English is one of 11 official languages in South Africa. If you understand English, you will be able to communicate because most South Africans are multilingual. But you may have a few problems understanding South African English. Yes, it is English but there are variations. For example, Americans may refer to a vehicle that has a cab and a cargo bed as a pickup truck, but South Africans call it a bakkie. This is just one of many variations! Do yourself a favor and review South African English before you go.
5. Johannesburg tourists should always be vigilant
Johannesburg is not the crime hotspot that it used to be. There has been a lot of cleanups, but even so, it’s always a good idea to remain vigilant and aware if you are traveling to any big cities in the world. It is unlikely that you will be physically harmed, but if you are not careful, you could be relieved of your possessions.
Having said that, it is easy to stay safe in Johannesburg, (and South Africa) if you follow a few common-sense safety rules.
6. Load shedding is an inconvenient reality of life in South Africa
Simply put, load shedding means the power goes out for a few hours. As a Johannesburg tourist, this is weird and certainly inconvenient, but a fact of life that South Africans have been living with. (The load shedding has been stopped during the Covid crisis. It may or may not resume once things are settled. You can check the Eskom (South Africa’s power company) website before you travel to see if you may be affected).
Load shedding is due to the crisis of demand outpacing the supply of power. As an answer to the problem, Eskom, has implemented scheduled blackouts to lessen the load. Depending on where you stay, you could lose power for up to 4 hours at a time, and as often as every other day.
When we discovered load shedding the first time, it was weird and unbelievable that such a thing could happen in this day and age. However, we got around it quickly (and you will too) because as it turns out, Johannesburg tourists don’t spend a lot of time indoors! When we did go indoors to restaurants, etc, we were never inconvenienced because many establishments have their own generators.
If load shedding still exists when you visit South Africa next, check to see if your hotel has a generator. Otherwise, you’ll be left in the dark for a few hours.
7. Don’t be surprised to get a drinks menu at lunchtime
South Africa is a laid-back country. If you are going to a fancy restaurant for lunch, don’t be surprised when they bring you a drinks menu too. This is not to suggest that South African executives get drunk on the job. Not at all. Many people will have one beer or a glass of wine before returning to work.
8. Payment etiquette may be different from what you are used to
In the interest of safety, waiters are likely to bring the credit card machine to you. By doing this, your credit card will always be in your sight.
9. The weather may be opposite to what you are experiencing
South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere. If you are enjoying summer in the northern hemisphere, expect winter in the southern hemisphere.
10. Johannesburg has a high altitude
Johannesburg is located 5,751 feet / 1,753 meters above sea level. Because of the high altitude, you may get winded faster than you’d expect. You can also expect colder winters here than in Cape Town or Durban. But while winters in Johannesburg may not be as cold as winters in the northern hemisphere, it does get somewhat cold.
If you are visiting Joburg between June and August, you may enjoy mild, sunny days here and there but be aware that nighttime temperatures can drop to as low as 32º F / 0º C, so be prepared.
11. You’ll want to tip parking attendants
If you are parking, you are likely to see parking attendants. They are there to watch over the cars to ensure they are safe. (This is a job that people created for themselves in response to South Africa’s car theft problem).
They live off the tips that they make from locals and tourists. While you are traveling through South Africa, make sure you always have change to offer them. It doesn’t have to be a lot – R2 to R5 ($0.15-$0.36 USD at the time of this writing) will be much appreciated.
12. Expect surprises at robots/ traffic lights
As a driver, you have to stop at traffic lights, (robots, in South African English). This gives entrepreneurial South Africans an opportunity to sell you things. Understand that even though they are selling you cheap things that are likely to break in a few days, this is their living. They are choosing to do this, instead of sitting idly at home or commit crime. You may not appreciate what they are selling you, but please appreciate why they are there. If you are not interested in what they have to offer, just shake your head assertively—most of the time they will just walk away.
But there’s more! You may also find street beggars at the robots. Over time, locals become blind to them because you see them all the time. But sometimes it’s just heartbreaking, especially when you see a mother and a baby out there.
Sometimes these beggars can be persistent. Even if you shake your head, they may not walk away. They may continue to plead with you until you give them money or they see it’s not worth it.
Personally, I handle it as I see it. There are times when they will annoy you. However, we do try to help when we can. If we have food in the car, we will give it to them. In fact, we always take doggy bags when we go to restaurants, even if we know we are not going to eat the food later. We take it anyway so that we can give it to the beggars. Sometimes if I go into a grocery store and I see a mother and a child begging, I will buy a bread or something small for them.
13. There are no jaywalking laws in South Africa
If you drive in the USA, you take for granted that pedestrians cross the road at intersections. That’s because the US has jay walking laws. But there is no such thing in South Africa. If you are a driving in big cities like Johannesburg, always be vigilant because people do run across the street wherever they want. As a Johannesburg tourist, it is extremely unnerving, but South African drivers are used to it. If you pay attention to the road and your surroundings, you should be fine.
14. There are a lot of things to do in Johannesburg
There is no beach but Johannesburg makes up for that with lots of really fun things to do. Whether you like outdoor, adventurous activities, culture, history, shopping, or more, there will be lots of things to satisfy you, the Johannesburg tourist.