Tourism is likely to increase once the world sees how much South Africa has to offer. While the spotlight will be on the entire country during the upcoming World Cup, Johannesburg is a fantastic jumping-off point for safaris and many other South African attractions. Here's how to make the most of your time there.
1. The InterContinental Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport is a great overnight option for those who don't want to stray far from the airport. If you have an overnight layover in Johannesburg without much time to spare, the InterContinental Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport is literally across the street from international arrivals and next door to the car rental parking garage. It's a great option for those who are apprehensive about Johannesburg, or for those who are arriving late and/or departing early.
2. If you're looking at spending a night or more in Johannesburg, consider staying in the gated community of Melrose Arch. Occasionally incoming arrival times don't match up with flights to the safari camps, and layovers have even been known to stretch to two nights. The Melrose Arch community has 24-hour security, including guards on every corner, to make you feel at ease about leaving your hotel for dinner, getting a jump on your souvenir shopping, or picking up last minute supplies. The aptly named Melrose Arch is one of the country's premiere luxury hotels and you'll look forward to unwinding at the end of the day in the swanky Library bar. Meanwhile the #1 Melrose Blvd has six well-appointed apartments that make a long stay a little more comfortable.
3. Don't hide in your hotel room counting the minutes until you leave for your safari. Johannesburg and the surrounding communities are home to some of the country's most important sites, including the Cradle of Humankind (where early hominid species can be found along with other fossils) and Soweto township (where many of the Apartheid era uprisings occurred). Hiring a guide will ease your mind and make sure that you are seeing everything you want to see. The Johannesburg Tourism Company has a large database of tour operators that can customize tours (golf anyone?) to your liking. Spear of the Nations tours takes guests on tours of Alexandria township, Johannesburg, and beyond.
4. Kruger National Park is an easy day trip from Johannesburg. Haven't got much time but want to see the Big Five? You can be in the heart of Kruger National Park, one of the world's most impressive national parks, in less then three hours. The flight from Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo Airport to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) in Nelspruit is less than an hour and there are a handful of park gates within 60 miles driving distance from KMIA. There are numerous operators that you can book a safari with (they'll even pick you up at the airport), or you can rent a car at the airport and do a self drive.
5. Eating out is the most popular form of entertainment in Johannesburg. Don't settle for ordering room service or dining in the hotel restaurant. Ask the locals where they'd recommend or ask your hotel concierge. Your concierge can also call a cab for you so you know you're getting a trustworthy mode of transport. Moyo, which has locations in Melrose Arch and Parkview, features a pan-African menu with Cape Malay, Moroccan, and Northern African influences. Diners are entertained by storytellers, face painters, and musicians and there's a great gift shop with local wares to get a jump start on your shopping.
Photo credit: istock/Waldemar Wellmann