Johannesburg was once a neglected city that had started to fall into ruin, but now, a renaissance has taken hold. Coming out of the shadow of coastal city, Cape Town, this Chobe river cruise port is bursting into life as a vibrant and cultural city that wears its apartheid scars defiantly.
Affectionately referred to as Jo’burg or Jozi, Johannesburg is the ‘cool capital of the Southern hemisphere’. Trendy restaurants, bars and cafes line the streets; the welcoming scent of coffee and multicultural cuisine enticing you inside. Trendy neighbourhoods like Maboneng draw excited crowds, and galleries and cultural attractions stay open into the evening.
But Johannesburg isn’t your typical urban metropolis. It is home to what many call ‘the world’s largest urban forest’ made up of verdant trees, sprawling parks and lush gardens home to a range of bird and bat species.
You will never be short of things to do in Johannesburg during your Chobe river cruise. The city is awash with superb galleries and museums, the latter of which offer humbling insights into South Africa’s troubled past.
The Apartheid Museum is perhaps the most famous, showing not only how apartheid devastated South African society, but examining how it emerged in the first place. Liliesleaf Farm shows what life was like in the underground liberation movement, and Constitution Hill is the former notorious prison that held Nelson and Winnie Mandela.
For shopping, visit the fashionable Melville suburb and the vast shopping malls of Sandton. However, the real highlight of an afternoon of shopping in Johannesburg is the down town area, where traditional markets like Mai Mai have thrived for generations.
A river cruise to Johannesburg also means food steeped in heritage. Arabic, Somali, Indian, Ghanaian, Argentinian and even Portuguese influences have created cuisines ranging from baklava to empanadas to matapa (crab cooked in coconut). A trip to Yeoville food market is a must – it is the oldest in Johannesburg and will captivate you with stalls upon stalls of African vegetables, foreign chillies, home-made cassava bread and more.
For peace and quiet in a tranquil green space, escape to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens, where almost 300 hectares of gardens and trails form a haven for more than 220 bird species.
Embark on a cycling tour of Soweto to learn about the area’s rich history. A beacon for the new South Africa and a symbol of resistance to overcome repression and exploitation, you will fall under the spell of a township where friendly locals greet you with a smile and teach you the local lingo.
A river cruise to Johannesburg wouldn’t be complete without soaking up the jazz music the city is so famous for. The Orbit is undoubtedly the best and most iconic jazz spot in town, while The Bassline is one of the oldest. Not that you have to visit a bar to listen to Johannesburg jazz – on a walk around the city you will hear it spilling intoxicatingly onto every street.