7 Must-Visit Stops on Your First Trip to Johannesburg, South Africa
Johannesburg has everything I want out of a city on my travel itinerary. Its ‘big city feel’ is effortless (Joburg is, after all, the largest city in South Africa), its people are fun-loving and friendly, the city is steeped in both history and culture, and all the finer things in life, from stellar restaurants to luxe accommodations, are at any travelers’ fingertips. I recently embarked on my maiden voyage to South Africa, my first stop being an exploration of what gay Johannesburg has to offer — which is to say, as a gay traveler, what sights, sounds and experiences the city has to offer my fellow LGBTQ world travelers.
From the moment I touched down in Johannesburg following nearly a full day of air travel from Los Angeles, and thanks to an unparalleled opportunity offered to me by LGBTQ travel specialists Ntsako Travel Africa, I was immersed in the city’s welcoming vibe and air of friendliness. Welcomed to South Africa as part of the national tourism board’s first-ever courting of LGBTQ tourists, I was set to traverse the city alongside a handful of other queer journalists and global influencers.
After my week spent scouting gay Johannesburg, I’ve crafted a list of seven itinerary musts for first-time visitors, particularly for my fellow LGBTQ tourists. They range from cultural and historical day trips to late-night party options and hotel recommendations, with the hope that those who take my advice will be so lucky as to recreate the truly amazing trip Joburg was kind enough to bestow on me.
But first, a few things to know before being shipped off to gay Johannesburg. If where you call home is in the northern hemisphere, don’t forget that seasons in South Africa will be reversed from what you’re used to. I visited during the month of November and was lucky to experience a week of perfectly golden days around 75ºF (24ºC).
The country’s currency is the South African Rand, and coming from the States I was able to avail my wallet of an advantageous exchange rate. While you’ll no doubt need to use cash around town — while souvenir shopping and in some restaurants, no doubt — most places will gladly accept plastic, though as always, it’s best to know before your trip whether your card charges international fees.
Lastly, I found upon my return to the States that most people echoed the same sentiment, couched as a question: “But did you, like, feel safe there??” And, yeah, it seems that when many people think of Johannesburg — and perhaps even more so gay Johannesburg — their first thought is of steep crime rates and a lack of safety for tourists. To that I’d say that like any major city, Joburg has its share of crime, but as many would agree, this part of the world isn’t nearly as dangerous as portrayed. Also, much of the city’s crime occurs in parts of the city you aren’t likely to see while exploring gay Johannesburg.
Now let’s build your itinerary.
Here are my 7 itinerary musts for a first-time exploration of gay Johannesburg:
1. Spend half a day immersed in the history of Constitution Hill.
Did you know South Africa’s constitution was the very first in the world to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination on the basis of orientation and identity? But the country’s journey to democracy was harrowing, and Constitution Hill acts as a monument to that trek. Formerly a military fort and prison of brutal, demeaning conditions (Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi both served time here), today it’s home to the country’s Constitutional Court — the supreme court of South Africa — a shining example of overcoming oppression and endurance of the human spirit. Touring the grounds will take you from the prison’s group housing and isolation cells into the courtroom, itself constructed from the bricks of a since-demolished wing of the prison.