With international travel set to rise exponentially amongst U.S. travelers following the recent relaxation of travel restrictions, we thought we would bring you a series of bucket list locations within Southern Africa. Sit back, relax, and come with us on an exciting 5-part journey designed to inspire you to get out there and see all the beauty and wonder this magnificent world has to offer. First up? A couple of days in Johannesburg!

Before we dive into the excitement, let’s take a moment to discuss some of the logistics of getting to the other side of the world. After all, this is certainly what we would call a long-haul itinerary. However, great news for all our clients residing in NYC and the surrounding areas – there are direct options to Johannesburg and Cape Town out of Newark departing multiple times per week! In fact, at the time of writing this post, this is the only itinerary that will get you direct from the States to the country of South Africa at all, so the fact that it is located right in our backyard is quite convenient. We solidly recommend booking your airfare well in advance, which typically helps travelers lock in their preferred seat at reasonable price points. Let myself be a cautionary tale: I waited to book my family’s airfare until about 3 months prior to our trip and the cost of the lay-flat Polaris seating had quadrupled to the point that the airfare would have cost more than the trip itself. Given that these flights are on average 15 hours each way, you don’t want to miss your opportunity to fly comfortably! For our clients who are interested in flying private, we are happy to arrange a series of shorter flights. However, please be aware that most light jets will not be equipped to make a direct itinerary from the NYC area to South Africa.

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**A friendly word of advice, since I am a doctor by trade, please make sure to take care of yourself and your family by doing everything in your power to reduce the risk of blood clots. It is a well-known fact that sitting for long periods of time, especially during long-haul flights, can put you at risk for blood clots in your legs. Invest in a solid pair of compression socks for everyone, including kiddos, not just the older members of your travel party. Make sure to get up and walk around the cabin. How often this is required is out for debate, but in general, I harassed my party to get up every hour on the hour. If you would like more information, please reach out to your doctor to learn about additional prevention strategies. **

Alright, now that we have the pesky details settled, lets jump right into the exciting stuff! We chose to stay at the Four Seasons Hotel, The Westcliff Johannesburg. As is always the case with this brand, we were not disappointed. I had three adults in my party who were traveling together, so we opted for the two-bedroom family suite in an effort to keep all of us together under one roof. The accommodations were gorgeous, and we were even afforded a walk out balcony that abutted the pool. Unfortunately, we happened to be visiting during their winter. (Remember, they are on the other side of the equator. Thus, their seasons are opposite of ours!) So, it was a bit too chilly to make good use of the pool. Now the spa, that is another story! Everyone should take full advantage of the on-site spa, which happened to be located only steps away from our room. The property as a whole is not massive, so any point on site is easily reachable. It is rather hilly, but the staff regularly patrols the grounds on golf carts and will eagerly offer you a ride if you are tired of walking uphill!

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I would like to take a moment and highlight the on-site restaurant at The Four Seasons, The Westcliff. It was one of the best meals we had the pleasure of enjoying throughout out entire trip to the African continent. We enjoyed it so much, we ate here twice! Their locally sourced mussels were prepared in a unique garlic cream sauce that was simply mouthwatering and the salads were comprised of some of the freshest ingredients I have found anywhere. Fun tip: the feta in South Africa was routinely creamier than what I have experienced elsewhere in the world. I preferred it to the version we have handy at home in the States and loaded it onto every single one of my salads while in South Africa. Make sure to get it on anything and everything you order! The gnocchi were light and well made, which as most food aficionados will tell you, is not an easy feat. And need we even describe the Waygu? 

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But wait, there is more! Dinner is not the only deliciously delectable meal available here. I would say that the breakfast spread easily gives dinner a run for its money when you consider the sunrise view you get while sitting outdoors next to a soothing freshwater fountain. There is a comprehensive breakfast buffet including every kind of pastry imaginable, assorted charcuterie, smoked fish, made to order crepes and waffles, as well as fresh fruit and cold options like yogurt with muesli and a variety of cereals. Breakfast happens to be included in most room rates, which are quite affordable compared the luxury hotel chain’s rate elsewhere in the world, and on top of the cold breakfast spread, your rate also comes with a hot menu option prepared to order. We highly recommend taking full advantage of the build your own omelet option. So good!

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If you happen to be staying in Johannesburg for only one night and moving on to another flight in the morning, The Protea Hotel attached to the Johannesburg International Airport is likely a much more convenient, though more basic, accommodation option. We would choose this hotel if not staying within Joburg for an extended period as the traffic and checkpoints along the local roads can sometimes impact your ability to reliably get to the airport in time to check in for your flight and get through security.

Ok. So, we are here and are checked into our lovely hotel. Now what should we do? Well, my first recommendation is to take in some of the important history and culture the area has to offer. As most of you likely know, apartheid was a period whereby the then-current government of South Africa forcibly separated its citizens regardless of family units and property ownership based solely on the color of their skin. These laws only came to an end in 1994, which in the grand scheme of world history, is not all that long ago. As such, the Apartheid Museum is a must-do stop to anyone traveling within South Africa, and especially those who happen to be history buffs. I would recommend an entire morning or afternoon dedicated to this visit given that it is a mainly text-driven museum requiring patrons to read about many of the exhibits as they peruse its contents.  Additionally, travelers can visit The Mandela House on bustling Vilakazi Street, which is home to many photographs and mementos from Nelson Mandela’s life. This was the house to which he returned on February 13, 1990, after spending over 27 years of his life incarcerated secondary to civil protests advocating for fair treatment of all South Africans. One of the representatives at The Mandela House said it best, “it is but a small tribute to a very large life.”

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Originally published by Richard Matthews on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/richardofengland/6996616266/, Creative Commons license link available here https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

A perhaps less “heavy” activity, though still a worthwhile excursion, are the Sterkfontein Caves located an hour’s drive from Joburg’s city center. South Africa offers practically every terrain imaginable and getting down and dirty beneath the ground is pretty cool, especially considering this series of caves are home to some really important archeological discoveries that have dated back over 4 million years. The most notable of these discoveries made international news, including “Mrs. Ples” and “Little Foot,” both of which were identified as Australopithecus skeletons, the latter being almost completely intact and representing the planet’s earliest-known form of humans. Please make sure to wear comfortable shoes and leave personal belongings behind as there are several sets of stairs and tight spaces required to get through the entirety of the tour. However, make sure not to forget your camera! Science and history buffs alike will really enjoy this convenient excursion from Johannesburg!

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Paranthropus robustus female skull: SK48
Phillip Vallentine Tobias (1925-)
Excavations at Sterkfontein Caves 1 Caves 3 Caves 4 Paranthropus robustus female skull: SK48 Phillip Vallentine Tobias (1925-)

Photographs by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30690462

I would be remiss to wrap up this post without first making a recommendation for an awesome meal in Johannesburg, this time outside of our lovely hotel. Afterall, surely, you’ve worked up quite an appetite visiting all the above places over the course of a couple of days in The City of Gold (named as such given it was built atop old gold mines!) We highly encourage everyone to make reservations for The Test Kitchen’s Carbon location. Chef Luke Dale Roberts originally opened his award-winning location in Cape Town, and his success has followed him to Johannesburg within the walls of Carbon. He offers patrons tasting menus for lunch, dinner, or a specially curated experience for Sunday lunch whereby you will experience the flavors of South Africa and beyond in an entirely new way. Reservations are an absolute requirement, so make sure to call ahead well in advance to secure a coveted seat at his table. We promise, you won’t be disappointed!

Our recap of Johannesburg is perhaps not as lengthy as other areas we visited throughout our epic safari through South Africa and Zambia. While the city is absolutely a star in its own right and offers a number of things to do and see, it can be a challenging city to navigate and often times tourists use it as a layover station or only briefly stay within city limits. Honestly, we agree with this approach and recommend only two or three days to get a feel for the capital city before moving on to other cultural stunners. Stay tuned for the next installment of our 5-part blog series documenting my travels through Southern Africa. Next stop: Cape Town!

As always, our dedicated team here at Your Concierge NYC is invested in turning your dreams into a reality. Brainstorm your next bucket list location with us and allow us the pleasure of putting together an unforgettable set of experiences. We are at the ready for anything you can throw our way! After all, if it doesn’t bring you joy or make you money, it really should be our responsibility. Click here to reach out to us and learn about all the ways our services can enhance your lifestyle, your way.

By: Samantha Weiss