Alright, don’t hate me! This post started off as a LONG overdue post about top 5 things to do in Johannesburg, but considering I was in South Africa a whole two months ago (See Part 1 and Part 2 of that recap), and then went in Nigeria, I figured I’d give some tips on the top five things to do when visiting an African city, based on my experiences in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, and Lagos, Nigeria.
1. Visit different parts of the city
My first suggestion when visiting a major African city is to be sure you see multiple sides of it. Just like any American or European city, African cities are quite diverse with different neighborhoods and sections that cross cultural, tribal, and socioeconomic lines. It’s best to be shown around by someone from the country (I don’t like saying native because it’s sounds so colonial) to get the most authentic experience, so ask a friend if they know anyone who can take you around, or coordinate with your hotel in advance to set up a tour. While in Johannesburg, taking a tour of Soweto was one of my favorite experiences because I was more able to appreciate Johannesburg’s history and struggle from a real black, working class perspective that museums can never fully capture.
2. Go on a safari
Depending on the African city you plan to visit, if a safari tour is available, do it! Safaris are an amazing experience in Africa that will make you never want to go to a zoo or to Six Flags lame drive through zoo called a safari again. Besides seeing animals of course, my favorite part of safaris is the landscape, especially at either sunrise or sunset, which are the best times to go on a safari because the animals are much harder to spot during the day when the sun is at full heat. While in Johannesburg, I went on a sunset safari trip to Pilanesburg Park, and in Kenya I went to two different parks super super early in the monring. Between the two, I’ve seen all kinds of animals fairly up close: zebras, giraffes, elephants, hippos, antelopes, warthogs, rhinos, buffalo, all kinds of bird species, and even lions.
3. Eat local food (roadside is even better!)
For this one, make sure you bring some Tums or PeptoBismol just in case you have a sensitive stomach, but it’s essential to try out the local food wherever you are, but especially in African cities. A great time to find out when and what to eat is while you’re on a tour with a local, who would be more than glad to show off their absolute favorite place to eat, even if at their own house! If you’re in Lagos, or another part of Nigeria, you absolutely HAVE to get suya, which is roasted beef in a pepper sauce and heaven on earth found at the side of the road. I didn’t notice much roadside cooking in the parts of Nairobi I visited, but since I was staying with my boyfriend’s family, I was able to eat a good mix of local foods like ugali and chapatis. I’m still not sure I ate local in South Africa, although I went to some braais, so I’ll have to visit again and try harder!
4. Get clothes custom made
Ask somebody, anybody where you can buy and sew clothes when visiting Africa – you’ll come home with unique designs on the low low! Feel free to sew a traditional outfit of one of the cultures in the city you’re visiting, or use traditional fabrics and sew something you’d normally wear, such as a skirt, a peplum top, or even a blazer. You’d be surprised how much fun it is to get clothes made especially for your body type. If you need some African fashion inspiration, check out my Pinterest board!
5. Explore the arts
While it’s cool to head to history museums, on safaris, and to hang out with the locals, one thing that many tourists overlook is the strong culture of arts all throughout Africa. Just visit a market and you’ll see many artistically crafted goods, almost always handmade with awesome precision. Clothing is another art form that you can easily spot, but you may have to work a bit harder to seek out musical, dance, and performance traditions that are central to many African cultures. Your best bet to get the full experience is to go to a local party and hope to hear drumming, see beautifully designed African clothes, and observe (and maybe learn!) authentic African dances.
BONUS: Get your hair braided
If you are a woman of African descent, please do get your hair braided while in Africa, if for nothing else, but because it’s so cheap! In Nigeria, an expensive set of poetic justice/Solange braids will set you back a whopping $40… and that’s overpriced! Getting a local’s help finding a reliable, fast, and gentle hair braider is helpful, but I’ve found that braiders in Nigeria are more gentle on my hair because they know I don’t live there. Braiders will often negotiate to come to your house or hotel, so a day or so before you’re heading off, get your hair did! If you’re not of African descent, you can surely still get your hair braided with long extensions, but I’ve personally always found that weird and an example of cultural appropriation.