The top floor of the Carlton Centre, officially named the Top of Africa, is one of the most underrated attractions in this highly underrated city. Sure, the observation deck is run-down and the windows are smudged. (In fact, smudged is an understatement. Try filthy.) Sure, this part of downtown is a little sketchy. But this is the tallest building in Africa. It costs R15 (about $2) to take the elevator to the top. The view is phenomenal, unlike any other on this continent.

It’s like looking over the edge of the world. Pardon the smudgy sky — not even the magical PhotoShop spot-healing brush can heal this many window smudges.

I visited the Top of Africa once before, in the middle of the afternoon. But ever since Jon showed me this photo he took many years ago, I’ve wanted to go back at sunset. I finally did it this week.

There is a perception among Joburgers that the Carlton Centre is dangerous and difficult to visit on your own. Seriously people, nothing could be further from the truth. If you have access to a car, getting to the top of the Carlton Centre is far easier than getting to the top of the Empire State Building or the Washington Monument.

The Carlton Centre is at 150 Commissioner St., easily accessible from all sides of town. Go at off-peak hours to avoid traffic. Park in the garage beneath the building, which has several entrances. (I believe we entered from Main St.) Take the lift up to the Carlton Centre shopping mall. (If the lift is broken, hop the two shorts flights of stairs.) When you get into the mall, ask one of the ubiquitous security guards to direct you to the ticket window for the Top of Africa. There is never a line. One minute later, you’ll be at the top.

There were several fires burning around town on the day we went, so the air was filled with haze. I didn’t have high hopes for my photos at first.

Smoke + pollution + dirty windows = a murky view of Jozi.

Then the sun started to drop. Suddenly the haze, the reflections – even the dirty windows – began to work to my advantage.

A few minutes before sundown.

As the sun dropped, the haze seemed to dissipate.

I loved the view to the northwest, with the Sentech Tower poking above the horizon.

Going, going, gone.

The sun set right around 6:00, which I believe is when the Top of Africa closes. But no one hurried us out. We hung around, watching the lights of the city switch on.

View to the northeast, anchored by Ponte City in Hillbrow. I don’t like those ugly dark reflections, but they’re just part of the deal at the Top of Africa.

We did encounter one obstacle on the way out – there was no parking attendant in the booth at the garage exit. We finally found a “call security” button and within three minutes of pressing it, two guards arrived to let us out. Parking cost $1.

So, if you’re visiting the Top of Africa and parked in the garage, it would be wise to leave promptly at 6:00. But looking at the last photo I snapped before we left, I’m glad we stayed a bit. Those three minutes of hassle in the garage were 100% worth it.

Night falls over Jozi.

If you’re still nervous about visiting the Top of Africa on your own, there is a great Sunday afternoon tour available called Picnics in the Sky. I haven’t gone on this tour myself, but several of my friends have gone and loved it.

You have no excuse. Go.

Update: Thanks to for making my post-sunset shot from the Top of Africa (the last photo in this post) the winner of its daily photo contest on 16 April. I love this photoblog and I’m honored that my photo has been featured there.

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