Riding the Joburg Red Bus (and not getting hijacked)

My dad is visiting Joburg for a couple of weeks. It’s his first time here (first time in Africa, in fact) and he wanted to get the lay of the land. So two days after he got here we headed to Braamfontein and hopped onto the new Joburg City Sightseeing bus (“Joburg Red Bus” for short).

If you travel often you’ve probably seen or ridden one of these buses before. They’re in many of the biggest tourist cities around the world.

bus Gold Reef City

The Joburg Red Bus.

The Red Bus’ arrival in Joburg is a big deal. Unlike Cape Town (which has had the Red Bus for a while already), Joburg does not have a reputation as a tourist destination. During the bad old days of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, Joburg was known as a dirty, crime-ridden city to be avoided by tourists at all costs.

Fortunately Joburg’s bad reputation is changing. This city, in my opinion, grows more and more loveable every day, and if you dig just beneath the surface Joburg is every bit as fun and interesting as Cape Town.

Not everyone realizes this yet. I recently got into an online skirmish with a South African expat living in Ireland who wrote a blog post titled, “Hey Mr. Highjacker, look at me, I’m a tourist!”, or something to that effect. The gist of the post was that the Joburg Red Bus is a horrible idea because local criminals will stake out the bus stops and mug unsuspecting tourists as they get on and off. I won’t name the blogger (who hasn’t been to Joburg for several years), as she has apologized and taken the post down. But you get the point.

At any rate, I’m thrilled that my town is getting a chance to prove itself as a tourist destination. I was excited to ride the bus for the first time and test it out with my dad.

We drove to Braamfontein, had lunch in the newly developed area called the Grove, and met the bus at the corner of Melle and Juta Streets. You can buy your ticket on board at any of the route’s 12 stops.

Dad back of bus

Open top of the Red Bus on a hot weekday afternoon. We were often the only passengers on the bus. This doesn’t surprise me though. I imagine it will take a while to catch on.

The Red Bus system is pretty self-explanatory. You pay one price (R150, or about $16) to ride the bus for as long as you want during the day, getting on and off at whichever stops that strike your fancy. The buses come every 40 minutes and, at least when I was riding, seem to run pretty much on time. Your admission to the bus includes a set of headphones that allow you to listen to a narrative about Jozi and many of the places where the bus passes and stops. I enjoyed the commentary — it was interesting and accessible and captured the spirit of Jozi.

I also enjoyed getting a different perspective on the city from the top of the bus, especially during the section of the tour that cuts through the city centre. Riding on the top level of a double-decker open-top bus isn’t like walking or driving; I saw a lot of things that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise because I was perched higher up.

Obama fashion

An ode to my president. On foot or in a car, I might have passed this sign without noticing.

building statue

Cool statue, somewhere between Gandhi Square and the Carlton Centre.

kids in shop

Schoolkids in a take-away shop. Shot through the bus window.

bus lane

You know those annoying bus lanes mucking up traffic in the city centre? We got to ride in them.

bus reflection

Red Bus in the city.

impala fountain

Gold Reef City — a hotel/casino/amusement park across from the Apartheid Museum — is one of the stops, as well as the Red Bus headquarters. Gold Reef City isn’t really my kind of place but I like these gold impalas out front.

bus on highway

 On the highway. I could have done without this bit. Riding along the M2 in an open-top bus going 40 kilometers an hour, cars whizzing past at more than double the speed, is not very pleasant.

Jozi traffic

 Evening gridlock in Braamfontein. I was happy to be observing from above and not driving in the midst of it.

Dad was only looking to get an overview of the city so we didn’t get off the bus very much. And since I’ve written about many of the stop-offs — like the Carlton CentreBraamfontein, Gandhi Square, and and the Mining District — in previous posts, I’ll spare you a detailed discussion of the route.

Check out the schedule here though. You’ll see that several of Jozi’s most important historical and cultural centres — the Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill, Wits University, Newtown — are included.

There was one stop, though, where I insisted we get off and explore. Santarama Miniland.

We got off at Miniland because I was curious, and because I figured I’d never visit Miniland again for any other reason. It was the right decision. I have a lot to say about Miniland and I took many photos there. I’ll save my impressions of Miniland for a future post, but for now I’ll just say that I’m baffled as to why Miniland made the cut as one of the Joburg Red Bus stops.

Miniland sign

Miniland. One of the strangest places I’ve visited in Jozi. (And that’s really saying something,) Don’t worry, I’ll write about it soon.

My overall impression: The Red Bus is great. It’s fun to ride, efficient, and a good way for both out-of-town visitors and locals to learn and enjoy the city. I think the route could be better in a couple of places, but the bus has only been running for about a month. I have a feeling the route might eventually undergo some revisions. For now I will reserve judgement.

Most importantly though, Dad and I were not hijacked. In fact, Dad enjoyed the ride so much that he rode the Red Bus again two days later when he wanted to go to the Apartheid Museum on his own. It was a great way for him to pass the time while I was at home working.

Dad bus

My father, Tenney Mason, disembarks from the hop-on hop-off bus in Braamfontein. Not a hijacker in sight.

Ride the bus and tell your friends to ride it too. Jozi deserves your support.

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  • Reply Justcallmegertie March 7, 2013 at 6:07 am

    Looks great! I heard about the buses starting up and have been saying I would love to take the kids on a Sunday. Excellent idea to try and promote some tourism in Jozi.

    • Reply 2summers March 7, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Yeah, you should try it out for sure. Great for kids.

  • Reply chuckv88 March 7, 2013 at 10:17 am

    OMG! Didn’t you take Rosie and Oscar’s advice seriously. Riding an open bus in the most dangerous city and country in the world! Sometimes you astound me Heather. LOL

    • Reply 2summers March 7, 2013 at 10:28 am

      I know. I must be crazy.

  • Reply eremophila March 7, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    I reckon it’s awesome that your Dad is visiting!! You’re both a pair of adventurers obviously, confirmed by riding in that bus…… hahahaaa! Love the images you shot, and yes, different perspective helps heaps.

    • Reply 2summers March 10, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      Thanks! Yeah, we had a great time on this trip. He’s on his way home today.

  • Reply Jaco March 7, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    I took a ride on the bus last Saturday. It was quite busy (to be expected over weekends). A great initiative, and I would encourage everyone to do it (even those that have been hiding in Northern Joburg for such a long time).

    • Reply 2summers March 10, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      Great to hear that the bus was busy over the weekend.

  • Reply Deano March 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    You go Ten-MAN! Have a good trip!


    • Reply 2summers March 10, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      Haha. He appreciates the encouragement. He’s on his way back today.

  • Reply Owls March 7, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    As an aficionado of tour bus riding, I love this post!! And the pictures of Tenney “Tourist” Mason are hilarious!

    • Reply 2summers March 10, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      Haha. I’m glad you like them!

  • Reply Sine March 8, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Love this, Heather! So glad you tried it out (and lived to tell the tale:-). Yet another great initiative to bring Jozi back into the world of acceptance (though those ex-SAffers now abroad will just continue to spout their skepticism forever and ever if they don’t go back to see for themselves – I’ve joined a large SA expat group here in Nashville and while it’s lovely to hear SA accents at our coffees you could definitely say the majority has a very negative opinion of South Africa today).

    • Reply 2summers March 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      I know someone here in Jozi whose twin sister lives in Nashville. She might be in your expat group!

      • Reply sophiajoanie March 10, 2013 at 9:48 pm

        Wow I never realized How influenced I was of FA. Now I really want to go ride that bus!!

  • Reply Rebecca March 23, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I love the Red Bus in Cape Town! Great way to get around. I found Joburg not as easy to get around (but I was only there for a few days so didn’t really have much time to try) so imagine this bus will be great for tourists.

    • Reply 2summers March 23, 2013 at 12:33 pm

      Yes, it’s true that Joburg can be a little daunting to get around in. The bus is a perfect solution!

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