Sunset From the Top of Africa

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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  • Reply Charles Visser (Chuckv) April 12, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Yet another great post from 2Summers!

  • Reply katarzynapawelczyk April 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I have been up to the top several times but never at sunset – now that the sun is starting to set earlier I will definitely make a plan to go with camera in hand.

    • Reply 2summers April 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      It’s worth it, for sure. Bring a tripod! I didn’t have one but wish that I had.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough April 12, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    I remember the other time you visited this spot. But this time, I think the photos are even more striking. Plus, the title of this post is perfect! Love it!

    • Reply 2summers April 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      Yes, it’s great when the perfect title just presents itself. I’m glad you appreciate it as only a another blogger could!

  • Reply Slowvelder April 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I went up with my parents and sister when I was about 5. I can remember how the drop almost feels like it is pulling you out of the windows. I walked up behind my sister who was looking out and said boo and pushed her – I was sent to sit in a corner

    • Reply 2summers April 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm

      Hahaha! Good story. I remember going to the top of the World Trade Centre at that age and asking my mom if I could drop a penny off the edge. (They had an open-air viewing deck.) Mom told me that if I did that and the penny hit someone, it would sink right through the person’s head. I was so traumatized.

  • Reply Lu April 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Definitely looks like the best time to visit. Do they close earlier in the winter months? Just thinking that in a month’s time the sunset will be that little bit earlier and you could still get some night-time shots just before the 6pm shut-out..?

    • Reply 2summers April 12, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      You’re right, and I think their hours stay the same all year. Maybe I should go back in June!

  • Reply Jenna April 12, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    This is beautiful, you’re pictures turned out amazing! Smudges or no smudges 🙂

    • Reply 2summers April 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      Thanks Jenna! Smudges are part of the fun.

  • Reply laurenbarkume April 12, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Love the photos! Especially #3 and the last one.

    • Reply 2summers April 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      Thanks Lauren. Those are my faves too.

  • Reply haslacla April 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Great pictures as usual. I love going to the top floor in the building I work in, located in lovely downtown St. Paul, MN, and looking out over the river valley. Even on hazy days it is breathtakinglinly beautiful. It’s amazing how a different perspective can make you realize that we live in such a beautiful place. One day I will remember my camera and hopefully get some fantastic shots to share too. 🙂

    • Reply 2summers April 12, 2012 at 6:42 pm

      Thanks! Yep, tall buildings are great for views, no matter where you live.

  • Reply jackie hulme April 12, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    i also love the last one the most

    • Reply 2summers April 13, 2012 at 8:12 am

      Thanks Jackie, see you soon.

  • Reply zimbo64 April 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Lovely photos! We visited Top of Africa first over 30 years ago – there used to be a Wimpy at the top. In the 1980’s we visited whenever we were on holiday in SA. Once we moved to SA in 2004 we often take our overseas visitors up the Carlton (much to the horror of our Northern Suburb friends!) My son had the most magical experience when in 2010 he was on a geography tour and as they descended from the Top of Africa the entire CBD went crazy with their vuvuzelas – it was the Wednesday before the Soccer World Cup! My husband has also taken several work mates up – although they are born and bred South Africans they are too scared to go into the Joburg CBD, and they really enjoyed the experience. You are right that it is easier at weekends – and parking has never been a problem. I just can’t wait for our next visitors to come so we can show them around out adopted city!

    • Reply 2summers April 13, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      Great stories. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Sine April 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks for this Heather, it’s been on our list and all the parking advice was very helpful. Great pics as always!

    • Reply 2summers April 15, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks Sine. Hope you have fun!

  • Reply Night Falls Over Johannesburg « Photo · Lord Contest April 16, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    […] The Carlton Centre is 50 storeys and 223 meters tall. Read more about my experience here: 1/13s f3.5 28.0mm ISO: 500 Country of Photo: South Africa Camera Equipment: Canon EOS 60D, Canon […]

  • Reply mfundo nhlabati May 28, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    this pace is so cool, i hope il be producing some stuff for it.

  • Reply Carlton Centre: On a clear day you can see Forever | findingjozi September 3, 2012 at 9:15 am

    […] is an express lift that takes you up to the “Top of Africa.” This is why you are visiting the Carlton Centre. Located on the 50th floor is a viewing deck which allows you to see […]

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