Maps 4 Africa: Navigating Africa Without Google

by | Jan 15, 2020 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Markets/Shopping | 9 comments

In today’s Google-powered world, it’s tempting to believe paper maps and guidebooks are obsolete. Who needs hard copies when every piece of information ever collected is contained inside our phones?

I’m as guilty as the next person of operating this way. But as recently as a couple of months ago, I found myself stranded in the middle of Joburg’s northern suburbs when my mobile signal suddenly dropped and I didn’t have Google Maps to guide me to my next destination. And you can’t use the “Well, you live in Africa” excuse, either. The same thing happened last year in Manhattan.

I still need maps — real maps — and real guidebooks when I travel. And even if I don’t need them, I want them. Luckily there’s a great place to buy them in Joburg.

Maps 4 Africa shop on Jan Smuts Ave in Craighall
Maps 4 Africa is on Jan Smuts Avenue in Craighall.

I discovered the Maps 4 Africa shop many years ago, then forgot about it, then discovered it again last year while looking for a Mozambique guide book for my trip to Maputo.

You’d think Exclusive Books, the country’s most popular retail bookstore, would have a wide selection of guidebooks for Mozambique — a major tourist destination and one of South Africa’s closest neighbors. But nope — I found not a single Mozambique book at Exclusives. I did, however, find one at Maps 4 Africa.

Inside Maps 4 Africa
Inside Maps 4 Africa.
Travel books at Maps 4 Africa
My favorite section: the African travel books.

Maps 4 Africa: Africa’s First Map Store

Maps 4 Africa is the brainchild of Leon Olivier, who worked for many years as a financial director for CNA. While traveling after his retirement from corporate life, Leon discovered map shops all over the world and wondered why South Africa didn’t have anything similar. According to Leon, his store was the first-ever map shop in Africa when it opened in 1991.

Maps 4 Africa is a true delight for anyone who loves travel and/or geography. Leon himself is delightful too. I could spend hours chatting with him and browsing all the books and maps, which focus mostly on Africa but also stretch around the world.

Map table
Map table.
Regional South African maps
Local South African maps.
Maps from around the world
Maps from around the world.
African travel books
More African travel porn.
Gauteng hiking guide book
I really wanted to buy this book but I’m feeling broke. Next time.

Leon jokes that MapStudio, his main supplier, also became his competitor when the company noticed how well his shop was doing and opened its own Joburg store. (MapStudio also has a location in Cape Town.) Good news for geography fans: Joburg’s retail market can support not just one, but two map shops.

Inside Leon's map shop.
Leon is not a fan of having his photo taken so I couldn’t cajole him into a proper portrait. But that’s him with his back to the camera on the right.

My South African Map

My inspiration to write this post happened two weeks ago, when I went to Maps 4 Africa to find a South African map for my #10SouthAfricanTowns project. I pasted the map on my bedroom wall and marked all the towns I’m planning to visit with colorful post-its.

This map brings me joy.

Map closeup
Map closeup, showing six of the #10SouthAfricanTowns.

Speaking of which, I’m traveling to my first South African town tomorrow and I’m freaking excited. And in case you don’t know already, I set up a Patreon community to help fund this campaign. I’m sharing special behind-the-scenes content with my Patreon patrons, including patron-only blog posts, audio clips, newsletters, and other fun stuff.

Here’s a thank you to all the 2Summers patrons who have joined since my previous shout-out:

  • Judith Ancer
  • Albert Vorster
  • Caitlin Jean Geel
  • Claire Mason (no relation)
  • Brian Hopkins
  • Charmain Lines
  • Nina Neubauer
  • Julie Neogy
  • Marcelle Bosch
South African map on my wall.
Trixie thanks you too. But only begrudgingly.

I’m so grateful to everyone who has joined. The funds I’ve earned so far should cover food and petrol for my upcoming trip — I’m visiting the closest town first. But I’ve got a lot more traveling ahead, to much more far-flung parts of the country, and I need all of your help to make #10SouthAfricanTowns a success. Please visit for more information and message me if you have any questions.

Thanks again to Maps 4 Africa for inspiring this post. It’s at 354 Jan Smuts Avenue, Craighall. Call 083-309-4192 or 011-787-2751.


  1. Momo Street

    When I travelled through Africa 30 years ago, the Michelin Map of Africa (Central and South) was my bible! I still look at it every now and then to reminisce.

    • 2summers

      That must be a beautiful map.

  2. Justin

    I never even knew that this shop existed..

    • 2summers

      I had a feeling a lot of people don’t!

  3. Lani

    I love maps. The interesting thing about Thais are they aren’t really taught geography, so it’s amusing / crazy to ask for directions and get into stuff like, “Where’s [this] country?”

    A physical map is preferable to relying on technology, in my humble opinion. I hate Power Point for this reason as well. 😛

    Safe travels! [My friend has a map of the world in his closet with pushpins of all the places he’s visited.] So nice to see you getting funding for your project, too. xo

  4. Margaret Urban

    Oh Wow! You’ve just put a dent in my budget; I l o v e maps, always have – and didn’t know the shop existed. I have books on the origin of maps, on significant historical maps, etc etc as well as several atlases; I keep maps of trips I’ve been on. Maps were a part of my MSc thesis. I also have the Michelin Africa Central and South from driving in a Jeep Wagoneer (SA built) from Botswana to Kenya in 1973. I do use GPS but if I head to a new destination I check a map first if possible, in order to get an overview of the drive; I like to visualise the route beforehand.

  5. AutumnAshbough

    I love Google Maps–especially when I am reading about far-off locations. It’s fantastic to be able to pull up a map and know exactly where a place is and what the street view might be. My geography has improved immensely.

    But there’s something even better about holding a map in your hands, just like holding a physical book is superior to a Kindle. The act of physically touching it seems more wondrous. Physical maps for the win.

    Especially since navigation drains your phone battery like crazy.

    • 2summers

      Yup. All of that. Plus maps are so pretty.

  6. Loretta Schmidt

    I stayed at Carlton Hotel in January 1975. Sad to see it now in these pics. It was a great city then but Apartheid was painful to observe.


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