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 patreon.com/2summers 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.

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