Travel guide to the 2010 World Cup (cont.)
Flights: Plane tickets are now available for next June and July, so you're better off getting them sooner rather than later. Only two carriers fly non-stop from the U.S. to Johannesburg: Delta (from Atlanta) and South African Airways (from JFK in New York City and Dulles near Washington). From personal experience, I'd suggest Delta for a couple reasons. One, Delta is the only carrier that flies non-stop on the return flight. (South African stops in Dakar, Senegal, to refuel.) And two, my family's own experience on South African Airways has involved jewelry theft, lost bags and bad customer service. Whatever airline you use, I'd suggest using TSA-approved locks for your luggage.
You can also connect through several European airports, but that makes for a long, long trip.
World Cup tickets: FIFA is currently in the second of five ticket-selling phases. You can apply to buy tickets for individual games or team-specific games from FIFA, although team-specific tickets are no longer available for England, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Ireland and the Netherlands. Due to demand, FIFA says it is no longer possible within the current sales phase to buy tickets for games in Cape Town, Nelspruit and Pretoria. Also, individual tickets for the opening game, two semifinals and final are unavailable in the current phase.
If you're looking for tickets to games involving the U.S., tickets will be available through the U.S. Soccer Federation, which promises that the process will be easier than it was four years ago (when customer complaints were numerous). For this World Cup, member federations will receive 12 percent of the tickets for each first-round game in which they participate (as opposed to 8 percent in '06). What's more, FIFA will help U.S. Soccer coordinate the sales process, which does give priority to members of the U.S. Soccer Supporters Club. A list of frequently asked questions about World Cup tickets can be found here.
Of course, ticket brokers and scalpers will no doubt have tickets available for games as well.
Accommodations: You have different options here, including hotels, bed and breakfasts and renting houses and apartments from ordinary citizens. You might be surprised how many South Africans are willing to do that, actually. Through just one connection in Jo'burg, I visited a half-dozen houses and apartments that people are renting out during the World Cup. The quality of the accommodations varies greatly, though, and so do the prices. One landlord told me with a straight face that he wanted $1,000 a night for his two-person apartment. It was nice, but hardly that nice.
In the end, we signed on for a nice four-bedroom house in Jo'burg with a good security system (for the duration of the World Cup) and are paying slightly less than $100 per head per night for four people. If I was going as a fan, though, the first places I'd look for lodging in Jo'burg are the bed and breakfasts near Seventh Street in Melville. You'll thank me for recommending these.
If you're looking for hotels to stay in on the nights before and after your favorite team's games, you're best off making arrangements as soon as the World Cup draw takes place on Dec. 4.
Other Things to Do: You're going for the soccer, but that doesn't mean it's the only reason you're there. It'll be winter in South Africa during the World Cup, which cuts down on the beach pleasures of Cape Town or Durban, but there's plenty to do. If you go to wine country outside Cape Town, stay in Franschhoek, the cozy French-influenced town with great restaurants and B&Bs, and check out the wineries in nearby Stellenbosch. (Our favorites are Meerlust, Ernie Els and Warwick.)
The World Cup venue in Nelspruit is the gateway to Kruger National Park, one of Africa's better safari destinations. But if you're up for an even more memorable safari experience before or after the World Cup, take a three-hour flight from Jo'burg to Tanzania, hire a guide and check out the Serengeti. It's one of the coolest trips we've ever taken, and you can combine it with a trek up Kilimanjaro and/or a visit to the beach island of Zanzibar.
If you want to see some cool non-soccer stuff in Johannesburg, I'd recommend a few places, including the Apartheid Museum, the Hector Pieterson Museum and Soweto's famous Wandies restaurant (featuring first-rate local food and a framed picture of the owner with Ruud Gullit). In fact, you can take an organized tour of Soweto and see all three as part of it.
So, yes, when you go to South Africa, be careful, be smart, be prepared. Start your planning now. And chances are that your time in the Rainbow Nation will be a memorable one.
A sad postscript: Last week, I learned that one of my friends in Johannesburg, Sandra Magalhaes, was shot and killed in an attempted car-jacking. Sandi was an extraordinarily kind woman and an accomplished photographer -- she took the author photo for my book -- and my thoughts are with her family, especially her son, Brandon.