South Africa has received its fair share of ink in recent years due to Nelson Mandela’s health, the Oscar Pistorius murder case, and the 2010 World Cup. It’s also grabbed the attention of more and more travelers, making what’s happening there that much more newsworthy.
As a result of the increase in overseas visitors, the country’s infrastructure has dramatically improved. This is good news for parents who have always wanted to take their children to Africa.
After returning from a recent trip with my family (see my last post), I’m more convinced than ever that South Africa is a top-notch destination for adventurous families. As Terry von Guilleaume of South African Airways Vacations said: “South Africa has such an incredible diversity of both natural attractions and culture, all within short distances of one another.”
Here are some of the places I’d recommend adding to your itinerary:
Since you’re traveling all the way to Africa, you have to spend at least a couple of days in the continent’s most cosmopolitan city. Cape Town feels like a mix of San Francisco, Miami Beach, and Rio – with a dash of New York City thrown in for good measure. But not to worry, this town is very family friendly.
Table Mountain is the must-see attraction – as long as there’s no cloud cover. The children will love the cable car ride to the top, and the view is as good as views get. Once back at sea level, head down to the Two Oceans Aquarium (so named because it sits at the confluence of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans) to learn about the incredible variety of marine life found along South Africa’s shores. Great white sharks, jellyfish, right whales, even penguins are all common in this part of the world.
Want to really impress the kids? Take a drive to nearby Boulder Beach and visit the indigenous penguin colony, or head to the beachside suburb of Muizenberg and watch the surfers shred it while you play in the sand.
Kruger National Park
South Africa’s largest national park has one of the most biodiverse wildlife populations on the continent.
You have the choice of staying on one of several private game reserves or venturing into the bush on a self-driven safari. We returned to our family favorite, Sabi Sabi, an exclusive 5-star property with some of the best safari rangers in the business.
Staying in a luxury camp like the Bush Lodge at Sabi Sabi certainly comes at a premium, but if you have your heart set on spotting a leopard or tracking a white rhino, this is as close to a guarantee as you’re going to get. With its huge wooden viewing decks overlooking a watering hole, you don’t need to leave the resort to see the wildlife.
There’s even an “EleFun” Center the kids can hang out in between game drives. Meant to foster children’s awareness and appreciation for the biodiversity in the bush, this recently completed kids club offers interactive activities for Junior Trackers (ages 4 to 8) or Junior Rangers (ages 9 to 12).
Going on a safari is still the main event on most South African itineraries. If you’re flying to or from Kruger National Park, you might need to overnight in Johannesburg. Not long ago, this proposition left you little choice but to hunker down in a hotel near the airport as tourists were strongly advised to avoid the city. Though there are certainly areas of Jo’burg you’ll want to avoid, much of the city is perfectly safe for families to visit.
The Palazzo Montecasino, located in the upscale suburb of Fourways, makes a good home base if you’re looking to extend your stay. Though you and your family might feel out of place at the giant casino, the Bird Gardens, food court, and movie theater located right on premises will be big hits.
If you’re traveling with teens, a visit to the new Apartheid Museum will help them gain a better understanding of the country’s controversial history and add another layer of complexity to their trip.
How to Book:
You have two options when it comes to booking a trip like this: working with a tour operator or planning it yourself. “I always suggest to families that they look into prepackaged tours, find one you like, and then tweak it, “ says von Guilleaume. “Use a predesigned itinerary as your base, and then with a consultant’s advice, tear it up and make it meet your exact needs.”
Rainer Jenss is a featured contributor for Intelligent Travel. Follow his story on Twitter @JenssTravels.