One of the most well-established yet exciting destinations we offer, South Africa has been ‘doing tourism’ for yonks – and it shows. With its winning combination of stunning scenery (think lofty, craggy mountains in the Drakensburg, stunning Indian Ocean beaches, lush winelands and vast wildlife-rich plains) and family-friendly activities (zip-wires, penguins, safari, boat rides, kayaking and more) this is a superb place to take the kids.
As a southern hemisphere destination, South Africa makes for a wonderful Christmas / Easter choice whilst even in the UK summer (South African winter), temperatures are pleasantly warm in the north of the country. The fact that travelling to South Africa with kids has always been a wallet-friendly option, thanks to a favourable exchange rate compared to other safari destinations, makes it even more attractive for family travellers.
South Africa with kids – Our Top 10
1. Take the children on a safari
Absolutely top of the list of ‘must-do’ activities on any trip to South Africa with kids is a safari. We can’t emphasise enough how thrilling it is to see the Big 5 – and so much more – up close and in real life. Lions roaring, elephants trumpeting, hippos wallowing, leopard stalking, crocodiles snapping, it’s just so exciting for the kids to see this in real life, and not through the lense of a David Attenborough series.
Where to go, though?
Top of the list has to be Kruger National Park, a vast expanse of wilderness with an excellent network of roads where you are allowed to self-drive. The game viewing here is superb. If the budget allows, there are a series of private reserves along the fringes of the park where you can have a more intimate wildlife experience. (See our Kruger and Beach Family Safari).
If you want to avoid having to take anti-malarial medication, consider either Madikwe (near Botswana) or one of the superb smaller private game reserves near Port Elizabeth on the Garden Route. Amakhala and Shamwari are both excellent – the former having a variety of accommodation and therefore options for all budgets.
2. Zip-wire through the forest canopy
For most people travelling to South Africa with children, the prospect of zip-wiring through the skies comes a close second on the Africa wish-list after a safari. South Africa has a number of excellent zip-wire outfits, our favourite being Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures on the Garden Route. The course consists of 10 ziplines, the longest of which is 100m, and takes you between a series of platforms attached to huge Outeniqua Yellowwood trees. We speak from personal experience when we say that this is suitable for children of all ages and the guides are superb. Check out our South Africa for families photo blog.
3. Visit Café Paradiso in shadow of Table Mountain
If you’re looking for a restaurant where you can relax in the sunshine, enjoying views of Table Mountain with a cool glass of chardonnay whilst your children are fully entertained and supervised elsewhere, Café Paradiso is it. Supervised by a ‘children’s chef’, your kids will make their own pizza and gingerbread after which both parents and children are re-united, each party thinking they had the best time. Who knew travelling to South Africa with children could be so relaxing?!
4. Swim with penguins at Boulders Beach
There’s not many places in the world you can swim or paddle with penguins but Boulders Beach is one of them. And it’s not too over-crowded, either. Yes, the water can be cold, but we guarantee that when travelling to South Africa with kids, the experience will be one of the most talked about experiences of the entire trip. (Read ‘other places to visit’ for other family friendly suggestions or see our Classic Cape & Garden Route itinerary).
5. Visit a child-friendly (no, really!) vineyard
If the concept of a child friendly vineyard sounds just too good to be true, prepare to be wowed. In the area around Cape Town, wine estates have got savvy, wising up to the fact that whilst adults may want to wander, taste and buy until their heart’s content, it’s the children you’ve got to keep happy if you want the family to stay for more than about five minutes. But they have risen to the challenge! The vineyards here are so much more than a tasting room, shop and growing area. Instead, they are the backdrop for a fun family day out, a place where you can buy a picnic from the farm and wander through the vineyard to find that picture perfect picnic spot. Our favourite when travelling to South Africa with the kids? Vergenoegd Wine Estate in the Stellenbosch region.
6. Spend the day on a deserted beach at Walker’s Bay
Vying for one of the top spots on Stubborn Mule’s ‘Best Beaches of the World’ Hall of Fame is Walker’s Bay. Situated close to Hermanus but a world away from its crowded beaches, here there is a huge long crescent of sand which is not just stunning, but almost completely deserted. It’s a short ten-minute walk from the car park (enough to apparently put off most visitors!) but the views of the sand dunes and the endless rolling waves of the Indian Ocean are jaw dropping. Definitely Robinson Crusoe territory, so bring ample water, a picnic and some shade and enjoy.
7. Safari sundowners
You’ve spent the afternoon bouncing around in the back of a jeep, eyes peeled for wildlife, scouring the landscape for sightings. Hands up who is ready for a drink? Hot chocolate for the kids? G and T for Mum and Dad? Snacks for all? Yes please.
Sundowner drinks and snacks are an integral park of a safari and the perfect way to round off an exciting day. See our Classic Cape and Garden Route example itinerary.
8. Try bodyboarding in the Indian Ocean
If you’ve already paddled in the (somewhat chilly) waters of Boulders Beach near Cape Town, your extremities will certainly appreciate the almost bath-warm waters of the Indian ocean around the Natal Coast. The beaches both north and south of Durban are stunning. One of our favourites is Zinkwazi beach, perfect for bodyboarding, playing in rockpools, fishing off the rocks and flying kites. When the tide’s out, the river estuary transforms into a calm lagoon, ideal for paddle boarding (older kids) or swimming (younger kids). (See our KwaZulu Natal Luxury Itinerary.)
9. Go hiking or pony trekking in the Drakensberg Mountains
Rising to 3,475 metres, the craggy peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains separate the extensive high plateaus of the country’s interior from the lower lands along the coast. Such a vantage point doesn’t just offer wonderful hiking and riding opportunities amongst spectacular scenery, but fantastic views, too. Our resident Africa aficionado, Claire Gray, has been there three times and claims that it is her favourite mountain range in the world. Here you can hike for hours without seeing another soul and may see eagles and vultures so close that you can almost touch them. (Check out our Kruger & Beach Safari which includes hiking or biking in the Drakensberg.)
For younger children, we recommend routes on the western or northern side of the mountains, which shelve gradually into the interior plateau and therefore offer a gentler challenge.
10. Explore one of the world’s most spectacular driving routes
If you’re visiting Kruger National Park then make sure that you stay for an extra day or two to explore the (aptly named) Panorama Route. This is one of the continent’s great natural wonders and one of the world’s most beautiful driving routes. Centred around the Blyde River Canyon (the third largest canyon on the planet) you can’t fail to be stunned by the peaks of the Mpumalanga highlands, which offer phenomenal views of the Lowveld.
If you’re on a self-drive holiday, take turns behind the wheel so you can all appreciate magnificent waterfalls, ochre cliff faces, raging rivers and one of the largest forested areas in the country. Whilst most people stop off at Mac-Mac Falls, a short walk away are the imaginatively named Mac-Mac pools, a top spot for a picnic and a cooling dip in the crystal clear mountain water. Our second top tip? Don’t miss a quick stopover at Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop, which has been delighting tastebuds with savoury or sweet crepes for over thirty years. A must when travelling to South Africa with kids!
More about holidaying in South Africa with kids
Want to know more about what to expect travelling to South Africa with children? Read our South Africa for families photo blog or take a look at our South Africa destination pages which also include sample South Africa itineraries.
Alternatively, give us a call on 01728 751752 for further information on our first-hand experience or get in touch using our website contact page.
We always love to hear from families who have travelled with us, so please do send us your photos and reviews of holidaying in South Africa with kids.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel