Family holidays to South Africa

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As Africa’s most visited country, standards in South Africa are exceptionally high, whether you’re heading for the all-out luxury of a five-star game reserve or booked into a pretty family hostel on Durban’s Dolphin Coast.

Cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg are international in every sense, but they’re surrounded by nature at its most impressive – Table Mountain is Cape Town’s iconic backdrop, and Johannesburg is close neighbour to the magnificent Highveld grasslands.

South Africa is also a country which promises the ‘Big Five’ (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino) on several major reserves, including the famous Kruger National Park and Addo Elephant National Park, where five becomes seven by adding sharks and whales into the wild, wild mix.

Relaxed entry rules for families

Good news for families visiting South Africa – the country has relaxed its entry requirements for kids under 18. Now, children who are entering South Africa with a parent for a holiday, only need a valid passport. The adult doesn’t have to be a biological parent.

Before the change in rules, families were required to carry birth certificates for their children, or written letters of permission, when entering the country. This rule caused much confusion and anxiety among British travellers, so the decision to scrap it has come as a welcome relief to many.

So, travelling with children to South Africa has never been easier. What are you waiting for?

Why holiday in South Africa?

  • There are direct flights from the UK to three South African airports: Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

  • A long flight (between 11 and 15 hours) but crosses fewer than three time zones, so no jet lag.

  • Over 50 national parks and game reserves, including Kruger National Park and Phinda Game Reserve.

  • Kgalagadi is Africa’s only trans-frontier game reserve, and combines the magnificence of Botswana and the Northern Cape.

  • South Africa is malaria-free, and many of the Big Five reserves have family lodges, innovative kids’ activity programmes and exceptional childcare.

  • Beach and safari can be easily combined in a single South African family holiday.

  • Cape Town has temperatures between 20°C and 27°C from November to April and average temperatures of 18°C in UK summer months.

Where to go

Western Cape

South Africa’s Western Cape on the south-west coast is famous for spectacular beaches and the capital, Cape Town, the country’s oldest city and third-most-visited on the entire continent. Nowhere does holidays quite like this province, and the choice of places to stay ranges from high-quality family guesthouses and self-catering seaside villas to stunning resort hotels and historic game lodges.

  • Delightful colonial Simon’s Town, just 30 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, is the place to find Boulders Beach and its resident colony of more than 2,000 African Penguins.
  • The Cape of Good Hope is the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean in the far south of the province.
  • Table Mountain National Park is in Western Cape, and Cape Town sits in the shadow of the famous mountain itself.
  • You can drive the celebrated Mossel to Plettenberg Bay Garden Route in Western Cape.
  • The province has several Big Five game reserves and national wildlife parks, including the Garden Route Game Reserve and Tsitsikamma National Park.
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The eastern province, bordering Swaziland and Mozambique, has some of the most breathtakingly dramatic scenery in the country. It’s also very accessible by road and world-renowned for its game reserves.

  • 20,000km² Kruger Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa and one of the largest in Africa.
  • 65,000-hectare Sabi Sands is one of the country’s finest private game reserves, known for its innovative and incredible lodges, guesthouses and camps.
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The province where Durban offers big, beautiful beaches and a colourful, multicultural vibe. It’s also the area you’ll find Dolphin Coast and quaint seaside towns, just half-an-hour from Durbs.

  • The majestic Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal province are perfect for hiking and walking adventures.
  • iSimangaliso (‘a miracle’ in Zulu) Wetland Park, South Africa’s third-largest protected are, is also in the province.
  • There is an excellent road network and fine beach resort hotels in the city, as well as cute heritage self-catering on the coast.
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Without equal for vast, wild, natural beauty – even in South Africa – Limpopo is fast becoming a family favourite for its range of malaria-free Big Five game reserves. The most northern province, it borders Botswana and includes part of the Kruger Park.

  • The Balobedu people are native to Limpopo and their rich culture is alive across the province.
  • Mapungubwe National Park and Entabeni-Waterberg, Timbavati and Kapama game reserves are all in Limpopo.
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Eastern Cape

Eastern Cape is fantastic if you want to easily combine beach and Big Five game reserves in a family holiday. The birthplace of Nelson Mandela, this is also the province for the astonishing Wild Coast, extreme watersports, world-class surf schools and fabulous road trips along the Garden Route.

  • Eastern Cape’s largest city, Port Elizabeth, is one of the top holiday destinations for South African families.
  • Addo Elephant Park is in Eastern Cape and home to the ‘Big Seven’ (Big Five plus sharks and whales). Eco-marine tours here are unforgettable.
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Johannesburg’s province, Gauteng, is small and central but densely packed and very high energy. Good for a city and safari holiday and walking in the Magaliesberg Mountains.

  • Huge lightning storms over Gauteng’s Highveld grasslands are stupendous.
  • Dinokeng Game Reserve is Gauteng’s Big Five park and offers self-drive safaris.
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North West

Best known for the entertainment capital of South Africa, Sun City, North West province has some of the country’s most extravagant hotels and luxurious family self-catering.

  • 55,000-hectare Pilanesberg Game Reserve is in North West.
  • The province’s Madikwe Reserve is one of the best for big-game viewing by hot-air balloon.
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What to do

  • Addo Elephant Park, Eastern Cape
    South Africa’s third-largest wildlife park is just over an hour from Port Elizabeth. Addo has whales and sharks as well as the Big Five, but the amazing elephants are the biggest thrill of all.
  • Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, Cape Town
    The vast, flat-topped bulk of Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most iconic sight and the Table Mountain National Park is so enormous it’s a holiday all by itself. Get your bearings first with a trip to the top of the mountain on one of the world’s most exciting cable cars.
  • Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town
    Celebrating Western Cape’s unique location between the Indian and Atlantic oceans, this award-winning aquarium is thrilling – go for shark-feed Sunday.
  • Boulders Beach, Cape Town
    A gorgeous white-sand beach just 30 minutes from Cape Town and home to over 2,000 African Penguins.
  • Gold Reef City, Johannesburg
    Designed to seem like an early-20th-century mining town but packed with 21st-century theme park action and almost everything else you can imagine in terms of outrageous fun entertainment, Gold Reef is one of South Africa’s leading family attractions.
  • Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga
    20,000km², this legendary game reserve is so huge it crosses provinces. There are nine gates, a huge choice of family safaris and the Big Five are guaranteed – Sabi Sands sits on the northern edge of Kruger.
  • The Garden Route, Western Cape
    It’s under 200km, but the Garden Route from Mossel Bay to Nature’s Valley is one of the world’s most astounding road trips with everything from game reserves to sensational beaches, vineyards, seaside towns and staggering natural phenomena along the way.
  • De Hoop Nature Reserve, Western Cape
    Part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, De Hoop is also one of the best places in the world to watch whales – and it’s fantastic for walking trails, too.
  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
    Africa’s only transfrontier park, Kgalagadi was established to allow natural wildlife migration between South Africa and Botswana unimpeded by man-made borders.
  • Greenmarket Square, Cape Town
    The most historic market in Cape Town is a fantastic adventure for kids, an easy history lesson and packed with colourful arts, crafts and friendly local traders.

Educational value for kids

  • Visit vibrant Durban for the beaches, but don’t miss the culture – the Indian district is especially interesting for kids.
  • The prison on Robben Island just off the coast of Cape Town is a moving and involving experience for older kids.
  • If you’re going on safari, get youngsters excited about what to expect before you head off.
  • Even in the tamer reserves, wildlife is wild in South Africa, so it’s always a good idea to prep children for the possibility of seeing nature at its worst.
  • Discover the different traditions, customs and communities of South Africa in dynamic places like former Cape Town township Bo-Kaap – take one of the excellent Cape Malay tours.
  • Eat local. South Africa has a hint of just about everywhere in the kitchen, and food is a great learning opportunity for kids.
  • The country’s wild and wonderful coastline is matched by awesome watersports, and South Africans believe it’s never too early to learn, so the standard of tuition is exceptional.

Getting about with kids in South Africa

South Africa is big and the roads are good, so driving is stress-free and the best way to see as much as possible. Self-drive safaris are available in some reserves but, unless you know what you’re doing and feel confident in the environment, guided safaris are a much better option. Don’t drive in cities if you can help it. Public transport is usually reliable but taxis are inexpensive and good for visiting attractions and historic districts.

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