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Create a memorable family vacation in South Africa with our top trip ideas
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If you are planning a trip to South Africa with your family and feeling flummoxed with the seemingly impossible task of catering for everyone’s specific wants and needs, let us help you out with our top experiences for you and your family. We have sourced the best family-friendly hidden gems that may be missed as the more well-known tourist destinations remain inescapably popular. Perfect for a self-drive holiday, these ideas span all the way from Cape Town to Eastern Cape and Kruger.
Boulders Beach Penguins, Simon’s Town, Cape Town
Whilst there is an array of stunning beaches in South Africa to choose from, we think Boulders Beach is the best place to delight all the family. Soft white sands, enchanting rockpools and calm warm waters sheltered from waves and wind by granite boulders are enticing in their own right. But that is not what draws 60,000 visitors a year to Boulders Beach. What makes this beach a uniquely magical must-see are the colonies of African Penguins that are unexpectedly found here.
Despite being a mere 40-minutes from the centre of Cape Town, Boulders Beach is home to these endearing penguins all year long, but summer (December to March) is the best time to optimise on this charming spectacle. By taking a two-minute walk over to the boardwalks along Foxy Beach you’ll be presented with the finest views of these feathered-friends.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Newlands, Cape Town
Botanical Gardens may not scream ‘family-friendly’, but we think this particular garden has something to please all the family. Kirstenbosch is more than just a beautiful spot for a picnic. Flowers and fynbos all set against the dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain are sure to have you mesmerised, whilst the 130-metre snaking canopy walkway and art exhibitions such as those featuring life-sized tin dinosaur sculptures will keep children absorbed.
Vredenheim Wildlife & Winery, Stellenbosch, Western Cape
Vredenheim is the perfect destination to please adults and children alike as it is home to a Wine Experience as well as a Big Cats Park. After the children have been thrilled in coming face-to-face with two orange and two white Bengal tigers, two brown and three white lions, and two leopards, as well as an assortment of game and birds, let them reflect on the experience whilst you enjoy tasting some of South Africa’s finest wine. If the children are still raring for more, Vredenheim also has an Animal Farm where they can feed animals or release some excitable energy at their jungle gym, sandpit and bike track. All set in Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in South Africa, Vredenheim is a hub of rich tradition mixed with youthful wonder.
Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn, Western Cape
For a mystical underground adventure that will amaze you and your children, we recommend a visit to the Cango Caves. The guided Heritage Tour will lead you through the chambers and tunnels that are littered with stunning rock formations such as the hanging stalactites and erupting stalagmites. In the longer 1-hour-30 tour, children will be enchanted in learning the names of the cave’s features, such as The Crystal Palace and The Ice-cream Parlour, whilst relishing on the thrill of crawling through the smaller tunnels and climbing up ladders into magical other-worlds.
De Hoop, Oudtshoorn, Western Cape
Although South Africa may not typically conjure images of whale-watching, but rather spotting the big-five on a safari, with De Hoop you can do both. As a World Heritage Site, De Hoop has become a treasured nursery for The Southern Right whale. As one of the top destinations for spotting this endangered species, especially from June to November, you can sit in awe of these resplendent mammals from the comfort of the sandy shore. This nature reserve offers more than just endless beach days, families can enjoy nature drives, guided walks, bike rides, snorkelling, boat trips, art workshops, and facilities including a swimming pool, tennis court and restaurant.
Elephant Parks and Sanctuaries
Whilst seeing elephants in the wild on a safari is an unforgettable experience, we also recommend visiting an elephant sanctuary or park and supporting the wonderful conservation work done across South Africa. Children will particularly love the opportunity to escape the confines of a car and instead be able to stand in close proximity with these gentle giants. These are some of our favourites:
Knysna Elephant Park – Situated between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, this park has lovingly saved the lives of up to 40 elephants including those that have been orphaned or used for work in Circuses. There are currently ten elephants with whom you can have a personal encounter, free of fences or barriers.
The Elephant Sanctuary – For an even more immersive experience, The Elephant Sanctuary’s three sites (Plettenberg Bay, Hazyview and Hartbeespoortdam) offer the opportunity for you to feed, touch and even ‘walk hand-in-trunk’ with the 12 friendly elephants they have created a home for there.
Addo Elephant National Park – As South Africa’s largest national reserve, there is far more than just elephants on offer here, including accommodation to ensure you make the most of this formidable park. Hiking trails, floodlit waterholes, a swimming pool, restaurant and holiday programmes for children, make Addo Elephant National Park the perfect family destination.
Canopy Tours, Tsitsikamma, Western Cape and Eastern Cape
After so many adventures on-foot, it is time to take to the skies and discover South Africa from above. With Stormsriver Adventures, you and your little ones aged five and above can propel through the sky and marvel at the brilliant views on the ten tree-top platforms. 30-metres above the ground, you can enjoy learning about Tsitsikamma’s rich forestry with the guide’s expert knowledge, whilst children will be overjoyed as they swing from tree-to-tree like South Africa’s very own monkeys.
Places to stay
As well as all these lesser known places to visit and exclusive activities to do, we also have recommendations for intimate and secluded places to stay, where you will be one with nature rather than crowds of tourists.
Marataba Safari Lodge – With phenomenal views of the Waterberg Mountains, we are sure you will find staying in these tented lodges breath-taking. Surrounded by wildlife including giraffe, leopards, impala and jackal, staying at Marataba Safari Lodge is a sensory experience fit to delight all the family. Plus, with the Mack & Madi Kids’ Adventure Club, your little ones will never be bored.
Madikwe Hills, Little Madikwe – You and your family will feel right at home at this luxury tented camp. Nestled close-by to the main camp, you will be fit with two en-suite units, joined together by a private living room, dining room and refreshing pool. The whole family will certainly feel like royalty with your own private chef, ranger, and butler. For further privacy and extra space, Little Madikwe is perfect for accommodating larger families of up to eight.