With its abundance of national parks, beaches, swimming pools and hiking trails suitable for a wide range of competencies, plus a good collection of museums and a handful of amusement parks, South Africa offers plenty for children of all ages in hazard-free settings.
Best Regions for Kids
- Cape Town
Botanical gardens, an aquarium, the Table Mountain cable car, beaches, Greenmarket Square market, harbour cruises, activities, good facilities and a relaxed atmosphere – the vibrant Mother City is a superb family destination.
- Western Cape
Surrounding Cape Town, the Western Cape has good infrastructure as well as stunning scenery. Near the city, the Winelands offers numerous family-friendly wine estates, markets and attractions. Further afield, Garden Route spots such as Mossel Bay and Nature's Valley are particularly well set up for family holidays, with beaches and activities galore.
Durban has beaches, one of the world's largest aquariums and hot weather. The sandy fun continues along the surrounding Indian Ocean coastline, with activities from whale watching to kayak safaris in iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Head inland for walking and camping opportunities in the stunning Drakensberg.
South Africa for Kids
Most South Africans are welcoming to children, and you will probably receive many offers of assistance. Get used to passing your child around like a curio; they will excite much interest and attention, particularly in rural and traditional parts of the country.
- Table Mountain, Cape Town Walking up the mountain will give older children a tremendous sense of achievement.
- Royal Natal National Park, KwaZulu-Natal Hiking and camping in Drakensberg parks such as this will be a memorable experience for older children and teenagers.
- Hogsback, Eastern Cape With its fairy meander and easy trails through gardens and forests, it's suitable for nature-loving parents with small children.
- Clifton 4th Beach, Cape Town Sitting on a Mother City beach such as this Blue Flag beauty, among multicultural Capetonians, will be an interesting experience for all the family.
- Arniston, Western Cape Has a sheltered beach with caves and rock pools near Africa's southernmost point.
- Water sports South Africa offers lots of water sports for older children to get stuck into, including surfing, diving, canoeing, kayaking, tubing and rafting.
- Jeffrey's Bay, Eastern Cape One of the world's best surf spots.
- Themed tours Teenagers will enjoy tours geared towards their interests, such as Cape Malay cooking, township jazz, Venda art or urban murals.
- Wild Coast, Eastern Cape Adventurous teenagers will enjoy glimpses of Xhosa culture at community-run backpackers such as Bulungula Lodge, which offers activities and cultural experiences.
- Kruger National Park Inhabited by the Big Five, Kruger has easy accessibility and family-friendly rest camps.
- Pilanesberg National Park, North West Province Constructed with weekending families in mind, this malaria-free park near Jo'burg (and Sun City) has sealed roads.
- Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape There is a good chance of spotting elephants in this malaria-free park.
- Oudtshoorn, Western Cape Has ostrich farms and a meerkat conservation project.
- Penguin colonies and rehabilitation centres Found at Boulders Beach (Cape Town), Betty's Bay (Western Cape), Cape St Francis (Eastern Cape) and Port Elizabeth (Eastern Cape).
- Family-oriented accommodation, such as triple or quadruple hotel rooms and four- to six-person self-catering cottages, is common throughout South Africa.
- Camping and self-catering are good options for families seeking affordability and privacy, with quality campgrounds and well-equipped cabins, cottages and chalets found nationwide.
- In KwaZulu-Natal, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife offers good-value accommodation to groups and families – although animals roam freely in many of its parks.
- SAN (South Africa National) Parks accommodation is generally excellent, but pricey; it often works out cheaper to stay outside the park.
- Many wildlife lodges have restrictions on children under 12 years, so in parks and reserves the main accommodation options will sometimes be camping and self-catering.
- Many hotels and self-catering options can provide cots.
- Safaris are suitable for older children who have the patience to sit for long periods in a vehicle or hide, but less suitable for younger kids.
- Guided drives in large vehicles are excellent, with more chance of sightings and an expert to answer questions and take care of safety.
- Activities for children are offered in Kruger, Pilanesberg and other parks.
- Many upscale hotels and resorts in tourist areas can arrange childcare, and short-term day care may also be available.
- Especially during the high season, many South African coastal resorts have kids' clubs, offering daily children's activities.
- Children are usually admitted at discounted rates to national parks, museums and other sights (often free for babies and toddlers, and discounted for teenagers and younger).
- Many hotels and transport operators, including bus companies, offer children's discounts.
- Restaurants often have children's menus with dishes at good prices, or offer smaller portions of regular dishes at discounted prices.
- Baby-changing rooms are not common in South Africa, but clean restrooms abound; in most, you should be able to find a makeshift spot to change a nappy (diaper).
- The monthly magazine Child (www.childmag.co.za) has Cape Town, Durban, Jo'burg and Pretoria editions and a useful website.
- Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children has tips for keeping children and parents happy on the road.
- Nappies, powdered milk and baby food are widely available, except in very rural areas.
- Outside supermarkets in major towns, it's difficult to find processed baby food without added sugar.
- Merry Pop Ins (www.merrypopins.co.za) in central Cape Town sells used clothes, furniture and equipment for children from newborns to 12-year-olds.
- Most car-rental agencies can provide safety seats, but you'll need to book them in advance and usually pay extra.
- Distances can be vast (the bus from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth takes 12 hours), so try to stagger journeys where possible.
- Tourist-class trains with private sleeper compartments, such as the 27-hour trans-Karoo service from Jo'burg to Cape Town, have ample space and dining cars.
- Breastfeeding in public won't raise an eyebrow among many Africans, but in other circles it's best to be discreet.
- Overall there are few health risks, and should your child become ill, good-quality medical care is available in the cities.
- Avoid government hospitals where possible and use private hospitals.
- Mediclinic (www.mediclinic.co.za) operates private hospitals from Cape Town to Limpopo.
- Seek medical advice about vaccinations months before your trip; not all are suitable for children or pregnant women.
- Specifically, seek medical advice on malaria prophylactics for children if you'll be in malarial areas (including Kruger National Park and the lowveld).
- Think twice before taking young children to malarial areas and try to visit in the winter, when the risk of mosquito bites is lower.
- Regardless of malaria, insect bites can be painful, so come prepared with nets, repellent and suitable clothing.
- Swimming in streams should generally be avoided, due to the risk of bilharzia (schistosomiasis) infection.
- In drought-struck areas such as Cape Town, drink bottled or treated water in preference to tap water.
Since 2015 all children under 18 years travelling to South Africa have been required to show an unabridged birth certificate (UBC) in addition to their passport. If you do not have one already, UBCs are easy to apply for in most Western countries; unlike abridged birth certificates, they show the parents' details.
If one or neither parent is travelling with a child, the new immigration regulations ask for paperwork over and above the UBC, namely an affidavit giving permission for the child to travel, a court order in some cases and a death certificate if a parent is deceased. Where only one parent’s particulars appear on the UBC or equivalent document, no parental consent affidavit is required when that parent travels with the child. The controversial new regulations, which, according to the Department of Home Affairs, are designed to combat child trafficking, have received immense opposition and may possibly be relaxed in the future.
For further information and updates, check www.brandsouthafrica.com, www.home-affairs.gov.za, or with your government's travel advisory or your airline.