Southern Africa presents few problems specific to children, and while health concerns are always an issue, food and lodging are mostly quite familiar and manageable. What’s more, foreigners with children are usually treated with great kindness, and a widespread local affection for the younger set opens up all sorts of social interaction for travelling families.

In South Africa, away from the coast, many resorts, hotels and national park lodges and camping grounds have a wide range of facilities for children. Many families hire campervans in South Africa to tour the region. There are fewer child-oriented facilities in the other countries, but here the attractions usually provide entertainment enough: large wild animals in the national parks are a major draw, and even bored teenagers have been known to enjoy Vic Falls and its adrenaline activities. Botswana and Namibia also lend themselves to family camping holidays, and the attractions – such as the wildlife of Etosha National Park or Moermi Game Reserve, or the world’s biggest sandbox at Sossusvlei – are entertainment in themselves. Lake Malawi has plenty of child-friendly lodges and the highland areas of Malawi such as the Viphya and Zomba Plateaus are also good for families.

For more advice and anecdotes, see Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.

Practicalities

In tourist hotels and lodges, family rooms and chalets are normally available for only a little more than doubles. Otherwise, it’s normally easy to arrange more beds in a standard adult double for a minimal extra charge. On public transport children are expected to pay for their seats unless they spend the entire journey on their parents’ laps.

In Southern Africa, compared with some other parts of the world, there are few nasty diseases to worry about, and good (if expensive) medical services are often within reach.

Outside cities and major towns in South Africa, do not plan on finding pasteurised milk, formula or disposable nappies. They may be available sporadically (especially in Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia), but this is the exception rather than the rule. Breastfeeding in public is fairly common for locals, but in rural areas it’s likely to attract significant unwanted attention for visitors.

Essential Documents

Travellers with children should be aware of changes regarding the documents you must carry with you while travelling through some countries of the region. The law requires that all parents arriving, transiting and departing South Africa, Namibia and Botswana must produce an unabridged birth certificate for their children, and the birth certificate must state the names of both parents. Families not in possession of these documents will be refused travel.

If one parent is travelling alone with their children, the travelling parent must carry with them an affidavit from the other (ie nontravelling) parent who is listed on the birth certificate granting their consent for the travel to take place in their absence. Where this is not possible, either a court order granting full parental responsibilities and rights, or a death certificate of the other parent, must be produced.

We have travelled across the borders of all three countries with our children on numerous occasions and although we were not always asked for these documents, we were asked for each of them at least once. Travel without them at your peril.