South Africa is an excellent destination for family trips.
With its diverse wildlife, delightful beaches, exciting theme parks and fascinating museums, there are many attractions that are perfect for both adults and children. The country is particularly well-suited to older kids who can make the most of the many outdoor experiences.
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What makes South Africa good for kids?
Traveling with kids in South Africa is relatively easy, with child-friendly facilities and accommodations. Most larger hotels will provide a cot for babies and toddlers, and sometimes there are extra beds available, but it pays to check when you book. There are apartments with kitchens available for rent as well as holiday homes.
Many family restaurants and cafes have high chairs and offer kids’ menus that include dishes such as pizzas, burgers, pasta, toasted sandwiches and fish and chips. Some restaurants and cafes serve variations on local dishes for children. If you want healthier options, there’s usually something suitable in the entrée or sides section of the main menu.
Public transport in South Africa is limited, so hiring a car is recommended when you’re traveling as a family. You’ll find all major car rental brands in South Africa, including Avis, Hertz, and Budget, and there are desks at the airport, although you’ll usually get lower prices if you book in advance. Tourist destinations are safe and you should be able to visit the places on this list independently without any issues, however taking tours through Soweto and downtown Johannesburg is recommended.
One important thing to know before you go: bring your child’s full birth certificate as well as their passport when traveling to South Africa. If both parents are not traveling with the child, you will also need additional documentation, including a letter from the other parent and potentially a court order. Contact your South African embassy for more information about these requirements.
The penguins of Boulders Beach are popular with curious children © wanderluster / Getty Images
Where is the best place to go in South Africa for kids?
The larger cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban are great for kids, with facilities for young children, excellent food and accommodation options. They also have a wealth of family-friendly activities, including theme and water parks, indoor and outdoor play areas, and museums and zoos. Children will also love seeing the animals and flowers in the nature reserves and national parks. The smaller towns along the coast are the places to go if you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation.
Best things to do in South Africa with babies and toddlers
Take the cable car up Table Mountain, Cape Town
Table Mountain dominates the skyline in Cape Town, and seeing the view from the top is remarkable. If you’re traveling with young children, take the cable car to the top – children aged four and under travel for free. Prams and strollers can be wheeled straight on too, but if you’re planning on doing any walks at the top of the mountain, you might prefer a baby carrier or sling.
The cable car ride itself is an adventure as the car slowly rotates as it travels up the mountain, offering panoramas of Cape Town and the surrounding region. Once at the top, drag your eyes away from the views to look out for a dassie, a small, guinea pig-type animal, or take one of the accessible hikes and walking routes.
See the penguins on Boulders Beach, Cape Peninsula
This white sand beach dotted with huge boulders is home to a colony of endangered African penguins. Children can see the penguins up close and watch them waddling on the beach, swimming in the clear waters, and interacting with each other.
The water is cold, but the beach itself is sheltered, with gentle waves and shallow waters, making it perfect for young children to play and splash around. Just remember that the penguins are wild animals and you should keep your distance. Other activities to keep babies and toddlers entertained include rock pooling and exploring the boulder formations.
It’s likely that a safari experience in South Africa will appeal to most of the family © Jupiterimages / Getty Images
Best things to do in South Africa with young children
Go on a safari
Easily one of the best things to do in South Africa is going on a safari. While some younger children may find the drive times a bit challenging, most will be enchanted by seeing wild animals in real life.
Take an organized game drive to have the best chance of seeing the Big Five – lions, leopards, elephants, rhino and Cape Buffalo – up close. If you have younger children, consider doing a game drive in a private reserve, as the smaller area means you can see more animals in a shorter amount of time. For older children, head to Kruger National Park to see animals living in their natural habitat and get a snapshot of what the country (and much of the continent) would once have been like.
Visit Gold Reef City, Johannesburg
This gold-mining-themed amusement park has rides and entertainment suitable for all age groups, from toddlers to adults. You can also learn about Johannesburg’s gold-mining history, and go on an underground mine tour (suitable for children over six). If you’re visiting with older kids, you may want to combine a visit to Gold Reef City with the nearby Apartheid Museum.
Explore the Cango Caves
If you’re spending a few days in the Cape Winelands or driving along the Garden Route, take a detour to the Cango Caves. Kids will love exploring the vast underground chambers, tunnels and fascinating rock formations, some of which are millions of years old.
The basic guided tour of the caves is accessible to all ages, and the knowledgeable guides are great at keeping kids engaged and entertained. On the way to the caves, a couple of other attractions are also worth visiting – an ostrich farm and Cango Wildlife Ranch where kids can meet cheetahs, snakes, crocodiles and more.
Spend a few days at Sun City
The popular resort of Sun City in South Africa’s North West Province offers a range of exciting activities for children of all ages, including water parks, game reserves and adventure parks. The Valley of Waves, with its thrilling water slides and wave pool, is a favorite among kids.
Supervised activities are available for younger children, including mini-golf, outdoor movies and arts and crafts. The resort’s game reserves offer the opportunity to see Africa’s Big Five, while the zip line and Segway tours provide adrenaline-pumping adventures for older kids.
See fossils at the Cradle of Humankind
The Cradle of Humankind in South Africa is an excellent destination for kids who are interested in history and science. This Unesco World Heritage site is home to some of the world’s most important hominid fossil discoveries, including the famous “Mrs Ples” and “Little Foot.” Kids can learn about the evolution of humankind through interactive displays and exhibits and take a guided tour of Sterkfontein Caves, where some of the fossils were discovered.
South Africa’s vast coastline means there are plenty of superb places to have some family time on the beach © kupicoo / Getty Images
Best things to do in South Africa with tweens and teens
Learn about South Africa’s history
Older kids and teenagers can learn about apartheid through some of South Africa’s excellent museums and tours. In Johannesburg, visiting the Apartheid Museum or going on a historical walking tour of Soweto are great ways to learn about the events that shaped the country’s history.
If you’re in Cape Town, take a trip to Robben Island, a former prison for political activists, including Nelson Mandela. Tours take you to various historic sites around the island as well as through the prison, giving you a glimpse of Mandela’s cell. The boat ride with views back towards the beautiful city are a bonus.
Explore Johannesburg’s street art
Known as the street art capital of Africa, Johannesburg’s vibrant and colourful street art scene is not only visually stunning but also offers insight into the city’s past. Johannesburg’s street art evolved out of the city’s degeneration in the 1980s and ’90s, and is part of the city centre’s regeneration today. The Maboneng Precinct, in particular, is known for its street art, with some (although not all) of the major works commissioned by the government.
Teenagers can learn about the significance of the city’s murals, graffiti, and street art on guided street art tours of Johannesburg. These tours also highlight the works of established and emerging artists, and some offer opportunities to engage with local creative communities. If you’re short on time, you can also get a taste of local street art while learning about local history. Most Soweto tours include a visit to the impressive Orlando Towers. The artwork on the old power station makes for a great photo opportunity, and adventurous teens can climb the towers or even bungee jump down from them.