If you’ve thought about choosing South Africa as a destination for your next family trip, but are hesitant due to the stories of crime, then I urge you to reconsider…
South Africa is a beautiful and stunning country, with so much to offer the whole family. At no point did we feel unsafe, in fact, we came away wanting to go back and that’s unusual for us. It certainly captured a piece of my heart.
Granted. South Africa isn’t considered one of the safest countries in the world, but trouble usually occurs in townships, isolated places and away from the tourist routes. And, while some may think we were irresponsible taking our young children there, I’d have to disagree – we had the most amazing time exploring the Western Cape and found the people we encountered to be friendly and helpful.
Not only is South Africa family-friendly, but there’s only a two-hour time difference for those of us in Europe, the Western Cape is a malaria-free zone, and they also drive on the left-hand side of the road.
When we first started planning our trip we knew it was impossible to fit everything in, after all South Africa is a huge country. So we decided we would fly into Cape Town and drive the Garden Route – but even then it was hard narrowing down where to stay and if we would drive all the way along the route to Port Elizabeth.
Because we didn’t want to spend hours and hours in the car, we chose destinations whereby we only had to travel around an hour or so to reach attractions, and kept our schedule flexible. However, there is one big chunk that was unavoidable, but the epic scenery and great farm shops/cafes along the way meant a six-hour drive wasn’t at all unpleasant, even with a baby…
If you’re thinking about travelling to South Africa with kids, but don’t even know where to begin, then I’ve outlined our itinerary, tips and places to stay below. We managed to enjoy the city, explore wine country, relax on beaches, and go on safari. There truly is so much to see and do – with or without kids. And if we can do over two weeks with a six-year old and a baby, then you can, too!
Our South Africa Itinerary Overview
• Day 1-4: Cape Town
• Day 5-9: Wilderness
• Day 9-12: Knynsa
• Day 13: Hermanus
• Day 14-16: Cape Town
Day 1-4 Cape Town
Day 1 – Exploring Sea Point and the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
After arriving in the early hours of the morning, we were all exhausted so didn’t really fancy going too far from our hotel. We were based in Bantry Bay and Sea Point, a cosmopolitan suburb right by the coast. It had a real lively mix of tourists and locals, as well as great bars and restaurants. We took a long stroll along the promenade full of pop-up stalls, local pools, and kids’ playgrounds. We even stepped onto Milton Beach and scrambled around the tidal pools.
Later, we jumped into the car and headed to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront for some lunch and spent a happy afternoon/early evening wandering the harbour, watching the street performers and musicians and browsing the markets and shops. It’s easy to while away a whole day at the V&A and there is plenty for kids to keep them occupied, from the huge Hamleys toy store and train, the adventure playground, the Two Oceans Aquarium and the Cape Wheel. Meanwhile, many excursions leave from the waterfront such as shark diving trips or boats to Robben Island.
Day 2 – A Morning at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, a walk around Bo-Kaap and then stunning views from Signal Hill
Kirstenbosch is situated about 25 minutes out of the city, and it’s well worth a visit. Nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, it’s an oasis of calm, and also considered to be one of the best Botanical Gardens in the world. We took our time discovering some of the 2,500 different species of plants found around the Cape Peninsular and, of course, finishing our visit with a cream tea.
Famed for its colourful painted houses, Bo-Kaap is a great-stop off point in Cape Town. A former township and Malay quarter, the area is steeped in history which you can find out about in the Bo-Kaap Museum. There are also free walking tours.
And because Bo-Kaap is situated a the foot of Signal Hill, it meant it was easy to jump into the car and continue on our way up – and enjoy the most amazing views of the city.
Day 3 – Taking the scenic route along the Cape Peninsula: Penguins at Boulders Beach, Cape Point, Hout Bay and Chapman’s Peak Drive
One of the highlights of our whole trip was getting up close to the African Penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town. Get to there early, and you’ll find that you might be the only people there…
The Cape Peninsula is a stunning drive, and after paying a small fee to enter Table Mountain National Park, you can reach Cape Point – the most south-western corner of the continent. The scenery of waves crashing along jutting rock faces is pretty spectacular. Meanwhile, the kids will love riding the funicular up to the Lighthouse and trying to spot baboons.
Famished from all our morning exploits, we then drove to Hout Bay – where we not only saw sealions being fed, but devoured one of the best ever fish and chip lunches, after stumbling across Muriel’s and its converted shipping container.
From Hout Bay you can take the road via Chapman’s Peak Drive – and if there’s one drive you do in Cape Town it has to be this one. Even Monkey marvelled at the jaw-dropping scenery. We had to stop the car on several occasions so we could get out and admire the panorama.
Day 4 – A Day in the Cape Winelands: Exploring Stellenbosch and Franschhoek
Can you go wine tasting with two young kids? Sure you can. Several wineries in South Africa’s most famous wine region cater for families and we enjoyed a gourmet picnic lunch and tasting at Warwick Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. While we admired the lake view and relaxed, Monkey made friends in the playground and splash fountain.
Before we headed back to Cape Town we drove just 15 minutes to neighbouring Franschhoek and visited another vineyard, Leopard’s Leap. Expect, as always, stunning scenery.
We stayed at:
The Bantry Bay Suite Hotel – mid-range accommodation which offered family rooms with kitchenettes. It has an outdoor pool and secure parking.
Tip: You will need a car – even in Cape Town which is a vast and sprawling city as most of the main sights are away from the city centre. We got a got a great deal with Bidvest Car Rental and picked up our car once we landed at Cape Town International airport.
Days 5-9 Wilderness
Day 5 – Cape Town to Wilderness
When the sat nav indicated it would take over six hours to get to Wilderness, we were a little alarmed. However, as soon as we made it out of Cape Town and hit the N2 highway along the Garden Route we were mesmerised by the scenery, even driving through a mountain pass and then seeing the whole of Cape Town below us.
Meanwhile, there were so many places to stop along the way – and these establishments aren’t your usual fast food chain offerings that you get here in the UK, but independent farm food shops and coffee houses serving up organic delights. Dare I say, the journey was even pleasant? Made even more so by our well-behaved children.
Day 6 – Fun on Wilderness Beach and Map of Africa View Point
Wilderness Beach was possibly our favourite spot of the whole trip. We loved walking along this beautiful stretch of coastline. Monkey and I wandered down after breakfast and spent hours running in and out of the waves.
After our beach fun, we jumped into the car and drove to the The Map of Africa View Point, which sits on top of Wilderness Heights. The way the Kaaimans River flows around the hill creates an impression of the map of Africa and it was worth the short drive to see. Afterwards we headed back into town for some lunch.
Day 7 – Lunch at Plettenberg Bay and walking with elephants at Kynsna Elephant Park
While Wilderness is quiet and peaceful, the same can’t be said for Plettenberg Bay, or Plett, as locals refer to it, further down the Garden Route. Being Christmas, it was heaving with South Africans escaping the city as well as tourists. It certainly has a party atmosphere and although we enjoyed exploring another commanding coastline and beach town, we were happy not to be staying there. We also didn’t have time to explore Robberg Nature Reserve – a national monument and World Heritage Site, teeming with wildlife. I’ve heard it’s wonderful.
One of the highlights for us was at Kynsna Elephant Park. We first got to feed these magnificent creatures, then stroke them, and then walk alongside an elephant on a scenic route though the park. It was a magical few hours, made even more so by Monkey’s inquisitive nature and desire to learn about the mammals.
Day 8 – A fun day at Redberry Farm, George
While we considered going to the suspension bridge at Storms River and Tsitsikamma National Park, we couldn’t face the four-hour round trip. It was a chance conversation that led us to discover a local favourite, Redberry Farm. Wanting to do something relaxed, it was an amazing find. Part strawberry farm, part gourmet restaurant and market, and part adventure playground, Redberry Farm set under the mountains was the perfect place to while away a day eating the most delicious strawberries and food, sampling craft beer and watching the children play.
We stayed at:
Tip: Wilderness is a relatively small town and during peak season, extremely busy in the evenings. Do make dinner reservations as it will be impossible to get a table otherwise. We had great meals at Salinas, Roxi’s On The Square, and Fláva Cafe.
Days 9-12 Kynsna
Day 9 – Wilderness to Kynsna and Thesen Island
Just 45 minutes away, Kynsna is home to the largest indigenous forest in the country. With sandstone cliffs that separate the calm lagoon from the Indian Ocean, which you can see at Kynsna Heads – it also has a vibrant town, and plenty of accommodation options. Elsewhere, we ate several evening meals in Knynsa Harbour and our favourite spot to eat the bestest and freshest oysters was 34 South – which has as an extensive seafood and sushi menu, too.
From our hotel we drove to Thesen Island – a marina development spread over 19 different manmade islands on Kynsa’s estuary. You have to drive over a causeway that connects the island to the mainland to the Thesen Harbour town and we found plenty of restaurants, bars and even a playground. It’s a rather strange concept, and one we’ve never seen before, so it’s worth a visit.
Day 10 – Christmas Day!
A day of rest, relaxation and eating for us, so we stayed put in the hotel. There are plenty of things to do in and around Knysna, though, including a boat trip across the lagoon, a visit to Kynsna Heads, or a walk along the stunning beach at Brenton on Sea.
Day 11 – A game drive at Plettenberg Game Reserve
Having never experienced safari before, our three-hour game drive at Plettenberg Game Reserve was the perfect introduction. I was apprehensive about having the baby with us, but apart from a five-minute meltdown, he was content being in sling – even falling asleep at one point. Even though we didn’t get to see the Big Five, as the hippos were hiding that day, we felt privileged to be able to witness giraffes, leopards, rhinos, lions, wolves, zebras and so many other animals grazing in a natural habitat.
Tip: Even though the temperature may be warm, take an extra layer on the game drive because the wind can make it pretty chilly.
Day 12 – Getting close to primates at Monkeyland in Plett
Monkeyland was recommended to us by so many people, so we thought it would be fun to introduce our Monkey to the primates at Monkeyland – a sanctuary comprising of 30 acres of indigenous forests. On our guided walk, we encountered a variety of free-roaming primates, ranging from the gibbons to spider monkeys, and we all gasped when we saw baby lemurs within touching distance.
Tip: Take your own mosquito repellent, cover yourself in it before you enter the rainforest. We were given citronella cream, but it did nothing for me and I was bitten alive!
Where we stayed:
The Conrad Pezula Resort and Spa – Part of the Hilton Luxury chain of hotels, the Conrad exudes five-star luxury and offers up a kids’ club, outdoor and indoor swimming pools, a championship golf course and breathtaking views of Knysna and the lagoon below.
Day 13 – Hermanus
Day 13 – Kynsna to Hermanus and Hermanus Waterfront
To break up our journey back to we decide on an overnight stay in whale-watching town of Hermanus – which is only around 90 minutes from Cape Town. The drive through Hermanus’ winelands was captivating, while the harbour front and town is a hive of activity and full of popular restaurants and eateries. We had possibly the best sushi I’ve ever eaten in Lemon Butta, which overlooks the sea.
Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any whales, nor were we able to go out on a boat, as the winds were too high that day. But it was a great stopover before heading back to the city.
Where we stayed:
Baleia Guest Lodge – A B&B close to town which offered a comfortable family room, as well as a small pool in a pretty courtyard.
Day 14-16 – Cape Town
Day 14 – Hermanus to Cape Town and a relaxing day in Camps Bay
It felt good to return to Cape Town, much like greeting an old friend again. After dropping off our bags, we thought we’d make the most of the hot weather and head to Camps Bay, the city’s popular and affluent beach suburb. There are a vast array of seafood restaurants, as well as cafes and bars. We walked along the promenade and beach, later stopping for food. Good times.
Day 15 – Table Mountain and our tough decision
When we were first in Cape Town, the winds were too gusty so the Table Mountain Cableway was closed. Of course, we wanted more than anything to finally get to the top and chose our last day to do it. Having booked my tickets online, I thought for some reason, that meant it would be easy and painless to catch the cable car, but I was wrong. It was so so busy, that the police even blocked the roads leading into the entrance. After having to park some distance away, and then waiting nearly 40 minutes for the shuttle bus to take us to the Cableway, we then discovered the queues… It was over a two-and a half hour wait, in the searing heat. Disappointed, we turned around and went back down. We couldn’t put the children through it. At least we have a reason to come back!
Where we stayed:
The Mojo Hotel – Located in Sea Point, the contemporary but affordable Mojo had excellent family rooms with kitchenettes as well as a fantastic and lively food market underneath, serving up cuisine from all over the world.
Tip: Still book your Table Mountain Aerial Cableway tickets online, and go super early. Also be aware that if the weather is inclement or the wind is high, the gondola will not run, so keep checking the Table Mountain website.
Day 16 – Homeward bound
Having packed so much in, in such a short space of time, we were all exuberant from the whole trip, and for it to end and for us to return to reality, left us with a heavy heart. Even Monkey said he didn’t want to leave.
We really didn’t even scratch the surface of what Cape Town and the Garden Route had to offer, but we certainly gave it a good go. We enjoyed every minute and found that our South Africa itinerary had a good mix of activities catering to the whole family.
So if you haven’t been to South Africa yet, what are you waiting for? Happy planning…