Planning a family holiday? South Africa is the perfect destination, offering a treasure trove of wildlife and family-friendly attractions. Think spotting the Big Five on safari, sun-soaked beach time, city sightseeing and whale watching cruises. That’s not to mention the superb child-friendly safari lodges, road-trip-worthy itineraries and malaria-free reserves.
Why visit South Africa as a family?
South Africa makes for an accessible first family foray into the African continent. Despite the 12-hour journey from the UK, with overnight flights and just a two-hour time difference (one during British Summer Time), there’s no jet lag to worry about. There’s no language barrier either; English is widely spoken throughout the country and a favourable exchange rate means your money goes further.
Then there’s the sunshine. South Africa’s top seasons conveniently align with the UK school holidays. April and October both offer dry, sunny days and brilliant wildlife viewing, and autumn brings migrating whales. Speaking of animals, there’s no shortage of iconic wildlife to spot in South Africa, whether you’re on safari in Kruger National Park region, exploring a private game reserve or taking a marine-watching tour on the Eastern Cape.
Cape Town with the kids
Cape Town is the most popular place to begin a South African Safari and the City itinerary. There’s plenty to discover, from shopping on the V&A Waterfront to taking a Robben Island history trip and watching underwater creatures at the Two Oceans Aquarium. A visit to nearby Boulders Beach, home to a colony of cute African penguins, is a hit for all ages, as is taking a scenic cable car ride to the top of mighty Table Mountain.
If you’ve got a teenager in tow, there are more exhilarating ways to experience Cape Town. Start with a guided hike up Table Mountain and then hop in a vintage sidecar to whiz along the wave-worn coastline. Exploring with a local takes the stress out of travel planning, with trips that can be tailored to your family’s interests. A tour with My Cape Town can include everything from a Bo-Kaap street food tour to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens or a trip along the Cape Peninsula to kayak with seals.
For those partial to a glass or two, an escape to the Cape Winelands, just an hour from the city, allows you to sample some of South Africa’s finest wines. While it might seem counterintuitive to bring your kids to a vineyard, chocolate-tasting, picnic spots and the hop-on, hop-off Franschhoek Wine Tram make it fun for all the family. Teens in particular will enjoy a cycling tour of the Cape Winelands, stopping along the way for lunch.
Family-friendly accommodation in Cape Town
Cape Town has a fantastic choice of hotels and apartments to suit your family’s needs. If you prefer having your own space and self-catering facilities, the Waterfront Village Apartments are ideal. The luxurious One&Only Cape Town hotel lies right on the V&A Waterfront with views of Table Mountain and has a complimentary kids’ club and two swimming pools. Historic Mount Nelson is nestled in the heart of the city yet has nine acres of exotic garden, complete with pools and a junior safari glamping experience.
The ultimate family road trip in South Africa
If you fancy a family road trip, a Garden Route self-drive adventure is the best South Africa has to offer, winding along the Cape. The main roads in South Africa are well-maintained and people drive on the left-hand side, which makes an easy road trip. If you’re visiting between June and November, stop in Hermanus for a whale watching trip; southern rights gather in the sheltered bays here to mate and calve, providing incredible sightings.
Further along in Plettenberg Bay, you can also spot dolphins on an eco-marine boat tour, along with hundreds of seabirds, sharks and a colony of Cape fur seals. Accommodation-wise, the double-storey suites at Hog Hollow Country Lodge in Plettenberg are made for families. The special turn-down service is a highlight, with children’s stories, a glass of milk and a gingerbread man.
Family safaris in South Africa
South Africa’s world-famous game parks are one of its top draws. Kruger National Park is the country’s big hitter, but private reserves also offer supreme animal sightings. The malaria-free Eastern Cape is a favourite for families, acting as an easy extension from a Garden Route road trip. Although many lodges have a minimum safari age requirement of around seven, they also provide childcare facilities and kids’ clubs.
Most lodges will assign you a private vehicle and a ranger, who’ll help you spot the famous Big Five: the elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, lion and rhino. There’s a host of other wildlife to discover too, including the Little Five: the ant lion, leopard tortoise, elephant shrew, rhino beetle and buffalo weaver and even the (perhaps unfairly named) Ugly Five: the hyena, wildebeest, vulture, warthog and marabou stork.
Safaris can mean a lot of sitting around but family-friendly lodges often provide a safari kit for kids with activities and books to keep them entertained. When you’re not cruising the bush in a 4×4, there’s plenty for children to enjoy at the lodge, from cooking lessons and bug hunts to guided walking trails and of course, swimming pools. Teens can join sports and activities like fishing and kayaking.
Top safari lodges for families in South Africa
Located on the malaria-free Eastern Cape, Shamwari Game Reserve is known for its world-class conservation work and family facilities. Enjoy everything from interconnecting rooms and flexible mealtimes to a Kids on Safari programme. Each family is assigned its own ranger and vehicle and the adventure centre is a haven for children, with a rock-climbing wall, treehouse and zipline. Shamwari offers a professional childminding service for children under four.
Adults and kids alike can also visit the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries at Shamwari, established in partnership with Virginia McKenna’s renowned Born Free Foundation. Learn about their work rescuing big cats and then visit the Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, to see how animals are cared for and released into Shamwari Reserve. You’ll get to tour the facility and meet the patients, from jackal puppies to orphaned hippos.
Kariega Game Reserve
Kariega is another top choice on the Cape, with a Main Lodge ideal for families. Stay in a luxe chalet with a separate lounge and take advantage of the daily kids’ programme between 11am and 2pm, which gives mums and dads the chance to take a well-earned nap before afternoon game drives. Activities for little ones include a nature trail where they can learn about plants and insects from rangers and make plaster casts of animal tracks.
Madikwe Lelapa Lodge
Lelapa, which aptly translates to family, lies on the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve in the north west of South Africa. Kids under six have their own breakfast drives that are just an hour long, as well as wilderness activities. The camp has a large pool for cooling off, which overlooks a waterhole teeming with animals, so you can get your wildlife fix without leaving the resort. Other family-friendly features include a children’s menu and five-star suites with bunkbeds, toys, games, hot chocolate mugs and books.
Tinga Lodge is a top choice for families who want to experience the wonders of Kruger National Park. Set on the private Lion Sands Game Reserve, Tinga welcomes children of all ages in this luxe lodge. There’s a pool, dedicated childminders on hand and flexible mealtimes complete with post-dinner hot chocolates around the camp fire. Kids will love the Mack & Madi club, which offers everything from bush bumble game drives to animal spoor tracking, bug CSI and basic bush survival. You don’t have to go far to spot wildlife either; there’s a deck overlooking the Sabie River where animals gather daily.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Laura, who's travelled extensively in South Africa. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - ex banker who can show you the hottest foodie spots in Cape Town, the award-winning young sommelier who can introduce you to Stellenbosch's finest wines and the walking safari ranger who can guide you to the best game.
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