South Africa is an amazing destination for family vacations, and, with a little bit of careful planning, it's easy to take your children on a trip they'll remember for the rest of their lives. There are plenty of options, from rustic holidays at the beach to once-in-a-lifetime experiences including elephant-back safaris or hot air balloon rides over the savannah. These South African destinations are guaranteed to transform your family vacation into the ultimate African adventure.
Remote Tswalu Kalahari Reserve lies on the green fringe of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa's Northern Cape province. Owned by the Oppenheimer family, it is South Africa’s largest private game reserve. Tswalu is both decadently luxurious and conveniently malaria-free, and children are made particularly welcome. Through the lodge's Tswalu Junior Ranger program, kids are able to take part in specially tailored bush walks or learn as local guides teach them how to recognize animal spoor and craft their own bows and arrows. Dedicated family suites and a special children's menu complete the experience, while rare wildlife sightings include black-maned lions and desert black rhinos.
Glittering resort and entertainment destination Sun City may be better known for adult pursuits such as gambling and golf, but it can also be a great stop on a family holiday. Supervised crèche Camp Kwena offers younger children the chance to socialize while parents enjoy some deserved time off; older kids will enjoy alcohol-free, under-eighteen nightclub Kowabonga Club. There is a petting zoo, a children’s games arcade, and a water park on-site, and nearby Pilanesberg National Park is a great option for authentic wildlife viewing. Adventurous families can opt to ride a hot air balloon or take an elephant-back safari into the bush.
Only a three-hours' drive north of Johannesburg lie Ant's Nest and Ant's Hill, two luxury bush homes run by the Baber family. Together they are The Ant Collection, and they offer families the opportunity to experience the best of Limpopo province's malaria-free Waterberg area. Both camps have heated swimming pools and specialize in horse-riding safaris with lessons for beginners if necessary. Child-friendly touches include imaginative play areas, pony rides, ranger-led spoor and bug walks, and family game-drives in open 4x4 jeeps. On these safaris, visitors have the chance to spot the Big Five, including endangered rhino.
Taking your children on a battlefield tour may not be the most obvious choice for a family vacation. However, the stories of Blood River, Rorke's Drift, and other iconic confrontations between the Boers, the British, and the Zulus are compelling and play perfectly to the bloodthirsty tendencies of most children. Fugitives' Drift Lodge is famous for its superb tours and has now introduced children's tours that combine battlefield history with visits to Zulu villages and walks through the surrounding game area. On these tours, kids will also have the chance to discover the secrets of traditional Zulu medicine.
For an alternative to Fugitives' Drift Lodge, consider staying at Simunye, a Zulu cultural village near Melmoth in the hills of KwaZulu-Natal. Hidden from the outside world in a mystical valley, visitors are transported to Simunye by ox-wagon or donkey cart. Once there, families are greeted in traditional Zulu style. Thereafter, they have the opportunity to experience local cuisine and learn about ritual customs and ceremonies. With advance notice, a nanny can be organized for small children during the day, and there are play areas and animals to keep them entertained. Older children are taught traditional Zulu games and skills, including fighting with padded sticks and bull dancing.
A Garden Route highlight, the Tsitsikamma National Park protects one of South Africa's last patches of indigenous coastal rainforest. Stormsriver Adventures run two unforgettable forest tours, both of which last for around three hours. The Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour (for kids and adults aged seven or older) takes you through the treetops on platforms suspended by steel cables 100 feet/ 30 meters above the ground. The far tamer Woodcutters Journey (no age restrictions) uses an open vehicle for a tour through the giant yellowwoods and stinkwoods, with either lunch or tea included. Both offer wonderful opportunities to learn about the plants, birds, and animals that live in this exotic arboreal world.
Situated just north of the Garden Route in the Klein Karoo, Oudtshoorn is a small farming town with one great claim to fame. This is the ostrich capital of the world, an arid wilderness dotted with more than 400 ostrich farms. Several of these farms (including Highgate, the Cango Ostrich Show Farm, and Safari Ostrich Show Farm) welcome visitors, and, because of this, it has become an unmissable stop on a family-friendly tour of South Africa. At the farms, you can feed the ostriches, learn how to ride them and even watch an ostrich race. Other attractions in the area include the exotic animals of Cango Wildlife Ranch and the magnificent geological formations of Cango Caves.
A magical eco-resort on the coast near Hermanus in the Western Cape, Grootbos is an ideal place for a family seaside holiday. There are stables for riding and a petting farm with ducks, chickens, pigs, and tortoises. Guided treasure hunts in the fynbos and coastal forest teach children about the local environment and there are opportunities to explore archaeological caves, fish the rock pools, and swim in the sea. Back at base, there's an entertainment center with DVDs and games, and kids can even help in the kitchen. As a bonus, from July to November this is one of the best whale-watching spots in South Africa.
Many parents worry that township tours, in which visitors experience the poorer side of South African life, are either unsafe or upsetting. However, while they can be emotional, they can also be surprisingly rewarding. Children across cultures connect instinctively, and seeing this other world through a child's eyes can help parents to gain a new perspective. It is always a positive thing for children to become more aware of how their less-privileged counterparts live, and, with the right tour operator, township tours can be both safe and fun. In Cape Town, Andulela offers specialist options including soccer, drumming, jazz, and Cape Malay cooking tours.
Beautiful Spier Wine Estate is conveniently located just outside Cape Town and provides an incredible all-around experience for the whole family. Whether you opt for a day-trip or an overnight stay, parents can appreciate the historic manor house and enjoy excellent food and wine tastings, while children explore the gardens, play areas, and hotel toy boxes. There is also a supervised kids' club with activities ranging from craft workshops to cookery lessons and guided walks, or families can visit Eagle Encounters, a raptor rehabilitation center located on the estate that offers daily flying and falconry displays.