Now that the Covid-19 restrictions are mostly behind us, (whew!), many of us are feeling the travel itch more than ever. If you’ve been toying with the idea of taking a family vacation, we implore you to consider South Africa as a destination of choice. It’s a decision you will not soon regret.
South Africa is one of the most exquisitely beautiful countries on earth. Natural and man-made wonders abound, with majestic mountain ranges, idyllic beaches, remarkable waterfalls, picturesque vineyards and quaint little towns. It is also steeped in a rich, and fascinating history. United through their complex past, South Africans are known as ‘The Rainbow Nation.’ The population is made up of an eclectic mix of people, each one, proud of their rich traditions and culture. As a visitor, you get to experience these cultural delights through delicious foods, exciting experiences, and by engaging with the locals. South Africans have a reputation for being very warm people. Most of them will welcome you with warm smiles and unrivaled hospitality.
South Africa offers tourists everything they could wish for in a holiday destination. Exciting opportunities to track and view wildlife in their natural habitat, a few of the world’s most beautiful beaches, modern cities, fantastic restaurants and plenty of adventure.
Visa and Covid Information
Some travelers may need to apply for a South African electronic visa to enter the country, while many others who are visiting for thirty/ninety days or less do not need visas at all. We advise that you check the list of visa-exempt countries to see if you may need to apply for one.
Do you need a Covid-19 test to enter South Africa?
No. South Africa no longer requests any tests or proof of vaccination upon entry to the country.
What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in South Africa?
South Africa has repealed all Covid-19 regulations and life has all but returned to normal in the country. You are not required to wear a mask at all (although some still choose to), and there is no limit on gatherings.
When people think about South Africa, they imagine safaris. While bush experiences are most definitely on this list, and an absolute MUST if you are visiting South Africa, there are so many other incredible places to visit for young families with children. We have put together a list of top destinations you must visit with the family if you want to get the most out of your South African trip:
If you can only do one place on this list, make it Cape Town. Located on South Africa’s Southwest coast, on a peninsula beneath the majestic Table Mountain, The Mother City, as Cape Town is sometimes called, is a truly magnificent place. The coastline is dotted with some of the most breathtaking, family-friendly beaches including Muizenberg, which is great for swimming. Some other beaches like Hout Bay, Llandudno, and Clifton, are beautiful and family-friendly, but the waters on the Atlantic Ocean side can feel pretty icy, even in summer. In the warmer waters at Muizenberg, kids can learn to surf, SUP, or even kite surf. Muizenberg beach has its very own water slides and for the smaller kids who don’t enjoy the beach vibes, there is a kiddie pool area.
Table Mountain has to be the most iconic landmark of Cape Town. People visit from all over the world to view this incredible natural wonder and to marvel at the expansive views from above. We encourage tourists to book a cable car through Table Mountain Aerial Cableway to get a look at the country's most photographed attraction.
For those looking to explore the interesting history of South Africa, a visit to the Robben Island Museum is a must. It was on this tiny island that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years and now, a walking tour is available at this historical landmark.
How does a family picnic surrounded by picturesque landscapes, against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain sound? If you said ‘beautiful’, you’d be correct. Visit the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, take a guided walk and learn about all aspects of biodiversity.
For kids and adults alike, Boulders Beach promises to be an exciting day out. Part of Table Mountain National Park, Boulders Penguin Colony in Simons Town is home to a unique and endangered land-based colony of African Penguins. This colony is one of only a few in the world and it is incredible to see the penguins up close in their natural habitat.
The wine farms of Cape Town are world-renowned. While sipping wine all day may not be a kids’ idea of fun, it is for many adults. That’s why we have included some winery options that have kid-friendly attractions too. While adults explore leading wine farm destinations in the cape winelands, be sure to stop at Wonderdal, a magical world of edutainment full of interactive games, immersive experiences and outdoor adventure. Between Cape Town and Stellenbosch, Wonderdal is full of fun activities for kids, with the opportunity to learn through play. Babylonstoren is easily one of the most beautiful wine farms in the Cape. One of the oldest Cape Dutch farms, set at the foot of Simonsberg in the Franschhoek wine valley, Babylonstoren has a fruit and vegetable garden, delis and shops, accommodation, and of course, wine. Not only is it a heaven for adults, but the farm is also a paradise for children! It is a fully working farm with donkeys that can be fed, chickens roaming free and a huge garden to be explored. There are also delicious restaurants to stop and enjoy some lunch before you continue exploring this massive, and exciting farm.
Although Hermanus is a tiny seaside town, situated on the South Coast of the Western Cape, we feel it is worth a mention on this list for one particular reason. It is famous for offering visitors, the most incredible viewings of Southern Right Whales. The whales can be spotted for 6 months every year, from early June to early December. Hermanus is known for its popular annual Whale Festival, which attracts thousands of people from all over the world. During this time, the Southern Right Whales show up in huge numbers to breed, give birth and delight onlookers as they breach and play for all to see. No matter how you wish to see the whales, whether on land, sea or in the air, you can find them in Hermanus. Whale-watching boat trips, land-based whale-watching tours, sea kayaking, and plane and helicopter flights are all available. Hermanus is about 90 minutes from Cape Town so if you happen to be visiting during the right time of year, it’s certainly worth making a stop to see these majestic creatures up close and personal.
Johannesburg is the biggest city in South Africa. It is also the economic hub of Sub-Saharan Africa. While it may not be the most beautiful part of South Africa, it is still brimming with incredible things to do, and places to see.
Gold Reef City is South Africa’s largest theme park. As the name suggests, the park is set against a gold rush era theme. Adrenaline junkies can choose from 18 exhilarating rides, 13 rides just for the little ones, Jump City Trampoline Park, and something that made the park famous - the only authentic underground mine tour in Johannesburg. Adults can enjoy loads of restaurants and stores. It’s a fun day out for all.
For another adventure option, we recommend visiting one of the nine Acrobranch locations. Acrobranch is a treetop experience for children and adults. There are obstacle courses consisting of high ropes and tricky crossings, with ladders, tunnels, walkways and bridges, as well as spectacular zip lines.
Of course, we have to talk Safaris. You would not have done South Africa correctly if you didn’t enjoy an authentic Safari experience. For the city slickers who don’t want to travel too far out, you can enjoy the African bush just a stone’s throw away from Johannesburg and Pretoria, by visiting one of the many bush retreat options in Pilanesberg National Park or Dinokeng Game Reserve, both of which boast the big five. While these parks are not as big as the famed Kruger National Park (which will get its own mention later on), they will provide visitors with incredible experiences and memories of Africa they will treasure forever.
For some educational options, The Apartheid Museum, takes visitors through the history of South Africa, specifically the rise and fall of apartheid. It’s fascinating to see and gives great insight into how far the country has come since then.
There is also the Sci-Bono Science Center. Here kids can get dynamic learning experiences around maths, science and technology education.
Still on the theme of education, is the famous museum that takes visitors through the origins of mankind—the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. There are fossils and million-year-old stone tools to be seen. If you want to learn all about how humankind was born, this museum is well worth the visit - for both adults and kids. It features award-winning, world-class exhibitions, giving incredible information about human development over millions of years. The tour begins with information about the formation of the planet and moves through the evolutionary processes that brought us where we are today. The tour is self-guided and interactive so you can take as much or as little time as you need.
A short distance from Johannesburg, located in the North West Province of South Africa, you will find the luxury resort and casino, known as Sun City. Sun City is famous for being an ideal family destination with both ‘beach’ and safari options available to enjoy.
The man-made beach and water park, known as the Valley of Waves, is no doubt, the main attraction at the Sun City. There are automated waves every 90 seconds that can rise up to two meters. There is also a designated kid’s area for younger children, while older ones can go on some of the park's incredible water rides.
Apart from the beach, there are so many other activities for little ones, from outdoor adventures at Mankwe Gametrackers Outdoor Adventure Center. You can find Mini 4x4 quad biking, hot air balloon safari as well as mini golf, The Stimela Train, Seghaetsho Cultural Village and The Forest of Lights all in this one resort.
Camp Kwena, which caters to kids from 1 to 12 years old, offers lots of educational day activities as well as additional childcare options.
There is so much to do at Sun City that it’s worth carving out a few days to spend here. There are wonderful, family-friendly accommodation options if you choose to stay, alternatively, day visitors are allowed, and it is only about a 2.5-hour drive from Johannesburg.
Hartbeespoort is a small resort town just north of Johannesburg. It is famous for the Hartbeespoort Dam and the white-water rapids of the nearby Crocodile River.
A fun thing to do in ‘Harties’ as it is affectionately called by locals, is to take a ride on the Hartbeespoort Cableway. The cableway is Swiss-engineered and installed. It takes you way up so you can admire the beautiful views of the Magaliesberg Mountains and the famous Hartbeespoort Dam. Once you exit the cableway, there are many restaurants to sample as well as a Kids Zone play area, with assistants on hand to watch the kids play.
Getting a glimpse of African animals is a major reason many families visit South Africa. Because of this, we have to include The Lion and Safari Park. Guests can enjoy guided game drives and self-drives and are guaranteed to see the king of the jungle. You can even hand-feed some of the animals including giraffes, ostriches, and some antelope species.
The Hartbeespoort Dam Elephant Sanctuary, which is not far from the lion park, provides a safe haven and “halfway house” for African elephants. There, families can interact with these majestic animals, learn about their conservation efforts, and even enjoy overnight accommodation if they wish to stay on.
Nearby, The Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center offers two-hour guided tours daily, and on specified days, guests may even book a cheetah run. The cheetah run allows guests the opportunity to witness an incredible high-speed cheetah chase. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Guests can view many animals at the center including cheetahs, King Cheetahs, African wild dogs, caracals, and vultures.
If you’re visiting Hartbeespoort, another excellent family activity is the Chameleon Village near Broederstroom. This 10-hectare entertainment, retail, and dining center boasts an authentic African craft market. There are kids’ play areas with jumping castles, jungle gyms, slides, sandpits, and more.
The Kruger National Park is South Africa’s pride and joy. This almost 2-million-hectare reserve attracts tourists from every corner of the world. Although there are many top-class game reserves all across the country, The Kruger National Park is the biggest of them all. It is truly the best place to view and experience South African wildlife.
It must be noted that due to the risk of Malaria in the area, it is not advisable to take children younger than five into the park. For families with children a little older, there is nothing more exciting than spotting a pride of lions in the bush, waiting for a herd of elephants to pass by, or seeing a slithering snake disappear into the bush. Listening to the sounds of the wild at night is equally thrilling as you cozy up in your lodge, chalet, or tent. The sounds of the lions roaring as they call to each other are rivaled by the whooping of the hyena or the soft, low grunts of the leopard. It’s an experience you will never forget.
There are so many different ways to enjoy the Kruger National Park. Those who are looking for a more budget-friendly, rustic bush experience can rent tents and set up camp in one of the many campsites in the park. Alternatively, SANPARKS offers huts, chalets, cottages, bungalows and luxury lodge options in the different rest camps. For those seeking indulgent luxury, complete with fully inclusive packages, there are a number of private five-star bush lodges available inside the park and many more outside the park. Some family-friendly options include Mala Mala Main Camp, Fitzpatrick's at Jock, Singita Castleton, Kapama River Lodge and so many more.
Note: if you are staying somewhere outside the gates of the park, you will need to pay a daily entrance fee.
On South Africa’s northeast coast lies Durban. The largest city in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It’s a popular holiday destination among tourists and locals alike because of its beautiful beaches, thriving marine life, and excellent waves.
If you find yourself in Durban, it would be a shame not to visit Africa’s biggest aquarium, Ushaka Sea World. Families can enjoy dolphin shows, seal viewings, penguin presentations and so much more. There are restaurants to enjoy some lunch at and then kids can either watch the scheduled shows or go to the science room and view tiny sea creatures under a microscope.
For fun days out with the family, Durban has many child-friendly venues. Jump4Joy Indoor Trampolines in a fun and active way to expend all that youthful energy. For those who want to spend time with animals, Flag Animal Farm has rescued over 1000 Rescued animals, birds and reptiles. They offer a real farm experience where families can interact and even cuddle all of the animals.
About three hours from Durban, are the Drakensburg mountains, which are well worth a visit if you have the time. Drakensberg is known for its exquisite hiking routes and trails for all different ability levels. It is also home to many beautiful nature reserves, where families can go hiking, horse riding, fly fishing, put putting and more. Look at Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park and Cathedral Peak.
The Drakensberg Canopy Tour is Africa’s first elevated rock face walkway with both cliff face and treetop platforms, as well as cable slides over the majestic forest. The cable is up to 60 meters high, and is a must-see for young adventurers.
There are so many other wonderful areas for families to visit when in South Africa including Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, East London, Bloemfontein, Pretoria, Oudtshoorn, Dullstroom, Clarens, and too many to include in one list. We have included some of our favorites but truly, the whole country is beautiful and well worth a visit - or ten.
December time gets really busy in South Africa, especially in seaside destinations like Cape Town and Durban. Since these are the summer months, South African schools are closed. Locals and tourists flock to these places for the gorgeous weather. It is advisable to book ahead of time for things like museums, restaurants and tours so you can avoid disappointment.
Safety: South Africa is known for her beauty but unfortunately, also for the crime. It’s important to be vigilant at all times when out and about. Ensure your belongings are with you and securely fastened at all times. Try not to carry too much cash on you. Be aware of the areas you are visiting and do not travel around alone late at night.