South Africa must rank as one of the finest destinations that I have even been to with kids.
The country is big news this year, as it is host to the Fifa 2010 World Cup Finals. But the hype doesn’t show what a great family destination this really is. Of course, South Africa has had a lot of negative press over teh years due to its ridiculously high crime rates, but the fact is, most tourists, and certainly practically all tourists away from the major urban areas, never feel anything untoward about their security.
The only South African city that is a must see is Cape Town. This is truly a magnificent city, appearing to be wrapped around the slopes of the great Table Mountain. The neighbouring hills of Lions Head, Signal Hill and Devils Peak complete a postcard perfect scene. Downtown Cape Town is compact and best seen on foot. It is not the best area to stay in as the city empties out after 5pm every day, and just doesn’t feel that safe at dusk and later. The main kid friendly sites are the market in Greenmarket Square, where vendors from all over Africa gather to sell an incredible array of carvings, metal objects, paintings, cloth, t-shirts and wire crafts. It is a fun area, with so many stalls that it feels like a maze. The South African Museum is a good bet for a rainy day, with its huge whale skeletons and interesting dioramas. Downtown Cape Town is not a place to be out with kids at night, although older teens might well enjoy the top of Long Street, which buzzes with a truly African vibe in this very cosmopolitan city.
Very near to downtown is the Waterfront. get there with a cab. It’s near, but the walk from downtown takes one into a few dicey streets. The Waterfront has become the #1 attraction in the city. It is a blend of upscale malls, restaurants and pubs but it does offer kids a great day out – the Aquarium is a good one with a very kid friendly tone, and my kids love the Scratch Patch, where kids can dig for semi precious stones, and which are available for purchase afterwards. We have a lot of these lying behind beds and dressers all over our house.
Cape Town’s beaches are fantastic – white and sandy, Camps Bay and Clifton are the premier addresses on the Atlantic Coast. Camps Bay is especially good for kids, and there is nothing better than a eating a dripping Granadilla (passion fruit) ice pop on Camps Bay beach. It even has the seeds in it. Clifton is famous for its four small beaches, each separated from the next by huge boulders which stretch into the sea. Note – the water is often icy cold at these beaches – the beach life is more on the sand than in the sea, although from one year to the next, the water can be warmer or colder.
Table Mountain offers a great day out – the cable car whisks you to the top in a few minutes, and one can hike along the top of the mountain (it is very broad with no danger of falling off!). It is easy to see wildlife in the form of dassies (rock rabbits) which scamper about everywhere. Lions Head, the hill to the immediate right of Table Mountain is easy to climb as well, with a winding path up to the top, and a few chains to make it a bit exciting as well.
The best day trip in summer -it must be Boulders Beach near Simonstown. This small beach is a nature reserve in itself, as it is home to a colony of penguins. Kids love it – the penguins are used to people, and quite simply, share their beach with us humans. The water is cold, but a lazy few hours on the beach with the penguins is something kids will remember for years to come.
Other trips suitable with kids are the Winelands (no, I don’t mean that the kids are going to drink the wine, but the area is very beautiful) and Robben Island, the site of the former prison where Nelson Mandela was jailed is a must see with teens.
Where to stay?
Cape Town has tons of good hotels and excellent bed and breakfasts. I would suggest staying in a one of the “City Bowl” suburbs like Tamboers Kloof, Oranjezicht or Gardens- very near to the city, yet situated in family friendly neighbourhoods.
South Africa has great sports too. Top spectator sports include Rugby and Cricket – if you are there in summer, try go to a 20/20 cricket match – it is really easy to understand, short (only about 3 hours for a game that can go on for as long as 5 days in its longest form) and offers a great snapshot of Cape society. In fall or winter, try go to a rugby match – quick paced, just over 90 mins in length, and another great snapshot of Cape life. Eat a boerewors roll (like a hot dog except that the sausage is the traditional grilled Farmers sausage) and try out some biltong (the South African version of jerky). If you happen to be there during any event at the new Stadium in Green Point (built especially for the World Cup 2010) the go – this is one of the most modern and spectacular stadiums in the world.
Cape Town is great – go for a week or longer in summer and enjoy. Fall is a good time to go as well, but winter (June – Aug) is typically rainy and sometimes quite cold. Spring weather can be mixed, and even december can experience rainy days. Jan, Feb and March are hot! In Spring, you may be even be lucky enough to be in Cape Town during the wild flowers bloom time in Namaqualand. This semi desert area is easily accessed from Cape Town (it is about a 5 hour drive away) and it is impossible to know for sure in advance when the flowers will have their brief 3-4 weeks appearance. But when the do, the normally brown landscape turns yellow, red, pink, purple – for hundreds of kilometers on end.
Plenty of other trips re possible from Cape Town – kids love Oudtshoorn – home to large ostrich farms and the famous Cango Caves, and small towns like Montagu with its hot springs, and Robertson with its little known but wonderful wine farms, beckon. Farms stays are popular with families.
PS These days I am planning great family trips to South Africa. If you’d like to see how I can help you, visit here.