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South Africa family holidays

South African penguins.South African penguins.South African Tourism UK
At the beach in Durban.At the beach in Durban.South African Tourism UK
Camping in South Africa.Camping in South Africa.South African Tourism UK
Family safari in South Africa.Family safari in South Africa.South African Tourism UK
Ballooning in South Africa.Ballooning in South Africa.South African Tourism UK
Caracals in South Africa.Caracals in South Africa.
The Wine Tram in South Africa.The Wine Tram in South Africa.South African Tourism UK
The Mandela sculpture in KwaZulu-Natal.The Mandela sculpture in KwaZulu-Natal. South African Tourism UK
Hippos in South Africa.Hippos in South Africa.South African Tourism UK
Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town.Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town.South African Tourism UK
A South African vineyard.A South African vineyard.South African Tourism UK
A celebration in South Africa.A celebration in South Africa.South African Tourism UK
Capital City Cape Town
Flying Time 12hrs
Carbon Footprint 11.24 CO2
Timezone GMT +2
Currency South African Rand



Lush rainforests, arid savannah, snow-capped mountains, fertile river valleys strung with vineyards and some of the world’s finest wildlife parks, both private and state-owned – South Africa is one of the world's very best family holiday destinations. It's also in virtually the same timezone as the UK, which means there’s no jet-lag, its safari parks are almost entirely malaria-free (unike other safari destinations in Africa), and thanks to ease of access and lots of choice, it's the cheapest safari destination too. 

Things to do with kids in South Africa

Go on safari. Safari parks in South Africa are too numerous to list here, but the most famous is the Kruger, in the east on the border with Mozambique – there’s a good chance of seeing the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard) there. The Kruger, like most South African parks, is open to self-drive visitors – self-drive safaris are very convenient for families, particularly those with young children.  

Go beyond the Kruger. The largest of the conservation zones is the Northern Cape’s Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, shared with Namibia and Botswana, but it's arid and hard to reach. Of the many private reserves in South Africa, the best known are Phinda and Madikwe, and there are all manner of animal ‘rehabilitation centres’ where the likes of rhino and elephant are nursed or bred and can be seen at close quarters.

Explore the South African hinterland with its artificial attractions of interest to families, in particular Sun City and Gold Reef City, both relatively close to Johannesburg. Sun City is a giant resort built in lost-world style, including the massive Valley of the Waves waterpark, in the Pilanesberg mountains, with monkeys and baboons running free through the gardens. Gold Reef City is more of a Disney-style theme-park, where you can take a light-hearted historical tour of a replica mining village, hop aboard a steam train, and pretend, for a moment, you’re a miner and go 2000m underground; catch displays of traditional and gumboot dancing; and watch gold being poured. The park has various rollercoasters and rides but also has a serious edge in the Apartheid Museum, which provides chilling insights into the story of racial segregation in South Africa.

Head for the seaside – south, to the extensive sandy shores of KwazuluNatal (resorts such as Durban or Umhlanga) or west to Cape Town and the bays surrounding the city. A major factor in deciding which is the sea conditions; the water of the Indian Ocean, on the south coast, is warm, while the Atlantic, off Cape Town, is decidedly chilly. Families with small children should also be wary of the big surf on the south coast.

Experience the appealing cities of Durban and Johannesburg, but with children avoid the downtown areas of most big urban areas after dark. A lot has been done to lessen street crime but it is still better to err on the side of caution. Famous black townships such as Soweto have opened up to visitors on guided tours, and can be very hospitable, as well as very stimulating for the whole discussion of apartheid. 

Take one of several well-known tours from Cape Town into the hinterland and along the coast. The best-loved is the Garden Route along a magnificent stretch of coastline between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth; its highlight is the N2 from Heidelberg in the southern Cape to Storms River Village on the Eastern Cape border, along which you can find everything from ancient forests and secluded artist communities to mountain hideaways and beach holidays. A lot of creatives have come to live here, and there’s a good chance of seeing dolphins and even killer whales close to the shore, especially near Plettenberg Bay.

Follow one of the wine routes radiating out from Cape Town and leading up river valleys into the Cape Winelands and the Stellenbosch region. The accommodation here is often in Cape Dutch farmhouses with swimming pools and farm activities that kids love.

Discover some of the battlefield sites found all over South Africa, most dating back to the wars between the rival British and Boer settlers, and between the British and the Zulu tribes. Famous sites such as Rorkes Drift in KwazuluNatal are well set up for visitors, and also in this region families can go to stay in a recreated Zulu cultural village at Shakaland, east of Durban, where there are authentic dances, hunting demonstrations and the possibility of a consultation with a witch doctor. 

Go hot-air ballooning, whether over the Cape Winelands or to spot wildlife over a park such as Pilanesberg.


Food in South Africa is good quality, fresh and fundamentally European with Asian and African additions. Afrikaaners place a lot of emphasis on quality meat, particularly beef; a South African tradition is the braai, or barbecue – popular beauty spots fill with succulent smells during the evening and at weekends. 

Pasta and pizza are ubiquitous, and most international brands are here. Indian food is widespread, too, and Durban is particularly famous for its ‘bunny chow’, a curry in a bun (in fact, usually several heaps of curry inside half a loaf of bread). Sustaining tribal-origin foods such as maize porridge and tomato-rich stews are also available around the country. And there’s always good-quality beer or wine to accompany your meal.

When to go to South Africa

South Africa can be hot in its summer (Nov–Feb) but not excessively so unless you’re up north, towards the borders with Namibia or Zimbabwe, where the Kalahari desert begins.

Winter days (June–Oct) are often clear and sunny, with temperatures hovering around 20°C, although it can be cold at night. Plenty of wildlife visitors come during the South African winter, when decreased vegetation increases the possibility of wildlife viewing. Rainfall is sporadic and intense, particularly in spring, and tends to focus on the mountainous areas.


South Africa is renowned as one of the best-value long-haul holiday destinations, with hotels, eating out, petrol and public transport all much cheaper than in the UK. For family adventure holidays (flight-inclusive), budget from around £1,500pp. If you prefer to travel independently, expect to pay from £450pp for return flights, depending on season.

By Andrew Eames

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