Traveling to Africa with a child? To South Africa? Are they crazy! Not so long ago, I would have thought the same. But all it took was researching the topic, and it turned out that traveling to South Africa with a child is quite a reasonable idea.
Is South Africa safe?
Let’s start with the fact that the Republic of South Africa is a large country. Very large. We limited ourselves to visiting a small part of the country – Cape Town, the Garden Route (a picturesque region to the east of Cape Town), and the Addo Elephant National Park.
These are safe places, highly developed in terms of infrastructure, and free from malaria and other tropical diseases.
We often emphasize that we are very cautious travelers – we wouldn’t take a child to a place with questionable safety. In South Africa – in the places we visited – it is safe, no different from holidays in Western European countries.
Should you be afraid of townships?
Of course, there are places with very high crime rates. Just like in London or New York, there are streets, or rather entire neighborhoods, where it’s better not to venture after dark, and sometimes even during the day.
Townships, also known as slums, can be found on the outskirts of every major city in South Africa. Several times, we drove through such townships by car because that was the route we had to take. It looked like a very impoverished district.
It’s better not to go into townships. Not just with a child, but alone as well. This doesn’t mean that there’s someone with a gun on every corner. However, these are really impoverished areas, similar to favelas in South America. Flaunting expensive equipment or clothing is unlikely to be well-received.
You can rent a car with just your Polish driver’s license; an international driver’s license is not required.
There are toll roads, and if you’re driving a rental car, it will be equipped with a tag that automatically calculates the toll fee. The corresponding amount will be deducted from your account by the rental company. We only had to pay cash for tolls once.
Traffic on the Roads
We had the impression that there is a high standard of driving etiquette. Overall, traffic outside of cities was not heavy, and the roads were in very good condition.
In towns, it was sometimes a bit tricky to figure out which lane to use or which road to take, but it didn’t go beyond what you’d expect in city driving. It’s worth noting that Cape Town is a big city, and like other metropolises, it experiences heavy traffic during rush hours.
Outside of towns, you might encounter various types of roads, including gravel roads. Contrary to expectations, these gravel roads are of very good quality, and you can drive on them with any type of vehicle.
In Addo National Park, where you go on a self-drive safari with your own or rented car, gravel roads are prevalent, but there are also substantial stretches of asphalt. Aside from a couple of potholes in the road, you can easily navigate any type of car.
In cities, the speed limit is usually 50 km/h, within built-up areas it ranges between 50 km/h and 100 km/h, and outside built-up areas, it’s between 100 km/h and 120 km/h. Each speed limit is indicated by appropriate road signs, so there shouldn’t be any problem identifying the allowable speed.
There are some speed cameras, but we didn’t see the police once.
We only encountered an official parking fee schedule once.
In other situations, there is an interesting system of self-appointed parking attendants. It’s widely accepted to give them a small tip, usually when leaving the parking area. In return, they help with parking, exiting, and maintain order. 5-10 rand is a sufficient amount for a short stay. If you’re parked for the whole day, it’s a good idea to give more – you can simply calculate how much paid parking in Poland would cost for the same duration and give a similar amount.
Traveling to South Africa with a Child – What to Know Before You Go
Full Birth Certificate – When entering or leaving South Africa, you may be asked to show your child’s full birth certificate. This is to combat child trafficking. We were asked to provide the document when leaving. It’s advisable not to ignore this requirement and have the birth certificate translated into English, as cases of not being allowed to cross the border due to the lack of this document are not uncommon. Especially when the surnames of parents and the child are different, you can be sure you’ll be asked for the birth certificate.
Visa – Polish citizens do not need a visa to enter South Africa. You receive a stamp in your passport upon entry and exit.
When to Visit Cape Town – Weather-wise, the most pleasant time to visit is from the end of January to the end of April. The best time for whale watching is during our summer months, which is June to August. There are places where whales can be seen until January-February.
Money – We paid with a card (Revolut) almost everywhere, only when there was no power did we need to use cash. At the airport ATM (the only one we used), a flat fee of 55 rand was charged regardless of the amount withdrawn.
Time Difference – South Africa is one hour ahead of Poland.
Internet and Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi was available in all the places where we stayed and in most restaurants, but it worked very poorly or not at all. It’s not reliable internet. Most of the time, we used the internet on our phones, which was very fast (LTE almost everywhere).
SIM Cards – Upon arrival, we bought local MTN SIM cards. Before our trip, we read that SIM cards can only be purchased at a few places, and you need to provide your passport and address. In practice, we went to the first grocery store in Cape Town, where we bought SIM cards and top-ups without passports or anything else. The seller recommended buying 1GB data top-ups with a validity period of 1 week, as it was the cheapest option. It cost 70 rand per top-up. For 99 rand, you could get 2GB valid for 1 week.
Tipping – In all the restaurants we visited, the same billing model applied – you received the bill and a pen, and there was a space on the bill to write in the total amount you wanted to pay – meaning you had to add the tip yourself.
Water – Cape Town has a significant problem with water access, which is why in many public restrooms, the taps are turned off. You can clean your hands with hand sanitizer provided in a dispenser. It’s not uncommon to see signs in restrooms asking not to flush the toilet. In hotels, there’s a request to take showers instead of baths and to save water. There is still running water in the taps, and this doesn’t significantly affect the comfort of your stay, but the emphasis is placed on water conservation at every turn.
Electricity – South Africa uses different plugs than Poland/Europe, so it’s best to buy an adapter before your trip. Currently, South Africa also faces electricity problems, and power outages of several hours can occur.
South Africa with a Child – Our Itinerary
We spent exactly 18 days in South Africa. Our itinerary looked like this: Cape Town (3 nights) -> Addo Elephant National Park (2 nights) -> Plettenberg Bay (5 nights) -> Swellendam (1 night) -> Cape Peninsula (6 nights)
For the first three nights, we stayed in the central part of Cape Town and got around using Uber. Then we flew to Port Elizabeth and rented a car for the rest of our stay.
From Port Elizabeth, we drove back to Cape Town and returned the car before our flight at Cape Town Airport.
We planned our route and accommodations with our daughter in mind – she doesn’t tolerate long car rides well. That’s why we took a flight in one direction.
Cape Town – City Sightseeing After landing, we had two full days to explore Cape Town. We stayed in an apartment near the Waterfront district, a tourist hub. We didn’t have a rental car at that point, so the proximity to the Waterfront district was very convenient.
Two full days are enough to explore the city, but not the Peninsula or beach outings.
After spending two days in Cape Town, we flew to Port Elizabeth to embark on a safari in Addo Elephant National Park. We rented a car at the airport. It’s only a half-hour drive from Port Elizabeth to the southern gate of the park, so you can “start” your safari right on your way to your accommodation. Instead of taking the main road, we drove straight through the park.
We spent two nights at the incredibly atmospheric Zuurberg Hotel.
In the park, we went on safari three times, and we believe that two days are the optimal time for a safari. More details about this will be in a separate post.
The next few days were spent in the Plettenberg Bay area. From here, we took day trips around the Garden Route region. We can also highly recommend the cottage where we stayed for five nights.
It’s hard for me to imagine a more ideal region for active vacations with a child than the Garden Route. Safari, kayaking, mountains, treks, boats—there’s everything you can think of. If our daughter were older, there would be far too few days to enjoy all the attractions.
If you were traveling without a child, you might consider shortening your stay in this area and adding two nights in the Mossel Bay/Wilderness/Knysna area.
Cape Peninsula – Cape Town The final part of our trip was spent exploring the Cape Peninsula. We stayed for 6 nights in Fish Hoek on the eastern coast of the Peninsula. We had a car at our disposal, and this was our base for exploring the area.
Cape Town – Accommodation in the city center.
Cape Town – In Fish Hoek, we had the best accommodation of all. We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment with an ocean view and a private pool – Whale’s Tale. If you’re planning to go to that area and are looking for the perfect place to stay, this is it! Additionally, if you’re traveling to South Africa with a child, it’s a great location – within walking distance of a child-friendly beach with no sharks, shallow water, and low waves.
Plettenberg Bay: A quiet oasis right off the main road – impossible? But it is. Moon Shine on Whiskey Creek – a cabin like this is my dream; I would gladly take it somewhere by a Polish lake.
Addo Elephant National Park – We stayed for two nights at the incredibly atmospheric Zuurberg Hotel. When making the reservation, I didn’t expect anything special and was actually quite disappointed that we couldn’t book anything inside the park. However, the hotel is worth a visit, as it exudes a colonial atmosphere.
Our 18 day trip in South Africa: Cape Town + Garden Route – itinerary
Day 1 – Arrival in Cape Town at 8:00 PM: Transfer to an apartment in the Waterfront area.
Day 2 – Cape Town: Waterfront, Bo Kaap.
Day 3 – Cape Town: Table Mountain.
Day 4 – Flight to Port Elizabeth and safari in Addo Elephant National Park.
Day 5 – Safari in Addo Elephant National Park.
Day 6 – Travel to Plettenberg Bay: Morning safari in Addo Elephant National Park, transfer to accommodation at Moon Shine on Whiskey Creek.
Day 7 – Robberg Nature Reserve: Morning trek on the peninsula, overnight at Moon Shine on Whiskey Creek.
Day 8 – Tsitsikama National Park: Walk on suspension bridges, overnight at Moon Shine on Whiskey Creek.
Day 9 – Monkeyland, overnight at Moon Shine on Whiskey Creek.
Day 10 – Birds of Eden, overnight at Moon Shine on Whiskey Creek.
Day 11 – Wilderness National Park, walk to the waterfall in Wilderness National Park, scenic drive to George, transfer to accommodation in Aquarberg.
Day 12 – Route 62 drive to Cape Town, overnight at Whale’s Tale.
Day 13 – Cape Peninsula and Penguins at Boulders Beach, scenic drive and walk at Cape Point, overnight at Whale’s Tale.
Day 14 – Chapman’s Drive, Constantia Glen, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, scenic drive, breakfast at Constantia Glen Winery, visit to the botanical garden, Boulders Beach, overnight at Whale’s Tale.
Day 15 – Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, full-day wine tour, overnight at Whale’s Tale.
Day 16 – Simon’s Town and Kalk Bay, Boulders Beach, strolls through towns, overnight at Whale’s Tale.
Day 17 – Beaches: Morning at Muizenberg Beach, afternoon at Nordhoek Beach, overnight at Whale’s Tale.
Day 18 – Departure from Cape Town at 10:00 AM.
What else is worth seeing in South Africa? During this trip, we were able to explore only a small region of the country, and we know that we will come back for more.
What we would like to see in the future includes:
- Whales in Hermanus, near Cape Town – we were there out of season because the whales come around July and August.
- Drakensberg Mountains – apparently, it’s worth spending about three days there.
- Blyde River Canyon – many people claim it’s one of the most beautiful places in South Africa.
- Krugers Park – you can never have too much safari. However, Kruger Park has a malaria risk, so we will return there only when our daughter is older.