Okay, so the picture might scare you off as you wonder if you’ll bump into an elephant on the side of the road and they might crush your car! Well, it’s not quite like that travelling in South Africa. However, when you’re in the game parks, do you have to keep your distance from these magestic beasts, and you will enjoy an awesome view!
We can tell you here and now, that South Africa is a country with so much to offer a traveller, especially the family travellers among us. You will be blown away by its beauty, the experiences that are on offer and they’re a nation of exceptionally friendly people. Have you convoluted tales of disaster and crime and negativity abound? Well you might find they’ve never been there, but the news can affect people’s perceptions. Just like many countries in the world there are areas to be avoided and you should take precautions. If you do that this is an amazing gem to be discovered. We could go on forever, and we can’t possibly cover everything that’s on offer in a large country like this and to be honest you could explore it for years. We’ve put together a brief overview of what you can expect if you’re heading down to South Africa, and we’ve got some basics to help you on your way.
What can I expect with regards to Airports and Travel?
The airports in South Africa are right up there with the best of them and you can expect the same type of airport that you would in any major country.
Bear in mind that there is no public transport so taxis or shuttle buses are the way to do. It is best to hire a car to get around, as South Africa is vast to say the least. If you do a home exchange, then you might get a car thrown in too, which will be a bargain.
There are some laws to be aware of with regarding to entering South Africa which affects any child under the age of 18 years as from 1 June 2015. As the requirements vary make sure you understand the legal side of entry. The most important one to remember is that kids will have to travel with an unabridged birth certificate. If there is a child travelling with one child things like consent in the form of an affidavit from the other parent, a court order giving full parental responsibilities and if a parent has died a death certificate will need to be produced.
South Africa is not called the Rainbow Nation for nothing, and it’s rich in culture and proudly rich in the culture surrounding the world famous Nelson Mandela. There are many opportunities to follow the footsteps of this great man from visiting places like Robben Island in Cape Town, where he was imprisoned for so many years; the Mandela Museum in Soweto where he lived with his wife Winnie and their children from the late 1940s, to Constitution Hill where he was detained during the 1956 Treason trial. There are honestly so many other places to explore and numerous tour operators who can assist you. Ukubona Africa Tours is a great place to start. They mostly cover Cape Town and give tours that are related to the great man that ruled the country for many years.
Follow the footsteps of the beginnings of human life with a tour to Maropeng the Cradle of Humankind near Johannesburg. It’s world famous for its fossil culture, rock paintings and surviving shelters of early civilisations. It’s really kid friendly too.
The culture of war and reconciliation that shaped South Africa from the early days of the great Zulu chiefs to the battlefields of the Anglo-Zulu and Boer wars, from Isandlwana or Talana in KwaZulu-Natal to Soweto in Johannesburg or Langa in Cape Town.
Delve into the ancient culture of the nomadic San people, of the Cape Malay or follow the routes of the Missionaries in South Africa to see how they influenced the country. There are numerous cultural museums to learn about the various customs, traditions and languages of the many indigenous and colonial cultures or delve into the wine or food industries, into astronomy, art or culture, medicine or sport with the rich history of rugby, cycling or running and the major international events that take place around that. Attend some of the extensive festivals in the country like the Williston Winter Festival (called the most authentic cultural festival in South Africa) or the National Arts Festival held in the small university city of Grahamstown. The range of cultural diversity is huge with vibrant opportunities to explore virtually anything that you and your kids have an interest in. There are many tours and opportunities to meet local people, stay with them and have a close-up experience of it to discover for yourselves.
Traditional western food is easily available throughout South Africa if preferred. However, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the food of other cultures, and is right at your fingertips too. As it’s such a diverse nation, your choices are endless. There is a huge variety of food on offer whether you’re going to a restaurant, ordering take-always, attending cooking classes or taking part in the famous South African braai (barbeque) which is loved by all. There are so many open air restaurants that are extremely kid-friendly so the world, or should we say South Africa, is your oyster. Even if you decide to go on a wine route tour, which is highly recommended, most of them are kid-friendly too, just do a bit of research before you decide which ones to go to. You don’t want to choose a wine farm where the kids have to watch on in boredom as you gulp down the local wine delights. Most of them have opportunities for kids to swim in rivers, awesome picnics and other activities. They are catering for families more and more.
As we mentioned there are safe and well run shuttle bus services or even taxis to take you from the airport to your accommodation, just make sure you choose an accredited taxi driver. South Africa is large and doesn’t have the same transport infrastructure that say Europe has, so for families travelling around South Africa you should hire a car with a GPS navigation system. The car hire industry has every car you could need like 4 x 4’s or campervan hire or just the plain and simple car. Driving is on the left hand side of the road, and talking on a mobile whilst driving is illegal and seat belts are compulsory. A valid driver’s license is required and fuel stations have attendants to assist you. It is customary to tip the assistant.
The combi taxi is a common form of transport for local people and you can see them charging around pretty much any city you pass through. Hiring taxis can be costly as in other countries. There are several domestic flight services and check with tour operators on recommended routes for train travel.
The scenery in South Africa is extraordinarily beautiful and it’s certainly worth your child doing some research before you go, to decide which parts you really want to see. If you’re heading out for a couple of months or a year, you’ll get plenty more out of it. Maybe spend time in a few ‘must-see’ places for you, to avoid too much time being spent on the road. Several days in the world famous Kruger Park or other game reserves is an unbelievable experience and you’ll be left with memories that will last a life time. The South African National Park resorts have a long and famous heritage.
The Drakensberg range of mountains in Kwazulu Natal is unforgettable with outstanding accommodation opportunities. The Karoo, the Garden Route, the Wild Coast, the Blyde River Canyon and then the phenomenal Western Cape with its mountains, seas and Winelands are absolute musts. As we said we could go on forever, but it’s a vast country and we suggest you do your research to decide where to go.
As we mentioned, there is crime in South Africa, just like any other countries. Here are a few practical and sensible things to do to stay out of harm’s way to make sure your trip is unforgettable and awesome.
- If you are advised to avoid certain areas then take the advice. Any reputable hotel or place you’re staying or even a tourist office will know where to go and what to do
- Know your route to any destination before you depart especially when travelling at night and ensure your map is up-to-date, or that you’ve got GPS
- Don’t walk in suspect or remote areas alone
- Be aware of your possessions at all times and avoid having jewellery, cameras, bags, cell phones, purses or other valuables visible. If you are travelling in a car put possessions under seats or in the trunk
- Lock your doors at all times and even car doors when you’re travelling and using a cell phone next to an open car window particularly at traffic intersections is not advised
- Hitchhiking is a no-no, as is agreeing to carry a stranger’s items
- Park in well lit or secure areas that have security attendants. It is custom to tip them unless you’ve paid at the gate
- Be aware when arriving or leaving your destination in your car and if anything feels untoward, drive on and seek help or phone the emergency number 10111. It is free phone from a call box or landline
- Travel light when it comes to carrying money and check that you’ve been advised by your bank on the safest way of travelling with money before arriving in the country. Unfortunately there is poverty, so there is an element of theft
- Safeguard your debit or travel card at an ATM by notifying the bank immediately should it be gobbled up and don’t help from a stranger and insist on having a portable card swiper bought to your table if paying in a restaurant
- Basically be vigilant about your possessions including not leaving keys lying around
- Make copies of important documents before you travel and give them to someone reliable should you need to make reference to them while you’re away
- A list of useful numbers can be found at this website
Be vigilant and you’ll be amazed at the wonders you’ll discover. It is truly an awesome place to visit with your family, and South Africans by nature are adventurous, so you’ll find plenty of opportunities for adventure, fun and exploration.