Is South Africa on your bucket list? Do you find the idea of long travel in an entirely new country daunting? No worries, I have an easy itinerary that gives you a proper introduction to this beautiful country! I have a tendency to include too many things and then scale back. We ended up focusing our trip on two main destinations: Cape Town and safari outside of Kruger National Park. We considered including Durban (on South Africa’s Eastern coast), Botswana or Zimbabwe in this trip, but ultimately kept it simpler. I am very glad we did as it allowed us some extra time when our stomachs didn’t adjust very well. Let’s look at the overall trip.
Trip Itinerary Outline:
- Day 1 Flight to South Africa
- Day 2 Arrival
- Day 3-8 Cape Town
- Day 9 Travel to Safari
- Day 10-13 Safari
- Day 14-15 Johannesburg
- Day 16 Travel Home
Day 1: Flight to South Africa
How to get there is the first planning challenge. Having flown both East and West with our kids at different ages, I have come to believe it is much more palatable to get a long flight than two moderate length ones. For this reason, I wanted to take advantage of the few direct options from the United States. You can fly with United from Newark to Cape Town or Johannesburg and with Delta from Atlanta to Johannesburg. We chose to fly from Chicago to Newark to Cape Town. This is a 14.5 or 16 hour flight depending on if you are coming or going. It is long, but still felt much better than two seven-hour flights as we got settled in and binged movies. This flight currently leaves Newark at 8:30 pm and arrives 6:00pm the next day in Cape Town.
Day 2: Arrival
We prearranged pick-up through Bosch Travel and Tours. They monitored our flight status and were waiting for us in the arrival hall. They graciously carted our luggage and we headed out for our rental. On the trip, our driver gave us tons of information about Cape Town. Because we are a family of five, it normally requires an extended van for our transfers. At the time of our travel, transfer from the airport to our chosen neighborhood, Camps Bay, was a twenty-five minute ride for about $30 USD. We also used this same company when we returned to the airport to fly to Johannesburg.
We chose to stay in the neighborhood of Camps Bay to take advantage of the unbelievable setting that is Cape Town’s unique geographical location. There are many beautiful neighborhoods within the city, but our location allowed us to appreciate both the mountains and the ocean from our balcony. It was unbelievable. We could tour the city, but also felt like we were on a beach vacation. I highly recommend this area and surrounding seaside neighborhoods.
We stayed in this beautiful AirBnB which was perfect for our family with extra beds to spare. The most impressive part is the walk out balcony with views of both the mountains and the ocean. We arrived in the dark so the impressiveness hit us when we woke up in the morning.
This great location gave us quick access to pick up pizza for dinner and make our first night really easy.
Day 3: Cape Town Introduction
The city center and surrounding areas are situated in a bowl surrounded by Table Mountain and Signal Hill. The Camps Bay area is located on the opposite side of Lion’s Head peak. On our first full day in Cape Town we went on a guided introductory trip with Karin. I arranged this tour through City Unscripted and we had a planning call before our visit to decide what to include in our big first day. You can also contact Karin directly to arrange a tour.
We met in the city center and stopped by Atlas Trading Company to see the wide variety of spices and snacks available at this family run business in operation since 1946. It was an introduction to the colorful neighborhood of Bo-Kaap which you might have seen in photos of South Africa. Bo-Kaap’s bright colored houses. This area was developed as housing for the Cape Malay people who were brought as slave labor by the Dutch from Malaysia, Indonesia, and some parts of Africa. Before and after apartheid, the population became more diverse, but during apartheid non-Malay citizens were forcibly removed. Today, this area is experiencing a gentrification due to its close proximity to the city center, its Insta-worthy beautiful houses, and Cape Town’s general appeal for tourism.
After our walk around Bo-Kaap, we enjoyed our first brai (grill) of sausages along with samosas and fries. There are many vendors who are grilling right along the street. We walked up and pointed out what we wanted and were able to grab a seat just inside while we waited.
We followed this by visiting an exotic car shop, a piece of the Berlin wall outside of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, and the Iziko Slave Lodge. I highly recommend this museum at the beginning of your visit to Cape Town. South Africa has a very rich history, but there is a lot of pain in its story. This was important for giving us all more perspective for the rest of our trip.
We stopped through a flower market and saw our first Proteas, South Africa’s national flower. Our guide knew two sisters who had been running their spot in the market for decades and we took home a beautiful bouquet. Our day continued with more food and a little down time. We visited Prins and Prins, jewelers located in a building downtown Cape Town that was built in 1752. They feature of the museum of gems in the basement. The staff showed us the black diamonds of South Africa and even let the kids compare a raw diamond to the finished product. We finished our tour with gelato, truffles and a drink for the adults.
Day 4: Adventure Tour
If our first day’s tour was an easy, slow paced introduction to Cape Town, our second full day was an adventure. We discovered this tour through AirBnB experiences. The Secrets of the Cape Peninsula is hosted by Marius and Irmina. They picked us up in two vehicles and headed to Kalk Bay for a breakfast to fuel us for the day. From here, we stopped at a little gem and rock museum while Marius and Irmina collected snacks based on our preferences.
We headed straight for Boulder Beach to swim and see the penguins. I was glad to be with a knowledgeable guide as this place was packed and parking was difficult. There is an initial beach area, but if you are willing to climb over the big boulders, an entirely separate beach with far less people awaits.
From here, we headed toward the Cape of Good Hope. On our way, we encountered several baboons along the road which we stopped and observed.
Upon entering the Cape of Good Hope park, you may encounter many large wildlife, such as zebras, ostriches, baboons, eland, and much more. You can visit the highest point of the Cape Point by funicular or by hiking. The water is just so gorgeous.
We traveled down to the spot we most commonly see in tourist photos with the Cape of Good Hope sign. We then proceeded past the sign to climb along the point. Our guides helped us travel as far as we were comfortable and the waves crashed up around us. It was thrilling.
Post exploring, we sat on the big boulders to enjoy snacks and wine while taking in the view.
Next we raced the sunset to get to the perfect spot off Chapman’s Peak. This drive is similar to driving on the 101 in California, twists and turns along the coast. The adventure continued as we climbed below the crowds to sit on a lower cliff, something we would have never done without a local expert. Our views were of the beautiful sea and Houts Bay as the sun set.
Day 5: Beach & Down Time
As I mentioned earlier, we had some stomach issues so we took some extra down time to recover. We think this was a combination of drinking water (we had been reassured many times, but don’t do it) and the malaria medication we had started taking.
We ate at neighborhood restaurants and played on the beach, all of which was just a few blocks from our rental. There was a commercial taping in our neighborhood so we also got to watch the set-up of dozens of tents to support the process.
Day 6: Getting on the Water
We took a group boat tour, which took us from a private boat club out into the bay. Looking back at the mountains and bowl of the city was a beautiful perspective.
The boat ride was mostly following around the various marine animals. There were many dolphins swimming alongside us. Sea lions played near our boat. We saw a variety of birds and fish. We even saw a giant sunfish just below the surface.
We followed our boat tour with a lunch with our previous tour guide, Marius. He is a former youth chess champion so he and our son got in a few games.
Our afternoon and evening were spent in our rental enjoying the sunset over the beach.
Day 7 Animals and Wine Country
This day’s tour with Kelvin of Real Africa Travel Tours for the full day. He picked us up at our rental in a comfortable van. We made a quick stop along the Sea Point area to play on the playgrounds. Our first official stop of the day was the Two Oceans Aquarium located at the V&A Waterfront area. This area is full of attractions and restaurants. Our tour of the aquarium was with a staff member who made us feel like real VIPs, even mentioning the kids by name during group presentations he made.
Our next stops were the Giraffe House of South Africa. This is a zoo. Although there are animals we do not see at home, this is the stop I would forfeit. The temperatures were much warmer as we moved inland. I would instead have spent more time at the Chimp and Lion Sanctuary we visited next. We opted not to stick around and participate in the lion feeding with the staff, but had we skipped the previous stop, this would have been interesting to see.
The chimps were fascinating and had a whole routine where they threw water bottles they were filling at us. The complexity of their actions was really fascinating. These stops would be a good way for a family with smaller children to also get to enjoy wine country. With the amount of wildlife we saw on safari just a few days later, I think a half day in wine country could have stood on its own with older kids. If spending more time in wine country is desired, there was also camp-style lodging at the Lion Park which would have been its own adventure.
The best part of the day for the adults were our two stops in wine country. We first visited Spice Route which offers a few different dining options. We ate at La Grapperia which had tasty pizza and stunning views of the vineyards.
We also did a chocolate tasting with De Villiers Chocolates.
From here, we visited Fairview Winery tasting room. We were a bit later than expected, but they accommodated us with a premium tasting experience. We were able to sit in a comfortable side room with plush leather seating.
They did a special tasting of juice and sweets for the kids as well. The adults received cheeses to enjoy with our wine. On top of this, the kids LOVED that they have goats outside with a tower they climb.
Day 8 Township Tour
Since this was our last full day, we spent some time doing laundry and repacking for the next leg of our trip. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at PRIMI Camps Bay before Ubering to Langa Township.
There are many townships around Cape Town. These communities were created as a result of apartheid laws that moved people from their neighborhood or districts to segregate them. The stories of those periods are appalling, but long after apartheid, townships are still the way of life. Townships are primarily low-end housing and conditions, but there is a certain pride in the communities that today finds modern houses being built by those raised in the townships who have “made it” financially and still want to remain part of the community. Townships vary in size, but Langa is one of the largest.
As much as I enjoyed learning some of South Africa’s history at the museum our first day, the township tour was truly educational. I was hesitant about whether a white family touring the township was the right thing to do. My instinct was that teaching our kids (and learning more ourselves) was the best way to equip them to be better citizens. I asked our guide about why they do this. He said he is proud of his community and he wants people to learn more about their way of life. The township tours also bring money and jobs into the community. The people were kind and welcoming.
We toured the community center where a drum class was taking place. They invited the kids to join in. We visited a pottery studio that does orders for individuals and corporations. They have a mini market set up with the artwork of local artists from which you can shop.
We crossed the township with our guide and his daughter. We talked to dozens of residents and asked many questions. We even got in a minibus to travel to our final point, something we never would have done without a local. At our final stop, a group of local kids gathered for a little demonstration by a couple members of a dance troupe. This troupe is run to give kids an opportunity to perform outside of the township. The kids were awesome and so sweet to our kids. This was a truly amazing experience! The tour company we used is Swive Tours.
We ended this day in our rental, taking in the sunset before leaving early the next morning.
Day 9 Travel Day to Naledi
We were picked up by Bosch Travel and Tours again bright and early to fly from Cape Town to Johannesburg on Airlink Airline. There are many safari opportunities within the country of South Africa and of course all over the continent. We chose to safari at Naledi Game Lodge in Hoedspruit. You can experience a safari in several different ways. Just like our national parks, there are camping and lodging options at Kruger National Park. You can self-drive through the park for wildlife viewing. You can take a guided safari through the park as well and stay outside of the park. The option we chose is to stay at a private game reserve outside of Kruger National Park. We chose this luxury route and specific resort because this was our introduction to safari, the accommodation options were perfect for our family of five, and we wanted all of the hours we were not riding in a jeep to be restful.
We also chose to fly into Johannesburg rather than the smaller airports closer to Naledi because we had to pay for five flights, needed to travel on a particular day, and the journey from the airport to the lodge was another experience. I made the mistake of assuming the driving time would be similar to what it claims on the map. Due to some road conditions, necessary stops, and rerouting due to a protest, our ride was about six hours after being picked up at the Johannesburg airport. Our transfer company was Buya Buya and the vehicle was quite comfortable.
Our very first stop was the equivalent of a rest stop with a few restaurants. We were all stunned to see behind the facility (and a fence) were rhinos, ostriches, zebras, elands, and more. We drove through communities where goats roamed freely and observed unique businesses.
We stayed at Naledi for five nights and it went so incredibly fast. Many people advise three or four nights, but I’m grateful we stayed longer. The lodge only has accommodations for a small number of guests so we spent time with a lovely German couple for a few days and a couple other guests joined later in our stay.
Days 10 – 13: Safari
These four full days at Naledi followed the same schedule each day. We met at the main lodge before six in the morning for the first drive. Each drive is about 2.5-3 hours. We were greeted with coffee, hot chocolate and water.
We packed into a jeep with four rows of seats and a place on the front for the spotter. Our family chose back two rows each time. I enjoyed sitting up high in the back. We had blankets if it was chilly and the kids brought along a little bag in case they got bored to draw, take photos, etc.
We saw every animal we dreamed of seeing except the black rhino. They say you have to leave with one unseen so you have a reason to return. We saw most of these multiple times. The highlights included elephants, cape buffalo, lions, giraffes, zebras, hyenas, African wild dogs, hippos, white rhinos, and a leopard.
Every one of the nine drives (with the exception of one in driving rain) led to new animal sightings. The spotters were amazing.
After our drive, we sat down for breakfast. We were served in different spaces – dining room, deck, etc. The food was impeccable. The chef accommodated the kids and even made special meals for my pickiest eater.
We enjoyed free time mid-day to rest, swim, play games, and relax in the beautiful scenery. We stayed in the Leadwood A and B which gave us extra living room area and our own plunge pool. We were also served a beautiful lunch.
There was the opportunity to arrange spa services or go on a walk with a guide.
We gathered again in the late afternoon for another safari ride. Each ride includes a break for a drink and snack which is set up by the driver and spotter.
It is a great chance to stretch your legs and snap a few photos.
We took photos with three different devices and have so many great photos and videos to relive the experience.
Dinner followed this second drive of the day. It was also so delicious and fun to unwind. We were typically very tired by the end of dinner and ready to get in bed for the next early wake up call. The staff was very flexible in timing meals to make sure everyone was ready. I truly cannot say enough about this place and the staff.
Day 14-15 Johannesburg
We sadly left Naledi to begin our journey back to Johannesburg. We again traveled with Buya Buya and went a slightly different route with different scenery. We stayed at the Hyatt House Johannesburg Sandton. This was a great selection as we were able to stay in a three bedroom suite for a moderate price. This was important because we were worn out and wanted to stay in. Although we had two nights in Johannesburg, we opted only to leave the hotel complex for an errand and to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day nearby. Sadly, almost everyone we encountered advised against our moving around the city because of some volatility. The security efforts and giant gates at the hotel did not give us a lot of confidence even though we stayed in the one of the “best” neighborhoods.
The good news was that the hotel staff, restaurant, and accommodations were all great. Our stay was quite comfortable.
Day 16 Return Home
Our final day included transfer to Johannesburg airport arranged by the hotel. Our sixteen hour flight to Chicago went smoothly and we were all happy and extremely satisfied with our first trip to Africa.
What I Would Do Differently
As mentioned above we were not feeling our best at times and that caused us to slow down more than usual. What we accomplished in Cape Town could have been done in two or three less days potentially. There were also a few things we intended to do and omitted. I would include these if possible.
- I love a good Hop On Hop Off bus as an introduction. City Sightseeing’s bus stops right by where we stayed. It’s such a cost-efficient way to get oriented.
- Table Mountain Cable Car is a way to see the whole city from the iconic mountain top. This can be paired with the hop on hop off bus ticket.
- Oranjezicht City Farm Market is the city’s largest farmer’s market. It is located at the V&A Waterfront which would be a good way to enjoy that area and meet local vendors.
- I would explore neighboring coastal neighborhoods like Sea Point and Clifton.
- Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens seem very beautiful and would be a great place to explore and enjoy a picnic. This is also a stop on the hop on hop off bus.
I am also greatly disappointed that we did not explore Johannesburg. At the time, we worked with the information being presented. As always, we value safety and are safer still when we travel with kids. I hope someday to approach a visit there differently.
For Your Planning
I hope you read through my itinerary because South Africa is on your list. Don’t miss my article Surprising Findings About South Africa for First Time Visitors.