South Africa offers the perfect family vacation trifecta: adventure, wildlife and culture.
According to Austin Adventures’ founder and president, Dan Austin, “Africa is a bucket list destination for family travel, and while I think that private, customized safaris work better for most family travel, there is a growing market for escorted family tours, particularly for South Africa, which is most likely to be the destination of choice for a family’s first visit to Africa.”
Austin’s reasons for this include: South Africa is safe; it has Big Five-guaranteed game reserves; breathtaking scenery, history, and a vibrant culture; and families not only feel more comfortable and carefree, but they enjoy traveling with like-minded people.
Here are tour operators that offer family-friendly South African activities showcasing this country’s diverse offerings. Austin Adventures’ new 11-day South Africa Family: Cape Town to Limpopo tour starts in the thriving metropolis of Cape Town and ends in the South African bush. While staying at the Victoria & Alfred Hotel, activities include a tram ride up Table Mountain, a visit to Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island, cycling in the Cape Point Nature Reserve, and kayaking alongside a colony of penguins. Guests spend two nights at Grootbos Garden Lodge, next to a private nature reserve home to the “marine big five”—whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins. During two nights at Ant’s Nest Lodge—a reserve counting 40 species of game and 300 bird species—families can saddle up for a horseback ride. Finally, at Pitse Lodge, your clients will spend three days in the bush on the hunt for buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino in the Welgevonden Game Reserve. Departures in 2015 are scheduled for March, June, July and August; $6,998 pp.
New for 2015, Abercrombie & Kent will offer three departures on the 11-day South Africa: A Family Safari tour. The program is one of a whole new roster of Family Journeys, an expansion of A&K’s Connections Group Journeys portfolio made for groups of 24 guests that feature four-star hotels, resident A&K tour director, and land-based journeys guaranteed to operate with a minimum of two guests. According to a company spokesperson, Family Journeys departure dates (June 13, July 4 and Aug. 15) are scheduled to coincide with school breaks, and a savings of $400 per child has been added to the trip features.
Highlights of the tour include a cable car ride up Table Mountain in Cape Town; exploring Cape Point and the Boulders African penguin colony; a safari in Ngala Private Game Reserve to see elephants, rhinos and wild African dogs; visiting the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre where cheetahs, wild dogs and other species are rehabilitated; connecting with the local children at the rural community of Welverdiend; visiting the Hector Pieterson Museum & Memorial and the former home of Nelson Mandela; exploring the Apartheid Museum; and a walking tour of
The tour cost, from $7,395 pp dbl for adults, features three nights at the Vineyard Hotel & Spa in Cape Town; three nights at the Ngala Safari Lodge; two nights at the 54 on Bath hotel in Johannesburg; and two nights at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, including a sundowner cruise on the Zambezi River.
Tauck, meanwhile, has partnered with BBC Earth to create Earth Journeys. One of these, and new for 2015, is South Africa: Epic Family Adventure, which spends three nights in Cape Town and two nights at Plettenberg Bay on the Western Cape; three nights on safari at the Lion Sands River Lodge bordering Kruger National Park; and a day in Johannesburg where travelers take a bike tour through Soweto township. Family-friendly activities include a ride on an ostrich at an ostrich ranch and close encounters with an elephant at an elephant sanctuary; learning tribal traditions and taking a drumming lesson; ziplining and seeing African penguins by the sea; whale, seal, and dolphin watching; wildlife spotting at Kruger National Park; and visiting a tribal village and gathering for a braai barbecue farewell dinner. Families also have access to the BBC Earth cameraman’s gadgets, as well as exclusive on-tour films produced by BBC Earth to deepen the safari experience. Departures for 2015 are June 13 and 27, July 18, Aug. 1 and Dec. 19; $5,826 pp, plus on-tour air, for 10 days.
Take note agents: Effective Oct. 1, 2014, parents traveling to South Africa with children—under 18—will need to produce a passport and unabridged birth certificate for each child, showing the names of both parents. For single parents, or those traveling alone with their children, an affidavit in which the absent parent gives consent for the child to travel, a court order granting full parental responsibilities or legal guardianship of each child, or the death certificate of the absent parent is needed.
South African Airways—which has earned a four-star rating from Skytrax for 12 consecutive years and is a member of Star Alliance—offers daily nonstop service from New York (JFK) to Johannesburg, as well as direct service from Washington, D.C.
Abercrombie & Kent: (888) 611-4711; abercrombiekent.com
Austin Adventures: (800) 575-1540; austinadventures.com
South African Airways: (800) 722-9675; flysaa.com
Tauck: (800) 788-7885; tauck.com or tauck.com/Agent/agentservices.aspx