South African Vacations, complete with Safari, are a bucket list adventure for many families. On this episode, Kristy Angellotti from the South Africa Tourism Board joins us to discuss the incredible vacation options.
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Tell Us About South Africa
South Africa offers an incredible variety of experiences and that is one of the major reasons why South Africa is generally the first place people start traveling on the African continent.
It’s very easy to get to. You don’t need any immunizations to travel to South Africa. If you’re holding a US or Canadian passport, you don’t need a visa for travel up to 90 days, so it’s just as easy as going to the Caribbean or Europe, just a little bit farther. And it offers this incredible variety of experiences you can’t find anywhere else on the planet.
Everybody knows we have incredible wildlife experiences and safaris, but we also have cities, coastlines, adventure travel, and so much more. We like to call it Safari Plus. We have two oceans and nearly 2000 miles of coastline. There’s just an incredible amount of things to do.
What’s the best route to get to get there?
It’s never been easier to get to South Africa with multiple new flight routes direct to South Africa from the East Coast. United is now offering direct service from Newark and Washington, DC, to Cape Town and Johannesburg, and we’ve never had direct routes to Cape Town before, so those are all new. And Delta is now offering direct service as well from Atlanta to both Cape Town and Johannesburg. These flights are about 15 hours.
And if you don’t live in any of those cities, you can connect to those. Or it’s also a great opportunity to fly through Europe or the Middle East on your way and take a few days in between on a layover.
First-Timer South African Vacation
You should allocate at least two weeks for a trip to South Africa since you are traveling that far, and South Africa’s a big country. It’s about twice the size of Texas. There’s a lot to see.
A common first-timer route would include Johannesburg, Cape Town, and a Safari experience.
One of the best itineraries for families is the Garden Route, an epic road trip along the southern coast of the African continent. You start in Cape Town and then travel east along the coast, and this can be done in about ten nights. There are many adventure experiences along the route, and then you can end with a Big Five Safari.
South African Vacations: Cape Town
Cape Town is a stunning city right on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a coastal city where you can spend three or four nights exploring all the sites.
Visually, it reminds you of San Francisco. It’s got a Mediterranean climate. There’s a waterfront area and a beach called Boulders Beach, where African land penguins live on the beach, a hugely popular experience for families.
Table Mountain is the iconic backdrop to the city. It’s one of seven new wonders of nature. You can take the cable car up to the top and get these stunning panoramic views of the Atlantic Coast and Cape Town.
We also have an island prison like Alcatraz. This one is called Robin Island and is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. Tours of this island prison are led by former political prisoners that spent time on the island during the apartheid era.
You can take a beautiful scenic drive to the Cape of Good Hope. You might see an ostrich on your drive there, and you’ll find baboons running around everywhere, which kids and families and kids absolutely love.
South African Vacations: Hermanus
Then on the Garden Route, you’ll continue east, and the next stop will be the town of Hermanus. This is a stunning coastal town on the Atlantic, and this is the whale-watching capital of the world.
This area has the Marine Big Five…penguins, dolphins, whales, sharks, and seals. You can see them overhead by helicopter, or you can see them from a boat. You don’t even have to get into the boat to go whale watching. There’s a whale migration taking place there of the southern right whales. We also have humpbacks, but this unique whale migrates along that coast. And the best time for that is between June and October.
If the family is adventurous, this is also the region where you do shark cage diving if they want to meet the great whites or the copper sharks in a cage. It is an epic adventure.
I’ve done it several times. No scuba equipment is needed. And not everyone has to go in the cage. You can sit on the boat’s top deck and just watch all the action from above. And generally, you can also see whales on the shark boat. So, it doubles as this marine safari experience.
Then you head a little bit further north, where we get into an area where you have lots of national parks, hikes, desert areas, and ostrich farms. We’ve got the world’s ostrich capital and just lots of quirky, fun towns to hang out in and explore with beautiful scenery and soft adventure activities. And you can even travel to a cultural village.
South African Vacations: Eastern Cape Safaris
We have the Big Five Safaris near the end of this road trip in malaria-free regions, which are incredibly popular with families.
The Eastern Cape has a huge variety of stunning safari lodges, with the Big Five… lion, elephant, leopard rhinos, and Cape Buffalo. You can experience twice daily game drives, relax at the lodges, and swim in the pools in the afternoon. And see many more animals like antelopes, zebras, an incredible variety of birds, and mere cats.
And, if you’re interested in sustainability and conservation, just the act of going on Safari helps to conserve this land, helps to preserve these natural spaces so the animals can be protected and live out their natural lives there.
So mind-blowing travel experiences for families.
South African Vacations: Johannesburg
If you want to spend a few nights in Johannesburg, which I highly recommend, you can fly there from Port Elizabeth. It’s a very interesting place to learn about the history of South Africa, the culture, and how South Africa has grown into the democracy it is today, a representative democracy since 1994.
Families should go to the Apartheid Museum and the township of Soweto. This township is like a giant neighborhood where Nelson Mandela used to live down the street from Desmond Tutu, so the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners lived.
Another incredible experience is a day trip to the Cradle of Humankind, about 30 miles outside Johannesburg. This is where they excavated the most skeletal remains of early hominin fossils from 2 million years ago.
South African Vacations: More Safari Experiences
From Johannesburg, there are additional safari options. One that’s incredible is called Madikwe, just below the Botswana border. It’s a large game reserve with stunning properties, pools, terrain, and the Big Five.
And of course, the Kruger National Park is our most famous region for safari. Kruger’s a low-risk malaria area. And it’s about a 40-minute flight from Johannesburg or a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Cape Town.
Is a South African Vacation Affordable?
People are blown away by how far their dollar stretches. The Rand is the currency, and it’s average about 15 to 18 to one against the dollar. Let’s say a family of four would like to eat at a gourmet restaurant, and the parents have a nice bottle of wine. You’re probably looking at $30. These are meals that will cost $250+ where I live.
Many trip costs are upfront when you secure the itinerary and book the safari lodges in advance. And then, once you’re there, it’s very inexpensive.
And the parents, while they’re traveling, can enjoy all our incredible wines. South Africa’s been farming wine for about 370 years. You don’t have to spend time in the Winelands doing wine tastings, as wherever you go, South African wines are served.
When Should Families Visit?
Our summer months here in North America, June, July, and August, are the South African winter. It’s a great time for game viewing because there are fewer water sources, but the lodges, especially in the Kruger National Park that offer great family programs sell out during these months. So, you’ll want to plan far in advance.
Another great time to go is during the Christmas and holiday seasons. That’s summertime in South Africa, so there are longer days, more festivals, more events, and stunning weather. It’s also a very popular time so plan early.
Where can Listeners start planning their Vacation?
You can make it easy on yourself and book with a travel advisor or tour operator. You send them a checklist with what you want to see and experience then they will customize it from top to bottom.
There are so many amazing tour operators out there, like AAA Travel. There’s also the Signature Travel Network and Virtuoso Travel Network.
If you wanna go online and research pricing, there’s a platform called Tour Radar, and you can just look through the different packages for South Africa and see what’s available as a starting point.