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This post was last updated on February 28th, 2019 at 08:26 am
Travelling to South Africa with a baby is a fantastic experience as there is soooo much to do! With animals to spot, lush oceans to swim in, African music to listen to, exotic foods to try and exciting sand dunes to play on it is literally the best sensory experience for kids!
I’d like to start this post with a little disclaimer- I’m not really sure if Isla still qualifies as a ‘baby’! I was actually going to title this post ‘South Africa with a Toddler’, but when almost every person that we met during our trip referred to her as a ‘baby’ I decided to change the title of the post to ‘South Africa with a Baby’ instead.
Regardless of whether you think a 22 month old should be classified as a baby or a toddler though, I can confidently say that South Africa is a fantastic choice of travel destination! In this post I will give you a brief outline of our trip and why I would recommend South Africa to any travelling family!
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Planning a Family Trip to South Africa
Travelling to any destination with children requires a little more planning than it did pre-kids, but that doesn’t make it any less fun (just a few extra hours on Google).
Flights to South Africa
We had wanted to travel to South Africa for several years, but as hubby and I both work in education we have always been limited to the school holidays- when flights are SUPER expensive! My go-to has always been Skyscanner, which I have been using for years to check flight prices, times etc. I find that this comparison website always finds me the best deals and I also like that it gives you an all-inclusive price for the family in the search results.
If you’re looking for a great deal then it is often a good idea to think ahead of time. We actually found our flights 11 months ahead of our trip to South Africa! These were not cheap but less than half the price than I had seen previously (it was the Christmas holidays) so we booked them as soon as possible! If you’re looking for good deals on flights you can visit Skyscanner here.
Accommodation in South Africa
Alongside getting a good price for your flights, you will also want to make sure that you can find appropriate accommodation. This is important when travelling to South Africa with a baby a not only because you will want it to be good value for money, but also because there is so much to consider when travelling with infants! Some things to be weary of include stairs, pools and baths. Want to know more about my accommodation recommendations when travelling with a baby or toddler? Check out this post- Things to consider when booking hotel with a baby.
When booking accommodation I will generally rely on Booking.com for hotels or Air b’n’b (click here for a discount on your next air b’n’b’ booking). For our South Africa with a baby trip we stayed in Air b’n’b accommodation, which was perfect! We generally spent 3-4 nights in each location and made sure that we had enough space for all three of us (even if it did mean hubby and to sleep in the spare bed because Isla wouldn’t sleep alone! haha).
Transport in South Africa
The last major element that should be involved when planning any trip with kids in tow is how you will get around once you arrive. Our transport method of choice is almost always to hire a car. This allows us the ease and flexibility that we need to comfortably travel around with baby Isla. Are you thinking of hiring a car? I have put together my top tips of things to consider in this post.
In South Africa we had a little car that allowed us to travel from Cape Town through the garden route to Addo Elephant Park and back again. The car was fine, although it wouldn’t have had space for a second child and the air con didn’t work very well! Oh, and it didn’t have central locking, despite being a brand new car!! My advice is to check the specification of the car that you hire before you book it, unlike us! *hand on head*
You might also be interested in my post- ‘Things to consider when hiring a car‘
Vaccinations and documentation
You might find it difficult to find out about what vaccinations/medication etc you need for South Africa because it’s such a large and varied country! If you visit the north of the country (e.g. Kruger National Park), you will need to take Malaria tablets. Whilst young children can take small doses of Malaria medication, I have personally avoided Malaria areas with baby Isla to date. It is also to avoid Malaria areas when pregnant.
In terms of vaccinations, this will really depend on how old your little one is. It is recommended that you have the basic travel injections (Hep A, typhoid etc), although babies can’t have these until they reach a certain age. Breastfeeding can help with this as you will pass much of your natural immunity on to baby through your milk. Otherwise, just make sure that you are careful with what you eat and drink and wash hands regularly. Please not that I am not a medic and that it is best to discuss medication and vaccinations for your family with your healthcare provider.
One thing that is super important when travelling to South Africa with a baby or children is that you pack their birth certificate as well as their passport! This is something that I had never heard of before and I have never experienced in any other country. Apparently it’s something to do with lots of kidnappings and children being taken out of the country?! Anyway, if you don’t have the birth certificate you won’t be allowed in or out, so make sure you pack it! You can find more details about this legislation here.
South Africa with a baby: Our Itinerary
South Africa is a huge country and it would take several weeks, if not months, to explore fully. It is for this reason that we selected to travel only a small section of this beautiful country. We were limited by time, as we only had the school Christmas break, which lasted two weeks. We were also restricted from visiting the north of the country, where there is Zika virus present (I was 28-30 weeks pregnant). For more information on where are you and cannot travel when pregnant you can visit my post- ‘ where can’t I travel when pregnant?‘ I have also included a handy little travel map here, showing areas that are off-limits for pregnant ladies.
South Africa with a baby was the perfect travel destination for our family Christmas! The weather was beautiful, without being too hot. The country was easy to navigate and everyone was super friendly. Despite many people’s concerns over safety, we did not feel unsafe at any time. Although it is, of course, important to remember those little safety measures such as locking the car doors (easily forgotten when your car is no central locking!) and setting the alarm in your accommodation. Lastly, South Africa was the perfect place to travel with baby Isla because there was sooo much to do and sooo much to stimulate her senses!
Here is our 10 day itinerary-
Cape Town with a baby
As our flight landed into Cape Town, this was the natural starting point for our South African adventure. Unfortunately our luggage did not arrive with us (and South African Airlines are refusing to respond to any of our e-mails about the compensation that they promised us-I DO NOT recommend you fly with them!), so we spent our first afternoon exploring one of the city shopping malls to stock up on essential items such as toiletries, sun creams and clothes for Isla.
The following day (whilst eagerly awaiting the arrival of our luggage) we explored the city, where there is so much to do!
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We started the day by taking the ferry over to Robben Island to learn a little bit more about Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment and the history of Apartheid. The tour was really interesting, even if I did miss half of it trying to get Isla to sleep!
Next we took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain- a right of passage when visiting Cape Town! The views were spectacular from the top! Ordinarily we would have climbed to the top (did I tell you that I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year??). However, the prospect of a steep 5 hour hike when 29 weeks pregnant, whilst carrying a toddler on my back in 28 degree heat was a bit too much for me! Maybe next time!
We also spent some time wandering around the Victoria and Albert waterfront. This was a fantastic example of how great travel can be for children as Isla was in her element! On paper this part of the day didn’t sound like the most toddler-friendly activity, however there was so much to stimulate her! From the huge model elephants that she could touch, to the giant chess, the African drummers, the dancing skeletons, big wheel and city centre playground, there was sooo much for her to see and do! We spent a good couple of hours here playing and exploring.
The following day we went for a drive South of the city centre. Our first stop was Boulders Beach to see the African penguins. Whilst we were slightly disappointed that we couldn’t actually go on the beach with the penguins, we could watch them from a platform and get very close. I had never seen penguins in a warm climate before so this was a special experience.
Our next stop was Table Mountain National Park. This is home to the famous Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope. It was pretty pricey to drive into the park, but it was worth it because the scenery and views were simply stunning! Many people think that this is the most southerly point in Africa, but this is actually not true (it is Cape Agulhas)! The area is well worth a visit though, regardless.
Cape Point is home to the famous lighthouse and a funicular which can take you to the top (again we would usually have climbed, but I didn’t fancy this whilst pregnant). There are beautiful views and there is a restaurant to eat at here too.
A few minutes drive down the road is the Cape of Good Hope. You leave your car in the car park by the beach and climb up to see the views. Isla was sleeping and I didn’t particularly fancy the climb, so I relaxed on the beach and asked hubby to take lots of photos for me from the top for me. Isn’t it funny how kids sleep at the most convenient times!
The park is home to a variety of nature. I could see sea lions on a rock in the distance from the Cape of Good Hope, some monkeys ran in front of our car a few minutes drive along the road and we saw ostrich footprints on the beach!
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Talking of beaches… Table Mountain National Park was also home to the most spectacular beach that we visited on our trip to South Africa! There are lots of secluded beaches in the area and we decided to pay a visit to Platboom Beach- and it was fantastic!
Platboom beach had super soft sand and was deserted, we saw only a couple of other people during our two hours there. We had read that there could be under currents so we didn’t take Isla in the water to swim, but we had soooo much fun running from the waves and rolling down the sand dunes! The beach really was like the kind of beach that you dream about: Clean, quiet and completely natural. It was absolute bliss!
Knysna with a baby
The next day we began our road trip along the garden route.
Knysna (pronounced Nice -na), was around a five hour drive so we stopped off half way at Mossel Bay. Whilst we knew we would stop somewhere, we had no plans as to exactly where, so we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived in Mossel Bay to find there was a really cool swimming lagoon!
This was basically an area of the ocean that was separated by rocks to allow for a swimming area to be created. It was very picturesque and also exciting as there were some pretty big waves and a current to contend with. There were also some diving boards for the bigger kids and adults. Isla has a little swim and play along the rocks and we stopped here for some lunch and an ice cream. This made for a great afternoon and it broke up the drive perfectly.
Travelling South Africa with a baby or young children? I would definitely recommend Mossel Bay.
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Knysna itself is a pretty little town about half way along the garden route. It is a very relaxing peaceful place and is famous for its lagoon. This is where we spent Christmas Day, chilling on the beach and playing in the water. In the morning, when the tide was out you could walk from one side of the lagoon to the other and the water was no higher than your waist. This made for the perfect playground for babies and toddlers!
Addo Elephant Park with a baby
The next day we scheduled in a couple of stops on route to Addo Elephant Park, which was around a three hour drive in total. To start, we visited a wild animal refuge. There are lots of these along the main road and their aim is conservation, rather than being simply a zoo. Here were saw a white lion and lots of different types of wild cats including leopards and cheetahs. We also learnt about the conservation programmes in the area. This was great as we were able to see animals that would be extremely difficult to spot in the wild! Whilst it is a shame that they are kept in enclosures, for many this is the best or only option for them, since they were rescued from a range of different difficult or dangerous situations such as poaching, being orphaned or being seriously injured.
Our second stop was Tsitsikamma National Park, which is home to the famous Storms River Suspension Bridge. Here there was a picturesque walk through the jungle-type terrain and across a small sandy beach ending at the large suspension bridges which hand across the mouth of Storms River. This is a moderate walk and those with limited mobility might find it challenging. I carried Isla the whole way, which took us around an hour return, which I was pretty proud of at 30 weeks pregnant… especially given the number of red faces and panting that we heard from some of our fellow tourists! It seems I must have retained some of my Kilimanjaro fitness through pregnancy after all!
Addo Elephant Park is the perfect safari when travelling in South Africa with a baby or children! Whilst it isn’t quite as adventurous as a ten day safari in Krugar National Park, you are almost guaranteed to see animals and you can take it at your own pace- which is perfect for kids!
We stayed a five minute drive from Addo in an Air b’n’b in a small Town called Colchester. This was perfect as after several hours driving around the safari park the last thing we wanted was a long drive back to our accommodation!
Addo Elephant Park is a self-drive safari park. This means that you take your own car and drive around in search of animals at your own pace. Unlike many safaris, which offer organised drives early in the mornings and late afternoon (when the animals tend to be most visible and active), people drive around the park at all hours of the day. This worked much better for us as we could schedule our drives around Isla’s routine!
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As the name suggests, there are lots of elephants in the park. In fact, there are sooo many elephants that you would be hard-pressed not to find some! We saw elephants bathing in water holes and marching in lines across the plains. We saw big elephants and baby elephants. The word elephant soon became a part of Isla’s limited vocabulary and I think that’s pretty good going as it’s not the easiest word for a 22 months year old to say!
There are also lots of other animals to search for including lions, ostriches, tortoises, zebra, buffalo, monkeys, eland and more. At the main gate, and again at the main picnic site, you will find maps of the park where visitors mark recent animal sightings. This was really helpful as it gives you some direction if there is a specific animal that you are looking for!
We spent two days driving around the park and took a packed lunch with us. We let Isla ride up front so that she could see all of the animals, which we felt was safe as we were generally driving very slowly! She would get so excited every time we spotted a new animal and she was often the one who pointed them out to us!
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Whilst staying in Colchester we also visited the local sand dunes, which was a real hidden gem! We had no idea that these spectacular sand dunes were here and we were only made aware of them because our Air b’n’b host told us they were worth a visit!
Visiting the Colchester sand dunes was a real highlight of the stay here. The dunes are located at the Sunday’s river mouth and they were several metres high! The dunes are only a five minute drive from Colchester and you pay a small entrance fee to enter the park. Once in you will find unspoilt sand that stretches for miles.
The sand dunes were so impressive, hubby and I actually felt reminded of our experiences in the Sahara Desert a couple of years earlier!
You can just explore, as we did, or you can sign up to do sand boarding or sand hiking with a local tour operator. Isla had so much fun here and I would highly recommend to anybody visiting Addo Elephant Park and the surrounding areas!
Gansbaai with a baby
The next day we started our drive towards Gansbaai. Once again, we wanted to break up the journey, so we opted to visit the famous Ostrich town of Oudtshoorn.
Visiting Oudtschoorn was a slight detour off of our route, but one that we deemed worthwhile. It is a town that is filled with Ostrich farms and is a highlight for many visitors who are travelling the garden route.
We had read a lot about tourists visiting Oudtshoorn with the intention of riding the Ostriches, which concerned me slightly, given that this is a form of animal tourism. As you will read in this post, I have taken part in many types of animal tourism on my travels over the years, but that was when the public awareness of this type of tourism wasn’t very good and I was ignorant and naive. Nowadays, we avoid any form of tourism that we feel is likely to have a negative impact of animals, the environment or the host community (I have a number of posts in this regard based on my academic work, click here to see a selection).
Fortunately we found that most ostrich farms are there for educational purposes- to teach the tourists about the farms and the animals. Some did still offer rides, but these did appear to be strictly managed with maximum weight limits and rides only offered in cooler weather. Most farms did sell ostrich meat- you can make of this as you will, I guess. My view is that if it’s ok to eat chicken, duck, pork, beef etc and we visit all of these animals at farms, them it should be ok to eat ostrich. But I know some people will disagree with this!
Isla absolutely loved her time at the farm. She was able to feed the ostriches and to hold the eggs. The farm that we visited also had a little kids playground and resident giraffe! This was an animal that we hadn’t seen at Addo, so it was great to be able to show Isla another animal that she had previously only seen on the TV!
The only negative to our visit to Oudtschoorn was the heat. Whilst for the rest of our trip across South Africa with a baby we had enjoyed modest mid-high twenty degree temperatures, Oudtschoorn was hot, seriously hot! Temperatures peaked this day at around 40 degrees celcius. Whilst I am a lover of heat, this was too hot for me, especially given that I was 30 weeks pregnant by this point! It actually made me feel quite faint and I had to sit under a tree while hubby and Isla fed the ostriches (note- this was definitely pregnancy-related as I don’t normally suffer from the heat in this way).
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From Oudtschoorn, we continued our journey back towards Cape Town and eventually reached our destination of Gansbaai. There isn’t an awful lot in Gansbaai, especially for children, but my husband was desperate to go great white shark diving- and Gansbaai is the place to do it!
So the following day hubby went off on a boat trip and we had a relaxing day at our lush Air b’n’b. I considered taking Isla out on the boat so that we could spectate, but I read reviews of sea sickness and figured that she would quickly get bored, so opted against.
Instead, we spent a few more Pounds on our accommodation, which was a fantastic find! We stayed in our own private villa that had it’s own small pool and overlooked the ocean. Isla and I had a lovely day on the beach looking for shells and relaxing in the warm sunshine before daddy came home to report on his shark adventures!
Whilst there wasn’t a lot to do in Gansbaai, we really enjoyed spending our last two days here. We relaxed and enjoyed the quiet beaches of the area. We were also well positioned for our drive back to Cape Town, which was around two hours.
To conclude: Should you travel to South Africa with a baby?
My answer is absolutely, yes! Whether you have a small baby, a toddler or older children, South Africa is a fantastic destination for kids. From spotting wild animals, to climbing sand dunes on deserted beaches, to experiencing the Victoria and Albert waterfront, there is so much to stimulate your baby and the rest of the family!