South Africa with children – practical advise

South Africa is one of few countries where you can travel with children very easily. The infrastructure of the country is very good and there is plenty to do for the kids – the best destinations being Kruger Park, Sun City (with it’s massive theme park), Cape Town, Durban and many, many more. Since I get a lot of questions on my blog about safety and organisation of travel to South Africa with kids on tow, I decided to put all the advice in one post. So – below, what you need to consider before you decide to visit South Africa with your children.

  • Paperwork – South Africa is in process of introducing new law, which supposedly is going to curb human trafficking (illegal child adoptions, selling youngsters into prostitution etc) as well put some controls on children travelling just with one parent or with family member. New law imposes quite restrictive requirements in terms of documentation required. For each travel an unabridged birth certificate will have to be presented whenever requested alongside the passport. Additionally to that for children travelling with only one parent of a carer, an affidavit from the other parent and/or court order will be required. Documents must be translated into English. More information on the link on SANews – the law has not been enforced yet.
  • INSURANCE!!! I can’t stress how important it is in South Africa to have decent medical insurance. This obviously is equally important for the parents as for the kids. South Africa has brilliant facilities, unfortunately they are also quite expensive. There are public clinics and hospitals that are a lot cheaper, but they are grossly underfinanced. When you travel with children, shortage of funds to cover emergency medical expenses should be the least of your worries. The first thing emergency services check is the medical plan, If there is none – you have two options. One is to pay hefty deposit – even as much as 100 000 or 200 000 rand (10 000 – 20 000 USD roughly) or to be sent to state hospital.
  • Inoculations/ Vaccinations – you and your children will not need country specific vaccinations, the ones your child got in your home country will be enough. There is a slight risk of malaria in the north-east of the country, so either protect yourselves and your children with mosquito nets and sprays (best with DEET) or use antimalarials. Nowdays you can get them even for small children. It may be with to bring usual remedies that your child is used to in small quantities. If used, you will easily find local replacements in one of the chain drugstores like Clicks and Dischem. You can also find pharmacy section in major supermarkets.
  • Transport – South Africa is a BIG country… it is actually 5x the size of UK, 3x the size of Germany or 2x the size of France. So altogether, if you take Spain, Portugal and France you will get the area of South Africa. Not so small, right? So the distances between your main attractions will also be big. You will need to travel 500 km from Johannesburg to Kruger Park. A bit less to Sun City – around 300 km. Durban is 600 km away from Johannesburg, and Cape Town 1500 km. To get from Cape Town to Durban by car, you will need 2 days. All those destinations have airports, so you can fly, but I strongly advise hiring a car. There is network of long distance busses and trains as well, but this might prove to be logistic mission when travelling with kids, therefore car is best option. South Africa is served by the international providers such as EuropeCar, Avis, Budget, Tempest, Sixt and many more. Rates are surprisingly affordable, you should be able to get a small car with AC for 250 rand/day (just under 25 USD). Remember about car seats for your kids, you may need to pre-book. GPS is also a good idea.
  • Age of your child – it will cost you least if you travel with an infant. Children up to 2 years do not pay the fare, but they may not get a separate seat. If your child is under one year old, book a crib or the flight – you may have to do it well in advance as there are limited sits where crib can be fitted. You will need to take your child’s age when booking accommodation and deciding on the program of your trip. You can find plenty places that cater for small children – they provide any equipment needed, run kids clubs, provide babysitters. Many restaurants have big playground for kids where they are looked after by child minder. Ask about facilities for children in the venue and around, even if the hotel does not advertise them on their website. We never had any issues traveling with our 5-year-old and were able to organise childcare even at short notice.
  • Accommodation – hotels in South Africa are predominantly child friendly, although there are facilities where children are not allowed. Those are usually some of the very exclusive and luxury ones, mainly in national parks. Good alternative to hotel if you are travelling with children is renting an apartment or a bungalow – the availability is plentiful, especially in holiday towns close to the oceans.  Best database of the accommodation that I found is  http://www.wheretostay.co.za/, and  http://www.sleeping-out.co.za/ . If you are looking for apartment by the sea you can try those in Durban and Capetown.
  • Your child’s needs (food, diapers) – thee is  no issue with availability of western baby products in South Africa, so unless your child likes something very specific, take only what you need for few days, the rest you can buy locally. Hotel or guesthouse will usually provide cot with bedding. If you are planning to camp in plenty of SA’s camping facilities (which are very good and often are attached to resorts with restaurant, swimming pools and many other attractions), you can hire many baby things from http://www.babylite.co.za/.
  • Food – in South Africa you can eat in restaurants and guesthouses without worrying about health issues. Food is generally prepared according to international standards and there is a great variety of choice. Portions are quite big (compared to European restaurants). Many restaurants have separate menu for children (with classics like fish or chicken fingers, burgers, pastas and more). Like with adult portions – children portions are quite big and even an older child should be content with the size of their meal. As I mentioned before, many restaurants have playground – the most common ones known as family restaurants are Spur or Primi Piatti, which can be found in every bigger town. You can also check EatOut for more child friendly restaurants.
  • Children on safari – if you are planning to see wild animals in one of national parks in South Africa specifically with a tour operator, please check the age limits. Any restrictions are not defined by law, but rather arising from tour operators trying to reduce their exposure to risk (as you know children can be unpredictable and rules in parks have to be strictly followed). If you are intending to visit parks independently, make sure that your children follow the rules and can handle the fact that they may not be able to get out of the car till you get to a picnic spot. There are many picnic spots in Kruger or Pillansber Park (or others) so this shouldn’t be a problem, but prepare your child that it will not happen immediately. Of course, if you are planning to do more adventurous activities (such as shark cage diving, ziplining, quad biking etc.) there are ALWAYS age restrictions. But that’s common sense :-)…
  • Common sense… – apparently „common sense is not so common”… If you have any doubts about something, ASK. If you can’t ask, use your intuition. If you are driving through area and do not feel safe, leave is as soon as you safely can. If you are in a situation with other people and you are not feeling comfortable, then there is  chance that your inner voice is actually warning you. LEAVE. Do not worry about offending someone in situation like that, especially if you have children with you. South Africa has the bad reputation for safety for a reason. Do not take more risk than you need to.

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