How can you experience the best of South Africa with a toddler in tow? If you follow my ultimate itinerary in a little under three-weeks you’ll see the best the country has to offer.
Although I’ve written this based on our experience of visiting South Africa with a toddler this 17 night itinerary could be enjoyed by anyone.
South Africa needs no introduction. The mix of food, scenic drives and warm hospitality are why people return year after year. This is the kind of trip that you can entirely set the pace for. Accommodation options are plentiful with an amazing range of luxury hotels to alternative B&B’s to choose from.
The itinerary for our South Africa road trip seemed to take forever (and a lot of spreadsheets) to get right. I had been to South Africa before with a friend and travelled extensively for over a month, yet Jonathan had never been. Designing a combination of new experiences, playtime for Aurelia and something that would keep repacking to a minimum was a balancing act.
Our road trip was a total of 17 nights but you could easily extend it by going on safari – and you really should if you can. We did enquire but understandably the number of big 5 game reserves that are happy to accommodate a 16mth old are limited.
The driving distances on our road trip were small enough to accomplish in a few hours. And, with such scenic routes we felt we could manage to drive a couple of longer days to get to a new hotel base.
An itinerary to suit you
Two decades of exploring and reading about this country went into planning our 17 night tour. It includes many of my favourite places in the Cape, the Karoo and the Garden Route. We kept the hotel changes to a minimum with our itinerary (and toddler). But if you can I would instead do one-night stays in Swellendam and Oudtshoorn – or possibly skip them both. Use the time saved for a night or two at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve or De Hoop. Both are Unesco World Heritage sites – the area is full of flora, bird and marine life. It’s protected waters are a popular nursery for whales which return to calve and nurse their young between June and November.
Another place worth a mention is Hermanus which is world famous for land based whale watching and the nearest town to Grootbos.
You could enjoy this trip in two weeks by reducing the number of nights in Cape Town and the Crags but we wanted to have longer to relax at the beginning and end. If you only have a week then arrive into Cape Town and head west straight along the Garden Route.
Driving in South Africa
It’s really safe to drive in South Africa and if you’re sensible you will relax and enjoy the warmth hospitality that is abundant in South Africa. It’s not necessary to hire a car for the whole trip – get it delivered to the hotel in Cape Town a few days into your stay. Whilst in Cape Town you can get by with Uber’s but you will need a car to get down to the peninsula or take a tour.
The Western Cape is a wonderful area to explore with easy to drive roads that are mostly traffic free although like every city Cape Town is busy during rush hour. Peak season – from December to March can see the roads along the tourist routes fill up but nothing in comparison to the UK.
Depart on an overnight direct flight from the UK. Flight times are just under 11 hours from Heathrow. We flew with British Airways as we had airmiles to use and only had to pay tax for our flights.
Take an Uber from the airport in Cape Town direct to your hotel. We stayed at The Commodore Hotel at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront.
After a late breakfast and a freshen-up jump on the red City Sightseeing tour in the direction of the peninsula route. Get off at Camps Bay, stroll along the beach and enjoy a late lunch at Paranga. After, jump back on the bus to finish the loop.
For ease have dinner near the hotel at the waterfront. The food market has some great choices from oysters to bobotie.
Take an early taxi to the Table Mountain cableway. You can pre-buy tickets online – they’re valid for a week so in case it’s cloudy you can go an alternative day.
Ascend to the top in the revolving cabin and enjoy a birds-eye view of the slopes carpeted in greenery.
Once back on solid ground head to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and join a complimentary walking tour. Crouched underneath Table Mountain you can appreciate the grandeur of the mornings climb.
Arrange for your car to be delivered to your hotel this morning. After it’s arrival head to Constantia for a picnic at Buitenverwachting or Simon’s. Both are beautiful but the first is much better for families.
Alternative options include:
We would have liked to join one of the township tours today. We were deterred because they’re deemed unsuitable for toddlers. If you have older children or want to go anyway join the Uthando one. This not for profit initiative invests all proceeds back into the local community.
After the township tour catch a ferry to Robben Island from the V&A Waterfront and see where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.
In the evening sample the best sushi in Cape Town at Willoughby’s located in the V&A mall. You can’t reserve but it’s worth the wait
After an early start head off on a circular route of the Cape Peninsula. The route will take you south along the False Bay coast to Cape Point before heading north along the Atlantic. It can get busy at Cape Point so head straight there and stop off at Simon’s Town, Long Beach and Kalk Bay
A visit to Boulders Beach to see the African penguins is a hit with children and adults alike.
Stop at the Codfather for dinner at Camps Bay on your return to Cape Town.
Spend the last day exploring and relaxing in the city. The aquarium is a great hit with children of all ages. Once you’ve seen enough head to Kloof Street for lunch and a wander.
In the evening go to Lilly’s for dinner at Bantry Bay after a stroll along the promenade.
After checking out make your way to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. We joined a morning walking tour in Stellenbosch but the main attractions lie out of the town in off-the beaten track vineyards which cater for adults and children alike.
Many tourists choose to see Stellenbosch and Franschhoek on a day trip from Cape Town, but you can easily spend a night or two in Franschhoek. Taking time to enjoy the 360 mountain views, quaint streets and refined wines that the area is renowned for.
Tokara in Stellenbosch is a relaxed family vineyard with great food, views and wine. The founder has a quirky love of statues which are dotted amongst the gardens. There is also a great children’s area.
The Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch is a beautiful place to stop and have a look around. The luxury hotel has two restaurants and large terrace to dine at and is highly recommended if you’re travelling child free.
Late afternoon check-in to the slightly out of town Le Franschhoek Hotel and Spa before heading to Reubens for dinner. The food is amazing but the venue isn’t especially toddler friendly. They have an outside area which would be more suitable.
Pre-book tickets and spend the day exploring the valley using the hop-on-hop-off wine tram. After driving or taking an Uber to the tram station you will be transported round the valley by tram and train. We went on the blue route but I would also recommend the purple route – there are seven to choose from. The bigger vineyards often have large play areas for children as well as tractor drives. In peak season it’s worth booking at one of the restaurants or a picnic in advance.
Dine at Le Petit Femme in the evening after taking a stroll through their peacock filled gardens.
Drive east from Franschhoek to Swellendam. Depending on timings you could book a tour at the Panthera Big Cat Sanctuary which is on-route at Stanford.
After head to Rothman Manor where you’ll be based for the next two nights.
Dine at the alternative Garden Shack which is situated in a garden nursery. They serve amazing hake and chips.
De Hoop Nature Reserve – Overberg
Head south to the De Hoop Nature Reserve. It’s a bumpy dirt track once you leave Swellendam but you’ll be rewarded with beautiful scenery and maybe see some marine life. There’s a restaurant up at the hotel that serves an average lunch but if not pack a picnic and enjoy the beach.
After breakfast make tracks to Oudtshoorn through the semi-arid Klein Karoo. It’s largely uninhabited and a contrast to Cape Town and other towns of the Garden Route. Just out of Calitzdorp take the Buffelskloof/Kruisrivier turn-off to descend the Swartberg pass, one of the most jaw-dropping mountain passes in the country. Stay at Rosenhof Country House.
Spend the day exploring Oudtshoorn. The main attractions are ostrich farms and the Cango Caves. There are plenty of farms to choose from but Cango Ostrich Farm is one of the most humane and very friendly.
The Garden Route
Drive south to the coast stopping at The View at Wilderness for lunch followed by a walk at the reserve.
Stretch your legs at Knysna and drive to the top of The Heads or take a boat trip along the estuary. Continuing along the coast to the Fat Fish at Plettenberg Bay for dinner. After dinner continue east to the Crags and check into Hog’s Hollow.
Buy a multi-site ticket for Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary and Birds of Eden. The former is the world’s first free-roaming multi-species primate sanctuary and includes a 128-metre suspended canopy walk. Birds of Eden is the largest free flight aviary in the world. You can see over 280 species here.
After relaxing at the hotel in the afternoon head to Emily’s for dinner. If you can, ask for a table overlooking the balcony.
Drive to the edge of the Garden route to Tsitsikamma National Park. Here you can enjoy a range of walks that vary in length. The easiest is one that takes you to Storms River mouth suspension bridge. Although it’s largely decked you’ll need a baby carrier to do this walk.
In the evening pre-book for Zinzi’s and enjoy a wonderful meal.
Rescued big cats are rehomed at Jukani wildlife sanctuary. Join an 80 minute guided tour and rejoice at the freedom they have.
In the afternoon book ahead for a river cruise up the Keurboomstrand River. Snake your way up the Keurbooms gorge which is lined by an ancient indigenous forest.
Head to Robberg Peninsula and take the shorter 2km route for amazing views back along the Garden Route. It’s possible to see dolphins playing in the surf and whales in calving season. There’s a choice of two longer walks available but you will need a baby carrier for all and a lot of stamina.
Go to Keuboomstrand for lunch at Enrico’s before relaxing on the beach with a backdrop of multimillion pound beach homes.
Time to start the journey home. Make your way to Port Elizabeth or George to catch a flight to Johannesburg before your connecting flight to the UK.
If you’ve chosen to depart from Cape Town stay a night at De Hoop, Grootbos or Hermanus to break up the return drive.
If you’re looking to extend your stay you could go on safari now. There are a few child friendly options nearby including Addo Elephant Park. Or, take an internal flight and head north to one of many reserves at Kruger.
It’s perfectly possible to book this trip independently (as we did). If doing so book at least one night’s accommodation with your flight operator to ensure your entire trip is ATOL protected. If you prefer to book with a travel agent I would recommend Trailfinders or Audley Travel (Ask for Toby!).
*disclaimer, this is a completely independent review and we paid for everything ourselves. All opinions are 100% mine.
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