Easily the most well-known safari destination in the world, South Africa is approachable to first-timers traveling to the continent, but the country's diversity beyond 'The Big Five' will have you coming back for more.
Its impressive coastline, big cities, serene winelands, rich history, mix of cultures, and surprising gastronomy scene makes South Africa a phenomenal honeymoon destination, and also an ideal place to travel to as a family.
Tribu Founder Marni Granston and Travel Designer Sarah Bello recently went on a trip to this beautiful country with their husbands and children, all kiddos under the age of 10. It was the Bello family’s first time to Africa, but they, along with the Granston’s, are not foreign to family travel. And, as your Travel Designers, may I also add they know a thing or two about planning an as-seamless-as-humanly-possible family vacation (you know, with the things actually in their control…not void of say, a kid getting sick).
Here we get into all the gritty details of their trip: the places they stayed and what makes each of them special, a mini guide to Cape Town with recommendations, thoughts and tips on traveling that far with kids, and why booking tours in Cape Town when traveling with a group makes a big difference.
Quite the Journey
For those who’ve never been to this part of the world, it’s hard to fathom how lengthy of a trip it is–especially coming from the West Coast. Flying direct from New York City to Cape Town is around 15 hours, so depending on your departing city, you could be spending 24 hours in the air. And with kids!?
Although there isn’t just one way to go about it, the Granston’s and Bello’s opted for a stopover in Paris. For a three-night stay, they not only got to explore the dreamy French city, but they got the kids in the relative time zone for South Africa. Marni mentioned that oftentimes these trips are jam-packed, so getting the kids on the time zone helps to avoid jet lag and hit the ground running once in South Africa.
A couple downsides though? The weather in Europe and Southern Africa are flopped, so wintertime in Paris means the required layers and lugging winter coats around for the duration of the trip. This, although fine for their specific trip, can become an issue with luggage weight limits on smaller planes into the bush. Additionally, if you only have a given number of vacation days, it’s a toss-up on whether or not you want to take days away from the main destination for a long stopover. Sarah mentions, “Time in South Africa is already such a commitment and there’s so much to do and see there…you don’t want to take time away from actually being there.”
As far as the flight time itself, living during a time with devices galore, the kids can be consumed for hours by screen time on the flight. And in the case of flying for hours upon hours, devices are a godsend.
Another option is splurging when necessary by flying business class–or maybe just one way. And this is an option for anyone traveling to South Africa (I can't say I've ever met anyone who has thoroughly enjoyed being on a plane that long, but certain things make it more or less tolerable).
The direct flights that I mentioned above operate out of D.C., Newark, and Atlanta, but some flights have tricky layover times that are too close for comfort, which may require an additional overnight. Piecing this all together can get tricky, but that’s what we’re here for! There are plenty of options to make the long journey more desirable for all. And yes, on long days in with air with kids, devices are our friends.
Cape Town Explorations, But Personalized
To know this city is to love it (and we think that's just a fact). There’s truly so much to do and see whether your focus is nature, adventure, culture, history, or food.
First, the kids loved Table Mountain and wanted to go back the next day. Depending on the age and agility of both the kids and adults, there’s the option of hiking to the top of Table Mountain, or taking the cable car back and forth and spending some time at the top where there are plenty of hiking trails and picturesque views of the city and ocean below.
Another iconic Cape Town activity that was loved by the group is getting up close and personal with the penguins at Boulder’s Beach–something that can only be accurately described as magical. The water is so clear and the surroundings tropical, as if you’re on a beach in the Seychelles, and Tribu private guides set up a picnic in a private area of the beach to enjoy the water and sunshine. The drive out to Boulder’s is also spectacular with stops in the little towns along the way and unforgettable places for photo ops.
Sure, anyone can see Boulder’s Beach or hike Table Mountain, but what makes it truly special is experiencing these places with a local guide. Seeing a destination through the lens of people who are from there and devouring their backstories and knowledge gives you real insight into a destination. “Our guides are an extension of their country–they are representatives of their home,” says Marni. In addition to getting exactly what you signed up for, the guides suggest other local hotspots and include personal stories that you can't get from a guidebook. The tours are so personalized, and the guides are easy-going, flexible, and able to read the room. You’re not stuck to a specific timeframe, but ebb and flow naturally to ensure time is well spent but also enjoyable.
The Granston/Bello group mentioned how difficult it would have been taking the entire group to these places without drivers and guides, especially dealing with rental cars and coordinating everyone. They said breaking up the group was never an issue either if any issues arose or if anyone had differing interests. The group carried on while others could stay behind, and the parents could also relax.
And finally, a culinary scene that rivaled their time in Paris, Cape Town is delectable. Sarah's favorite meal and one of her favorites of all time was at The Pot Luck Club. They also enjoyed dinner at Fyn Restaurant that's featured on The World's Best 50 Restaurants of 2022 list.
Location, Location, Location
Throughout their time in Cape Town, they stayed at One & Only. This luxury accommodation is in the heart of the city with unobstructed views of Table Mountain and a traditional harbor at the V&A Waterfront. It's in a prime and convenient location for exploring on foot—to the V&A Waterfront and the aquarium—and getting around the rest of the city. Ideal for families with kids for the kid's club and pool, the resort itself is huge and the rooms are spacious. Both Marni and Sarah commented on how fantastic the service and food was.
Following Cape Town, the group was transferred to Babylonstoren at the foot of Simonsberg in the Franschhoek wine valley. One of the oldest Cape Dutch farms, Babylonstoren is a contemporary Farm Hotel & Spa surrounded by fruit and vegetable gardens. On the property is a their very own farm-to-table restaurant and bakery. The stay here was unexpectedly the highlight of the trip.
The rooms are very comfortable cottages, and perfectly setup to accommodate families. The backdrop is mountains with the sprawling gardens and vineyards and it makes for a beautiful escape from the city. With its close proximity from Cape Town (only about 30 minutes), it's possible to even make the property your base and go on tours from there. Marni and Sarah mentioned how they could have easily stayed there for five days.
The food at Babel, Babylonstoren's restaurant, is made from whatever's fresh on the farm. The meals are seasonal, locally grown, and delicious. In between meals, there's a small market where you can find little bites to eat and sit outside while indulging in meats, cheeses, and wine. It truly has the dreamiest views. Marni adds while laughing, "There were just always bottles of wine. Like everywhere. By the pool. In your room. It was encouraged to help yourself to them."
As for the kids, they went fishing at the pond, played soccer, and rode bikes on the property. They loved gathering their own eggs for breakfast and feeding the farm animals. There's also a beautiful pool and hot tub the kids enjoyed. The golf cart to get around was also a fun addition.
There are many dining options in the winelands and it's a great location for people who are really into food, and of course, wine. One can easily get around by Uber out there, or there's a wine tram that will take you to different wineries.
Finally, the crew headed out to Greater Kruger National Park area to Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve to stay at Cheetah Plains, an innovative eco-luxury safari lodge. After a flight from Cape Town they settled into their villas—each massive in size with living spaces, large bathrooms, and walk-in closets. They had a detached private communal space only to be used by the two families, as well as a huge infinity pool overlooking a river where hippos hang out. The living spaces and rooms all opened up to make it indoor/outdoor, and each room had a private wine cellar where you have full access to top South African wines. They said they didn't run into another guest throughout their stay.
They participated in a wine tasting led by a young sommelier who was excited to share his knowledge. They tasted different varietals and even the same bottle of wine in different shaped glasses to see how it affects the taste. The staff overall was incredibly accommodating and always there and ready to help. The chef would openly converse and specifically ask you what you wanted to eat.
Cheetah Plains is ideal for multigenerational families where all can come separate and have that sense of privacy, but congregate. It's also great for people who want an "easy" safari experience where you can see all the animals in three or four days, be taken care of, relax in a pristine and luxe environment free of mosquitoes and other tent/glamping woes.
The entire Cheetah Plains property runs off solar, and the safari vehicles are electric so you're not constantly smelling gasoline. The vehicles were the nicest Marni's ever seen, and she's been on safari many times! The seats were heated and very comfortable, and the vehicles were also incredibly quiet, so they were able to sneak up on wildlife. Their guide was amazing and incredibly knowledgeable. They saw so many animals, leopards and lions being among the favorite.
Sarah explains, "The boys were at the ideal age for the safari (9 & 7) where they were able to take it all in, listen, and be participatory. It was incredibly impactful for them".
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