South Africa: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kruger National Park, Victoria Falls and Sun City
Fly in/out: Cape Town/Johannesburg
Recommended ages: 12 and up
Ball Park Price: High end ($5,000 above pp)(airfare not included)
Currency: The Rand
Best Season: September-April for warmer temps; May-August a little chillier
Time Zone:CST +7
DAY ONE: Book through American Airlines to fly British Airways to London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and arrive in London, England. Take the Heathrow Express into the city, and the circle line underground tube to the Tower of London. Spend a few hours exploring the Tower of London. Return to the airport for evening flight to Cape Town.
DAY TWO: Fly from London Heathrow in the evening to Cape Town International Airport (CPT), South Africa via British Airways. Arrive in the morning and check into City Lodge Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town. Drop off luggage and take the Table Mountain Cableway up to Table Mountain to catch beautiful views of the city. In the afternoon, take a ferry to Robben Island to visit Nelson Mandelas cell of 18 years.
DAY THREE: Take a full-day private tour booked with Ilios Travel for a drive along the coast to the Cape of Good Hope and Peninsula where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Along the way visit an ostrich farm to feed the ostriches and then stop at Boulder’s Beach to view thousands of penguins swim and play in the sand.
DAY FOUR: Just 50 km east of Cape Town along the banks of the Eerste River, enjoy a full day private tour via Ilios Travel of the wine country of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch University and a butterfly farm. Enjoy lunch at La Petite Ferme Restaurant.
DAY FIVE: Go “Great White Shark Tank Diving” with Marine Dynamics Shark Tours. Start the day with a briefing, gear up in wet suits, take a tour to Dyer Island and Shark Alley and submerge in the water in a shark tank for face-to-face close encounter with a great white shark. In the afternoon, pack for Johannesburg.
DAY SIX: Fly Bristish Airways to Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport (JNB) and check in at Courtyard Rosebank. Take a “Half-Day Lion Park Tour” with Themba Day Tours & Safaris, a division of A-Waybury Adventures.
DAY SEVEN: Take a full-day Soweto and Apartheid Museum tour and Gold Reef City Tour to climb down a gold mine shaft with Themba Day Tours & Safaris.
DAY EIGHT – TEN: Depart for Simbambili Game Reserve by charter plane, Bateleur Air Charter, booked through Thornybush Collection. Simbambili Game Reserve is along the Manyeleti River in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, part of the world-renowned Kruger National Park. Enjoy two days of walking and driving game safaris.
DAY ELEVEN – THIRTEEN: Board two small planes also on Bateleur Air Charter to take a 30 minute jaunt to Thornybush Game Lodge. Enjoy 3 days on game safaris provided by Thornybush Game Lodge.
DAY FOURTEEN & FIFTEEN: Fly to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls Airport (VFA) and transfer to Victoria Falls, Zambia with multiple border crossings and immigration checks (see helpful hints). Check into the Royal Livingstone Hotel. Take in two days of the Victoria Falls. Enjoy the fabulous restaurants within the resort.
DAY SIXTEEN & SEVENTEEN: Fly to Johannesburg and transfer to the Palace of the Lost City at Sun City, South Africa with transportation arranged in advance through hotel. Enjoy the last two days enjoying this opulent and giant waterpark.
DAY EIGHTEEN & NINETEEN: Fly back through Johannesburg back to London and home.
- Our first few days were spent exploring Cape Town. As soon as we landed, we took advantage of the weather and climbed on one of the most popular tourist attraction, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway (often closed due to bad weather). Then we took the ferry to see Robben Island to learn about the maximum security prison where thousands of South Africa’s freedom fighters were incarcerated, including Nelson Mandela. The tour guides are former political prisoners from the island. Our second day we spent on a private tour first to Cape of Good Hope where we saw wild baboons, wild ostrich, penguins and whales. Our third day we enjoyed the beautiful wine country area of Stellenbosch. And our final day included a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience of shark cave diving. Two of the three kids tried this face-to-face encounter with great white sharks and they still haven’t stopped talking about it.
- We had a fascinating two days in Johannesburg with a Lion Tour that allowed the kids to play with baby lion cubs and visited a petting zoo. Our full-day Soweto tour included seeing Nelson Mandela’s House and Tutu’s house, two Nobel Peace Prize winners living down the block from one another. Eat lunch at Wandie’s eating a traditional African Buffet in a his home and visiting the Hector Pieterson museum and Apartheid Museum learning about the Apartheid Regime.
- We boarded a small charter plane to Simbambili Game Lodge located in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and spent two days on game drives at dawn and dusk. The late afternoon-evening rides were a little chilly but saw cape buffalo, lionesses, herd of elephants and gazelles. (Not a leopard here even though this lodge is famous for it’s viewings.) For one dinner, we drove into the bush and had a candle-lit dinner with tables set with china and white table cloths making a very memorable and beautiful evening.
- Despite a bumpy flight from flying from Simbambili Game Lodge to Thornbury we were able to see herds of animals across the landscape. Over the course of the three days with dusk and dawn drives, we saw herds of elephants so close to our jeep we could almost reach out and touch them, a chase between a lion and wart hogs, wildebeests blocking the road, cheetah cubs playing a few feet away, and finally we completed our big 5 and finally saw a leopard. At night, you could hear the sounds of Africa as though they were right outside your hut, and in some cases they were.
- In the Royal Livingstone, we were 15 minute walk from one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls. The power of the falls was unreal and the kids loved getting drenched. We saw two beautiful rainbows and they formed a complete circle. We ran into the animal trainer from the hotel who let us observe the on site zebras and giraffe feeding time. Not positive to this day that was a good idea.
- Our last jaunt to Sun City, South Africa for a Las-Vegas type extravaganza for the kids at The Palace of the Lost City at Sun City. The hotel features the world’s steepest and longest water slides, valley of the waves, and daily game drives.
- Our three days of game safaris at the Thornybush were a surreal thrill with game drives and bush walks with spectacular wildlife viewing. While always feeling safe and pampered, we never forgot for a moment we were in the wild. We were joined by baboons and monkeys during some meals, we watched elephant families frolik, and we all got to see some spectacular wild hunting attempts and kills.
- The Great White Shark Tank Dive: In terms of adrenaline rushed adventure, this one takes the cake. This excursion was enjoyed by Dad and the bravest of children ranging from age 10 and up. Hard to believe, but this close encounter with the sharks received rave reviews.
- Our first hotel stay in Cape Town at the City Lodge Victoria & Alfred Waterfront was inexpensive, comfortable and centrally located for a nice walk of the waterfront with multiple restaurants and shops in Cape Town.
- In Johannesburg, we stayed at Courtyard Rosebank, another City Lodge Hotel Group hotel. It has all the basics of good service, breakfast available, and located across the street from a mall. Our tours picked us up and dropped us off at our hotel.
- The Simbambili Game Lodge, part of the Thornbury Collection, is a five star rated location. It had airconditioned rooms with en suite bathrooms. This lodge features a watering hole and wildlife viewing from your suite. The staff were great and drives were incredible. This lodge recommends kids aged 12 and up only.
- Thornbury Game Lodge: Also a five-star location and deservedly so. The suites offered private decks with vistas over the savannah. The suites were air-conditioned and had a full en-suite bathroom. The accommodations were luxurious.
- Royal Livingstone Hotel: A real splurge, this 5 star plus hotel is just a 15 minute walk to the Victoria Falls with an unlimited and private entrance. The hotel is like taking a step back in time and the sunset dining overlooking the Zamia River was spectacular.
- An opulent almost over the top hotel having a “Las Vegas-esk” feel, we spent our last two nights at Palace of the Lost City in Sun City. Kids enjoyed this endless waterpark and were able to run and swim off all their energy before the two day flight home.
- This trip was planned with input from friends who live in South Africa and helped piece together all the amazing elements covering the course of almost three weeks. When booking with the hotel, tour operator or local travel company especially with 6 months in advance, negotiate for a minimum of 10%.
- Where possible, purchase tickets in advance for popular locations like the Tower of London and Table Mountain Cableway to skip the queue.
- Getting a flight to Victoria falls can be a little tricky. There are two airports near Victoria Falls; the Livingstone, Zambia Airport (LVI) and the Victoria Falls Airport, Zimbabwe (VFA). We realized later that we should have flown into the Zambian side and would have avoided dealing with entrance taxes, passports and immigration. If you are staying at a hotel on the Zambian side then try to fly into the Zambia airport.
- I would recommend preparing your children for everything that a game drive entails. Long drives over bumpy roads often for many minutes or hours not seeing wildlife. And when you do see the wildlife, it can involve a kill, a recent kill or the hunt. Some children are not fully prepared for all those realities, so help them beforehand if possible.
- Wear neutral colors, neutral layers and pack light. Keep in mind, laundry is available at most locations and camps, but the transportation between all the camps are very small planes and require very light luggage.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that travelers intending to visit Africa should consult a medical professional up to six months in advance and schedule vaccinations at least six weeks in advance. The North Shore Chicago Travel Center is a great resource.
- Visas are currently not required to enter South Africa for U.S. citizens. They do stress to keep two clean pages on the passport and that your passports be current for 30 days after departure from the country. For current information, visit the U.S. State Department site
- A wonderful overview of South Africa providing the rich and complex history of this country is the series entitled: A Traveller’s History of South Africa.
Places to stay
Featured restaurants recommended by friends living in South Africa: