Existing on the southwestern tip of the continent, South Africa is a world away from the rest of the globe, and in more ways than one. The country is rife with small-scale adventure and discovery, wildlife typically only found in zoos and breathtaking scenes that wholly astound. Couple that with the spots of civilization sprinkled throughout the landscape offering engaging culture and captivating history, and you’ll find a multi-faceted trip promising delight and wonder: the perfect experience for young, inquisitive minds.
Of the many destinations for a family vacation in South Africa, perhaps none offer a slew of activities as magical as Cape Town. Located on the southwest coast, Cape Town has it all: pristine beaches, thriving city life, and world-class hiking on iconic Table Mountain. With so much wilderness and wonder worth discovering, here are a few activities local guides have told us about that your family won’t want to miss.
SWIM WITH THE PENGUINS
For a beach day far removed from what you’re used to, take a trip to Boulders Beach. While the soft white sand and clear blue water are what you expect, the large stone boulders are only the second most unusual thing here: this beach is home to over 2,000 African penguins. Head to Boulders Visitors Centre for an engaging lesson on these adorable critters from the resident experts, then head down to the beach for a day of fun in the sun with them. While the African penguins are cute, and you’re welcome to snap selfies and swim with them, it’s important to respect that these are wild animals. The park rangers will tell you as well: do not feed the animals, or invade their personal space-their beaks are sharp!
HIKE TABLE MOUNTAIN
Few mountains in the world are as iconic as Table Mountain: the 3,558 ft mountain is capped off with a plateau that’s two miles from side to side. While the destination provides for sweeping birds-eye views of the city, the coast and all the surrounding world, the real fun is in the journey. You can opt to take a cable car up, which will provide five minutes of smooth soaring as the 65-passenger car slowly rotates a full 360-degrees. Or, hike up the mountain with a variety of trails that offer different difficulties and, in the process, savor the fresh air and incredibly diverse fauna and wildlife. Depending on your collective fitness level and the trail chosen, you can expect the hike to take anywhere from one to four hours.
For an informative peek at some of South Africa’s history, families would be wise to take a trip to Robben Island. A former point of dread in the ocean, the island today serves as a somber, but necessary, lesson on the hard truths about the past. A tour of Robben Island takes you through the various roles the island has served throughout time-from the leper colony, to the lime quarry where political prisoners were forced to work, to the army and navy bunkers in World War II, and then finally the maximum-security prison. The trip to the island is more than worth it for a visit to Nelson Mandela’s cell, as it solidifies his legacy and helps provide a shining example for future generations.
DIVE WITH GREAT WHITES
If your kids are old enough to fancy themselves adventurers or thrill-seekers, South Africa can provide an adventure rarely found elsewhere: swimming up close with sharks. A variety of shark diving options reside within Cape Town, but the gist of all are the same: submerge yourself underwater within a shark cage to come face-to-face with the awe-inspiring Great White in its natural habitat. While seeing such a predator is quite an adrenaline rush, the risk is negligible: with the strength of steel and the ingenuity of engineering, you are entirely impenetrable within the cage-though it’s worth noting that the shark is there simply out of curiosity, and not on a destructive rampage.
PET A CHEETAH
A quintessential animal of the African continent, the cheetah catches the imaginations of all ages with its speed and spots. For this very reason, the whole family will certainly delight with a visit to the Cheetah Outreach. You’ll have the chance to meet and pet adult cheetahs and cheetah cubs, as well as bat-eared foxes, caracals, and meerkats. Besides the wealth of memories provided from seeing these cats up close or as a blur striding across the park, you’ll also receive substantial knowledge on all aspects of their existence. While conservation is a tough yet worthwhile endeavor, you’ll leave knowing there are steps being taken to help save these majestic creatures, and your visit helped play a part.
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