There is so much to see in this beautiful country and we barely skimmed the surface!
I've been putting off this blog post for a long time because I didn't know if I should split it up into smaller posts, or make one long post about what to do in South Africa. I've decided to make it into one post... and structure it as "One Week in South Africa".
So here we go! This was our itinerary for one week in South Africa. It was FULL on and "go go go" from start to finish. I would have loved to take more time but we had to make do with the time we had.
Days 1-3: Johannesburg
Days 4-5: Cape Town
Days 6-8: Pilannesburg National Park
What to do in/from Johannesburg
My daughter was seven years old for this trip. Some things were way above her head and some things weren't very exciting for her... but I tried to teach her the little I knew as we went along and tried to make sure she knew why I thought it was important to see. For most of this trip, I was alone with my daughter (my husband was in work meetings) so we did a lot of organized tours. We felt safe and comfortable on all of our tours.
Our accommodations in Johannesburg were actually north of the actual city and in Pretoria. We stayed in a lovely hotel, The Capital at Menlyn Main, with spacious family rooms, lots of places to eat close by, and a great outdoor pool area to enjoy.
Nelson Mandela's childhood home. This was a really important site to see. Especially amidst a renewed sense of activism around the world. I wanted her to know who he was and what he did for the country and for the world. It was a short visit, but inspiring.
Soweto. Most of our day in Johannesburg was incredibly rainy and cold! We weren't prepared for that. We drove around Soweto- the South African township where Mandela was raised and where black south africans were forced to live. From the 1950s Soweto became an epicenter of political campaigns aimed at overthrowing the apartheid state, and in 1955 it was the location where 3,000 people came together to adopt the Freedom Charter - which is what the South African Constitution is now based.
Constitution Hill. We were scheduled to go to the Apartheid Museum but as we came in the off season, it was closed for the day. We opted for Constitution Hill instead and had a very impactful visit. Constitution Hill is a living museum that tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy. The site is a former prison and military fort that bears testament to South Africa’s turbulent past and, today, is home to the country’s Constitutional Court, which endorses the rights of all citizens. The prison site was stark and foreboding. What an interesting experience for my little one that had never been someplace so sad. This place imprisoned the likes of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Joe Slovo. Albertina Sisulu, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and Fatima Meer.
We ended our visit in their Constitution Hall and left in awe of the changes South Africa has made in such a short period of time. Is it perfect? No. But what an example they are to the world!
Acrobranch. After a day of touring and museum-ing I promised the little we would have a kids day. We played at the pool and then went to Acrobranch. There are several locations in the area and she had an absolutely fantastic time. Ropes courses, climbing, zip lines and more.
Lion & Safari Park. Close to Johannesburg are several lion parks that you can visit. All of them vary on what they offer, what they do, or what you'll see. I would recommend visiting a park that is doing their best to harbor animals safely and then returning them to their natural habitats and not keeping them purely for show. We really loved this place and were a little obsessed with those sun bathing lions!
Cradle of Humankind. If you want to go somewhere unique and unforgettable- you must make it here. We had never been anywhere like this: a site where they have found the OLDEST hominid bones and where humankind began. So old we can't even fathom it. It really blew our minds. The museum on site was great and very kid friendly, but the caves were a little scary. They are very dark and cool and there is one spot where you nearly have to crawl through. If you or your little ones have anxiety about the dark or tight spaces, this may be something you should skip.
Travel Tip- A lot of these ideas can be combined into one day trip!
Soweto and Johannesburg sites in one day trip.
Lion Park and Cradle of Humankind in one day trip.
What to do in/from Cape Town
From Johannesburg we flew down to Cape Town. It is a short, easy flight and there are a lot of options from O.R. Tambo International Airport. Our time in Cape Town was short so we set out to do what we could!
Cable car to Table Top Mountain. We were very excited for this excursion, but we ended up not being able to go up the cable car due to high winds. Also... high winds occur frequently in Cape Town and the cable car is actually closed more days of the year than it is open! We didn't know this going in and so we were bummed when this happened. However, the views from the base cable car station are also phenomenal.
There are also hikes all over Table Top Mountain. We would have loved to do one of these, but we didn't have time. It is recommended to go with a guide was weather can change rapidly.
Big Bus Tour. I know, I know... these big buses are so tacky and kind of the worst... but we actually had the best time. It was SO easy to use, the bus had Wifi, the bus had toilets, and we got to stop at two AMAZING locations: Boulders Beach Penguin Colony AND Cape of Good Hope. We fell IN LOVE with these penguins. They were so cute (and a little stinky). We loved walking along the boardwalks and trying to find them waddling around, or nesting in the bushes. This was a HUGE hit for the little kiddo.
Cape of Good Hope was mesmerizing. I loved watching nature work as the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet. This world is so beautiful and amazing.
V&A Waterfront. It's no secret that colonialism was alive and strong in South Africa... thus the name for the port area in Cape Town. Cape Town has seen it's share of invaders- from the Dutch to the English... but this area along the water has been beautifully redone with shops, hotels and restaurants and a stunning view of Table Top Mountain.
Safari in Pilannesburg National Park
There are many places to go on Safari in South Africa. Unfortunately we weren't able to make it to Kruger National Park, so we decided on one that was close to Johannesburg to make it easy to catch our flight back home. As you can see, we jumped back and forth around the country as it worked best for us... BUT you can probably figure out a more time efficient way to do this.
We were all SOOOOO excited for our safari. We had this booked a couple years ago, right before Covid. We've been sitting on this credit for a long time and were so stoked about going. Unfortunately, we didn't have the best weather... and it kind of rained the whole time. Why does this matter? Your schedule on safari is waking up very early to get on the vehicle to see animals. You safari from about 6am to 9am and then you come back to the lodge for breakfast. During this time you get to relax, swim, enjoy activities and other things until your evening safari around 6pm. That is a LOT of time during the day where you don't have anything scheduled, and because of the bad weather- everything was cancelled for us. Too cold to swim, the outdoor BBQ was cancelled and all the outdoor kid club activities were cancelled. It ended up being a lot of time during the day to essentially watch TV in our room.
I know that is no ones fault. So let's get over it and onto the beauty of safari. When we were actually outside searching for animals in the national park, we were giddy with anticipation and excitement. It was an incredible adventure and something we'll remember for the rest of our lives!
I rented a telephoto lens for this trip and it was 100% worth it. I would definitely recommend doing that! It was heavy to carry and gave me bruises as it hit my hip while walking- but I have no regrets. The pictures we got of the animals are unreal. There was a moment during one of our safaris that we were encircled in a tower of giraffes. It was silent in the vehicle and we just sat for a while in awe of these magnificent creatures.
Another moment that was incredible was when we saw a pride of lions walking away from a resting point and our driver guessed EXACTLY where they would go and we were the first car following them. We were up so close and personal that I thought they may jump right in our car! WOW!!!!
Our lodging accommodations were wonderful. It was unfortunate the weather cancelled all their special activities... but we felt well cared for here. Bakubung Lodge is one of the only lodges I found that would let children come on safari. Their vehicles were much taller than most and the sides of the vehicle were really high; keeping us all safe. Would definitely recommend this place for families!