Kent’s Family Travel in South Africa: Cape Town

July 16, 2012  By: Rob Howard

Cape Town is a favorite for many of our clients. Its unique setting with majestic Table Mountain, beautiful coastline and vibrant cityscape, make for an unbeatable combination. This is not to mention the mouthwatering food, delicious wine, great music and proximity to special destinations such as the Cape Winelands.

But Cape Town for families poses a unique challenge. What to do when you’re in such a city with two boys ages 7 and 8?

On the way to Cape Town from Gaansbai, we took the slow but scenic coastal route. Highlights included lunch on the beach at Hermanus (look out for the “baboon crossing” signs along the main road), and a visit to Betty’s Bay, one of the best places to see African penguins. Traveling in May, we were able to see many penguins nesting, and even one fat chick sunning itself under the watchful eye of its mother or father (it’s hard to sex a penguin!).

Cape Town has a long history and driving through the city reveals sites such as the colorful houses in the Cape Malay district and the Company Gardens, also known as the Company’s Garden, the original area used to grow food for passing ships.  Today visitors can also explore the South African Museum, Planetarium, National Gallery, Jewish Museum and Parliament, which all form part of the Gardens. The Anglican St. Georges Cathedral and the South African National Library are also located at the end of the Gardens. There are of course, lots and lots of shops and restaurants.

But our family are not good shoppers most of the time, so we opted to enjoy other activities. One jam packed day, we started with a visit to Robben Island, the Alcatraz-like prison island where Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners were incarcerated for many years during the Apartheid era. The tour starts from Cape Town’s vibrant Waterfront area. And while Robben Island is much bigger and more multi-faceted than Alcatraz, it was not the most popular stop on our tour.  For younger kids, the tour is a bit long and the guides hard to understand.  An unexpected bonus was sighting whale spouts on the boat trip to the island and African penguins on the island.

For our family, the highlight of Cape Town had to be a trip up Table Mountain. While it looks dramatic looking up from the city, nothing can compare with the view from the top. We’re an active family and would have enjoyed the long hike up, but time was short, so we took the cable car. In just 4 short minutes we went from base to top and there enjoyed one of the most spectacular views in the world. For those who experience vertigo, it can be a bit scary, but still worth it.

Keeping the whole family happy while traveling requires flexibility. So while mom and dad would have enjoyed some more history in the afternoon, we opted for one more beach visit at trendy Camps Bay. Here you can enjoy beautiful sand and beautiful people either on the sand or from one of the beachside cafes lining the main drag. After ice cream and some sightseeing from Lion’s Head, we headed back to our hotel, the Cape Cadogan. Staying here was a real highlight for us. The friendly service and central location make it a great base from which to explore the city. For those looking for a real splurge, ask for the Owner’s Villa, two floors of roomy comfort, complete with kitchen, large sitting and dining rooms, private deck and plunge pool and roomy bedroom. Inter-leading doors allow for a second bedroom to be used, granting more privacy for family members.

Picking the best family friendly accommodations is certainly key to a successful safari.  Read about our top picks and other family travel tips in the last installment of my blog.