I can’t remember my kids ever being as excited about an adventure as they were when they discovered they were heading to Cape Town, visions of rhinos and lions dancing through their heads. And while Cape Town delivered on its wildlife promise – the kids even getting uncomfortably (for me) friendly with a couple of wild rhinos and taking a splash with a penguin or two – the city and its people left the kids wowed and changed in all the best possible ways.
Best known for its coastline and the omnipresent beauty of Table Mountain, it turns out that there is a tonne of other great stuff to see and do in Cape Town with kids. From engaging with its beautiful people, learning about its history, discovering its epic art, exploring its untamed natural beauty, to scoffing its tasty cuisine scene, Cape Town is made for families.
Here, Raffles (11) and Sugarpuff (8) share their thoughts on the best bits of Cape Town with kids.
Cape Town’s Great Outdoors
Cape Town, happily sandwiched between the mighty Table Mountain and an extraordinary coastline, is one of the world’s most naturally beautiful cities. With dozens of public nature reserves, lush forests, fields of fynbos, some of the world’s most spectacular beaches and that majestic mountain, it is a nature-lover’s delight. It certainly left my two eco tourists in a state of giddy. green-hued joy.
He said: “Going up the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway to soak up the views from the top left my jaw on the floor. This place is so darned beautiful it’s ridiculous. Then there was Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which is kind of at the bottom of Table Mountain and heaving with all this amazing native flora. Our friends Bud and Kristy showed us some really cool stuff there like the Braille Trail for visually impaired visitors, and the Boomslang, a really long canopy walkway through the trees. But it was at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve that I was left truly awed by nature. I mean, this place is off the charts. Surrounded by water and mountains and covered in flowers and plants, everywhere you look is eye popping. We went on horse rides through the fynbos (fine bush), saw humongous whales right off the beach, and went on the coolest safari in search of South Africa’s tiny five. Insects. And while we learned about the most vital of all the animal species in Africa, and their importance in the ecosystem, we also got to learn about the incredible native plants of gorgeous Grootbos, one of my new favourite places in the whole world.”
She said: “I have always loved plants and bugs! But after staying at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve I love them both even more. Especially bugs. Because we got to spend a couple of days with the resort’s entomologists who are kind of like insect scientists. They were super nice and taught us all about how important insects are to the world’s ecosystems. They took us out into the bush on horses and taught us about all the plants and even let me catch some of the bugs who live there. I caught stick insects, a praying mantis, a cool patterned beetle and Fluffy Jeff, a super furry black and orange caterpillar who loved cuddles. It was one of the best days ever. I think I was a good student because now I am growing my own garden at home to attract and care for all the insects to help the environment.”
Cape Town wildlife experiences
Of course, South Africa is famous for its incredible wildlife and while most kid friendly safari experiences are located outside of the Cape region, you can still enjoy a taste of it in Cape Town with kids. In fact, you don’t need to stray far from the city to see and experience a huge variety of wildlife. Surrounded by mountains and oceans, you’ll find furry critters scampering on the rocks of Table Mountain, flocks of flamingos, bolshy baboons and the Big Ocean Five – whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins – frolicking just off the coast. And while the majority of game reserves are further afield, there are options for Big Five game safaris not too far from town that left my wildlings in animal heaven.
He said: “OMG! Is South Africa spoiled for wildlife or what? You hardly even need to leave Cape Town to see it. Seriously, they even have a herd of hippos in Cape Town, not to mention Cape penguins, baboons and cute little animals called dassies that look a cross between a wombat and a Guinea pig but are actual related to elephants. But it’s when you get just outside of Cape Town things really go off. I mean I got to hang out with rhinos at Aquila Private Game Reserve, which is only about a two-hour drive from Cape Town. And by hang out, I actually mean I got out of a jeep about 15 metres from a pair of them without getting shish kebabbed. Epic!
Then there were the elephants, giraffes, zebra, a bazillion varieties of antelope, Cape buffalo and, of course, lions. We were only a few metres away from two male lions when they got into this big growly fight over who was boss. We stayed and got to watch as the younger lion overthrew his dad to become Aquila’s new resident Lion King.
Amazing! But the real reason Aquila is so awesome is because its purpose is to protect and preserve Africa’s threatened wildlife and they are doing really great things with Rhinos through their Saving Private Rhino program”.
She said: “I loved all the amazing animals at Aquila Game Reserve like rhinos and elephants and all the zebras, antelopes and giraffes. I liked the ostriches too, because they were kind of silly and funny. When we were in Cape Town we got to see laods of penguins. We went to a place called SANCCOB where they take care of hurt penguins. Cape Penguins are adorable, but you have to keep away from them because they are wild and have super sharp beaks. After we learned all about how endangered they are at SANCCOB, we adopted an injured one who we called Chidi. Then we went to visit Boulders Beach where penguins live in the wild. It was really pretty, and we saw babies and even got to swim with some off the beach.”
Cape Town’s best family beaches
With it’s prime location on South Africa’s coast, Cape Town is spoiled with beautiful beaches. Some wild, rocky and inaccessible, some where the hefty resident seals play coast guard, and others where the softest white sand meets calm clear waters that are so inviting you have to compete with penguins for a patch of ocean. Whether it was soaking up the scenery or the sunshine and sea, the kids found plenty to love about Cape Town’s glorious coastline.
He said: “Cape Town has some of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever seen. I loved Boulders Beach because the water there was so amazing, all still and clear and a freaky shade of pale blue and scattered with big smooth boulders, hence the name. But the best bit about it was sharing a towel and a swim with the cute Cape penguins that live there. At Kalk Bay beach they have these cool coloured beach huts, but I preferred staying dry and watching the show pony seals who kept twisting and striking poses for us at Kalk Bay Harbour.
But my favourite Beach was the private beach at Tintswalo Atlantic, a gorgeous eco resort in Hout bay where we stayed for a few nights. The ocean was way too rough for us to take a dip, but I loved sitting on the balcony of our awesome villa and listening to the crashing waves. And there was no sand either, just millions of smooth round rocks that we could collect and pile up into towers. It was the best.”
She said: “I liked how wild the beach was at Tintswalo and all the cool rocks that we could build things with, but my favourite beach ever has to be Boulders Beach because it was pretty and calm and we had it all to ourselves, except for a couple of penguins who waddled around the beach and even swam with us. I love penguins!”
Cape Town’s buzzing art scene
One thing my family wasn’t expecting was to be blown away by the burgeoning art scene and how accesible art is in Cape Town with kids. Already colourful, the city has redefined itself in recent times as a world class art centre, with thriving art schools, dynamic street art, and a great gallery scene which includes the new and extremely exciting Zeitz MOCAA (the Museum of Contemporary African Art), which little my little art-lovers seriously wowed.
He said: “A big surprise for me was how cool Cape Town’s art is. I mean, Cape Town has legit the best art gallery I’ve ever seen, Zeitz MOCAA. While the exhibitions themselves are super cool, especially “And So the Stories Ran Away,” which was all interactive and super clever, the actual building is a masterpiece. It’s an old grain silo that’s been chopped up and transformed into towering space age tubes of awesomeness. Like, seriously, this is the coolest modern building I’ve ever seen. Even the hotel sitting on top of it, The Silo, is like a gallery. Every wall in every area in every part of the hotel is covered with some of the coolest artworks I’ve ever seen.
Our two-storey family suite was especially cool. It was like a work of art itself with its bulging criss-crossed windows, ultra-arty furniture and so many amazing original artworks that we had our own in-room art catalogue. It was, without doubt, my favourite hotel ever. Even the rooftop swimming pool is art, with huge towering columns framing epic views of Table Mountain and a glass wall, so you can see underwater.”
She said: “I loved the pictures all over the walls in our room at The Silo, but it was the statues and sculptures that I liked best of all. I especially loved the little gold statue in our lounge room because he looked like he was blowing kisses.
I also loved the gallery downstairs (MOCAA) because the art was really, really good and I loved dancing in the sculpture garden and playing hide and seek with my brother in all the bendy, twisty places inside. There were cool sculptures outside the gallery too that you could sit in and they would roll around. They were super fun. And I loved all the life-size painted rhino statues in the city that were really colourful and cute, and the giant wall painting of a swimming elephant because it made me giggle.”
Cape Town music and dance
South Africa is famed for its musical culture which is highly participatory and an integral part of everyday life. South Africa’s musical traditions have influenced many musicians around the world. During the racial segregation of apartheid, South Africans were divided and defined according to ethnic groups. Music drawn from deep rooted traditions became a powerful tool for social comment and political opposition. Joyfully defiant, infectious and utterly irresistible, the kids found it impossible not to join in.
He said: “I don’t know why but when I hear African music, I can’t stop dancing. It’s so loud and infectious and the musicians are so talented. Everywhere we went people were singing and dancing, but my favourite performance was at a township called Khayelitsha, which we visited with Uthando South Africa, a not-for-profit tour company that helps empower young people in the township. Anyway, there was this amazing group of singers called Isibane Se Afrika who performed for us. They had these awesome drummers that really got under my skin. It was so exciting I just had to join in. The dancers were so cool that later that night when we bumped into them performing in the city, they remembered us and invited me to join them and I pulled out my best “Waka waka eh eh” moves when they started singing ‘This Time for Africa’.
She said: “People in South Africa seem to really love music. And I really loved listening to it because their music is so bouncy and fun and dancy. I loved that the performers always tried to include us. We sang the Waka Waka song so much that our South African tour guide called us the Waka Wakians, which was really funny.”
Exploring Cape Town’s townships
I don’t believe in showing only the shiny bright sides of a destination to my children and never hide the reality of the places we travel to. In South Africa, that reality can be rather confronting. The vast majority of Cape Town’s residents live in townships, originally formed through a systemic segregation that saw black and coloured labour forces separated from the city’s affluent white suburbs under the discriminatory rules of apartheid. Though Apartheid was abolished in 1994, many of these townships remain underdeveloped and the residents, many residing in tiny tin shacks with no running water, live well below the global poverty line. And there is still a great sense of division. It was this sense of division that saw violent riots break out in Overcome Heights, where we sponsor a lovely little girl called Christal-Lee, during our visit. But we were eager to give her a special day away from the danger, so we took our girl and her mum out for a day by the seaside where the kids bonded for life with their little South African sister. While Raff and Sugarpuff were definitely shocked by the poverty they saw and horrified by a racial divide they find hard to comprehend, they left educated and determined to do their bit to help in sustainable ways. I chalk that up to a success!
He said: “My mum had already explained to me about how almost half of the population of South Africa lives below the global poverty line and many people live in Townships. But I wasn’t really prepared for the reality of that. When we visited Khayelitsha with Uthando South Africa, I was so shocked to discover the township had a population of over a million people, most of whom live in tiny shacks made from corrugated iron and with no running water. But what didn’t surprise me is that the people in the Townships are awesome, because most people I met in South Africa were. While we were in Khayelitsha I got to play tag with the local kids who were so funny, and then Xolani from Uthando Tours took us to Kasi RC – Shack Art School & Theatre, and that blew my head off. It’s a drama and arts school where the Township kids are given a voice and a chance for a better future. We got to join a drama lesson which was fun but intimidating because these kids were legit best actors I’ve ever seen! I mean every one of them should get a Best Actor Oscar because they gave me chills with their performances. And then there was this hectic guy called Blaqshade (you should totally check him out) who can outrap just about anyone. I wanted to stay there for days.
But the person who moved me most was my South African “sister,” Christal-Lee, the cutest and chatteriest little girl who lives in a Township called Overcome Heights, who we’ve been helping for a few years with stuff like school uniforms, clothes, shoes and books through our friend Bud at Tin Mugs Africa Trust. Sadly, when we visited Cape Town there were violent riots in the township and it was too dangerous to visit, but we managed to get Christel-Lee and her mum out to take them to the seaside for the day, and it was just about the best day ever, except for the part where we had to send her back, which made us all cry.”
She said: “The Townships made me feel happy and sad all at the same time. Happy because the people were all so fun and the kids played with me, and because I finally got to meet my South African sissy, Christal-Lee, who is sweet and funny and super cute and who I super love! But it makes me sad too because all these nice people don’t have very much and where they live is really scary and dangerous and that’s not very fair. I was so, so sad when we had to say goodbye, because I want her to have a better life.”
Eating out in Cape Town
Cape Town’s culinary scene is truly world class, with every imaginable cuisine on offer and incredible fresh local produce showcased at its brilliant restaurants, bars and cafes. We tasted our way through everything from fine diners and family-friendly seafood markets to laid back burger joints at the V&A Waterfront. We scoffed the world’s best ice cream along with brai and biltong at the excellent V&A Food Market. At Bo Kaap we dove into sensational Cape Malay curries. And at Kalk Bay we enjoyed brilliantly fresh fish and chips. We tasted our way through township treats. And of course, we tempted our tastebuds with traditional South African flavours from ostrich and springbok to mopane worms. And it was all good.
He said: “The first thing I did when I arrived in South Africa was go on the hunt for a Bunny Chow, because what isn’t there to love about a hot spicy curry served up in a hollowed-out loaf of white bread, right? But turns out South Africa had loads of other culinary surprises in store. Like the most tender squid I’ve ever tasted, awesome Cape Malay seafood curries which I could eat for days, crispy fried samosas, addictive bags of biltong made from meats I’ve never even heard of before, plus only-in-South-Africa stuff like ostrich carpaccio and mopane worms, which are essentially fried grubs. Yummo!
Then there’s my new favourite take away treat, The Gatsby! This brilliant creation is essentially a three-foot-long sandwich stuffed with salad, masala beef (or chicken, baloney, or calamari) and a ridiculous amount of hot chips and is big enough to feed a whole family or one me. Genius!”
She said: “They have the best fish and chips ever in Cape Town and awesome barbecues called Brai where they make yummy sausages called Boerewors and barbecued cheese sandwiches called Braaibroodjie that are so, so tasty. And mummy took us to an ice cream shop in Cape Town called Unframed that was voted the best in the world and I had beetroot and chocolate flavour and it really was the best ever.”