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Active Family's First Trip to Africa - South Africa or Botswana

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This is my first post on Fodors and I am hoping someone can help me narrow my focus. We are a family of 5 (children range in age from 10-15) who love to travel. My children generally like active vacations (we've done boating-type vacations, horseriding vacations, and Costa Rica along with all the activities that were possible while there), but they also enjoy experiencing the history, culture, and people of a country. We prefer to avoid the touristy areas unless its to see a historical site (e.g., the sights in London).

I am currently looking into planning a vacation in the summer of 2017 (during school vacations, so probably July). I originally thought South Africa would be best, and some general thoughts I had were flying into Johannesburg and going to one or two reserves (maybe a couple of days somewhere like Ants Nest and then a more basic-bush style reserve), and then either to Cape Town or to somewhere in the KwaZulu-Natal region. For this itinerary, my main questions are: (1) will the kids be bored and are there reserves that have other activities (e.g., archery, clay pigeon shooting, etc.) in case they dont want to do the game drives; and (2) should we do Cape Town or is there somewhere in the KwaZulu-Natal region that people would recommend (I figured Cape Town could be pretty cold in July).

After thinking that this sounded like a start, I have since read about the Drakensburg region - which sounds amazing, and also seen some reserves in Botswana that seem to provide more cultural experiences and could be combined with Victoria Falls. So, all in all, I am completely overwhelmed and confused.

On the logistics, I am looking at about a 10 day trip (excluding travel time) but can be a little flexible and around $4,000 to $5,000 per person (excluding international flights).

I would appreciate any thoughts/advice anyone has. Thank you.

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    Hi AK_1357!

    First, let me say that a trip to Africa is perhaps one of the best family vacations ever! To share this gift with your children and to see the bush through their eyes is incredible. It's an experience that will resonate with all of you long after you return home!

    I think your travel dollars are best spent in South Africa where the historically low Rand will stretch your budget. I would recommend that you fly onward from Johannesburg to Cape Town. It is easier to adjust to the time difference when you and your family don't have the demands of early wake-up calls for game drives. I'd spend 3-4 nights there in Cape Town.

    While it is technically winter in July, there are so many great things to do in Cape Town in spite of cooler temps (still not cold though!) such as going to the top of Table Mountain either by Cable Car or via one of the easier hikes to the top, visiting Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his imprisoned years, seeing the penguins on Boulder's Beach and taking the ferry out to "Shark's Table" where hundreds of sea lions bask on a small island out crop of rocks, visiting Cape of Good Hope (national park to see where two massive oceans converge), go on a Township Tour and visit a youth drum and dance project, which is a very special tour with a guide that I love. You could also go Whale Watching, visit a Cheetah Outreach center, bike through vineyards in the Winelands and end with a chocolate tasting (wine for adults!), go horseback riding on beautiful Nordhoek beach and MORE!!! There are so many great activities there! Something for all ages and all interests! You can enjoy these with a private guide or can self-drive. I'd recommend a hotel on the waterfront since there is so much to do just walking around with restaurants, shops, markets etc. There are hotels at all budget points. You could alternatively stay in one of the neighborhoods but I think you'd find with the children that being on the waterfront would be more active, fun and interesting.

    From Cape Town, then I would fly into one of the reserves. I'd recommend a private reserve, such as Sabi Sand or Timbavati or Manyeleti, where you will enjoy the benefits that come with being in a private reserve vs a National Park. So much of the game drive is about tracking animals and being able to drive off road to a sighting. Kids love that! Going in and out of riverbeds, driving over scrub etc is a lot of fun! Night drives are also allowed in private reserves which is wonderful way to experience the nocturnal side of the bush. You'd be shocked at what the tracker can spot in the dark! The other benefit is that rangers collaborate on sightings so that you are not spending long periods of time without seeing something amazing. This will keep the interest level peaked with kids. I don't think your children will be bored at all but only you know their attention span. There are many different styles of lodges in the reserves to fit your budget and needs. I would recommend that a search of lodges targets family friendly lodges. Some lodges don't take children. Some have age restrictions and some may present themselves as family friendly but may not be as much as they say. A great lodge with great guides will surely keep your kids mesmerized!

    This is really just the tip of the iceberg. So much more info for you as you hone in on your vision! Happy to help you!

    Best
    Dianne
    Africa Direct USA

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    Wow - you're all over the place! I'll try to help you narrow things down.

    I don't know of any cultural activities in Botswana/VF. In your limited budget (I know, it's ridiculous) Botswana is likely out of reach. It's a very expensive place to visit.

    Game reserves generally don't have shooting and archery. They can't have the gunfire near the wildlife and don't want to encourage hunting. There are plenty of hunting lodges.

    Game drives go out before dawn for three hours and late afternoon for three hours. Breakfast is around 9:30am, dinner around 9pm depending on the time of year. If your kids don't want to do game drives, there's the pool or hanging out. No activities unless you arrange something privately. I'd be surprised after the first one if they don't want to do as many game drives as possible.

    You could combine Ants Nest with Kruger or Wildside in Entabeni. Marakele National Park is beautiful for a couple of nights. The other nearby reserves in Waterberg are very small or expensive. Entabeni has some fun things to do between or in place of game drives. Ants Nest is predator free allowing for activities not available elsewhere. There are private lodges adjacent to Kruger in all price ranges. Gomo Gomo and Elephant Plains are excellent options for families.

    I'm a big fan of the KwaZulu Natal area, especially with kids. It will be the warmest province in S Africa in July. Cool nights, warm sunny days. So much to do. See www.stlucia.co.za for some of the fun stuff in my very favorite town in KZN. Water and land activities galore. Tembe Elephant Park and Zululand Rhino Reserve are both excellent private game reserves. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is a major public park for self drive safari. Beautiful.

    The Drakensbergs are beautiful, lots of hiking and activities. See www.dirtyboots.com for some additional fun stuff. There's adrenaline activities, biking, etc. The public parks info is at www.kznwildlife.com. Terrible website, great parks.

    In your ten days, I'd fly to Durban and drive north to St Lucia for three nights. Then one of the private game reserves I mentioned for three nights. Then the Drakensberg for four nights at two different lodges. Cost depends on lodging, but well within your budget.

    Or,

    From JNB fly or drive to Kruger. Do a three night private reserve or a self drive safari in Kruger National Park. Drive south through Swaziland - spend a night in Swaziland where there are some interesting activities. Drive south to KZN and stay in St Lucia for 3 nights and the Drakensbergs for three nights. Fly to JNB from Durban. Again, well within your budget.

    Have fun.

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    There are so many great options, christabir mentions Kwazulu
    Natal which is great for a safari and beach option. Cape Town is cold and wet in July but many people do come and have a great time and weather so it's all about luck.
    If you stay in SA then you could combine Kruger and Natal or Kruger and Tswalu which focuses on the smaller, shyer animals that you don't always get to see, would have to check the budget for that.
    You could add Vic Falls or save that for another trip to combine with Botswana or Zambia.
    Sandy - owner - Love Africa Travel

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    We took a pretty extensive trip to SA this past May. I've got a trip report (click on my name and you can find it). BUT to cut to the chase, you should easily be able to put together a great trip for your family, getting a good mix of safari and Cape Town. You won't need to worry about the kids not enjoying the game drives, especially in and around Kruger as suggested above. We stayed at private lodge actually in Kruger, bordering the Sabi Sands area, and they have a sister camp where you sleep out on platforms and do walking safaris. You would probably want to do 4-5 nights with them to get that sleeping-out experience. (We are going to do it if we get to go back again). link to video: https://youtu.be/40dmVXiT-os

    This was our third safari trip, so we really mixed it up in order to see other parts of SA we've previously missed. christabir is right on about KZN. We loved the totally different landscape in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. In that region we combined safari with a beach visit. While the water was warm enough to play in and snorkle, etc. I don't know if it would still be so in July.

    I would suggest you fly from Nelspruit after a Kruger-area safari, to Cape Town. It is a smashing city, with a beautiful waterfront. You can climb up Table Mountain and cable-car back down, you can take a day-trip to Boulder Beach to see the penguins (you will all enjoy that!) and, well, as you research your trip you will see there's a lot to do.

    That's probably plenty for 10 days.

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