There is more to South Africa than its size. Three times the dimension of Texas, the second largest American state, this complex family travel destination varies greatly from bustling modern cities to quaint villages and towns and from a raw subtropical coastline to the Kalahari Desert and bushveld in the north. What's more, South Africa's wealth extends beyond chic, metropolitan Cape Town and the abundant wildlife found in the Kruger National Park. Penned the 'Rainbow Nation' for its cultural diversity, South Africa has reconciled with its past and is truly a coming together of the continent's cultures. Take-in one of the many cultural events and enjoy theatre, dance, opera, and cabaret as well as classical music and jazz. Visit a museum and introduce the kids to the history of South Africa as well as fine art and African craft. Tour a World Heritage Site and discover the complexity, not to mention the atrocities, of mankind.
In South Africa, the diversity extends to the wild. With over 800 species of birds and animals, a wildlife safari goes well beyond the Big 5 (elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo). And wildlife viewing need not be limited to the bush. With 3000 km or nearly 1900 miles of coast, South Africa is one of the best places in the world to observe sea life, even from shore.
Outdoor activities do not end there. South Africa is an adventure traveler's paradise, even for those traveling with kids. Try you hand at scuba diving, whitewater rafting, hiking, biking, mountain climbing, canoeing, surfing, hot air ballooning and even hang gliding.
For most families, travel to South Africa is likely to be by air. O.R. Tambo International Airport (formerly Johannesburg International Airport or JIA), the main gateway for international travelers, is located approximately 12 miles (19 km) east of Johannesburg and 25 miles (40 km) south of Pretoria. International flights to South Africa also arrive/depart Cape Town International Airport and Durban International.
Major carriers and low-cost airlines offer daily service between several South African cities, making air travel in South Africa relatively cheap and easy. Thanks to its excellent infrastructure, South Africa is a great touring country. Like the U.S., South Africa is geared to travel by car. While a road trip enables families to take in this diverse and complex country first-hand, you will want to plan your journey with distance in mind. Or you might spend all of your time driving! Train travel is a valid alternative in South Africa. The Blue Train, a luxury train trip from Cape Town to Pretoria, as well as cruise trains offer a unique experience. The Shosholoza Meyl service is a safe and efficient way to traverse the country. Travel on metro trains in and around Johannesburg is unsafe and should be avoided.
Passports must be have at least one blank page for an entry stamp and must valid for at least 30 days after the scheduled return date. For travel to South Africa, visas are not required for EU, American or Australian nationals but a return ticket is required for all visitors.
The best time of year for travel to South Africa is from late summer through the fall (February-May). The weather is warm throughout the country and the humidity in retreat. In summer (November-February), rain is likely in the north and in winter (June-August), in the south. The peak season (December, January, April, and July) coincides with South African school holidays.
The majority of the country is Malaria free. Malaria is prevalent in areas of Mpumalanga and Limpopo including the Kruger National Park and the northern section of KwaZulu-Natal. South Africa has one of the highest HIV rates in the world. While crime remains an issue, it is more a question of perspective than a reason to avoid South Africa altogether. In fact, much of the country is safe by any standard. Big cities, as is the case in many places, present a certain degree of risk. Johannesburg is a case in point. Families will want to adopt caution when visiting certain areas of the city and avoid some neighborhoods, such as the business district, at night. Take basic precautions and leave all valuables locked in the hotel safe.