No, you don’t have to make your kids watch Zulu, although it’s a good movie that stands up to the test of time and gives a real feel of a part of South Africa’s history.
Travel is always a lot more interesting when you are ready with what you want to see and the history behind it, and if you’re planning a trip to Cape Town any time soon, you might want to look at a few of these things…
PREPARING THE KIDS
1) National Geographic is always a good place to start for anywhere in Africa, and their kids’ version online has a few great facts for starters.
2) More South Africa facts at the Kids’ World Travel Guide, and an introduction to the languages of South Africa. Just a quick rundown: Yebo means yes. Plus, it sounds more awesome.
3) If you have children who are a bit older, an introduction to the past of South Africa might be in order. The most famous literature for kids is Journey to Jo’Burg, which is taught in schools all over the world. It gives a good glimpse into the struggle to defeat apartheid.
4) South Africa’s history stretches back more than 500 years. Just past Cape Town is the Cape of Good Hope – where Bartholomew Diaz was the first European explorer to reach the southern tip of Africa. This is, of course, not the only thing he did, but a short children’s telling of his journey will give you some big ooohs and aaaahs when you take the kids to see his monument.
5) Did you know there are penguins in South Africa? Tell your kids! And while you’re at it, tell them about the rest of the crazy wildlife they’ll be seeing! Cape Point is chock full of ridiculous amounts of wildlife and views. Even my fairly jaded and surly teenager about lost her mind when a herd of ostriches wandered onto the road as we headed to the Cape of Good Hope.
Cape Town is extremely outdoorsy, and many of the things that are the most fun to do are outside. The beach is lovely, but the water is freezing cold. However, legions of windsurfers descend onto Blouberg Beach every day. There are several places that offer lessons to adventurous kids and adults, and the lessons are far less expensive than anything I’ve seen in the US.
Our kids chose to start on SCUBA certification, using a wonderful company called Into the Blue. For 3/4 of a day, with starting instruction and then an open water dive, the total cost was about $100 per child. And the staff were absolutely fabulous and amazing with kids.
The cold water did mean that the kids had to wear some fairly dorky looking SCUBA gear, though…
Also, be prepared to eat seafood forty times a day. It’s fresh, delicious, inexpensive, and the scenery is amazing. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, usually just called the V&A, has a full range of shops, places to eat, places to explore, and things to do. You can easily spend an entire day just exploring, and it’s absolutely lovely. Another fun time for Mom and Dad alone? Madame Zingara is right at the V&A.
I’ve already mentioned the Cape of Good Hope. That, too, is an entire day of outdoorsy stomping around (and trying to avoid baboons. Really – avoid baboons). The feeling of standing and looking out over the ocean at the only unobstructed view toward Antarctica (not that you can see Antarctica, but you *COULD* see it if it weren’t for the curvature of the Earth) is breathtaking and makes some fantastic photographs.
If you’re into that sort of thing, Food Network plays a show called Charly’s Cake Angels, which takes place in Cape Town. It’s a great way to see the city before you see the city. And YES – the offerings really are that fantastic!
Those penguins? Those aren’t actually at the Cape, they are a bit of a drive further in Simon’s Town at Boulder Beach. The drive is wonderful – it takes awhile, but it is also great viewing. There are fabulous places to eat along the way (because you do a lot of eating in South Africa), and you can even stop and see Cecil Rhodes’s death cottage if you’re into that sort of thing (please do find out a bit about Rhodes before visiting, though. He was kind of a big deal.)
It would be very remiss to fail to mention one of the most famous sites near Cape Town – Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned. You are transported to the island from a ferry, which leaves from the V&A waterfront. Tours are led by former prisoners held on the island.
Another awesome day activity is heading up to Table Mountain, whose ubiquitous presence in the background of Cape Town pictures makes it the iconic visit picture for an album. Wind affects whether the cable cars will go up the mountain, so check early and buy tickets online, because if you wait until you get there, you might find yourselves with a three hour wait. And that’s not fun for anyone.
The most popular Cape Town attractions certainly aren’t the only ones to see. Blue Rock has water skiing and other water activities, and is just an all-around fun day to spend chilling out. Ratanga Junction, right across from Canal Walk Mall, is a fun day out for the kids as well. If you’re looking for a lovely drive with some beautiful scenery and boutiques along the way, take off for The Twelve Apostles. And even the kids will be in wonder at the things along one of the Cape Town wine routes, which feature gorgeous views, wine tastings for Mom and Dad, horseback riding, game drives, and other activities for the rest of the family.
Cape Town can be one of the best vacation experiences ever. And plus? That golden wind-swept tan looks awesome on everyone. Oh, also? Make sure you eat koeksisters.