South Africa is an incredible place to explore nature and wildlife with children and babies. Especially if you enjoy nature, hiking, beaches, bird-watching or wild life, it is a wonderful stomping ground for appreciating natural beauty in its element with little ones. I give South Africa an overall rating of 4/5 for travel with babies.
South Africa is a lot of open, uninhabited land, and pretty much car country if you want to do exploring around the country outside the capital city. We have never felt particularly inclined to spend much time in Johannesburg itself, so I can’t speak to the city itself.
We always rent a car in South Africa, and bring along our own car seat for baby to travel safely in. Driving is on the left side of the road in South Africa. Roads are pretty modernized and well-signed, although in some parts of the country it’s pot hole city.
In most of the places we go in South Africa, we do a lot of walking to get around. Cape Town is walkable and stroller-friendly (although we opted to use the baby wrap because it’s just easier). Other places we’ve traveled to and stay in, like Ladybrand and Drakensberg, we’re in small little mountain towns that might not have the best sidewalks, but it’s low traffic and everything in general is slow, so walking on the side of the street is comfortable. However, many smaller towns have a lot of unpaved dirt roads, so strollers would be tough to push around.
Health & Safety
South Africa has great medical care, pediatrics, prenatal, and emergency care, and also has lots of pharmacies. When we have been in more remote places in the mountains, though, we of course are further away from civilization and health care access in case of emergencies. It’s up to you and your comfort level how far you want to be from emergency medical care, but it’s always a good idea to pack any prescription medicines and an emergency health kit for baby with essentials (pain relief and fever reducer, gas relief, teething relief, etc.) wherever you are.
Restaurant hygiene and sanitation is generally good, and there are many upscale restaurants. Although water is generally safe, it is still a good idea to take precautions with water, such as boiling water or using bottled water, and I always make sure to sterilize any bottles/ pumping/ baby eating ware by boiling it all in hot water.
See the CDC’s website on health recommendations for travelers visiting South Africa.
Although I do not typically see many other women breastfeeding publicly, I feel comfortable doing so myself. I do not typically feel anyone giving me disapproving or uncomfortable looks, and no one has ever commented to me about breastfeeding. I breastfeed rather openly in South Africa, without covering baby’s face while she is feeding.
However, I only have experience breastfeeding in smaller mountain towns and more rural places in South Africa. I cannot comment on how breastfeeding friendly a city like Johannesburg is, since we have never spent more than a night there in transit from the airport to another part of the country.
Finding Baby Stuff
It’s easy to find disposable diapers and wipes, bottles, and standard baby foods and cereals and most grocery stores or pharmacies. However, if you are looking for specialized products such as dairy-free cereals or dairy-free formulas, this is very difficult to find, particularly if you are more off the beaten-path.
It is also easy to find general baby toiletries like baby shampoo, talc powder, etc. I would definitely bring enough standard medicines such as fever reducer, gas relief, etc. as I am a bit skeptical of what is sold over-the-counter there for baby use and safety. It’s also more difficult to find organic products or things like baby-safe sunscreen and bug repellent, so come prepared with your own.
If you are looking for baby clothes or toys, these are also plentiful and many shops or malls in bigger cities, and less abundant in smaller areas you may be traveling to.
Things to Do
I’ve spent much of time exploring Free State and Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa, and have gone on safari in Kruger National Park and spent time exploring the coast around Cape Town. Although we have not specifically searched for places in South Africa geared toward or made for young children, we have found that the nature it has to offer is generally enjoyable for any age.
Kruger National Park: This is a great way to experience wild life with kids, and where you can spot the Big Five together. We went to Kruger National Park when I was pregnant, so we have not taken any babies on safari yet. At the time, I took malaria precautions and made sure to use mosquito repellent and booked sleeping arrangements at places that were screened and with bed netting. Although we did see little babies on safari with their parents, I don’t think we’ll be taking our baby on safari with us until she’s a little bit older (at least 2 or 3). You travel in open-air jeeps, it’s a bumpy ride, and depending on the season it can be really hot. I don’t think my baby would have the patience to be in a vehicle all day, sometimes not seeing animals for stretches, would be uncomfortable, and wouldn’t quite appreciate everything yet. Ideally, I think I’d wait until age 5 or 6 before going on safari. But, if you have your heart set on it and have a little one, it’s doable. Just take precautions with bug repellent, sun screen, lightweight protective clothing, and bring lots of water and snacks. I would recommend only doing a half-day safari with a little baby, rather than a full day.
Drakensberg Mountains: This is a beautiful stretch of a mountain range through Free State and Kwa-Zulu Natal. It is littered with national parks, hiking trails, eco-lodges, and B&Bs. We’ve explored a few different areas and gone on some really rewarding hikes while pregnant and with baby. Tugela Falls, Monk’s Cowl, and Champagne Valley are a few wonderful hiking and nature trail areas that can be fun for any age, birth to death. I would be weary of the hike to Tugela Falls, depending on your hiking skill level; there’s a vertical chain link ladder pegged to boulders that blows in the wind to hike to the top and see the falls. I did this when I was pregnant, and was questioning myself a bit, and definitely wouldn’t want to take a chance with a baby, but the hike along the Sentinel Ridge up to the ladder would be doable and is worth the views. However, I’d probably choose a place like Monk’s Cowl or Drakensberg Retreat with little ones. There’s lots of birds, wild horses, plant life, water life, and rocks to wonder at. Just pack appropriately with enough water, snacks, sunscreen and sunhat for baby, and prepare to shorten your hike if the little one is interested in doing some walking.
Cape Town: Cape Town and the surrounding area is a wonderfully relaxed and warm environment. We explored Cape Town and the Southern Cape when I was pregnant minus baby, but I would do it with baby in a heartbeat. The city itself is an easy city to navigate and stroll around in, with plazas in the old historic center and sidewalks that are fairly stroller-friendly. The surrounding bays and vineyards are all laid back, and it’s a nice place to stroll about, play on one of the many beaches, and throw stones into the oceans while maybe spotting some whales or dolphins.