If personalized service is a must for your family's South African tour, consider these three companies. Each offers flexibility and a different array of options for a more thoroughly unconventional approach to guided travel.
Visitors to South Africa seeking a vacation off the beaten path can look to small independent tour guide companies that specialize in showing their guests, including individual families, a side of the country not always seen by larger touring groups. Whether you’re bringing the kids, grandkids, parents or an entire family reunion, there is much to choose from in terms of a more personalized approach to tour arrangement.
Wild Coast Holiday Reservations: The Hidden Eastern Cape
William Ross of Wild Coast Holiday Reservations (27/43-743-6181) offers fascinating excursions around the Eastern Cape in southeast South Africa. The Eastern Cape is the birthplace of some of the country’s most prominent politicians, including former president Nelson Mandela and current president Thabo Mbeki.
A Wild Coast Holiday Reservations tour offers many options along their flagship trail, the Wild Coast Meander. Your journey might begin with a stay at the ultra-modern Sun International Hemingways Hotel and Casino or the company’s own Meander Inn in East London, the second biggest port city in this region. The next day should include a drive, mostly on a dirt road, toward the cliffs of Morgan Bay. Ross will guide you on a leisurely hike to Kei River Mouth to see a lighthouse, followed by a relaxing boat cruise on the river.
There are a number of fine cultural villages set up for tourists throughout South Africa, but in the Eastern Cape, Ross takes his clients to an actual Xhosa village. After traveling by ferry to the Transkei, you will visit a Xhosa family still living much like their ancestors hundreds of years ago. The Xhosa people were some of the first inhabitants of the region, and Nelson Mandela is a Xhosa. Your visit will include an invitation into a thatched-roof home called a kraal, owned by the tribe’s healer. This lively woman will demonstrate her holistic rituals and primitive chores while her friends and family sing in perfect harmony and keep a rhythmic beat. Not too many tourists make it to these parts. Television host Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network donated a tremendous amount of funds for the children of this improvised area.
In addition to the Wild Coast Meander, Wild Coast Holiday Reservations offers excursions on five other trails, each with unique rural attractions, family-friendly lodging, guides, and porters.
Bophelo Tours & Safaris: Variety, Luxury, History
Marius Barnard of Bophelo Tours and Safaris (27/83-957-5010) offers guided and self-guided tours throughout South Africa, catering to a variety of groups, including the disabled. His tours are great for multi-generational families traveling together. You can include the ultra-luxurious Rovos Rail for a safari by train. From Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province, Barnard can take you 15 kilometers away to Soweto, which is comprised of 22 townships. In 1976, the first riots against apartheid began in Soweto. The Hector Petersen Memorial, named for a thirteen-year-old boy killed by a policeman’s bullet, stands as a tribute to those who lost their lives. Other places of interest include the former home of Nelson Mandela, now a museum, and the current compound of Winnie Mandela, his very controversial former wife.
Africa Classic Encounters: The Family Safari
For families seeking the more safari-oriented South African experience, African Classic Encounters (212/972-0031) offers a variety of smaller guided tours in South Africa. With offices in both Africa and the United States, this company doesn’t even accept online bookings–they prefer to offer consultations on the phone or in-house to best personalize the travel experience. Custom South African safaris, designed for a variety of price ranges, are each led by personal rangers and a Shangaan tracker. Special family-oriented programs include a walk with baboons and whale watching.
Award-winning South African Airways (27/11-978-5313) flies from New York’s JFK Airport to Johannesburg. An SAA domestic connection brings you to Durban or East London.
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