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There is no substitute for exploring the Grand Canyon on foot. The majority of tourists stay firmly on the rim on short walks or on scenic drives. With the thousands of other tourists, it is difficult to get a sense for any solitude and take it in. Hiking below the rim allows you to quickly get off the beaten track and get a sense for this staggering scenery.
There is no reason why children can’t enjoy hiking in the Grand Canyon and with good planning, then it can be an adventure to remember for the whole family. For children aged 8+, we suggest the Havasu Falls trek, which is located outside of the Grand Canyon National Park, in Grand Canyon West in the Havasupai Indian Reservation. This trek takes you to some amazing waterfalls with lots of natural pools, so there are opportunities for fun and swimming as well as walking. These trips include camping and are mule supported so you don’t need to carry your own kit.
If you don’t like the idea of over-nighting, then you might like to consider the option of day hikes. Your guide will assess the ability of everyone in your family and will then suggest a hike based on your ability. Popular options include South Kaibab to Cedar Ridge, the Hermit Trail to Dripping Spring and Grandview trail to Horseshoe Mesa.
If you want a multi-day trek without the hassle of having to carry your own kit, then a mule-supported trek is the best option for you. Our favourite of these hikes is the 3 Day Bright Angel loop which takes you to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, spending the night camping at Phantom Ranch, on the banks of the Colorado River. Alternatively, the Havasu Falls trip (3 days) is also mule assisted.
Backpacking in the back country allows you to get well and truly off the beaten track, but does mean that you will need to carry all of your gear with you. These trips require a permit, so will need to some advance planning. The ultimate in backpacking in the Grand Canyon is the rim to rim trip. Lasting 4 days, this is one of the most iconic trips in the Granmd Canyon and involves trekking from the North to the South Rim, crossing the Colorado River at the bottom. This is one of the most popular backpacking trip in the area.
We have developed our USA collection to get the optimum balance between independent and guided activities. There are some places where you don’t need a guide and you will have more fun exploring independently. However, there are also activities and places where having a guide will deeply enhance your experience. We strike a careful balance between these two and, having tried and tested the trips ourselves, believe we have developed itineraries that are unique and exciting.
In a nutshell: Handpicked activities and accommodation and a balance of independent vs guided
You can get direct flights from the UK to the USA. Some of the most competitive fares are from London to Las Vegas, but you can also fly to Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles direct. Flight times to Las Vegas are approximately 10 ½ hours. For this reason, coupled with the time difference, we strongly suggest you try to get direct flights as having to go via another gateway airport adds time and pain to the journey, especially on your outbound flights. In the summer months of July & August, expect to pay from £850 for return flights to Las Vegas. Cheaper deals are available for Easter and October half terms. Experience shows that it pays to book ahead with trans-Atlantic flights, as prices are prone to increase closer to the departure date.
We are ATOL bonded and can happily help with your flight booking.
British passport holders are eligible to enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme. You need to provide your flight information and passport details and pay an administrative fee. Applying is pretty straight forward and can be done via this official website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Once you arrive in the US, you will need to queue for immigration. You will need to do this even if you are in transit. You will need to provide finger prints and eye scans (although children won’t need these.) It is well worth having extra treats to hand out to tired children as the queues are long.
Our USA family holidays start from £850 per person, based on a family of four travelling together. This price covers a hire car, all accommodation and activities as per the itineraries. On top of that, you will need to budget for flights, which are from £850 in the summer holidays, closer to £600 for Easter and October half term. Once there, you will need to budget for tips, entrance fees, petrol and food - expect to spend from $150 per day, although this price will depend wildly on where you eat and viist.
To a certain extent, the answer to that question is how long is a piece of string? It really depends on how long you have and your budget. The costs of flying out to the USA are not insignificant, so we suggest that you plan your time carefully.
Most people need at least a couple of days to adjust to the time difference, so you will need to allow yourselves a couple of rest days at the beginning of your holiday. This time, more than any, you will appreciate splashing out on some nice accommodation with a pool, especially if you are arriving in the middle of the summer; hot and tired children is not a great combination.
We have two and three week itineraries for you to choose from. If you have three weeks, then you can go at a slightly gentler pace and see most of the highlights of the area. Two weeks will not be enough time to see everything, so we have put together a range of itineraries for you to choose from.
The USA is a very family friendly destination to visit with children. The entire tourism industry is set up to deal with families; from the hotels to restaurants and national parks. The pitfalls are the long car journeys and the fact that children don’t always find admiring views and Mother Nature as fascinating as adults. This is why we have designed our itineraries to have a mixture of active and adventurous pursuits, as well as self-guided aspects, to ensure that a balance is struck on your holiday.
The South Western States enjoy a four season climate, although experience more extremes than in the UK. Winters can be cold with plenty of snow. Summer temperatures can be high (reaching the high 30’s in places) and the humidity means that there can be thunderstorms, especially in July & August.
Spring and autumn have milder temperatures, making it an ideal time for keen hikers to visit. We suggest that if you want to spend any time hiking in the Grand Canyon, then you are better saving your visit for these seasons.
The National Parks tend to be busier around the public holidays and school holidays (June / July)
Accommodation for families is usually in larger hotels which we have chosen for the facilities and location. Our experience tells us that travelling with children in the heat of the desert makes a swimming pool a necessity, especially after a long drive. Room options are usually a choice between inter-connecting rooms or sharing two large beds (which is what most domestic travellers choose to do) Many, but not all, hotel rooms have tea & coffee making facilities, wifi and a tv as a standard. Some may also have a fridge and microwave. Breakfast is not offered as a standard, although is included in some places.
It is all too easy to travel through the Cape region in comfortable lodges and not have any sense of how the majority of the country lives. On the basis that exposure breeds understanding and awareness, we think it is a good thing to learn about this magnificent countries turbulent past and present. Not all families and children will enjoy it, so it is important to understand the options and what is involved.
Generally speaking, most visitors consider two activities, visiting Robben Island and a township. Where Robben Island gives insight into the political struggles of the past, a visit to a township gives insight into the economic realities of the present.
THOUGHTS ON VISITING ROBBEN ISLAND WITH CHILDREN
Robben Island is the infamous windswept Island just offshore from Cape Town that held Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders captive for almost 20 years. The Island became a focal point for international resistance to apartheid and is now a powerful symbol of freedom. Tours last 3 and a half hours in total including a 30 minute ferry from the V&A Waterfront . On the Island itself you are guided by former inmates of the prison through the notorious B-section (which held Mandela), you’ll see exhibitions that tell the stories of inmates and take a trip around the Island by bus. There are no age restrictions as such, but given the captive and guided nature of the experience (three and a half hours in total) it is arguably most suitable for families with teenagers or ‘interested’ under 12s. Tickets need to be bought in advance and you will need to allow half a day for the experience.
THOUGHTS ON VISITING TOWNSHIPS WITH CHILDREN
Safety is undoubtedly less of an issue than you would think, however a visit to a township should not be considered lightly. Some are fantastic uplifting projects, others are exploitative tourism at their worst. Done right, you’ll be guided by a local from the township, you’ll learn about the history and struggles of the people and get to participate in some inspiring projects. Like anything in life, no two townships are the same, some are absolute no go areas, some have developed well and are safe for visitors.
With children involved, it is important to have a focal activity. Two of our favourite projects meet both of these briefs:
Township Tour by Bike in Masiphumelele: I took my 6 year old daughter to Masiphumelele and whilst it wasn’t an unqualified success (at least for her), I’m glad we did it. Cycling through the township is a wonderfully relaxed way to explore the township and an excellent way to break down barriers with the locals. We stopped to visit a couple of community projects including a nursery and library, met a local spirit healer and enjoyed a very local lunch of pap and chicken at Nonny’s superb road-side café. Whilst the conditions in the formal township area (where the government has installed infrastructure) were good, as soon as we abandoned the bikes and walked into the informal township (where new arrivals to the township live), the sights of families washing in the squalid waste water and flooded shacks constructed from little more than card-board in places was hard to stomach and a real eye opener. Still there was a very real sense of order, progress and pride. What’s more, the meeting of nationalities was intriguing. The Somalis tend to keep shop (and are welcomed by locals thanks to their low prices) whilst the Nigerians are apparently the best barbers. Both myself and my daughter found the hardest part of the experience the visit to the nursery, where we were both met by a universal cry of teech-ah and were mobbed by scores of kids. Being grabbed and climbed upon by scores of kids was not surprisingly intimidating for the 6yo. From my perspective, I felt uncomfortable intruding into these children’s class rooms and worried about the values it might teach the children at such a young age. Approximately 80% of the cost of the tour goes into the community and the tour is run in partnership with the Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) which imports and renovates used bicycles and trains locals in their maintenance. We drove our hire car to Masipumelele and met our guide, Zwai, in the car park of a supermarket in a more gentrified area near-by. Masipumelele is well located to then head on to Boulders Beach and Cape Point.
Township Cooking Tour: Eating and learning about local foods is one of the best ways to get a feel for a local culture, but you’ll be lucky to spot local staples such as Pap, chakalaka, samp and African stew on the tourist route. The class is based in a cooking school that is teaching the catering trade to locals in the townships with a remarkable success rate in terms of end employment. Although ostensibly an African cooking class, the cooking part is really just a great opportunity for you to taste the local food and to spend some time meeting the local people. This African cooking class tends to start with an introductory low-down on African cuisine and culture accompanied by a refreshing glass of homemade ginger beer. The class itself involves learning to cook dishes like pap, chakalaka, samp and African stew. For lunch, the dishes are served up in the restaurant - a building crafted from old shipping containers. Cooking classes are typically small scale affairs arranged for individual groups so can be tailored to suit families very easily. On the way to the cooking school we recommend visiting the District 6 museum to get an insight into the history of the forced removal of blacks from their communities.
Broadly speaking, the Southern, Eastern and Western Cape of South Africa enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate in reverse order to that found in the Northern Hemisphere. Whilst the regions spring and autumn are our favourite times to visit (Sep, Oct, March, April & May), visits during their winter (June – August) are not to be ruled out.
Spring (September to October) is a lovely time to visit, temperatures are around 15 -25 Celsius, it is usually relatively dry (with only moderate chances of rain) and the Fynbos flowers are blooming. October Half Term is one of the best times of year for a family to visit the Cape. The weather is improving but not too hot and there is a good chance of seeing the spectacular whales of the Coast of Hermanus and around (the whale season runs July – October).
Summer (November to February is generally dry and hot with day time temperatures of 25-35 Celsius and plenty of sunshine (10.5hrs a day on average). The Christmas Holidays may offer the best weather but are generally best avoided as the area gets over-run with domestic tourists and prices are vastly inflated. February Half Term is the most popular time of the year for British families to visit South Africa, with the advantage of great weather without the peak crowds of Christmas / New Year.
Autumn (March - May) is also one of the best times of year to visit the region. If you can put up with cooler overnight temperatures, you’ll find the country much quieter with very pleasant warm days in the gentle autumn sunshine. Easter Holidays and May Half Term are therefore perfect times to visit South Africa.
Winter (June – September) is the least favourable time of year to visit from the perspective of the weather. However the appeal of seeing the Southern Right Whales, low season rates and generally mild sunny days grants a certain logic to visiting the Cape during the UK summer holidays. The big drawback is the strong chance of blustery wet conditions around Cape Town and the winelands. The Garden Route and Eastern Cape is very dry during winter, but expect very cool overnight temperatures, you will need to pack some warm clothes, especially if you are going on early morning game drives.
We have carefully and painstakingly researched, inspected and tested a wide range of lodges and guesthouses specifically with families in mind. Unfortunately many of the best boutique options have an antiquated policy of accepting over 12s only – these we have discarded.
ONE-OFF GUESTHOUSES AND SELF CATERING PROPERTIES:
A collection of one off owner operated B&Bs and Self Catering, selected for their character and value for money. Book early as these places are small one off places and there are no substitutes.
MOON SHINE ON WHISKEY CREEK, GARDEN ROUTE
The name betrays the soul of this fantastic gem of a place. Moon Shine offers (quite literally) hand crafted self-catering forest cabins in a beautiful plot of indigenous forest in the Crags area outside Plettenberg Bay.
OUE WERF, OUDTSHOORN
Oue Werf is a beautiful authentic farm guesthouse that has been in the same family for 6 generations, tracing its routes back to 1857. There is a lovely rural atmosphere, with open agricultural and mountain scenery, relaxed gardens and traditional Cape Dutch architecture.
BEAUMONT WINE FARM, BOT RIVER
Bot River is not the kind of place tourists usually stop over at, which is a good thing, as it is a lovely find of a place. These simple farm cottages on the family run Beaumont wine farm in Bot River are a real gem. An opportunity to experience Overberg life on a authentic wine farm.
ACORN GUEST HOUSE, CAPE TOWN
Acorn Guest house is a relaxed, affordable, nicely presented and welcoming guesthouse in a lovely location in the Oranjezicht and Gardens neighbourhood. It is our favoured option for those on a budget in Cape Town.
WELGELEGEN, CAPE TOWN
Welgelegen is a lovely contemporary boutique hotel in the heart of the gardens neighbourhood of Cape Town. Attention to detail is everything and Welglegen hits just the right boutique notes; relaxed, stylish, but never stuffy.
GROOTBOS, WHALE COAST
Grootbos is a superb wilderness eco-lodge set in pristine fynbos overlooking the Western Cape’s majestic Whale Coast.
HOG HOLLOW, GARDEN ROUTE
We aren’t going to win any prizes for originality for recommending Hogs Hollow, but in this case the big reputation is well deserved, it is hard to see how anyone could go away disappointed from a stay here. Hog Hollow is a high quality eco lodge in a beautiful and convenient forest setting in The Crags area outside Plettenberg Bay.
HILLSNEK, AMAKHALA PRIVATE RESERVE
A Tourdust favourite, Amakhala Hillsnek is a simply gorgeous small camp set on a bluff overlooking the main section of Amakhala reserve. This is one of those places where everything comes together just so, with fresh contemporary and inviting décor and a wonderfully relaxed ambience.
QUATERMAIN'S CAMP, AMAKHALA PRIVATE RESERVE
This small and intimate colonial expedition style camp offers a perfect blend of safari ambience, superb wildlife opportunities and unusually good value.
If there were a contest for best stoep (verandah) in Africa, it would be hard to imagine anywhere besting the colonial elegance, mountain views and utterly remote location of Camp Figtree’s magnificent terrace. This small lodge is set atop a high Zuurberg peak with 270 degree views, yet is only a short drive from the main entrance to Addo Elephant National Park.