Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa: The Complete Guide

Addo Elephant National Park South Africa Complete Guide
••• Infant Elephants Playing, Addo. Jessica Macdonald

Located in South Africa’s beautiful Eastern Cape province, Addo Elephant National Park is a major conservation success story. In 1919, a large-scale elephant cull was initiated in the area at the request of local farmers, bringing a population already decimated by hunting and habitat loss to the brink of extinction. By 1931, Addo’s elephant population was reduced to just 11 individuals. The park was set up in the same year to offer protection to the last remaining elephants.

 

Today, Addo’s elephants are thriving. The park is home to more than 600 individuals, while other vulnerable species have also benefited from the reserve. Addo has become known as one of the best self-drive safari options in Southern Africa - not only for its rich biodiversity but for its accessibility as well. The park’s southern gate is only 25 miles/ 40 kilometers from Port Elizabeth, one of the largest cities in the country. ​

Addo’s Flora & Fauna

Since 1931, Addo Elephant National Park has expanded significantly. It is now split into several separate areas, including the main inland wildlife area, and two coastal conservation areas located just north of Sundays River. The park’s size means that it incorporates a wide range of different habitats, ranging from arid mountains to sand dunes and coastal forest. It is possible to see elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion, and rhino in Addo - a checklist of safari royalty that together makes up the Big Five.

 

Elephants are predictably the park’s key highlight. On hot days, it is possible to see herds numbering well over 100 individuals congregating at the waterholes to drink, play and bathe. Buffalo are also abundant in Addo, which is home to one of the largest disease-free herds in the country. Rhino are rarely seen, and information about their numbers and whereabouts is kept closely guarded as a defense against poachers; while lion and leopard are most easily spotted at dawn and dusk.

 

Addo is also home to Southern Africa's largest antelope, the eland; and to the rare flightless dungbeetle. Other common sights include Burchell’s zebra, warthog, and kudu; while the park’s outlying areas offer the opportunity to spot rarer species including the gemsbok and the Cape mountain zebra. In fact, the only major safari animal missing from Addo’s roster is the giraffe. Giraffe are not naturally found in the Eastern Cape, and the decision was made not to introduce them. 

Birding in Addo

Addo also hosts an incredible variety of birdlife, with more than 400 species recorded within the park’s boundaries. Each of the park’s habitats offers opportunities for different sightings, ranging from grassland specials like the Denham’s bustard to endemic woodland species like the Cape parrot. Raptors abound at Addo, from martial eagles and crowned eagles to the beautiful pale chanting goshawk. Keen birders should take advantage of the dedicated bird hide located at Addo Rest Camp

Things to Do

Self-drive safaris are the most popular of Addo’s activities, allowing visitors the freedom to explore by themselves for a fraction of the cost of an organized tour. Detailed route maps are available at each of the park’s gates.

Guided safaris are also offered, although they must be booked in advance. The key advantage of this option is that guided safaris allow you to be in the park outside of normal opening hours - giving you a better chance of spotting crepuscular and nocturnal animals like lions and hyenas. 

Top Tip: If you want the expertise of a local guide without having to pay for a guided safari, you can also hire hop-on guides at the gate to ride along with you in your own car. 

Top Tip: Pack a picnic and plan a stop at Jack’s Picnic Site, a fenced off area in the center of the main park. You can even bring meat and firewood and practice the art of the South African braai

Horse rides are offered within the Nyathi concession area. Morning and afternoon rides depart from Main Camp and last approximately two hours each.

Those who would rather keep their feet on the ground should consider tackling Addo’s hiking trails. One and three-hour trails are offered at no additional cost in the park’s Zuurberg Mountains section, while the Main Camp has a Discovery Trail suitable for wheelchairs. For the more adventurous, the Alexandria Hiking Trail takes two full days. 

Addo also offers Marine Eco-Tours, run through Raggy Charters in nearby Port Elizabeth. These excursions offer the chance to spot a wide variety of marine life, including bottlenose and common dolphins, African penguins and great white sharks. In season (June - October), there’s also a very good chance of seeing southern right and humpback whales. These ocean giants travel along South Africa’s eastern coastline on their annual migration to warmer breeding and calving grounds off the coast of Mozambique

Where to Stay

Addo has several accommodation options. The main camp, Addo Rest Camp, offers campsites, self-catering chalets and luxurious guest houses - as well as the added excitement of a floodlit waterhole. Spekboom Tented Camp is a great option for those that wish to experience the magic of a night under canvas; while Narina Bush Camp and Woody Cape Guest House provide a remote woodland setting popular for birders, botanists and hikers. The latter is located at the start of the Alexandria Hiking Trail. 

There are also a number of private lodges located inside the park, the most popular of which is five-star Gorah Elephant Camp. Located in the main game area, Gorah evokes the golden era of safari adventure with a selection of exclusive tented suites. In peak season, all accommodation options fill up quickly - but if you can’t find space within the park, there are plenty of options nearby. Guesthouses in Colchester, Sundays River and even Port Elizabeth itself offer convenient access and good value. 

Practical Information

Addo has two main gates - Main Camp and Matyholweni. Main Camp is located to the north of the park and remains open for day visitors from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm daily. To the south of the park, Matyholweni is open from 7:00 am to 6:30 pm. All visitors must pay an entrance fee, which ranges from R62 for South African residents to R248 for foreign nationals. Accommodation and extra activities carry additional fees - see below for further information. 

Addo is malaria-free, saving you the expense of costly prophylactics. Most routes within the park are suitable for 2x4 vehicles, although high clearance vehicles are recommended. Traditionally, the dry season (June - August) is considered best for game-viewing, as animals are forced to congregate around the waterholes making them easier to spot. However, the rainy season (December - February) is best for birding, while shoulder seasons often have the nicest weather. 

Rates & Tariffs

Entry: South African CitizensR62 per adult/ R31 per child
Entry: SADC NationalsR124 per adult/ R62 per child
Entry: Foreign NationalsR248 per adults/ R124 per child
Guided SafarisFrom R340 per person
Night SafariR370 per person
Hop-On GuideFrom R270 per car
Horse-RidingFrom R470 per person
Alexandria Hiking TrailR160 per person, per night
Addo Rest CampFrom R305 (per campsite)/ From R1,080 (per chalet)