Addo Elephant National Park: The Complete Guide

Addo Elephant National Park South Africa Complete Guide

Jessica Macdonald / DotDash

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Addo Elephant National Park

Address
South Africa
Phone +27 42 233 8600

Located in South Africa’s coastal Eastern Cape province, Addo Elephant National Park is a major conservation success story. In 1919, a large-scale elephant cull was initiated at the request of local farmers, reducing an already decimated population (due to hunting and habitat loss) to just 11 individuals. In 1931, The park was founded to offer protection to the last remaining elephants in the herd. 

Addo’s elephants are now thriving, as the park is home to more than 600 of these large animals. The park's 633 square miles protects other vulnerable species, as well, by offering a wide range of habitats—from arid mountains to sand dunes to coastal forest. Here, you can see elephants, buffalo, leopards, lions, and rhinos (the "big five"). Addo is considered one of the best self-drive safari options in Southern Africa—not only for its rich biodiversity, but also for its accessibility. The park’s southern gate is only 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Port Elizabeth, one of the largest cities in the country. 

Things to Do

Animal spotting is, predictably, Addo Elephant National Park's key highlight. On hot days, it is possible to see elephant herds numbering well over 100 individuals congregating at the waterholes to drink, play, and bathe. Buffalo are also abundant in Addo, while lions and leopards are easily spotted at dawn and dusk. Rhino are rarely seen, and information about their numbers and whereabouts is kept closely guarded as a defense against poachers.

Self-drive safaris—one of the most popular activities in Addo—allow 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.

If you plan on spending the whole day at Addo, pack a picnic and make 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

Horseback riding is available 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. Take a short day hike in the Zuurberg Section, or walk the Discovery Trail in the Main Camp.

Best Hikes & Trails

Non-guided hiking trails outside of the Addo Main Game Area take you into the mountains in the Zuurberg Section of the park and along the coast in the Woody Cape Section (a long two-day trek). No trails exist in the Addo Main Game Area due to the potential of dangerous encounters with the famed "big five."

  • Zuurberg Hiking Trails: The Zuurberg hiking trails traverse a fertile valley filled with wildflowers, like fynbos and proteas, in the Zuurberg Mountain Section of the park. There are two hiking options: the short 3-kilometer (2-mile) Cycad Trail, or the longer 8-kilometer (5-mile) Doringnek Trail. Both trails follow a mountain stream that culminates at the Blougat Pool, a great place for a swim and a snack. Stop at all the overlooks and keep your eyes open for signs of animals—especially the hartebeest—in the plains below.
  • Alexandria Hiking Trail: Adventurous hikers can tackle the two-day Alexandria Trail, which starts at the Woody Cape Nature Lodge and makes its way into the Alexandria Forest on a 32-kilometer (20-mile) journey. The first 18.5-kilometer (11.5-mile) section of this trail sneaks its way through dense forest before following the coastline and is best completed during low tide. The second 13.2-kilometer (8-mile) section traverses the dunes before descending into the Alexandria Forest. Signposts along the trail are tall enough to guide hikers, despite the ever-shifting dunes. Start your journey by staying the night at the Woody Creek Nature Lodge, so that you can get a jump on things early in the morning.

Guided Safaris

Guided safaris allow for off-road exploration on routes that are otherwise off-limits to the public. Additionally, they tend to happen before and after park operating hours, giving you a better chance of spotting crepuscular and nocturnal animals, like lions and hyenas. If you want the expertise of a local guide, without having to pay for an organized safari, you can also hire a ride-along, hop-on guide at the Main Camp.

Birding

Addo Elephant National Park is home to an incredible variety of birdlife, boasting more than 400 species within the park’s boundaries. Each of the unique ecosystems found here offers opportunities for different sightings, ranging from grassland species, like the Denham’s bustard, to woodland rarities, like the Narina trogon. 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 the Addo Rest Camp

Marine Adventures

Marine Eco-Tours, operated by Raggy Charters in nearby Port Elizabeth, offers boat excursions that allow you to spot a wide variety of marine life—including bottlenose and common dolphins—off the coast of Addo Elephant National Park. African penguins and great white sharks can also be seen on an outing. If you visit between the months of June and October, there’s a good chance you'll see 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 Camp

There are several camping options within the park boundaries, including those located in the Main Game Area, as well as in the outlying mountain region. Bring your own RV or tent to Addo Rest Camp, or leave everything behind and opt for a glamping experience at Gorah Elephant Camp, Spekboom Tented Camp, and Narina Bush Camp. During the peak season, accommodations options fill up quickly, so book your reservations early.

  • Addo Rest Camp: This main rest camp in Addo Elephant National Park offers campsites, self-catered chalets, and luxurious guest houses, as well as the added excitement of a floodlit bar. The private sites feature a barbecue grill, shade, electrical hookups for RV's, and fresh water. Additional facilities include a restaurant, shop, and swimming pool.
  • Gorah Elephant Camp: This popular, five-star glamping experience is located within the Main Game Area of the park and evokes the golden era of safari adventure with a selection of exclusive tented suites.
  • Spekboom Tented Camp: This tent camp is a great option for those who wish to experience a magical night of glamping situated in the Main Game Area of the park. Reserve one of five tents, each complete with a deck, camp chairs, and two beds. Additionally, the fenced and gated facility includes communal showers, a communal kitchen, toilets, and a central washbasin.
  • Narina Bush Camp: Located in the remote Zuurberg Mountains, the Narina Bush Camp is a popular woodland setting for birders, botanists, and hikers. The facility consists of four tents, each with two single beds, barbeque facilities, a communal kitchen, restrooms, and showers. There is no electricity at this camp and you must arrive two hours before sunset.

Where to Stay Nearby

There are a number huts, for those who are backpacking or roughing it, a cottage, and several private lodges located inside and just outside the park. Choose to stay in the Main Game Area for a safari-type experience right outside your door, or opt for lodging in an outlying region, where the experience is still remote, but without the threat of dangerous animals.

  • Woody Cape Nature Lodge: The Woody Cape Nature Lodge houses backpackers ready to take on the Alexandria Trail. This hostel-style lodge nestled within the dunes can accommodate up to 120 people via campsites, dorms, and private chalets. Dorm-style lodging offers a shared bathroom and shower area with linens, maid service, and free Wi-Fi. An on-site restaurant, bar, and outdoor pool complete your stay at this family-friendly lodge.
  • Langebos Huts: The Langebos Huts consists of two rustic, two-bedroom huts, also located at the trailhead of the Alexandria Trail. Each hut has a walkway to a private bathroom and a kitchen, and a communal area includes a fire pit and barbeque.
  • Umsintsi Cottage: This two-story cottage in the middle of the Alexandra Forest accommodates two people and comes complete with a full kitchen and dining area, an upstairs bedroom with a view, and an en-suite bathroom. An outdoor barbecue is located underneath an elevated deck and all linens and towels are provided.
  • Long Hope Villa: The relaxing Long Hope Villa is a game lodge located within the park on the private Nyati Concession. Offering you an exclusive experience, the house comes complete with three bedrooms, an outdoor pool, a private chef, a personal game vehicle, and a field guide. Choose a pillow from the home's "pillow library" to assure yourself a good night's rest with the sounds of the "big five" just outside your door.
  • River Roost: Accommodations at River Roost on the Eastern Cape include bed-and-breakfast-style lodging in the main house and a self-catered cottage. Two bedrooms offer two queen-sized beds and one bedroom offers two single beds; all complete with en-suite bathrooms. The two-bedroom cottage sleeps four and comes with two bathrooms, a well-equipped kitchen, and a wooden outdoor deck with views.

How to Get There

Most visitors to Addo Elephant National Park fly into O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg or Cape Town International Airport (CPT) in Cape Town. You can arrange with your lodging accommodations or safari outfitter for transport from the airport. Or, you can drive yourself from Cape Town to the Park via the Garden Route, a week-long journey through lush forests and the African bush, and along the coastline.

Accessibility

People of all abilities levels can enjoy the wonders of Addo Elephant National Park. Addo's Main Camp has five accessible campsites, complete with an accessible bathroom, and Matyholweni Camp has two accessible cottages with roll-in showers. The Main Camp's restaurant, shop, and reception area offers ramps and an accessible bathroom. Also, the in-camp Discovery Trail, viewing platform, and underground bird hide are wheelchair accessible. The Ulwazi Interpretive Center is equipped with handicap parking, restrooms, and ramps, and Jack's picnic site in the Main Game Area has ADA-compliant restrooms and barbeque facilities.

Tips for Your Visit

  • In addition to the "big five," Addo is also home to Southern Africa's largest antelope, the eland, and to the rare flightless dung beetle. Other common sights include Burchell’s zebra, warthog, and kudu.
  • In the park’s outlying regions, you can spot regional rarities, like the gemsbok and the Cape Mountain Zebra.
  • The only major safari animal missing from Addo’s roster is the giraffe. Giraffes are not naturally found on the Eastern Cape of Africa, and a decision was made not to introduce them. 
  • Addo has two main gates: one at Main Camp, and the other at Matyholweni. Main Camp is located on the north side of the park and remains open for day visitors from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Matyholweni, to the south, is open from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • Visitors to the park are required pay a daily entrance fee, which is different for South African residents and foreign nationals. 
  • Addo is considered a malaria-free park, saving visitors to the park the expense of costly prophylactics.
  • Most routes within the park are suitable for standard vehicles, although high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles are strongly recommended.
  • The dry season (June through August) is considered best for game-viewing at Addo Elephant National Park, as animals are forced to congregate around the waterholes, making them easier to spot.
  • The rainy season (December through February) is best for birding, while shoulder seasons often afford the nicest weather. 
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Addo Elephant National Park: The Complete Guide