Surrounded by rugged mountains and verdant valleys, the Addo Elephant National Park is the Garden Route’s crowning jewel. Situated 70kms (44 miles) away from Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), this safari hotspot should not be missed on a South Africa Tour or if you have less time, this is a highlight of a Garden Route Tour.
The Addo National Park is home to one of the densest African Elephant populations on Earth. It is established as a haven for the last remaining elephants in the area. When it became a national park in 1931, there were only 11 elephants left. Today there are more than 600 in the park and the area continues to expand.
Since its inauguration, Addo National Park has become the third-largest in the country. It encompasses a patchwork of landscape that stretches from the mountains of the Karoo, to the dune fields of Woody Cape. This diverse terrain is the perfect stage for a classic South African safari tour. Here, a cast of iconic wildlife, such as lion, leopard, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo, roam free. Whether you’re a wide-eyed first-time visitor, or a safari veteran, the Addo Elephant National Park will not fail to enthral you.
Where is Addo National Park?
Situated in the Sundays River Valley in the Eastern Cape, you are able to drive to The Addo Elephant National Park on mostly excellent roads. Cape Town is a 9 hour drive away (817km), and Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) a mere hour and a bit.
The tranquil valley’s slow pace and prolific wildlife, makes it one of the Eastern Cape’s most underrated destinations. Adventure activities here can range from close-encounters with elephants, to flying down South Africa’s highest, longest and fastest double zip line. Here you are also able to revel in breathtaking river cruises.
Addo Elephant Park Map
The park is split up into separate sections that sprawl from the Karoo, right down to the ocean. Essentially, there are four main areas: Colchester, Darlington, Kabouga, Zuurberg and the Woody Cape Section.
If it’s elephants you came to see, then the Colchester section should be your first port of call. Situated on the banks of the Sundays River and bordered by magnificent dunes, this 24,000 hectare section of the park is a stomping ground for hordes of the gentle giants. Thanks to it’s network of tarred roads, Addo Elephant Park is the perfect destination to explore by overland truck as you have a 3.5 meter elevation which allows you to look down over the backs of the elephants… or come nearly face to face!
The mountainous Kabouga section is one of Addo’s best kept secrets. While it may not feature the Big Five, this remote area of the park is breathtaking in its beauty. A series of rugged dirt roads wind through the region’s creased valleys and mountains. This makes it a scenic destination for off-road adventures. The highlight is the Bedrogfontein 4×4 trail that traverses through riverine thickets, afromontane forests, and into the arid Nama-Karoo of the Darlington area.
If trekking through the wilderness is high on your Addo itinerary, then the Zuurberg Pass is where you want to be. Situated 20 minutes away from the Addo Main Game Area, the Zuurberg hiking trails travels through a gorgeous valley peppered with some of the last remaining vegetation of the region. Along the way you’ll have a chance to spot a plethora of endemic wildlife. This includes mountain zebra, eland, kudu, bushbuck, duiker, red hartebeest and a handful of bird species.
Moreover, the Woody Cape Section of the park offers guests the rare chance of spotting South Africa’s legendary Big 5. The conservation area spans over rolling dunes and coastal forests, right down to the sea that teems with southern right whales and great white sharks. In addition, the area also protects the largest colonies of Cape gannets and the largest breeding colony of the precious African penguin.
Top Questions answered on the Addo Elephant Park:
Does Addo National Park have the big 5?
Addo National Park is one of the best destinations for close encounters with Africa’s iconic wildlife. and boasts all of the Big 5 (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino). It has also incorporated a marine reserve that features the southern right whale and the great white shark. These 7 animals are now referred to as ‘Africa’s Big 7’.
When to visit the Addo Elephant Park?
With its pleasant, semi-arid climate, the Addo National Park boasts excellent game viewing all year round. However, you have an even better chance of viewing during winter months making the best time to visit during June through to September. This is due to the fact that the animals congregate around watering holes.
Where to enter the Addo Elephant Park?
The Addo Elephant Park is an easy day trip away from Port Elizabeth. It has two gates through which you can enter; the main entrance gate at the Addo reception or Matyholweni gate near Colchester. Both entrances are signposted if you travel via the N2 from Port Elizabeth.
Note that if you use the Colchester entrance, the road to the rest camp will take you another 38 km on dirt roads. This will add about an hour onto your trip. We recommend taking the scenic route and exploring the southern part of this park section.
How much does it cost to enter the Addo Elephant Park?
South African Citizens and Residents (with ID): ZAR 90 per adult/per day and ZAR 45 per child/per day
SADC Nationals (with passport): ZAR 180 per adult/per day and ZAR 90 per child/per day
Standard Conservation Fee: ZAR 360 per adult/per day and ZAR 180 per child/per day
Is the Addo Elephant Park malaria-free?
The Eastern Cape’s Addo Elephant Park is a completely malaria-free zone and is one of the most scenic parks in South Africa. In addition, its pleasant climate and evergreen vegetation makes the region a beautiful safari destination throughout the year.
Why was the Addo Elephant Park started?
From colonial battle grounds to a site of excessive hunting, the Addo Elephant National Park has a long and bloody past. There were clashes between the Boer and local people which led to over 20 000 Xhosa and Khoe (Khoi) people being forcibly removed out of the area. Hunters continued to poach elephants and other game animals within the area.
By the early 1900s, there were only a few small populations of elephants left. By 1931, only 11 Elephants remained. Fortunately, the government stepped in and created a sanctuary with help from Sydney Skaife. The park has proved to be very successful and currently houses more than 600 elephants and a large number of other mammals.
View this post on Instagram
Addo National Park Game Drives
The Addo Elephant Park is one of South Africa’s most easily accessible safari destinations, with several game drive options available:
Guided Game Drives
A guided game drive in Addo is the perfect choice for first time safari goers. The park offers six daily game drives (sunrise, morning, midday, afternoon, sundowner, and night). Your safari is led by experienced, knowledgeable guides who will track the wildlife and tell you interesting facts about their behaviour and the surrounding flora.
Hop on guides
Hop on guides offer knowledgeable support about the game drives in the comfort of your vehicle. They are available from the communities adjacent to the park. This is the perfect option for families with kids or groups looking for a private safari in Addo.
Self-Drive Game Viewing
If you wish to enjoy the park and its scenery at your own pace then self drive game viewing will be an ideal option for you. These drives take place in the main game area and Colchester area. It features several look-out sites where you can stretch your legs. Opening times change according to season and visitors only pay the conservation fee per day.
View this post on Instagram
Addo Elephant Park Trails and Activities
The Addo Elephant National Park also offers plenty of sunny day pursuits for adventure enthusiasts. A network of trails wind through the park, giving visitors a chance to strap on their adventure boots and wholley immerse themselves in the beauty of the region.
Addo Horse Trails
Seeing the Addo Elephant National Park on horseback is the wildest way to experience the most naturally diverse park in the country. It is home to the Big Five and five of South Africa’s seven biomes. Nestled at the foot of the majestic Zuurberg Mountain range, the Nyathi area’s scenic trails are primed for horseback safaris. This is where encounters with large game are possible.
Whether you’re a novice or an experienced rider, the Addo Elephant Park has a horse and a trail to suit you. The trails depart from the main camp to the Nyati area. Here an experienced guide leads guests and their sure-footed horses into the wild where elephants, buffalo, black rhino, zebra and antelope roam free.
There are two rides taken each day (morning and afternoon). The first is for less experienced riders and departs at 08:30, while afternoon rides are suitable for more experienced riders and start at 14h00.
If you prefer wheels to hooves, Addo Park’s rugged 4X4 trail will certainly enthral you. The 45 kilometre (28 mile) 4X4 trail between Kabouga and Darlington boasts breathtaking views and is rich in history. This 2-3 graded route has varied terrain littered with rock art paintings, a variety of vegetation types, and a grade 5 river crossing to add to the challenge. The route is only suitable for 4×4 vehicles with low range facilities and you can easily cover this route within six hours.
Addo hiking trails
Intrepid explorers and outdoor enthusiasts have another reason to head on over to Addo. Thanks to the big five lurking around and the density of the bushes, there are two places you can hike in Addo: the Zuurberg Section and the Woody Cape Section.
The most popular route is the the Alexandria Hiking Trail. Although not for the faint of heart, this 32 km hiking trail traverses a variety of regions. Covering lush forests, sweeping dunes, and crumbling coastal cliffs. It is well worth it for those up for the challenge. There is a minimum of three hikers and a maximum of 12 allowed on the trail per day. Here, the Langebos Huts situated at the trail base, provide accommodation for the beginning and/or end of the hike.
For novice hikers, the Zuurberg hiking trails are easier. Situated close to the Addo’s main game area, there are two options. The one-hour Cycad Trail, or the longer four-hour Doringnek Hike. Both routes lead trekkers on an epic adventure through the remote, pristine, and lush forest section of the Addo Elephant National Park.
View this post on Instagram
Addo Elephant Park Tours
Start your garden route adventure at the Addo elephant park on one of these tours:
7 Day Garden Route Tour Camping
The Addo Elephant Park is one the Garden Route’s crowning jewels. This epic 7 day tour is the best way to explore it. Kick starting in Addo, this camping adventure gives intrepid travellers a close encounter with Africa’s iconic Big Seven – elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, leopard, southern right whale and great white shark – while exploring the diversity of the park.
7 Day Garden Route Explorer Comfort
This 7 Day Garden Route tour is perfect for those who wish to experience the wild side of South Africa without giving up their creature comforts. The tour is fast paced and covers the Garden Routes highlights such as Stellenbosch Wine country, Tsistikamma, Oudtshoorn, Knysna and the Addo Elephant National Park.
Accommodation in the Addo Elephant Park
Staying in Addo has become synonymous with epic safari adventures. Few experiences can match falling asleep to the sounds of nature and waking up to the sight of elephants walking by.
I really want to see elephants. Hope to see one!