5 National Parks in South Africa Worth Visiting

Posted on November 21, 2011 by

Although Kruger is undoubtedly the largest and most popular National Park in South Africa there are plenty of other wild venues scattered across the country that are, in my humble opinion, just as interesting if not more so. Here is a list of my favorite five wildlife and wilderness destinations and why it is that I love them.

National Parks in South Africa Worth a Visit!

Addo Elephant National Park (Eastern Cape)

In 1931, the Addo Elephant national park was established as a sanctuary for the Eastern Cape’s last 11 remaining elephants. It was pretty much just a zoo back then- a sort of circus attraction that brought in tourists but had very little conservation value. Now however, things are very different and Addo Elephant National Park has grown to become one of the most important and interesting parks in Southern Africa. It’s also grown in size, and from a very humble 2000 hectares, Addo has now become a mega park of some 168,000 hectares covering six different terrestrial habitats: – Nama Karoo; fynbos; and forest; subtropical thicket coastal belt and Marine. It’s the only park to boast the big seven rather than just the big five – Buffalo, Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Great white sharks, Whales and of course Elephants (of which there are now more than 450). It’s also home to the largest penguin colony on the continent. Activities include game drives, horseback riding with wild animals, coastal hikes, 4×4 trails and elephant watching.

national parks in south africa

Garden Route National Park (Western Cape)

The Garden Route National Park consists of a series of fragmented nature reserves that span multiple habitats and environments ranging from cool misty mountain forests to marine reserves alive with beautiful fish. There are lakes to go boating on, mountains to hike amongst and miles upon miles of undeveloped beaches from where one can spot whales and dolphins. The Garden Route is not a traditional big five park and you won’t see lions, buffalo and rhinos (although secretive elephants do creep around the darkest confines of the forests and leopards are present but rarely seen). Regardless of this, the Garden Route National Park is still one of the most scenically stunning places I have ever visited (In fact I live there). Activities consist of numerous multi-day hiking trails (including the world famous coastal otter trail) boating, fishing, whale watching, camping, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving and paragliding.

national parks in south africaFlickr photo by stringer_bel

Imfolozi and Hluhluwe (KwaZulu-Natal)

Imfolozi Hluhluwe (a joined pair of parks) are serious contenders for the number one slot of great wildlife destinations on the whole African continent. Even combined they are much, much smaller than Kruger, but nonetheless they have the same wildlife and in higher densities too. The parks are of great conservation value and during the 80s and 90s they were home to ‘Operation Rhino” a project that saw both black and white rhinos brought back from the edge of extinction. If you ever wanted to see a rhino; LOTS and LOTS, then Imfolozi and Hluhluwe is the place for you. Things to do include game drives, camping, nighttime and wildlife watching. The highlight of a visit though would have to be one of the many guided hikes that are available. Accompanied by a highly trained and armed ranger, you are free to walk for days and days amongst some of Africa’s most potentially dangerous animals. It’s really exhilarating.

national parks in south africa


iSimangaliso (KwaZulu-Natal)

Situated in the North of KZN is a long thin park that contains some of the most beautiful scenery you are ever likely to encounter. More than 200 kms of untouched beaches skirt a series of protected tropical reefs where you can dive with marine turtles and raggy tooth sharks (which are apparently safe, so I’ve been told). There are saline lakes where crocodiles and hippos amass in startling numbers and there are forests and rolling grassy plains where hundreds of species of animals have made themselves a home. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “Nowhere else on earth can one find the oldest land mammal (the rhino) and the world’s biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant) living naturally in the same protected area as the ocean’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the sea’s biggest mammal (the whale)”. Activities include sun bathing, snorkeling and SCUBA diving, hiking, game drives, kayaking and whale watching.

national parks in south africa

Cape Peninsula National Park (Western Cape)

What makes Cape Town such a stunning place is not the city itself, but rather the location. Table Mountain looms above the suburbs and skyscrapers, whilst flights to Cape Town from London and many other points of the globe leave vapour trails across the urban skies – but bays and beaches, untouched by development, are just a few minutes’ drive from almost anywhere in the city. The park (of which table mountain is just one feature) consists of a rugged landscape of jagged mountains, secluded valleys and beautiful unspoilt beaches.

Quaint little seaside towns are separated by rocky outcrops and lengthy stretches of unhurried winding roads. Activities include taking a cable car up to the top of Table Mountain for a gob-smacking view of the city; a drive around the cape peninsula (or a bike ride if you are up for the strong winds and steep ascents) or perhaps a lazy day on an empty beach. Keep an eye out for dolphins in the waves, penguins on the rocks and muggers in the car parks.

national parks in south africa

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

9 Responses to “5 National Parks in South Africa Worth Visiting”

  1. timetravelturtle November 24, 2011 3:25 am #

    Wow, they all look amazing! And great photos too.
    If you only had time for one, is there a particular park you would recommend?

  2. Sam Kynman-Cole November 27, 2011 4:49 am #

    I want to visit them all!

  3. James Turner December 2, 2011 8:34 pm #

    Great piece – but could you transpose that pic of Hout Bay to face the right way around :)

  4. Pilanesberg July 30, 2012 8:58 pm #

    Another great park is Pilanesberg National Park which is located near sun city. They have some great wildlife, a variety of lodging and it is easily accessible from Johannesburg.

  5. Nikhil Chandra April 9, 2013 5:49 am #

    The Garden Route National Park looks really awesome in the picture you have shared. As a person interested in hiking, nature and treks, I'd love to visit this place at least once in my lifetime. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Ted Woolridge May 7, 2013 10:40 pm #

    I'm surprised they have horseback tours in at least one of those parks. Wouldn't it be dangerous riding around with so many dangerous animals in the bush?

    • Nellie May 15, 2013 10:43 pm #

      Horseback safaris are quite popular these days in Africa. It\’s a great way to see wildlife – from a distance (you don\’t usually go too close) and with new perspectives. I\’ve been on a walking safari before and that was so much fun too.

  7. corky June 22, 2013 6:51 am #

    I was wondering if you thought it was fine to go to south Africa on our own I'm not a fan of tour groups
    Is it difficult to get hotels or fine places to eat ?

    • Nellie July 3, 2013 5:25 am #

      Yes South Africa is great for independent travelers, you can easily find your way around, there are even buses that cater to backpackers. We rented a car and drove around. There\’s a wide range of hotels and hostels and it\’s relatively easy to find places to eat. Good luck and hope you enjoy South Africa!

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