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Great Reasons to Visit Addo Elephant National Park

by Cris Puscas

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Most travelers visiting South Africa and looking to experience a safari for the first time would likely opt for Kruger National Park, as it is one of Africa’s most popular parks.

However, if you’re looking for equally enticing alternatives, there are other great national parks that you can visit. Addo Elephant National Park is an excellent example.

As the name suggests, the park is home to a large population of African elephants. But seeing these gentle giants up close and personal may not be the only reason you’ll be interested in checking out this park, fondly referred to as Addo.

Below, you’ll find more great reasons as to why Addo Elephant National Park should be part of your South African trip!

You’ll meet large herds of majestic African elephants

elephants in addo elephant national park

Photo credit: Olga Ernst

As mentioned above, if you love African elephants, this is certainly a park for you! There are currently over 600 of them in the park, so the chance of spotting them is high.

You can usually find large family groups around the waterhole located at the Main Camp. However, they can also be spotted in large numbers at the Hapoor Dam. And sometimes, you may even encounter a lone elephant crossing the road during your safari.

Note that the guides in Addo don’t carry firearms because the elephants in the park are the gentlest in the country. Plus, they don’t feel threatened around cars. However, it is best to maintain your distance. Have a bit of patience and they’ll likely come to you.

Here’s a fun fact. Did you know that about 90% of the female elephants in the park don’t have tusks? That’s because the absence of tusks gives the elephants a better chance to avoid poaching.

That said, note that bull elephants originating from Kruger National Park have been introduced 16 years ago to widen the genetic pool, so you may see increasing numbers of elephants with tusks at Addo.


You may just encounter all of the Big 7

black-maned lion

Many travelers flocking to Kruger National Park do so for a chance to see the majestic Big Five animals.

That is understandable, as catching a glimpse of the African lion, leopard, the black and white rhinoceros, the African elephant, and Cape buffalo is an experience that will stay with you your entire life.

You’ll be happy to know that Addo National Park is not only home to all of the Big Five, but it also provides sanctuary for a very special subspecies of the African lion: the black-maned lion.

More than 15 years ago, the black-maned lion from Kalahari was introduced to Addo. There were two major reasons for the choice.

Firstly, these lions have been chosen because they are disease-free, and they wouldn’t spread tuberculosis to the Cape Buffalos. This is why the park is now home to one of the biggest herds of disease-free buffalos in South Africa.

Secondly, they are the closest match to the now extinct Cape Lion which used to roam this area.

But did you know that Addo Elephant National Park is the only park in the world where you can see the Big Seven? In addition to the Big Five, the Big Seven also include the southern right whale and the great white shark.

This is because Addo extends all the way to the coast near Port Elizabeth and off the coast of Algoa Bay, where you can spot these two amazing marine creatures.

The best time to see the southern right whale is from June to November. The peak calving season is July and August, but the calves can still be seen in September and October.  

Sharks are present in the waters year-round but, traditionally, the best time to see large numbers of great whites is during winter (May to August).

You won’t have to “fight” the crowds

If crowds are not your thing, this may just be the most important reason why Addo Elephant National Park would make a great alternative.

Provided you plan your trip outside of the school holidays and long weekends, Addo is not overcrowded.

Here, when you do spot an animal, chances are it won’t be a huge magnet for all the other cars (filled with other safari goers) in the area. Instead, you’ll be able to enjoy the sighting on your own. Plus, the chances to take an excellent photo are pretty high, too!

With that being said, because of how close Addo is to Port Elizabeth, it is a popular day trip destination. So, it can get inundated with visitors, particularly during bank holidays and around Christmas time.

It is recommended to plan your visit in February and during summer so you won’t have to battle any crowds. The weather is cooler (around a comfortable 22C / 71.6F) and still sunny. This also means the wildlife is more active than during the hot winter days.

You’ll find some of Africa’s unique critters


flightless dung beetle in addo

Photo credit: Kay-africa


While the large animals are what most travelers come to see, the little guys are just as important. One such creature is the flightless dung beetle, which is endemic to only a few areas in South Africa - one being Addo Elephant National Park.

You’ll be rewarded with sights of these huge beetles rolling perfect sized balls of various types of dung. It can be quite entertaining to watch them roll the ball to the side of the road only to fall off it.

These environmentally friendly bugs that fertilize and aerate the soil always have the right of way in Addo. All over the park, you can see signs to not walk or drive over dung beetles or elephant dung.

Catch a glimpse of the mesmerizing penguins and dolphins

Since the park extends all the way to the ocean, it protects some important islands in Algoa Bay.

On St. Croix island and Bird island groups, you can spot the cute penguins, which, unfortunately, are more threatened than rhinos.

Thankfully, they are safe here as Addo is responsible for the protection of about 50% of the African penguin population. St. Croix island group is home to 22,000 breeding pairs of African penguins, the largest breeding colony in Africa.

Also, in the waters of the bay, you can spot the playful bottlenose dolphin, which tend to come right up to the boat and ride alone in the bow waves. In Algoa Bay, you can find the largest population along the South African coastline.

You’ll have plenty of fun in this family-friendly destination

Located just an hour drive north of Port Elizbeth, Addo Elephant National Park is a great choice for a family safari, whether you prefer a short day trip or a longer stay.

Another reason why Addo makes an excellent option for families, especially if you are planning to travel with small children (under 5-6 years old), the elderly, and/ or pregnant women (those who cannot take malaria medication) is that Addo Elephant National Park is located within a malaria-free zone.

Going on a day trip from Port Elizabeth

port elizabeth

Photo credit: Brian Snelson via Flickr

Should you prefer to drop by for a quick day trip, Addo offers plenty of facilities to keep you and your little ones entertained.

Jack’s picnic site is right in the middle of the park and it’s completely fenced off. The tables are tucked in amongst the trees and there are braai facilities available.

If you prefer to explore nature on foot, a walk on the Spekboom Trail is perfect to discover the park’s smaller animals and birds. It is also completed fenced, so you won’t be worried about coming face to face with a lion.

Also, there are excellent activities for kids at the Ulwazi Interpretive Centre, where they can try a fossil dig, a geology puzzle, or learn how to track animals.

And don’t forget to stop by the Main Camp’s waterhole or drive to Hapoor Dam for a chance to see the large animals that reside in the park.

Luckily, you can easily drive the entire length of the park (without stopping) in as little as 1.5 hours.

Exploring the Garden Route



garden route

If you land in Cape Town, including Addo Elephant National Park on a Garden Route self-drive tour can be a magnificent way to take in the multitude of charming places along the way. This may be one of the best ways to explore more of what South Africa has to offer.

The Garden Route is probably one of the most popular destinations in South Africa. Nevertheless, planning your itinerary depends on personal interests and available time but, if you are looking for suggestions, here are some interesting stops along the way:

  • Hermanus – a coastal town on the way from Cape Town to Garden Route, with beautiful sea views;
  • Mossel Bay – a cool town offering nice surfing, beaches, and restaurants;
  • Plettenberg Bay – a beach town and where you can enjoy canoeing, diving, hiking, snorkeling, and other adventurous activities;
  • Addo Elephants National Park;
  • Amakhala Game Reserve – another malaria-free park, home to the Big Five;
  • Storms River village – exists only because of the travelers driving the Garden Route but it packs a lot of activities, including excellent hiking in the forest.

Kindly note that the Garden Route officially starts in Mossel Bay – about 385 km / 240 miles from Cape Town - and spans all the way to Storms River. The total distance covered is about 200 km / 124.3 mi.

Should you decide to do the drive as a loop starting and ending in Cape Town, you are likely to add the Addo Elephant National Park stop on the way from Storms River village back to Cape Town. Else you can end the trip in Port Elizabeth and explore the park just before the last leg of the drive.

Looking for a longer stay?

If you decide to stay overnight or longer, you should know that the park has quite a few accommodation options available including self-catering houses and a small campsite. Please note that Addo is a popular park and the accommodation fills up quite fast, so it is advisable to book in advance.

Do you want to explore South Africa as a family? Here is everything you need to know about planning a family safari in South Africa!

Learn about (and taste) the spekboom

You’ll quickly see that the park has an abundance of a succulent called spekboom. This tree is indigenous to Eastern Cape and regenerates quickly. It can, thus, sustain the large population of elephants.

That’s why, in Addo, the landscape doesn’t look barren due to elephants feeding off the plants.

Also, spekboom is responsible for drawing the carbon dioxide out of the air and not releasing it back.

As much as 79% of the park’s area is covered in it and it is especially concentrated in the main game viewing area.

Spekboom is used in salads and soups, too. Make sure to give it a taste if you happen to encounter it!

But that’s not all…

These are just some of the many great reasons to choose Addo Elephant National park for your next safari adventure in South Africa.

The key to the park’s success is diversity. Did you know that the park is a biodiversity hotspot, stretching over five biomes (Thicket, Forest, Succulent Karoo, Fynbos, and Nama Karoo)? Each of these habitats of flora and fauna has its own set of interesting species.

Also, in a lesser-known part of Addo, where the park meets the sea, there are high and wide dunes known as the Alexandria Dune Field. Stretching over 15 800 hectares, it is the largest and least degraded of its kind in the whole Southern Hemisphere.


Excited to see the amazing animals that roam Addo Elephant National Park? Then book one of the Big Five Safaris in South Africa and enjoy seeing these animals up close and personal. 

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