Are you tight on time in South Africa but want to go on a safari? Enjoy a perfect day of game viewing on a self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park! Take your time, drive slowly, enjoy the views, and keep both eyes on the road! Elephants appear out of nowhere! Besides the exciting game drives, there are picnic sites, restaurants, and viewpoints to enjoy. Find out everything you need to know before your visit from this article!

If you don’t feel like driving yourself, I picked a guided tour with great reviews for you: Addo Elephant Full-Day Safari. You will be picked up from your hotel in Port Elizabeth, Bluewater Bay, or Colchester or at the Matyholweni Entrance of Addo Elephant National Park. Collections from your selected hotels are between 9:00 AM and 9:20 AM. The tour lasts 9 hours.

Also, if you would love to discover the Garden Route with a guide, check out this great tour: Garden Route and Addo Elephant Park in 6 days. This popular tour is an adventurous yet relaxed and affordable way to explore South Africa’s Garden Route and see the elephants in Addo Elephant Park.

Disclosure. *This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link.*

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Addo Elephant Park

Useful Things to Know for the Best Self-Drive Safari at Addo Elephant Park 

About Addo Elephant National Park 

Addo Elephant National Park is now the third-largest National Park in South Africa, famous for self-drive safaris or guided tours. The Park offers a wide diversity of game viewing, so if you are lucky, you might spot the Big 5 (lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo). If not, don’t get discouraged; you can still see many elephants since Addo is home to more than 600.

If time allows, head south to the marine section, another part of the Park, where you can spot dolphins, the great white shark, or the southern right whales.

Addo Elephant Park is close to Port Elisabeth, so it should be on everyone’s itinerary when traveling to this part of the country.

Best time to visit for the perfect Self-Drive Safari at Addo Elephant Park 

The best time to visit the Park is during the year’s driest months, May to September, when wildlife, especially elephants, gather in numbers around the waterholes. However, if you visit the Park during those months, remember that it might get crowded, especially on weekends, when locals come to the Park to stroll around and prepare a delicious braai at the designated picnic areas.

Entrance fees to Addo Elephant Park 

If you decide to self-drive inside the Park, you will have to pay only a Conservation Fee:

  • South African Citizens and Residents: R90/adult/ day
  • SADC Nationals: R180/adult/day
  • Foreigners: R360/ adult/ day

For more info, check the official site here.

observing an elephant having lunch while on a self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park

Where to stay in Addo Elephant Park  

You have two options for accommodation inside the Park. The first is booking accommodation at a private lodge and the second is booking through SANParks. Remember, if you choose to stay inside the Park, you can take advantage of longer visiting hours.

Addo Main Rest Camp offers various accommodation types, from tents and standard chalets to modern Villas facing the Nyati waterhole. Something for every taste.

Orange Elephant Backpackers is a great budget choice, only 12 minutes away from the main gate.

Where to stay outside Addo Elephant Park 

There are multiple options, and you can book accommodation at reasonable prices. From here, reaching the Mathyolweni Gate in the south only takes half an hour. 

Our early flight to Johannesburg didn’t allow us to stay inside the Park, so we decided to spend two nights in Port Elisabeth. We found a lovely homestay with a beautiful terrace, where we enjoyed some leisure time after our self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park.

Self-Drive safari or guided tours at Addo Elephant Park? 

Zebras at one of the waterholes senn on the self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park

The question is highly individual and also has pros and cons. 

You should choose a guided tour if you want to sit, relax, take photos, and enjoy the experience. Book one or go to the Game Drives Reception at Addo Main Gate and select your tour.

If you want to discover every corner of the Park on your own and search for every wildlife roaming around, you should RENT-A-CAR and go on a self-drive safari. In this case, you don’t need to book ahead, and you can spend the whole day in the Park, driving around and waiting for wildlife to show up for as long as you want.

The compromise between those two options? Book a hop-on-guide at the Game Drives Reception office at Addo Main Gate, for R210 for a sedan car, for 2 hours. And for the rest of the day, go on a self-guided safari.

We decided to go on a self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park, and I encourage you to do so. You decide when to leave, when or where to stop and manage your time properly. And trust me, you will see a lot of wildlife on your self-drive safari.

TIP. Since there are some waterholes inside the Park, find them on the map and drive there. As you make circular loops around the reservoirs, wildlife will appear out of nowhere. You’ll have the chance to spot many elephants, zebras and antelopes congregating around the waterholes, especially in the morning and late afternoon.

Where to enter Addo Elephant Park 

Most visitors enter the park through the main gate, drive around the area, and exit the park in the same way; it’s also where you will encounter more wildlife. We also wanted to discover the southern part, so our route included entering through the Mathyolweni Gate in the south, driving through the park, and exiting through the Addo Main Gate on the west side.

TIP. If you want to stay closer to Mathyolweni Gate, you can book a two-sleeper unit at Mathyolweni Camp, which has great views over the valley.  

Will I see Lions on a self-drive Safari at Addo Elephant Park? 

Addo has a moderately small lion population, but you might spot a lion or even more if you are fortunate. 

At the entrance gate, we met a resident who came to celebrate his birthday inside the Park. He visited Addo Elephant Park countless times before but never spotted a lion. But he felt it was going to be his lucky day! And maybe it was! 

At least it was for us! We knew seeing a lion in our self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park would take a miracle, but that miracle happened! 

TIP: At Addo Main Camp, check the sighting board to see who saw the lion and where. Drive there, and maybe you’ll also get to spot the lion. But, I am warning you, you’ll have to be patient and sometimes wait more than a couple of hours. After that, it is up to you whether you choose to stay or enjoy the beauty of this park and its residents elsewhere.

waiting for his Majesty, the Lion, to show up from the bushes while on a self-drive safari in Addo Elephant Park

Our Self-Drive Safari at Addo Elephant Park 

Our epic Garden Route road trip ended at Port Elisabeth, and since Addo Elephant Park lies north of the city, less than an hour’s drive, we decided to add it to our itinerary. We used Port Elisabeth as our base camp for two nights. Early in the morning, we drove to Addo and spent an entire day inside searching for wildlife! After a beautiful self-guided day trip at Addo Elephant Park, we drove back to Port Elisabeth and spent the last night here before flying to Joburg. We loved our experience so much, so I recommend visiting the Park on your own.

We’ve been on this self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park in September, and the Park was not overcrowded – that’s what we loved the most! We saw lots of elephants, kudus, black-backed jackals, tortoises, warthogs, zebras, antelopes, ostriches, buffalos, the rare flightless dung beetle, and a lion. And we even recognized some bokmakieries, the red-billed oxpecker, and a few black-headed herons. 

The rare flightless dung beetles are Addo’s smallest and most precious wildlife. The six-leg tiny creatures live in hot and dry habitats. You will spot them pushing around balls of elephant dung, which they use for food and reproduction. Keep in mind these tiny workers have the right of way in Addo Elephant Park.

The rare flightless dung beetles are the smallest and most precious wildlife in Addo

Port Elisabeth to Mathyolweni Gate 

After having a delicious dinner and a glass of South African red wine, we slept like babies. We woke up early in the morning, knowing we’d have to be at the entrance gate at opening time. The 42 km trip took only 30 minutes, so we soon reached the Mathyolweni Gate. We stopped at the gate, filled out the form, got a map, paid the entrance fees, and by 6 a.m. when the gate opened, we entered the Park.

Colchester Area 

Our first stop was at Ndlovu Lookout Point, so we got out of the car to enjoy the beautiful views over the valley. Next, we made the Mbotyi Loop and the Vikani Loop before reaching the Peasland Waterhole, where we saw lots of kudus. Ngulube Loob took us to Ngulube Waterhole, where we spotted warthogs, and we exited the car again at Algoa Bay Lookout Point.

We drove every road we were allowed on, making every loop, stopping at every lookout point, keeping our eyes open all the time, and taking lots of photos.

From the Mathyolweni Gatewe drove 40 kilometers in almost 3 hours until we reached the road dividing the park into two sections. We soon realized the Colchester Area had more vegetation than the Main Area; that’s the main reason for not spotting elephants quickly.

Zebras crossing the road in Addo Elephant Park

Jack’s Picnic Site Botanical Reserve

We passed Grahams Pan and Marion Baree, where we recognized more wildlife before reaching the picnic area. Jack’s site is enclosed and vast, with many private shaded places, and it is a well-known destination for braai lunch for South Africans. Every place is equipped with individual shaded picnic tables and built-in brick braais. So, if you plan a delicious braai tucked in amongst trees, that’s the place to be.

Since we bought some meals from Spar, one of South Africa’s supermarket chains, we stopped at Jack’s picnic site for a proper picnic bush.

our rented car at Jack's Picnic Site

Hapoor Dam 

Are you visiting Addo for elephants? Then, that’s the place you should drive to. We had two highlights on our self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park. The first was meeting the KING, and the second was encountering countless elephants. I never imagined seeing so many gathered in one place!

TIP. The best waterholes for spotting elephants are Hapoor Dam, Speckboom Hide, Marion Bree, and Woodlands.

Elephants playing at Addo Elephnat Park - self-drive safari

Addo Elephant Park Main Area 

Once again, we drove around every loop and every road around the main camp. There is less vegetation, and the plains are open, so wildlife is easier to spot. First, we took a drive to the popular waterhole Carol’s Rest on Gorah Loop, where we saw many animals, then on Nzipondo Loop before reaching the Addo Main Camp.

Addo Elephant Park Main Camp 

Addo Camp includes a shop, a restaurant, restrooms, and a petrol station. Next to the shop, you can book a guided tour from the Game Drive Office. You will find a waterhole where you can sit on a bench and wait for the elephants, antelopes, or zebras to show up. Underneath the waterhole is a hidden blind. Walk in total silence; you are only a few meters from the wildlife.

We waited a while for wildlife to show up, but we spotted only a few elephants for several minutes, so we decided to pamper ourselves with a coffee and ice cream at the restaurant.

a beautiful tortoises family at Addo Elephant Park

Meeting the KING on our first Self-Drive Safari at Addo Elephant Park

After taking a short break at Addo Main Area, we headed to where the lions were last seen, near Janwal Pan. Two lions were sitting in the shadows, but we could only hear them. We waited more than two hours for one to show up, and when all the visitors gave up and left, his majesty came out of the bushes. We could hardly believe it! And we were all by ourselves!

meeting the king on a self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park

Leaving the Addo Park through the North Gate 

We left Addo Park through the north gate just one minute before closing. We had such a successful self-drive safari, saw so many elephants and diverse wildlife, and had the honor of meeting the King! Our day at Addo Elephant Park couldn’t have been better!

Conclusions for the Best Self-Drive Safari at Addo Elephant Park

#1. The speed limit inside the Park is 40km/h.

#2. All tourist roads are suitable for sedan cars.

#3. You will get a map of the Park at the entrance gate.

#4. Always check the park’s closing times.

#5. Never exit the vehicle except in the designated areas.

#6. Enter the Park as early as possible so you’ll have better chances to spot wildlife.

South Africa Travel Resources

Car rentals

We always use DISCOVER CARS when we want to rent a car as it compares local, national and international companies. Renting a car is the easiest way to see all the famous country has to offer. Almost all destinations are easy to access with a rental car, and having your own car is also the smoothest way to travel and discover new places. Check out the best rental deals HERE.

Secure your travel insurance

We never leave home without travel insurance designed to cover our expenses if something goes wrong. If you’re still on the lookout for travel insurance for your trip to South Africa, I highly recommend HEYMONDO, a trusted insurance provider for leisure and business trips, backpackers, long-term travelers, and digital nomads. Their travel insurance protects against theft, flight delays, injury, illness, cancellations, and much more.

Get an eSIM before the trip

Because phones have become our most important devices, it’s necessary to have a data connection as soon as you step foot in a different country. Your home data plan might only work if you paid for a much more expensive package, finding wifi connections in airports or train stations might be tricky, and seeking a local store to buy a SIM card might be exhausting. Forget all of that!

You just purchase an e-SIM, install it on your phone, and activate the plan when you’re ready to use it. Getting out of the plane and instantly connecting to data was a game changer for me. I didn’t have to waste time standing in line to get a local SIM card or finding a wifi connection to book a taxi to reach my hotel.

If you ask me, getting an e-SIM is a quintessential part of traveling. There is no physical installation and no long-term commitments. And the best part is that you can always top up or purchase a new plan through the app. Pretty convenient, right? You can get an e-sim card with AIRALO

Save time and book a tour

For a local experience, I recommend checking out the guided tours on GET YOUR GUIDE.

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