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, a restaurant, and viewpoints to enjoy. Here is everything you need to know!
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 lots of elephants since Addo is home to more than 600 of them.
If your 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 traveling to this part of the country.
What we saw
Our self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park took place 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 the smallest and most precious wildlife in Addo. The six legs 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.
TIP. Since there are some waterholes inside the Park, search them on the map and drive there. As you will be making circular loops around the waterholes, wildlife will appear out of nowhere. You’ll have the chance to spot lots of elephants, zebras, and antelopes congregating around the waterholes, especially in the morning and late afternoon.
Self-drive Safari at Addo Elephant Park or Guided Tours?
The question is highly individual and also has pros and cons.
If you want to sit, relax, take photos, and enjoy the experience, you should choose a guided tour. Book one ahead or go to the Game Drives Reception at Addo Main Gate and choose your tour.
If you want to discover on your own every single corner of the Park and search for every wildlife roaming around, you should 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 R240 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, you manage your own time properly. And trust me, you will see a lot of wildlife on your self-drive safari.
Best Time to Visit 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. If you visit the Park during those months, keep in mind that it might get crowded, especially on weekends, when locals spend their free days making a braai at the designated picnic areas.
Will I See Lions and Where?
Addo has a moderately small lion population, but you might spot a lion or even more if you are fortunate.
At the entrance gate, I 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’s going to be his lucky day! And maybe it was!
At least it was for us! We knew it would take a miracle to see a lion in our self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park, 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 get the chance to spot the lion as well.
Where to Enter Addo Elephant Park
The majority of visitors enter the Park through the Main Gate, drive around the area and exit the same way; it’s also the area where you will encounter more wildlife. We wanted to discover the south part as well, so our route includes entering through the Mathyolweni Gate in the south, driving through the Park, and exiting through the Addo Main Gateon the west side.
TIP. If you want to stay closer to Mathyolweni Gate, you can book a two-sleeper unit at Mathyolweni Camp, with great views over the valley.
If you decide to self-drive inside the Park, you will have to pay only the Conservation Fee:
- South African Citizens and Residents: R82/adult/ day
- SADC Nationals: R164/adult/day
- Foreigners: R328/ adult/ day.
For more info, check the official site here.
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 drive, we decided to add it to our itinerary. We used Port Elisabeth as our basecamp for two nights. Early 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 can highly recommend visiting the Park on your own.
Port Elisabeth to Mathyolweni Gate
After having a delicious dinner accompanied by a South African red wine, we slept like babies. We woke up early morning since we knew we’d have to be at the opening time at the entrance gate. The 42 km trip took no more than 30minute, so we soon reached the Mathyolweni Gate. We stopped at the gate, filled the form, got a map, paid the entrance fees, and by 6 a.m. when the gate opened, we entered the Park.
Our first stop was at Ndlovu Lookout point so we got out of the car to enjoy the beautiful views over the valley. 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 Gate, we drove 40 kilometers in almost 3 hours until we reached the road that divides 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 easily.
Jack’s Picnic Site Botanical Reserve
We passed by 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, a well-known destination for a braai lunch with the South Africans. Every place is equipped with individual shaded picnic tables and built-in brick braais. 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.
Are you getting to Addo for elephants? That’s the place you should drive to. We had two highlights on our self-drive safari at Addo Elephant Park. One was spotting the KING, and the second one was encountering countless elephants. I never imagined seeing so many gathered in one place!
TIP. For spotting elephants, the best waterholes are Hapoor Dam, Speckboom Hide, Marion Bree, and Woodlands.
Addo 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. 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 Main Camp
Addo Camp includes a shop, a restaurant, restrooms, and a petrol station. From the Game Drive Office, next to the shop, you can book a guided tour. 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 there in total silence; you are only a few meters apart from the wildlife.
We waited for a while for wildlife to show up, but we spotted only a few elephants for several minutes, so after that, we decided to pamper ourselves with a coffee and ice cream at the restaurant.
Meeting the KING
After taking a short break at Addo Main Area, we headed to the place where the lions were last seen, near Janwal Pan. Two of them were sitting in the shadow, but we could only hear them. We waited for more than two hours for one to show up, and when all the visitors abandoned waiting and left, his majesty came out from the bushes. We could hardly believe it! And we were all by ourselves!
Leaving the Park through the North Gate
We left the Addo Park through the north gate, just one minute before the closing time. We had such a successful self-drive safari, we saw so many elephants and such diverse wildlife, and we had the honor to meet the King! Our day at Addo Elephant Park couldn’t be better!
Accommodation inside Addo Elephant Park
You have two options for accommodation inside the Park: you can book accommodation at a private lodge or 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 a tent 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.
Accommodation outside Addo Elephant Park
The options are multiple, and you can book accommodation through AirBnB.com or Booking.com at reasonable prices. From here, it only takes half an hour to reach the Mathyolweni Gate in the south.
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.
Things to Keep in Mind
- The speed limit inside the Park is 40km/h.
- All tourist roads are suitable for sedan cars.
- You will get a map of the Park at the entrance gate.
- Always check the closing times of the Park.
- Never exit the vehicle, except in the designated areas.
- Enter the Park as early as possible so you’ll have better chances to spot wildlife.
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