Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth is rated one of the best places in Africa to see elephants up close. It's also South Africa's third largest reserve with an enormous diversity of species and vegetation.

Did you know?

Addo Elephant National Park boasts the largest coastal dune field in the southern hemisphere.

In 1931, Addo was proclaimed to protect the 16 elephants that remained in the area. Today it is a world-famous mega park and elephant numbers have swelled to over 600, one of the densest elephant populations in Africa.

From just 2 500ha in size at proclamation, Addo Elephant National Park is now 180 000ha in size stretching from Darlington dam in the Karoo section in the north, across the Zuurberg mountains south to the coast where it includes the St Croix and Bird Island groups.

This makes it the third largest park in South Africa and it offers incredible diversity encompassing five of South Africa's nine biomes.

The park is also home to buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino and in the marine section you will find great white sharks and southern right whales, which means that South Africa’s Addo is one of the few reserves in the world that can boast having the Big Seven!

All this is within relatively easy striking distance of Port Elizabeth, the largest city in the Eastern Cape and visitors can pick from a range of accommodation and adventure activities including 4x4, horse and hiking trails.

In Addo, you will find 1 000 year-old cycads, hillsides covered in pastel-coloured proteas, primeval impenetrable thicket, bizarre-looking spiny noorsveld, and wide-open plains where antelope graze.

Lion and spotted hyena were reintroduced into the park in 2003 to help control antelope numbers which include kudu, red hartebeest and eland.

The rare flightless dung beetles of Addo are a more unusual attraction. Always busy rolling perfect balls from elephant dung, the park is full of signs warning visitors to avoid harming these unique creatures.

The marine section of the park include the St Croix Island group, including Brenton and Jahleel, which is utilised by huge numbers of bird species. St Croix is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world. These birds, endemic to Southern Africa, are endangered and the population in the bay has been diminshed by 70% within 7 years. The colony went from a high of 60,000 individuals down to the current number of 22,000, roughly half of the entire world’s population. Bird Island also has a population of breeding African penguins but the main species found on this island is the Cape gannet. Numbering 250,000 birds, this island is known as the largest gannetry on the planet. The Bird Island group has a small islet named Black Rocks which has 6,000 Cape fur seals breeding on it. Both islands are seeped with rich cultural and natural history as they have been utilised for food and supplies since the first Portuguese explorers rounded the Cape in 1488. Rare roseate terns come to Bird Island to breed in winter, Siberian falcons breed in the coastal dunes nearby and Caspian and Arctic terns stop off on the island on long-haul flights.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

SANParks central reservations
Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111

Addo Elephant National Park reception
Tel: +27 (0)42 233 8600

How to get here

The park's main gate is about an hour's drive from Port Elizabeth, easily accessible by road and air. From the city, follow the N2 highway towards Grahamstown and take the Addo Elephant National Park turn-off.

Best time to visit

Addo is a pleasure to visit throughout the year. Summers are fairly hot, and winter evenings icy; spring and autumn are just about perfect.

Around the area

Port Elizabeth is only an hour's drive away and this delightful coastal city boasts some fine beaches, excellent dining and shopping, and some exquisite architecture.

Tours to do

There is a 4x4 eco-trail over the Zuurberg mountains. You can also enjoy various guided horse trails through the park.

Get around

Self-drive is best though various tour companies also operate in the area. All roads are accessible to normal sedan cars. A 4x4 vehicle is only necessary if visitors are taking the 4x4 route within the park.

Length of stay

Addo Elephant National Park can be enjoyed on a day trip, but you could easily spend a few days in the park for the full experience.

Where to stay

The park offers a wide range of accommodation, from camping and self-catering chalets to luxury lodges. There are also many private game lodges in the greater Addo area.

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