Going on a safari and spotting wildlife is one of the most impressive experiences in South Africa. We did several guided game drives at Greater Kruger National Park, and a self drive safari at Addo Elephant National Park. Guided safaris are awesome, but we highly recommend doing at least one self guided game drive as well.
Here’s everything you need to know for a self drive safari at Addo Elephant National Park.
Addo Elephant National Park
Addo Elephant National Park, or Addo Elephant Park for short, is the third largest national park in South Africa, popular for both guided and self drive safaris. The Matyholweni Entrance Gate through which we entered the park, is located about 40 km (~25 miles) north of Port Elizabeth.
You can spot the Big 5 at Addo Elephant Park, but you probably have to visit other areas than the main game viewing area to achieve that goal. We only spotted a female lion, a bunch of buffalos and plenty of elephants. Leopards are very hard to spot anyway, and according to the SANParks website the black rhino is only found around the Darlington Dam area.
Anyway, a visit to Addo Elephant National Park is very impressive, even if you don’t spot the Big 5. With over 600 elephants in the park, Addo is known for its spectacular elephant sightings. Be warned though, you’re only 1 (or 2) of approximately 160,000 yearly visitors so you’ll need a bit of luck on your side.
Map of Addo Elephant Park
You can pick up a map of Addo Elephant National Park at the office at one of the park entrance gates. That same map is also available on the SANParks website.
On that map you can see that Addo Elephant Park consists of 8 different areas, including the Marine Protected Area where you can spot whales. The different sections offer different activities and accommodation options, but the main game viewing area consists of the Addo Main Camp area and the Colchester area.
Addo Elephant Park Prices
If you wish to do a self drive safari at Addo Elephant National Park, you have to pay a conservation fee, or entrance fee if you wish, upon entering the park. For foreign visitors, this was R272 (~ $19 ~ €17) per adult per day at the time of our visit. Children, South African citizens and residents, and SADC Nationals pay less.
Check out the Addo Elephant Park section on the SANParks website for up-to-date pricing information.
Things you should know before visiting Addo Elephant Park
To protect yourself and the wildlife at Addo Elephant National Park there are some rules and regulations you’re asked to adhere to. You can read up on them on the SANParks website, but here are already some of the most important ones:
- Do not climb out nor hang out of your vehicle in the game viewing area. (You don’t want to get attacked, right?)
- In designated areas (indicated by signs) you’re allowed to get out of your vehicle, but at your own risk. (There are dangerous animals in the park.)
- Stay on the road and do not enter roads you’re not allowed on. (No brainer, if you ask me.)
- The speed limit is 40 km/h (~ 25 miles/h) throughout the park. (But you’ll probably want to drive even slower as to not miss any wildlife.)
- Do not injure, feed, or disturb any form of wildlife. (That includes dung beetles! So no driving over elephant dung.)
- Do not litter. (Nowhere, ever.)
- The use of drones inside (and over) the park is prohibited. (Too bad right? But that’s to protect the animals from poachers.)
And always keep in mind: leave nothing but car tracks, take nothing but photos, kill nothing but time.
Our Self Drive Safari at Addo Elephant National Park
On the day of our self drive safari at Addo Elephant National Park, we arrived at the Matyholweni Entrance Gate at 7:00 in the morning, opening time. Before we were allowed in the park, we had to go register at the gate office, by filling in a form and paying the conservation fee. That took about 10 minutes, including a toilet visit.
Make sure you have the following information on you when entering the office, to be able to complete the form: phone number, license plate, passport number.
When you go wildlife spotting, it’s best to start your day as early as possible, as your chances of seeing one of the big cats is bigger. Actually all animals are more active when it’s not that hot yet. That includes us, right? The gate office tends to get busy quickly as well, another reason to be at the park gate at opening time.
We literally drove over every road we were allowed on in the main game viewing area (Addo Main Camp Area and Colchester Area), checking out every lookout point and watering hole for all kinds and sizes of animals. Note that some roads are sealed, and some roads are bumpy gravel roads, all marked on the map.
One of the most memorable sightings (and most beautiful photos) was the herd of 9 elephants and 2 babies at Hapoor Dam, a watering hole. There was a lot of elephant dung, meaning elephants pass there often. We waited for a while when we suddenly saw the herd approach. It was really impressive!
The elephants were the largest animal we spotted, the rare flightless dung beetle the smallest. Keep in mind these tiny workers have right of way in Addo Elephant Park. Spot them pushing around balls of elephant dung, which they use for food and reproduction.
We also saw a lioness resting in the shade of a bush, albeit from afar. Bring binoculars when wildlife spotting! In all honesty, we only found the lioness because her position was marked on the map with wildlife sightings of the day. We pulled over along the road where many other cars and safari vehicles were parked, and had to ask another visitor to point us the lioness. Luckily that was the only time we had to share the view with many other visitors. At all other times, it was just us or 1 or 2 other cars.
During our self drive safari at Addo Elephant Park we also saw lots of warthogs, with and without babies, a bunch of kudus and zebras, even a couple elands, ostriches, and a tortoise. There are beautiful birds and tons of antelopes too, just keep your eyes and ears open!
In between wildlife spotting, we pulled over at Cattle Baron Grill & Bistro for a mouth-watering lunch. We didn’t make a reservation, but even though it was very busy, we got a table without too much of a wait.
Brecht really liked the House Salad with baked baby potatoes on the side, and I still can’t get over how yum the Beef Fillet Roulade (filled with bacon, feta, peppadews, and spring onion) was. Including drinks and a tip, this lunch cost us R300 (~ $21 ~ €18).
All in all we spent 9,5 hours in Addo Elephant National Park, driving 150 km, spotting plenty of wildlife, and taking a ton of photos.
A Guided Safari at Addo Elephant Park
If you’re not comfortable doing a game drive on your own, you can book a guided safari at Addo Elephant Park. There are 2 hour tours leaving from Addo Main Camp and full day tours leaving from Port Elizabeth. You can even book multi-day Garden Route tours that include a guided safari at Addo Elephant National Park. Most of these leave from Cape Town.
Addo Elephant Park Accommodation
When planning a visit to Addo Elephant Park, whether that’ll be on a guided or a self drive safari, you’ll need a place to spend the night. There are several options, depending on whether you want to stay in or near the park.
Before our self drive safari at Addo Elephant National Park, we stayed at Splash Guest House in Port Elizabeth. We left there at a little after 6:00 in the morning in order to be at the Matyholweni Gate at 7:00. Note that the breakfast wasn’t available yet at that hour.
After our day at Addo Elephant Park, we continued to Tsitsikamma Manor in Stormsriver, about a 2 hour drive from the Matyholweni Gate. Unfortunately we only had time for 1 night in this lovely guest house with a gorgeous garden, because of our tight schedule for our Garden Route road trip.
Last but not least, you can decide to stay at or around Addo Elephant National Park. Check out the SANParks website for camps and lodges within Addo Elephant Park, or Booking.com for other accommodation in and around the park.
Our self drive safari at Addo Elephant National Park was definitely one of the highlights of the 3 weeks we spent in South Africa. Trying to spot wildlife and then watching them go about their day is just so exciting! Enjoy your visit to Addo Elephant Park and let us know how it was!
A Self Drive Safari at Addo Elephant National Park in short
What? Third largest National Park in South Africa, known for spectacular elephant sightings
When? Park Entrance Gates open at 7:00 and close at 18:00
How much? Conservation Fee of R275 per adult per day
Bring? Binoculars, camera, sunscreen (in summer), info to fill in registration form at gate (phone number, license plate, passport number)
More information? Addo Elephant Park section on SANParks website
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