Best National Parks In South Africa Part 1 | African Travel Guide
Animals, National Parks, Travel Advice

Best National Parks In South Africa – Part 1

There are millions of acres of land dedicated to conservation in South Africa. Big and small, each of these pockets of pristine wilderness have something to add to your African experience. Many offer exceptional game viewing experiences, while others provide an intimate return to nature and tranquility at its best.

In no particular order, here’s a heads up about some of the best game parks in South Africa.

Kruger National Park

Rightfully, ‘Kruger’ is the word on everybody’s lips when it comes to safaris in South Africa. This iconic wilderness destination spans 3 521 square kilometers along the country’s eastern inland border. The park incorporates 5 ecozones and is home to a huge range of living creatures. There are 147 mammal species found in the park, including the Big Five, over 507 types of birds have been identified, and there are 336 different types of trees to admire.

You can explore your surroundings self-drive style on over 1 800 kilometers of well-maintained roads or embark on guided game drives and walks from the major camps. Your accommodation alternatives are spread across 21 rest camps, 2 private concessions and 15 private establishments, with a variety of camping and caravanning, permanent tents, chalets, rondavels, guest houses and luxury lodge options.  

Most of the camps have swimming pools and restaurants, but there are also private bush lodges with limited facilities for those who like to rough it. When you visit the Kruger National Park, it’s up to you how much luxury you want on your South African safari.

Kruger National Park | National Parks in South Africa | African Travel Guide

Table Mountain National Park

One of South Africa’s most iconic destinations, Table Mountain dominates the skyline above the Mother City, but the National Park associated with this inselberg expands far further afield. Table Mountain National Park incorporates several conservation hotspots extending from Green Point in the North to Cape Point in the south.

The park is lauded for containing the largest diversity of flowering plants in the world (2 200 different species) and is a world heritage site. In fact, the Cape Floral Kingdom is so unique that it is recognized on its own as one of the 6 major floral kingdoms on earth.

It’s not all about the flora though; the park boasts healthy populations of animals like Cape hyrax, eland, Cape mountain zebra, bontebok, grysbok, duiker, grey rhebok and steenbok among others.

The most notable avian residents of the park are the penguins of Boulders Bay, but bird lovers will find over 300 species to check off their list while wandering the many trails which crisscross this 3 300 hectare chunk of protected land adjacent to Cape Town.

Table Mountain National Park | National Parks in South Africa | African Travel Guide

West Coast National Park

Along the western shore of the Western Cape Province, the West Coast National Park is most famous for the abundance of blooms which erupt in the Postberg section of the park during the springtime. Whales are a common seasonal visitor to the area and can be seen from the beach or from elevated rocky outcrops along the shore.

The Langebaan Lagoon is one of the main features of this park and is acknowledged as a birding hotspot of international significance. Over 250 species of birds can be spotted here during the summer months.

Inland, you could come across eland, ostrich, kudu, mountain zebra, gemsbok, bontebok and steenbok, as well as bat-eared foxes, caracal and Cape grey mongooses. Driving and walking are the most popular ways to explore this park.

West Coast National Park | National Parks in South Africa | African Travel Guide

Garden Route National Park

Another coastal treasure, the Garden Route National Park incorporates 121 000 hectares of coast and forest across both the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces.

The park includes a number of important conservation areas like the Tsitsikamma Forest, Knysna Estuary, and Wilderness lakes. Some 371 species of birds flock to these lush environments, and there are 15 different species of marine mammals found in the park’s offshore protected areas.

Bushbuck, blue duikers, baboons, vervet monkeys, and rock hyrax are some of the more common land-dwelling animals found here. Multi-day hiking trails with rustic overnight accommodation are a popular way to get to grips with this gorgeous national park, while boating trips will take you out onto the oceans in search of whales and dolphins.

Garden Route National Park | National Parks in South Africa | African Travel Guide

Addo Elephant National Park

There’s no better place to see elephants en masse in South Africa than this nature reserve, Addo Elephant National Park, which is dedicated to their preservation. Here you won’t be looking out for the Big Five. This is Big Seven country, with the great white shark and southern right whale added to the usual mix.

After a recent expansion, Addo is now the third-largest national park in South Africa and boasts the greatest density of elephants on earth. The reserve currently extends from the semi-arid Karoo, across the Zuurberg Range all the way to St Croix, which is home to the largest African penguin colony in the world.

You can take in all this excess on self-drive and guided game drives while staying in regular camps and lodges, as well as a few plush private establishments dotted all over the park.  

Addo Elephant National Park | National Parks in South Africa | African Travel Guide

Karoo National Park

The Karoo National Park is a unique environment and a great place to see raptors in South Africa. There are 20 breeding pairs of black eagles in the park, along with jackal buzzards, rock kestrels, booted eagles and pale chanting goshawks.

On land, you can expect to come across Cape mountain zebra, black rhino, buffalo, and lion. Uniquely, the park boasts a herd of Burchell’s zebra that have been selectively bred to resemble the extinct Cape quagga.

The park offers a range of activities including mountain bike trails, 4×4 trails and un-guided walks in predator-free areas, as well as the usual guided walks and game drives.

Accommodation options include camping, chalets and cottages, as well as the isolated Afsaal Cottage, which was once a shepherd’s hut.

Karoo National Park | National Parks in South Africa | African Travel Guide

Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Located in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the northern Free State Province, this nature reserve is a scenic wonderland of rolling hills and towering sandstone cliffs. It’s no surprise that walking is the big attraction here with several routes on offer.

Guided tours are offered along the Herbal Trail to see the San Rock Art where you will learn about the local bushcraft. The tours continue on to the onsite Basotho Cultural Village and along the ancient paths of QwaQwa.

Accommodation is offered in a luxurious hotel, at campsites and in lodges, dormitories, huts and chalets contained within the park’s 5 main camps. You can even spend a night Basotho-style, in a recreated village.

There are no dangerous predators in the park, and the most commonly seen animals include springbok, blesbok, black wildebeest, eland and oribi. Birdlife is prolific, and the park is home to numerous vulture which you can see from the recently-built vulture hide.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park | National Parks in South Africa | African Travel Guide

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Another World Heritage site, this incredible destination stretches along the Kwa-Zulu Natal coastline and for over 350 hectares and incorporates numerous important landmarks. These are:

  • Three major lake systems
  • Most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests
  • Africa’s biggest estuarine system
  • 25 000 year-old coastal dunes which are also among the highest in the world.

There are over 530 bird species that spend time here throughout the year, and it’s one of the few places on earth where you can see hippos and whales in one panorama. The park is an excellent destination for whale watching, as well as hippo and croc tours on the waters of St Lucia Estuary.

Most of the accommodation in this area is privately run, some offering extremely luxurious lodge options. There are also campsites, huts, backpackers, chalets and permanent tents available within St Lucia as well as operations that fall under the auspices of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife on offer at Cape Vidal, Kosi Bay and Sodwana Bay, which is one of the world’s best scuba diving destinations.

Seaside and safari adventures are offered all over this vast park and you can enjoy unique activities such as tours to watch the turtle eggs hatch on the beach, horseback safaris, fishing, and boating.

iSimangaliso National Park | National Parks in South Africa | African Travel Guide

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

This 38 000 square kilometer reserve is one of South Africa’s Transfrontier Parks. These vast protected areas are created when the fences are taken down between protected areas in neighboring countries to further the interests of conservation. In this case, Botswana and South Africa have joined forces to protect the unique species which thrive in this semi-arid habitat.

Many hardy desert-adapted lifeforms are found in these parts. Gemsbok, tsamma melons, camel-thorn trees and black-maned lions are some of these, while more ordinary animals like blue wildebeest, eland and giraffe are common.

This park is well known for predator sightings, and visitors are often rewarded with sightings of cheetah, leopard, brown and spotted hyenas as well as the iconic black-maned lions.

Smaller animals like ground squirrel and suricate provide light relief from the carnivorous action, while pangolins, honey badgers and bat-eared foxes may be spotted on guided sunset and sunrise drives and walks.

Accommodation is provided in traditional rest camps with a variety of options ranging from camping to family guest houses, 1 tented camp and 2 unfenced, exclusive use camps, one of which is a tented camp. There are also 3 off-the-grid wilderness camps and a 24-bed luxury safari lodge, owned by the local San community.

Kgalagadi National Park offers exceptionally comfortable experiences and spectacular scenery as well as outstanding opportunities to see around 280 species of birds including raptors, owls, larks and sparrow larks.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park | National Parks in South Africa | African Travel Guide

Bontebok National Park

The Bontebok National Park is the smallest national park in South Africa, including 2 786 hectares of Renosterveld near Swellendam in the Western Cape. The park is ideally suited to day visits and picnics but does offer the option to stay overnight in self-catering chalets and campsites located alongside the Breede River. It’s a popular overnight stay while travelling the Garden Route from Cape Town.

While the park is dedicated to the bontebok, you’ll also see hartebeest, grey rhebok, steenbok, grysbok and Cape mountain zebra. If you’re lucky, you could also get to see Cape clawless otters, bat-eared foxes, caracals, Cape foxes or aardwolves.

Birding is exceptional, and it’s one of the best places to see Denham’s Bustard as well as South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane among the 650 plant species found within this park.

Bontebok National Park | National Parks in South Africa | African Travel Guide

Exploring Game Parks in South Africa

For more information on game parks in South Africa, or for guidance on planning your trip to Africa, get in touch with African Travel Guide. We’ll gladly answer all your queries and put you on the right track to all the best African adventures.

Disclaimer
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.

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Kirstenbosch National Botantical Garden | Attractions in Cape Town, South Africa | African Travel Guide
Activities, Cape Town, Travel Advice

Visit Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens

The award-winning Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is located on the slopes of Table Mountain and is part of the 528-hectare Table Mountain National Park.  This protected mountainside supports a unique variety of natural flora including fragile fynbos species, which occur only in the Western Cape.  Kirstenbosch is located in Claremont and easily accessed from accommodation establishments in the surrounding areas and in Cape Town itself via the M3.

Kirstenbosch is a regular award-winner at the annual Chelsea Flower show, held in England, and the exhibit is rebuilt at different local venues for the South African public to enjoy after the show.  It is a great tribute to Kirstenbosch to be recognised at this prestigious international event from among 550 exhibits every year.

The Gardens have a reputation for being the most beautiful in Africa and is a great place to visit at any time of the year.  If you would like to see the fynbos in bloom though, the best time to visit is from August to November.

Located in the diverse and unique Cape Floral Kingdom, Kirstenbosch is the first botanic garden to be included in a World Heritage Site and is the largest of the nine National Botanic Gardens in South Africa. 

Over 7000 species of plant grow here, including some that would not normally survive on the slopes of Table Mountain.  These specimens are cultivated in a specially made Conservatory designed for sensitive arid plants.

Apart from many hundreds of plant specimens to admire, Kirstenbosch offers a range of other attractions. 

During summer, weekly concerts are held every Sunday which are a real hit with music fans, families and the performers themselves.  What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than listening to your favourite tunes surrounded by friends, pristine gardens and gorgeous views?

Art in the Garden consists of a variety of exhibitions scattered around the gardens, both indoors and out.  Beautiful and unusual sculptures are found all over, special short-term exhibits are often displayed, and art-shows are held regularly in various venues across the gardens.  

The most well-known exhibits are:

  • The Sculpture Garden with a constantly changing display of original African stone sculptures, some of which available for purchase.
  • The Dylan Lewis impala at the Centre for Home Gardening.
  • The bust of Nelson Mandela just inside the Visitor’s Centre entrance.
  • The Cape Clawless Otter sculpture in the Otter Pond.

There are three restaurants at Kirstenbosch – Moyo, Vida e Caffè and the Tea Room all serving up refreshing drinks, snacks and meals. Moyo is open for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings while the others are daytime venues only.

The latest addition at Kirstenbosch is an aerial walkway, nicknamed the Boomslang.  This path winds through the trees and is not unlike a rollercoaster in looks, although it is modelled on the snake of the same name. The walkway is 130m long and provides elevated views of the Kirstenbosch Gardens and spectacular vistas of the mountainside. The opening of the Boomslang coincides with the Garden’s centenary and promises to keep visitors amused for many years to come.

Disclaimer
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.

 

Kirstenbosch National Botantical Garden | Attractions in Cape Town, South Africa | African Travel Guide

Elephants in Africa | African Elephants | Animals in Africa | African Travel Guide
Animals

Elephants in Africa

Elephants in Africa

And, a, Hup-2-3-4

You’re heading off on a game drive and have drawn up a checklist of the wildlife you would most like to view – but right on top is the world’s largest mammal*, the African Elephant. Read on to get clued up on facts and figures related to this characterful favourite from the Jungle Bush, as well as how not to miss seeing it on your exciting safari trip.

Chobe National Park, Botswana; Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa; Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe; Etosha National Park, Namibia; and the Kruger National Park, South Africa. These are the top five parks in which elephants are prolific. In fact, did you know that in combination these countries – Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia – house two-thirds of Africa’s elephants?

Elephant numbers

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), as many as 10 million wild elephants roamed the African continent in the 1930s. However, decades of poaching and conflict with rural farmers have seen populations drop to the just 415 000 herd members that are known to roam across Africa today.

Habitat and behaviour

The African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta Africana) is found in dense forest, on open and closed savanna grassland, and in arid desert regions. The smaller African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta Cyclotis) is mainly found in the rainforests of Central Africa. Contrary to popular belief, elephants mainly flap their ears to cool themselves and chase off insects; not when they feel under threat. When this is the case, mock charging includes bush-bashing, dust-throwing, trumpeting and other vocalisations, where the ears will be spread. In the case of a serious charge, which usually only happens after all attempts to intimidate a potential threat have failed, the elephant will pin back its ears and lower its trunk. Beware!

Elephants in Africa | African Elephants | Animals in Africa | African Travel Guide

Feeding and memory

It’s heavy work on the consumption front for an elephant – they consume up to 280kg of grass, shoots and bark per day and drink up to 200l of water. In fact, drinking all that water plus wading in it and going for mud baths are favourite pastimes of the elephant. Its sensitive trunk, with those finger-like appendages at the tip, is of great value to the elephant as it can pick the smallest twig or shoot; even remove a thorn from its foot. The tusks, which help them to obtain food, are also used for fighting – mainly among males.

The extreme intelligence of these creatures, each with their own unique characters, has brought about the saying “an elephant never forgets”. In fact, their incredible memories serve as a critical survival mechanism, according to a recent GPS tracking study undertaken in Etosha National Park. The study reveals that in this challenging environment, elephants are consistently able to pinpoint the closest waterhole and begin moving purposely towards it – over distances as vast as 50km – when the urge to drink sets in.

Breeding

Female family groups are often visited by mature males, from a bachelor herd, seeking females in oestrus. Cows are attentive parents who produce one offspring every three to four years, following a 22-month gestation period. Calves are born weighing a hefty 100kg and remain in the maternal herd for mainy years after suckling for up to 24 months; these herds are normally lead by an old female and include cows, calves and young offspring.

Elephants in Africa | African Elephants | Animals in Africa | African Travel Guide

Threats and conservation

Key threats to elephant numbers, identified by the WWF, include being poached for ivory; habitat loss and fragmentation due to human population expansion and land conversion; and human-elephant conflict.

A recent article in Science Mag reports that elephant poaching has fortunately declined in great measure from the peak it reached in 2011. While we are not out of the risk zone yet, the percentage of elephants falling victim to poaching has declined over the past eight years from 10% to 4% – in large part due to declining demand for ivory in China and active conservation measures by African governments aiming to protect the species.

Interestingly, the best way in which to ensure the long-term sustainability of conservation initiatives has been to ensure that the communities living in close proximity to the elephant herds derive a benefit from their presence – such as employment within tourism or game ranging, where the animals are both highly valued and serve to boost the rural economy.

What To Expect

Game viewing in the Kruger National Park is best during the dry winter months but, if you find yourself in the vicinity during the wet summer season, you’re sure to experience brimming waterholes, lush bushveld, newborn calves and migrant birds. When it comes to Namibia’s Etosha National Park, the dry winter months of May to October are also best for game sightings; but in the rainy season from November to April, the Park is transformed from a terrain that’s dry and dusty-white into a verdant paradise where wetland birds and flamingos are rife.

Of course, there’s more to your game-viewing experience than simply the season in which you happen to visit. When it comes to safety, only closed vehicles are permitted in most areas of the Kruger National Park – you’ll have to be staying within a high-end Private Game reserve to be able to travel in an open vehicle, to track game on foot or view game from horse-back. The difference is that in the private reserves, expert drivers and trackers will accompany you on each and every excursion – meaning you are both more likely to see the game that appeals to you and that your safety will be assured in this more open setting.

Your accommodation options range, of course, from high-end luxury in a fully-catered five-star private lodge to self-catering for the budget conscious. Be sure to make any queries re diet and children before you book! And do your research about the park in which you’re going to be based, because each has its own unique perks and special features.

We wish you a fabulous game-viewing experience.

*Fast fact about Elephants in Africa:
Elephants can weigh as much as seven tonnes and reach heights at the shoulder of up to 3.3m.

Elephants in Africa | African Elephants | Animals in Africa | African Travel Guide

Lions in Africa | African Travel Guide
Travelling

Why Travel To Africa?

Why Travel To Africa?

Fifty-four separate countries. One large continent. A smorgasbord of landscapes and cultures, extending from South Africa’s southernmost gem of Cape Town to Egypt’s chaotic magnificence of Cairo. This is Africa, and we look forward to welcoming you here!

The African continent is one travel destination where your camera should always be at the ready. Take Kenya, for example, which tops most people’s African country bucket list according to research by Hoppa: the country’s diverse scenery stretches from savannah and lakelands to the Great Rift Valley, with reserves such as the Maasai Mara being famous for its annual wildebeest migrations and Amboseli National Park offering sightings of Tanzania’s Mt Kilimanjaro – a popular summit for the brave and athletic. Then there’s Cape Town, which tops the African city bucket list in the same survey, with its gorgeous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the shopping mecca of the V&A Waterfront, golden beaches and top-class restaurants which stock local wines from the Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Constantia vinyards, among others, and refreshing craft beers for those warm summer days.

V&A Waterfront in Cape Town | African Travel Guide

This is the only continent in the world where you can go on safari to see the majestic Big Five, consisting of lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo in their natural habitat. Further north, the pyramids are steeped in ancient Egyptian mythology; and you’ll wonder just how they moved such massive stone blocks across the desert, in the times without construction vehicles, simply by wetting the sand in front of a giant sled to prevent friction. Another “wow” experience is “the smoke that thunders” aka the mighty Victoria Falls, where you can bungee off a bridge, attempt some high-risk white water rafting or simply stare down into the abyss where that massive volume of water flows. From such lush areas, travel south and stand spellbound as you encounter the Namib, the world’s oldest desert, with its extreme starkness and orange-hued sands. Wander the bazaars of Morocco, go cave-crawling in Oudtshoorn’s Cango Caves. And this is just touching on what’s out there to do and see in Africa. Add the outgoing people with their range of unique languages and cultures and the abundant new foodie experiences – South African potjiekos, Namibian braaied game, Zanzibari biryani, hot Indian bunnychow or spicy Mozanbican prawns  – and you’ll want to be extending your trip for a week or much more.

Victoria Falls | African Travel Guide

If self-drive is your preferred way to travel once touching down, a good place to land is Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia, which is generally considered the gateway to the rest of what Africa offers. Book into reputable and comfortable accommodation, such as the family-friendly Arebbusch Travel Lodge, where you can choose from bed and breakfast or self-catering units – or even a luxury tent, to get into the spirit of camping for the adventure that lies ahead. There are numerous companies you can task with preparing your road trip, which should include an insured 4×4 vehicle fitted with GPS, an itinerary, map and recommended places to stay en route. Notable sights to visit and photograph as you traverse further north include:  

  • the breathtaking reds and oranges of the Sossusvlei sand dunes;
  • the beach vibe of Swakopmund, perched on the very edge of the Namib’s arid plains;
  • the stark rock landscapes of Spitzkoppe;
  • Etosha National Park’s spectacular game viewing, where even the shy leopard may be spotted on occasion; and
  • Waterberg Plateau’s extensive metorite – the Hoba – which is apparently the world’s largest.

Deadvlei in Namibia in Africa | African Travel Guide

While each African country offers its own unique combination of sights, scenes, historical facts and cultural pointers, two aspects are commonly noted by first-time travellers: the people are incredibly friendly, open and engaging; and the favourable exchange rate versus the US dollar or Euro means the average middle-class traveller can opt for a combo of accommodation types, that range from very rough camping to highend five-star guesthouses with all the trimmings.

So when you’re next toying with the idea of booking an exciting and dynamic trip that provides something very different from traditional city life at home, give some thought to the mighty continent that is Africa. 

 
People in Africa | African Travel Guide

TOP TIPS FOR AFRICAN TRAVELS

  • Be sure you have the required visa for each country;
  • Have the recommended shots before you go;
  • Drink bottled water as a rule (the tap water is generally safe in Cape Town);
  • Get a trusted local, such as a friend or your hotel manager, to inform you of their favourite hangouts and to let you know what is considered safe to do and what to be wary of;
  • Try an Airbnb rather than a hotel every so often, so you have more cash for eating out, cultural events and gifts for those back home;
  • US dollars and a Visa/Mastercard are widely accepted;
  • Make sure you have the right plugs for each of your electrical devices;
  • Google the recommended festivals and special events at each place you’re staying so you don’t miss anything special or spectacular; and
  • Share your experiences on social media to encourage other global travellers to visit, too.

Leopard in Africa | African Travel Guide