By Vicky · Published Sep. 29th, 2022 · Updated Jan. 8th, 2024
Addo Elephant Park is the closest real safari park to Cape Town, where you’re almost guaranteed to see elephants, and if you’re lucky lions.
Addo Elephant Park is in the Eastern Cape, near the southern coast of South Africa and roughly halfway between Cape Town and Durban.
Cape Town to Addo Elephant Park
It’s about nine hours drive and 800 km straight from Cape Town to Addo Elephant Park. The two nicest routes are through either the Klein Karoo or along the Garden Route and they both take a similar amount of time. It’s popular to combine a trip along the Garden Route from Cape Town with a stopover at Addo.
A great option is to then return through the arid Klein Karoo, totally different scenery to that seen on the Garden Route. This route from Cape Town, along the Garden Route, to Addo and back through Klein Karoo takes between ten days and two weeks and combines some of the best of South Africa. If you need a good road map for this trip, see our recommendations.
Garden Route to Addo Elephant Park
If coming from along the Garden Route, it’s 2.5-3 hours from Storms River Mouth and almost 4 hours from Knysna. If you are not arriving late, you can enter via the closer Colchester Gate and drive through the main safari area up to the Main Addo Camp.
Port Elizabeth to Addo Elephant Park
From Port Elizabeth (now known as Gqeberha) to Addo Main Camp is about 1 hour’s drive, however it’s only 30 minutes to the Colchester Gate at the southern end of the safari area. You can then drive through the safari area to the Main Camp in a few hours.
Addo Elephant National Park Map
Tips for Addo Elephant Park
- Addo entrance fees are R90/R45 for South Africans and R360/R180 for foreigners per adult/child per day. If you stay one night in the park, you only pay the entrance fee for one day but get to stay for two. Entrance to Addo is free with a WildCard.
- Check out our guide to the Best Accommodation near Addo Elephant Park.
- Addo Main Camp gate and reception are open from 7am to 7pm every day.
- The gates to the safari area are open from 5:30am to 6:30 pm in summer, 6am to 6pm in winter.
- If you want everything organised for you, you can join a guided safari that picks you up from your hotel*.
- Bring binoculars* and a wildlife guide*.
- If you’re staying inside the park, bring a headlamp* as lighting is limited.
- South African holidays and weekends see many more visitors, while during the week out of season it is fairly quiet.
- For more fun guides and hikes, check our South Africa page.
Things to do in Addo Elephant National Park
What can you do at Addo Elephant Park?
- Go on a Self-drive Safari
- Take a Guided Game Drive
- Explore Addo Main Camp
- Visit the Woody Cape Section
- Traverse the Zuurberg Mountains
There are three main sections to Addo Elephant Park. The main safari section is the most popular part by far. The section itself can be divided from north to south into the Nytahi, Addo Main Camp and Colchester safari sections. All three areas have elephants, buffalos and more, but only the Colchester section has lions. Additionally, the Nyathi section is reserved for guests of Nyathi Rest Camp.
To the north of the main safari area is the Zuurberg Mountains section of the park. There are no large mammals here so you can go hiking in this section. The third part of the park is called Woody Cape and extends to the coastline.
1. Go on a Self-Drive Safari
The most common activity in Addo Elephant Park is to go on a self-drive safari. Most of the roads are tarred, and the ones that aren’t have a good gravel/dirt surface so can be done in any normal car.
Best Self-Drive Safari Routes in Addo
If you want to have a great morning or afternoon drive, the Addo Northern Drive visits many waterholes, several viewpoints and Jack’s Picnic Site. At Jack’s Picnic Site you can leave your vehicle to stretch your legs. It’s a fenced area and has toilets, picnic tables and braai stands. The Northern Drive is 50 km long and takes several hours. You have a good chance of seeing elephants and are almost certain to see many types of antelope and zebras.
If you want to drive from north to south through the main safari area, the North-South Game Drive focuses on loops in the Colchester section, where you’ll see many elephants and have a chance of seeing the lions. It’s often also less busy in the Colchester section.
Waterholes in Addo Elephant Park
There are no natural rivers or lakes within the park so the animals all visit the waterholes to drink. In the afternoon the buffalos and elephants love to cool down in the wet muddy waters.
Addo Main Camp Waterhole
There’s an underground hide at the waterhole by Addo Elephant rest camp. It’s lit at night so is particularly good to watch in the evening when buffalo and hyenas often visit. In the daytime expect to see antelope and sometimes elephants at the waterhole.
Waterholes near Addo Main Camp
Domkrag Dam Waterhole is a large waterhole not too far from Addo Main Camp. If you’re lucky you’ll see elephants, but make sure to check out the surrounding trees and bushes for birds.
Gwarrie Pan often has a lot of water, and many animals can be seen here, especially in the hot afternoon. It’s not far from Addo Main Camp so you can easily take a quick drive here.
Rooidam Waterhole is a very beautiful waterhole with lovely green scenery in the background. It’s also not so far from Addo Main Camp.
Waterholes further South
Hapoor Dam, in the middle of the park, is a great place to sit and wait for the animals to come to you. It’s a large waterhole and in the afternoon the elephants get hot and come here to cool down.
Carol’s Rest Waterhole is a fenced waterhole on the Gorah Loop on the eastern side of the park. The fence is designed to keep out elephants yet allow other mammals to reach the water. This means you get a lot of antelope and zebra here and it’s a great place to visit any time of day.
Miriam Baree Waterhole is a muddy waterhole where elephants come to bathe in the muddy water. It’s a lovely place for photos.
Grahams Pan is a large grassy area and there’s a little muddle waterhole near the road. This makes it an attractive area for elephants and antelopes.
Waterholes in the Colchester Section
Lismore Waterhole is a nice little waterhole not far from the road at the top of the southern section of the park.
Ngulube Waterhole is a lovely waterhole in a scenic grassy area between two hills. You can often see elephants here.
There are several viewpoints in Addo Elephant Park where you can get out and admire the view. Remember to check for animals before getting out of your car.
Zuurkop Lookout: A great viewpoint on top of a hill with views over the northern section of the park and the Zuurberg Mountains.
Kadouw Lookout: Great views over the western part of the park and beyond.
Algoa Bay Lookout: A lookout point over the park with views all the way to the ocean in Algoa Bay.
Ndlovu Lookout: A lookout point over a beautiful grassy and forested valley.
2. Take a Guided Game Drive
Guided game drives in Addo take place throughout the day, from early morning to night. The game drives organised by the park are quite good value, but if it’s busy, you go in large open trucks, not smaller 4x4s. The trucks are a bit loud and you don’t get very close to the animals, plus the ride is shared with many other people so sometimes you don’t get a good view of the sighting.
It’s best to book game drives in advance in busy seasons but otherwise, you can book at the Main Camp Reception when you arrive. The earliest drives are around 6/7am in the morning, while the night drives start at 6/7pm. The guided night drives are fun because you aren’t allowed to self-drive within Addo when it’s dark, though it’s dark so it’s often hard to see the animals! Rates start from R435 per person and all game drives last roughly 2 hours.
If you want a fully organised tour of Addo Elephant Park, you can go on a guided tour that picks you up from your hotel*.
Alternatively, if you want to go in your own vehicle but have an expert spotter and guide, hop-on guides are available from R290 for two hours. The guides are all from the local community and trained as safari guides. They are very knowledgeable about the animals and will suggest routes to drive, as well as tell you about the history of the park, flora and fauna.
3. Explore Addo Main Camp
Addo Main Camp is where the main park reception is, and it has the largest range of accommodation options. As well as a small shop, petrol station and restaurant, there are several things to do at the camp for both overnight guests and day visitors.
Visit the Ulwazi Interpretive Centre
The Ulwazi Interpretive Centre is at the Main Addo Rest Camp and contains a wealth of information plus interactive exhibits about the park. There are several large elephant skeletons and skulls here, as well as fossils and bones of other animals.
Check for Animals at the Waterhole
The main camp waterhole has an underground hide, so if any animals visit you have a very close-up view. Elephants sometimes appear in the afternoon, and antelope can be seen throughout the day. In the evening buffalo and hyenas are possible visitors.
Walk through the Shrubland
The PPC Discovery Trail (1.7 km, 20 m climb) is a short trail starting from a car park on the way to the gate to the main game area. It’s an easy trail through bushes with several information boards to read along the route. No booking or permit is required.
Jump on a Horse
Addo Horse Trails leave from the Addo Main Camp and head north to the Nyati area where there are elephants, buffalos, rhinos and antelopes but no lions. The 2-hour morning rides are suitable for beginners, while the 3-hour afternoon rides require riding experience. Book in advance with the main camp reception via phone or email.
Go for a Swim
Only overnight guests can use the pool. It’s a great place to cool off during the middle of the day.
4. Visit the Woody Cape Section
It’s a 1hr20 drive from Addo Main Camp to the Woody Cape Section. Head east along the R72 and turn right just before Alexandria to reach the Woody Cape Ranger’s Offices. There’s a short hike and a two-day hike in this region, plus a few accommodation options. These include the Langebos Huts and Umsintsi Cottage within the park, and Woody Cape Nature Lodge* and Ocean View Camping just outside.
Tree Dassie Hiking Trail
The Tree Dassie Trail is 5.6 km with 210 metres of climb. It starts from the rangers office and is free after paying conservation fees. The route heads through woodland and up a few hills. The trail is named after the rare tree dassies which you can see if you’re quiet while hiking this route.
Alexandria Hiking Trail
The Alexandria Hiking Trail is a two-day, 39 km trail in the Woody Cape section of the park. It’s a trail through diverse terrain – woodland, sand dunes and beach – and you overnight in a remote hut by the coast.
The first day is 20 km with 350 m climb and the second day is 19 km with 600 m climb (though you can shorten this by about 4 km if you miss the forest loop near the end). It’s common for hikers to stay at the Langebos Huts by the Woody Cape Ranger’s Offices the night before hiking this trail. There are two huts (with kitchen and bathroom) and they can each sleep six people.
You must book the Alexandria Hiking Trail in advance through Camp Matyholweni Reception. Your group must be between 3 and 12 people, and it costs R170 per person per night plus conservation fees.
The overnight hut is basic but has amazing views out over the ocean. The hut has beds with mattresses but no bedding, so you should bring a sleeping bag. There’s no electricity, but there is a 2-plate gas stove and utensils so you don’t have to bring cooking stuff (but do bring food). Outside, there’s a large water tank for drinking water, but no running water within the hut. From the outside deck, you can see many birds, and if you’re lucky you’ll see dolphins and even whales in the ocean.
See the Marine Protected Area Offshore
The marine protected area of Addo Elephant Park covers part of Algoa Bay, the large bay to the east of Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha). To visit, the main way is to take a boat tour from Port Elizabeth. You can potentially see Southern Right Whales and Great White Sharks here. Guaranteed are views of penguins and gannets breeding in large numbers on St Croix, a tiny island within the bay.
5. Traverse the Zuurberg Mountains
The Zuurberg Mountains are the most scenic part of Addo Elephant Park. Here you can go horseriding, hiking and drive a 4×4 trail. It’s 30-50 minutes drive from Addo Main Camp to the Zuurberg area, but there are also accommodation options within and next to this bit of the park. These include Narina Bush Camp, Mvubu Campsite and Kabouga Cottage within the park, or Zuurberg Mountain Village* and the lovely Camp Figtree* very nearby.
Hike the Zuurberg Mountain Trails
The Zuurberg Mountain Trails are three hiking trails of lengths 2.5 km, 10km and 12.7 km. They all start from the Zuurberg Trails Office, which is open from 7am to 4pm. You have to return from your hike before 5:30pm. The hikes are free after paying general conservation fees.
Cycad Hiking Trail (2.5 km, 110 m climb): A short trail through the arid Zuurberg mountains to see rare cycads (an ancient plant).
10 km hiking trail: (10km, 400 m climb) A 10 km hiking trail to Blougat pool through semi-arid mountains in the Zuurberg section of Addo.
Doringnek Hiking Trail (12.7 km, 400 m climb). A trail via Blougat and Otto’s Pool (where you can swim but it’s not that deep) in the beautiful Zuurgberg Mountains.
If you stay at Narina Bush Camp, you can hike the Doringnek Hiking Trail directly from here. Alternatively, Zuurberg Mountain Village* is a lovely place to stay just outside the park and opposite Zuurberg Trails Office.
The Zuurberg Horse Trails are suitable for all abilities. There are no large animals in the Zuurberg section of the park, so you don’t have to worry about that. Book in advance with the main Addo reception.
Drive the Bedrogfontein 4×4 / Kabouga 4×4 Trail
The 4×4 drive in the Zuurberg Mountains starts at the Kabouga Gate, which leads into the Kabouga Section of the park. This drive is known as both the Bedrogfontein 4×4 trail or simply the Kabouga 4×4 Trail. You must book a permit for the trail in advance from Addo reception, either via phone or email. It’s R620 per vehicle, plus conservation fees. You also must have a 4×4 with low range to attempt the trail.
From the Kabouga Gate the trail leads one way to the Darlington Section of the park and Lake Mentz. It’s 45 km, graded 2-3 and takes several hours. Don’t expect to see large game, but it’s a scenic drive and there are great views plus varied vegetation.
Within the Kabouga Section of the park you can stay at Mvubu Campsite or Kabouga Cottage. Both these places are convenient for the Bedrogfontein 4×4 trail, but you can also stay here without doing the trail (though you do need a high-clearance vehicle).
Addo Elephant National Park Information
Animals in Addo Elephant Park
There are of course many elephants in Addo Elephant Park. These are very easy to spot. There are also lions, leopards, hyenas, buffalo and rare rhinos. You might be lucky and see a hyena – these sometimes visit the rest camp waterhole in the evening. The lion pride is also spotted fairly regularly, though seeing a leopard or rhino is much less common. The buffalo are more active at night due to the hunting that took place in the area before the national park was established.
Also watch out for the little and endangered flightless dung beetles, which only live in Addo and have right of way on the roads. Don’t drive through elephant dung but drive around it to avoid squishing the poor little beetles. There are several different types of antelope and two types of zebra – Cape Mountain Zebra and Burchell’s Zebra. Get a Wildlife Guide* so you can tell the difference!
In Zuurberg there are breeding African Crown Eagles, which can be found in the sheltered woody ravines within the mountains. In the Alexandria Forest there are rare Tree Dassies and many different types of birds including several cuckoo species.
Does Addo Elephant Park have the Big 5?
Addo Elephant Park does have the Big 5 though some of them are very hard to spot. It’s easiest to see the elephants, followed by the buffalo. If you’re lucky you can see the lions, but you have to be extremely lucky to see a leopard or a rhino.
What makes Addo Elephant Park unique?
Addo Elephant Park is unique because it has the highest concentration of elephants anywhere in Africa. Another unique aspect is the diversity of landscape that the park covers, from the beautifully scenic Zuurberg Mountains in the north to the coastal Woddy Cape area covered in trees to the south.
Addo Elephant Park Versus Kruger
Kruger is definitely the better park for a full safari experience. Addo is much smaller, has fewer animals and you can see surrounding farmland and villages so it loses some of the safari vibes. In Kruger it’s much easier to see lions, leopards and even rhinos. Additionally, in Kruger there are also hippos, crocodiles, cheetahs, wild dogs and many more species, along with prolific birdlife.
The main benefit of Addo is its location closer to Cape Town and at the end of the Garden Route. You can still have a great safari experience in Addo, but you’ll be disappointed if you are expecting something like Kruger. Another often overlooked advantage of Addo Elephant Park is the diverse area it covers, including the Zuurburg Mountains and Woody Cape sections, both of which you can go walking in and are highly scenic.
Best time to visit Addo Elephant National Park
Addo Elephant National Park can be visited all year round and it’s great in any season. The roads are either tarred or good gravel so driving is never a problem, and the park isn’t that big so the animals don’t ever migrate away. It’s hot in summer (Nov – Feb), reaching up to 40 degrees during the day, while in mid-winter it can get cold at night. Rain occurs any time of year, with slightly more in Spring or Autumn. The park is busiest around Christmas from December to January, coinciding with the long summer holidays in South Africa.
Where can you enter Addo Elephant Park?
There are two entrances to the safari section of Addo Elephant Park. There’s the main entrance is near the Main Addo Rest Camp in the north of the main area of the park, north of Addo town along the R342. The other main entrance is the Colchester Entrance at the southern end of the Colchester Section, named after the nearby town.
Best Accommodation in and around Addo Elephant Park
Check out our article on the Best Accommodation near Addo Elephant Park or read on for a brief summary:
Best Accommodation within the Park:
- Budget: Addo Main Camp (SAN Parks)
- Luxury: Gorah Elephant Camp*
Best Accommodation near Addo Town (northern park):
Best Accommodation near Colchester (southern park):
Budget: Addo River-View Lodge*
Comfort: Happy Jackal Guest House*
Best Accommodation in the Zuurberg Mountains:
Budget: Mvubu Campsite (SAN Parks)
Luxury: Camp Figtree*
Best Accommodation near Woody Cape:
Budget: Umsintsi Cottage (SAN Parks)
Luxury: Hopewell Lodge*
Guidebooks to explore more of South Africa
I hope you enjoyed our guide to Addo Elephant Park in South Africa. There are several other great places to explore not so far away along the Garden Route, such as Storms River Rest Camp, Ebb & Flow Rest Camp in Wilderness or de Hoop Nature Reserve. For more hikes and activities, check out our Guide to South Africa.
FAQS: Addo Elephant Park
It costs R90/R45 for South Africans and R360/R180 for foreigners per adult/child per day. If you stay one night in the park, you only pay the entrance fee for one day but get to stay for two. Entrance to Addo is free with a WildCard.
In total the park covers 1,640 km², which is roughly the size of a small island nation. However, the main safari area covers less than half of this area and is roughly 30 km long by 15 km wide.
Addo Elephant Park is a great place to see elephants but it is definitely not a complete safari experience like Kruger. If you’re going to Kruger and don’t have enough time, then you can skip Addo Elephant Park. If you aren’t going to Kruger but are travelling along the Garden route, it’s definitely worth going to Addo.
The gates to the park are open in summer from 5:30am to 6:30pm and in winter from 6am to 6pm. The gate to Addo Main Camp and the reception there are open from 7am to 7pm every day.