Best National Parks in South Africa to Visit (Besides Kruger)

May 13, 2019

South Africa is the merging point of Mediterranean and subtropical climates, giving rise to diverse flora and fauna. So, it’s not a surprise that the country boasts thrilling wildlife with great diversity. Obviously, one thinks of Kruger National Park when it comes to safari, but there are many siblings of Kruger scattered around the country. You might prefer to visit them because they are more affordable, or because they are closer to Cape Town or other major cities. The decision is yours! Here are our top six game reserve recommendations to check out in South Africa.


Location: ‎Eastern Cape, South Africa
Addo Elephant National Park is in the Eastern Cape Province 72km by road from Port Elizabeth - Image: Flickr/Mike Gerhardt
A Family of elephants roaming through the Addo Elephant National Park – Image: Flickr/Mike Gerhardt

As the name explains clearly, this safari park is abundant in elephants more than anything else. This was done on purpose to bring back the elephant population that was lost during hunting and poaching in the past. Today, the park accommodates more than 500 African elephants (learn more about them here). Don’t worry; you will also get to see other members of the big five as well as zebra, meerkat and thousands of birds. You can do self-driving throughout the park or join guided safari tours. The park is only an hour away from Port Elizabeth, the major port city in the Eastern Cape.


Nearest city: ‎Sun City, South Africa
Only the eyes of these giant hippos are visible above the water - Image: Flickr/flowcomm
Only the eyes of these giant hippos are visible above the water – Image: Flickr/flowcomm

Pilanesberg Game Reserve is the closest safari park to Johannesburg. A visitor of the park describes it as “A smaller and more affordable version of Kruger”. The diversity of wildlife is nothing short of Kruger since the vegetation both boasts features of dry Kalahari and subtropical lush forests. In fact, it can be easier to spot the big 5 with the right timing and a bit of luck. The place also has unique rock formations due to the remains of a dormant alkaline volcanic crater. Making it an excellent spot for capturing scenic photographs or landscape paintings.


Location: ‎Limpopo, South Africa
These bucks cautiously sip water, but always wary of an approaching attack - Image: Flickr/Bernard DUPONT
These bucks cautiously sip water, but always wary of an approaching attack – Image: Flickr/Bernard DUPONT

Mapungubwe is not just your regular safari park, but it’s also one with significant historical value. Excavations and archaeological research suggested signs of hunter-gatherer San heritage dating back to 300 000 years ago. This UNESCO Heritage site has accommodated many clans of hunter-gatherer San people and Bantu tribes who were farmers so you can find a trace of both of them in the park. The wildlife is also not to be underestimated since the region receives mass migrations of animals from bordering countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe. Another highlight of the park is the population of baobab trees that are extremely rare to see in South Africa.

READ: Stunning Destinations in Africa


Location‎: ‎KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
A white rhino wades through thick grass - Image: Flickr/Michael Jansen
A white rhino wades through thick grass – Image: Flickr/Michael Jansen

The black rhino is one of the most demanded and attractive animals among the tourists visiting South Africa; however, there are also white rhinos in the country. It is not easy to spot them unless you are in KZN. As the oldest established game park in South Africa and the only one in KZN that includes big 5, Hluhluwe Umfolozi is one of the biggest hidden gems of South Africa. The big 5 and various other animals aside, it constitutes the vast majority of white rhinos in South Africa that are facing the threat of extinction. The activities in the park are endless from boat tours to hiking trails, from walking tours to 4×4 safari tours. Last but not least, make sure to look out for cheetah, wild dog and nyala species.


Location: ‎Kgalagadi District, Botswana
Always ready to run - Image: Flickr/Sean van der Westhuizen
Always ready to run – Image: Flickr/Sean van der Westhuizen

The Kgalagadi park is situated right at the northwestern tip of South Africa. Likewise, it extends across Namibia and Botswana with a total of 3.6 million hectares. It is an enormous stretch of wilderness worth exploring. The arid climate of Kalahari and the abundance of iconic red sand dunes make the area very suitable for antelopes, so you will probably see an unusual amount of them. The best part is – as long as your entry and exit are through the same gate – you don’t need your passport or an additional visa to enter the park. The wildlife consists of herbivores such as wildebeest, springbok and eland. You’ll likely encounter the bat-eared fox, meerkat, and several species of birds and raptors. The sand dunes will be your biggest guides as they help you with predator watching by providing panoramic views.

READ: Getting around South Africa


Location: Mpumalanga, South Africa
"Styx Pride" Lion (Panthera leo) - Flickr/Regina Hart
“Styx Pride” Lion (Panthera leo) – Flickr/Regina Hart

If you don’t feel like going on a quest to find the big 5 on your own, this is the place. Many people who visit Kruger Park are not aware of the existence of this exclusive safari park right under their nose. The game lodges in the park and the guided tours offer the best options for spotting animals instantly. There are no fences between Sabi Sands and Kruger, so you definitely won’t be missing out on the wonders of Kruger National Park. Sabi Sands is also known for its extremely high leopard population.

1 Comment

  • Reply
    May 16, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    I know I can’t afford it now, but one day I hope I can make use of this list and see all of these amazing creatures!

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