South Africa: the best national parks and private reserves

September 23, 2019

Everything you need to know about the best parks in South Africa and the natural gems of this wonderful country.

Three zebras in South Africa

Those who choose to leave for atrip to South Africa, nine times out of ten, do it above all because they are attracted by great nature. Of course, there are also cities and beaches, but few things like the great African landscape will be able to make your adventure unique.

Here are 8 destinations not to be missed if you love wild nature and are about to visit South Africa.

1 - Kruger National Park

You cannot think of visiting South Africa without stopping at its most famous national park, the Kruger National Park, where you can make unforgettable safaris in search of the famous Big Five, but also birds, reptiles and beautiful plant species.

Those who love wild nature and close encounters with animals will feel at home here. By staying in a camp in the Kruger Park you live the unique experience of sleeping in the middle of nature, under huge starry skies, waking up to the roar of the lion or the laughter of the hyenas in the distance. The climate is sunny all year round, perfect for guided safaris, but also for walks accompanied by rangers.

Elephants in Kruger National Park, South Africa
Elephants in Kruger National Park.

2 - Kgagaladi Transfrontier Park

The Kgagaladi Transfrontier Park originates from the merger of former Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana and is located in the Kalahari, extending over the border between the two states, covering an area of ​​approximately 37,000 km², consisting of semi-desert expanses, covered only by thin grass.

3 - Addo Elephant National Park

Willing to see the elephants? In South Africa then you need to head to Addo Elephant National Park, situated near the town of Port Elizabeth, considered as one of the best places in the world to see these giants. This park hosts other animal species, besides specimens of African vegetation.

The park was established in 1931, when it was declared protected area to safeguard 16 remaining elephants: today there are 600, one of the highest concentrations of elephants in South Africa over an extension of more than 180,000 hectares.

Here you can meet the Big Five and even the Big Seven (besides the five traditional giants, there are also sharks and whale). And besides this, colorful proteas and several antelope species animate the park.

Addo park also extends over the sea, including Saint Croix islands, where a rich colony of African penguins live.

Elephant family in Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa
Elephants in Addo Elephant National Park.

4 - iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO heritage site, formerly St Lucia Wetland Park, includes in itself eight ecosystems, in which there are enchanting landscapes and lots of wildlife, including turtles. Inside there are four lakes in the Kosi Bay region - including Sibaya Lake, South Africa's most beautiful freshwater lake - connected by a series of canals, while the forests unfold. The St. Lucia estuary is the largest in Africa and hosts hippopotamuses and crocodiles.

There is no shortage of beautiful beaches on the coast, renowned for snorkeling, especially the town of Sodwana Bay, with its rich and colorful coral reef. On the coast of iSimangaliso you can see the Caretta Caretta turtles that lay their eggs, a show that we suggest not to lose.

Birdwatchers will love uMkhuze, habitat of about 420 species of birds, but also leopards, rhinos, hyenas, cheetahs and antelopes. The opportunities for fun for nature lovers are certainly not lacking!

Dry landscape of Isimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa
Typical dry landscape of Isimangaliso Wetland Park.

6 - Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma National Park, literally "place rich in water" in Khoisan language, is found while traveling along the spectacular Garden Route. It consists of a land part, with coasts and forests, and a maritime part, where many dolphins and whales live.

The park was established in 1964 along the Eastern Cape coastline to protect the marine environment and coastal forests. It is crossed by the Bloukrans and Storms rivers and is washed by the waters of the Indian Ocean.

The coastal forests are inhabited by otters, birds (including the Knysna turaco), wild pigs, leopards and teeming with giant Outeniqua Yellowwood trees and tree ferns. Near the coasts you can also see the typical Cape fynbos. For lovers of hiking, here is the Otter Trail, a 42 km trail that is covered in five days while admiring spectacular views. For those less trained there is the Mouth Trail, a one-kilometer trail that ends at the mouth of the Storms River, the Lourie Trail, one kilometer, or the Bluye Duiker Trail, 4 km, about four hours on foot.

This area is also inhabited by local populations, that one may encounter, for example Zulu and Swazi.

Coast of Tsitsikamma National Park in South Africa
Coast of Tsitsikamma National Park.

7 - Namaqualand flowery desert

Did you know that in South Africa there is a desert that blooms once a year? We are in the Northern Cape, and the desert is the Namaqualand that in spring, that is between August and September, is covered with wild orange, yellow, pink and yellow flowers: a breath-taking show!

For this reason Namaqualand has been counted among the 25 most precious places in the world from an ecological point of view. In addition to flowers, the Namaqualand houses many plants that are found only here and about a thousand succulents.

Namaqualand in bloom, South Africa
Namaqualand in bloom.

8 - Shark Alley

Shark Alley is a corner of the ocean, between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock, frequented by terrible sharks hunting for prey off the Western Cape. The waters of the Shark Alley are also inhabited by fur seals and flown by sea birds. For those in search of the thrill, here you can dive in cages to see the great white sharks.

Certifications are not required to practice cage diving, but if you prefer a more "quiet" activity, boat trips are also available. Between June and September, from the boats, you can also admire the jumps of white sharks out of the water.

Between May and December, the southern whales can also be seen near the shores of Gansbaai.

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