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Ultimate Guide to South Africa's National Parks

Havana Dauncey
· September 29, 2023
Ultimate Guide to South Africa's National Parks

South Africa’s National Parks are legendary — from the majestic views of rolling hills and African plains to getting close to the famous Big 5 and magnificent wildlife. If you’re looking for an extraordinary wildlife adventure, there’s no better place to explore.

But where should you start with so many South African National Parks spread across the country and the wide variety of wildlife, landscapes, climates and experiences?

Here’s the ultimate guide to South Africa’s National Parks that will take you on a scenic safari through the best national parks in South Africa and help you plan your next adventure!

National Parks in South Africa Overview?

South Africa is home to 19 national parks, spanning over 4 million hectares and spreading across each of South Africa’s 9 provinces.

Each National Park in South Africa is managed by SANParks. SANParks oversees the conservation of South Africa’s great nature, protecting wildlife with anti-poaching initiatives and running sustainable projects that promote eco-tourism. They also work to preserve South Africa’s rich cultural heritage and support local communities.

SANParks makes South Africa’s national parks the global tourist centre they are, offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

What Can You Do at National Parks in South Africa?

While each National Park in South Africa is unique with its own special offerings, here’s a list of some activities you may find to ensure you get the most out of your trip:

  • Game drives and bush walks

  • Hiking and backpacking

  • Mountain biking

  • Quad biking

  • Golf

  • Bird watching

  • Swimming and canoeing

  • Horse Riding

  • Cultural tours

Are National Parks Free in South Africa?

While national parks in South Africa aren’t free, the small fee that is required goes towards conserving and protecting the national park.

Prices for South African national parks vary depending on the park but range between R40 - R122 for adults and R20 - R60 for children. Prices are also higher for international visitors without a South African ID.

If you plan to make your way through the different national parks or visit one regularly, it may be worth investing in a Wild Card from SANParks. With a Wild Card, you can access over 80 national parks, reserves and resorts in Southern Africa for an entire year. The pricing varies based on the type of card — individual, couple or family — and the areas you want.

Top 10 National Parks in South Africa

Map of South Africa National Parks

1. Kruger National Park

As the most famous and most popular national park in South Africa, you really can’t get any better than Kruger National Park. As the largest national park in South Africa, you’ll find a wide range of landscapes, wildlife, experiences and activities.

Location: Limpopo and Mpumalanga

Price: R122 for adults; R60 for children

Accommodation: Campsites, huts, safari tents, bungalows, cottages, guest houses, luxury lodges

Wildlife highlights: Big 5, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, hippos, vultures

Activities: Wilderness trails, game drives, guided walks, mountain biking, eco-trails, golfing, birding, Chimp Eden: The Jane Goodall Institute, Mpumalanga Panorama Route, hot air balloon flights

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A post shared by Kruger National Park (@krugernationalpark)

2. Addo Elephant National Park

Located close to Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Addo Elephant National Park is one of the easiest national parks in South Africa to access and also one of the most beautiful. It’s also the only national park in the whole to house ‘Africa’s Big 7’ — rhino, elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, whale and great white shark.

Location: Addo, Eastern Cape

Price: R99 for adults; R50 for children

Accommodation: Campsites, huts, guest houses, chalets, luxury lodges

Wildlife highlights: Big 5, cheetahs, hyenas, antelope, wildebeest, zebra

Activities: Game drives, hiking, Addo Indlovu Spa, Marine Eco Tours

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A post shared by Addo Elephant National Park (@sanparksaenp)

3. Table Mountain National Park

Spread across the stunning city of Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park presents breathtaking mountains, world-class beaches and, of course, one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World — Table Mountain. With the vibrant city, tranquil national park and an endless list of activities all in one area, you’re guaranteed the best of both worlds.

Location: Cape Town, Western Cape

Price: R40 - R100 for adults; R20 - R50 for children

Accommodation: Tented camps, guesthouses, as well as hotels, backpackers and Airbnbs in the city.

Wildlife highlights: Klipspringer, caracals, antelope, zebras, penguins, whales

Activities: Hiking, paragliding, horse riding, rock climbing, scuba diving, surfing, mountain biking, penguin-viewing at Boulders Beach, The Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain Cable Car

Table Mountain National Park

4. Golden Gate Highlands National Park

The combination of a rich and ancient history with Bushmen paintings and rolling hills of remarkable rock formations, luscious vegetation and wandering wildlife makes the Golden Gate Highlands National Park the perfect South African escape.

Location: Free State, on the Lesotho border

Price: R67 for adults; R33 for children

Accommodation: Campsite, chalets, hotels, mountain retreat, guest houses, Basotho Cultural Village

Wildlife highlights: Wildebeest, springbok, jackals, zebras, antelope, otters

Activities: Game drives, horse riding, hiking, Cathedral Caves, Cultural Route, Herbal Trail, white-water rafting, fossil-viewing at Golden Gate National Park

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A post shared by South African National Parks (@sanparks)

5. Kgalagadi National Park

Nestled in the northwest of South Africa and a part of the great Kalahari Desert, Kgalagadi National Park offers red dunes, camel thorn trees and herds of migrating wildlife, playing a particularly special role in protecting the migration of Gemsboks.

Location: Northern Cape, Botswana and bordering Namibia

Price: R116 for adults; R58 for children

Accommodation: Campsites, rest camps, chalets, self-catering, luxury lodges,

Wildlife highlights: Big 5, cheetahs, hyenas, giraffes, wildebeest, meerkats, silver cape fox

Activities: 4x4 eco-trail, waterhole hides, game drives, Predator Centre, wilderness walks, mountain biking, Auchterlonie Museum

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A post shared by Yves Strybos Photography (@yvesstrybos)

6. Mapungubwe National Park

As a World Heritage Site, at Mapungubwe’s National Park, you not only get to experience wildlife at its finest but can explore the remnants of an ancient African Kingdom. Experience cave sandstone, baobab trees, Karoo fossils and ancient rocks nearly three billion years old.

Location: Limpopo, bordering Botswana and Zimbabwe

Price: R67 for adults; R33 for children

Accommodation: Campsites, tented camps, guesthouses, eco and bush lodges

Wildlife highlights: Big 5, zebras, impala, giraffe, cheetahs, aardvarks, wildebeest

Activities: Game drives, bush braais, guided walks, Museum Tour, Heritage Tour, Tree Top Walk, rock climbing, kayaking, Mapungubwe Rock Art, birding

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A post shared by Mapungubwe National Park (@mapungubwenationalpark)

7. Garden Route National Park

Set along 80km of one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, Garden Route National Park, you get it all with the luscious ancient forests, some of South Africa’s best beaches, winding rivers, impressive mountains and wetlands.

Location: Coast of Western Cape and Eastern Cape

Price: R47 - R74 for adults; R23 - R37 for children

Accommodation: Campsites, huts, cabins, cottages, backpackers, game lodges

Wildlife highlights: Elephants, leopards, servals, vervet monkeys, whales, dolphins

Activities: Hiking, mountain biking, forest excursions, river tubing, boat cruises, The Otter Trail, Knysna Elephant Park, bungee jumping

Garden Route National Park

8. Karoo National Park

With direct access to the N1, Karoo National Park is a go-to stopover for travellers making their way out of the Western Cape. Hugged by mountain slopes and home to diverse flora and fauna, Karoo National is the perfect getaway for the ultimate South African experience.

Location: near Beaufort West, Western Cape

Price: R67 for adults; R33 for children

Accommodation: Campsites, chalets, cottages, guesthouses, hotels, luxury lodges

Wildlife highlights: Zebras, springbok, rhinos, lions, hyenas, vervet monkeys

Activities: 4x4 trails, game drives, Fossil Trail, picnicking, mountain biking, Old Schuur Interpretive Centre, Bird Hide

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A post shared by South African National Parks (@sanparks)

9. Marakele National Park

Meaning ‘place of sanctuary, in Tshwane, Marakele National Park lives up to its name. Scenic safaris through its grassy slopes and valleys will give you views of some of South Africa’s most iconic wildlife, known especially for its incredible display of birds and as the home of the largest colony of Cape vultures in the world.

Location: Limpopo

Price: R67 for adults; R33 for children

Accommodation: Campsites, safari tents, guest cottages, game lodges, self-catering

Wildlife highlights: Big 5, hyenas, African civets, giraffes, wildebeest, zebras, Cape vultures

Activities: Game drives, 4x4 eco trails, bush walks, picnicking, Bollonto Dam Bird Hide, Cape Vultures viewing spot

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10. West Coast National Park

West Coast National Park offers a peaceful retreat a couple of hours north of Cape Town. Speckled with fynbos and located around the crystal blue waters of Langebaan Lagoon, you can indulge in a mix of stunning nature walks and fun water sports. And don’t miss the famous fields of flowers that bloom each year at the beginning of spring!

Location: West Coast of Western Cape

Price: R74 - R110 for adults; R37 - R55 for children

Accommodation: Cottages, chalets, houseboats

Wildlife highlights: Caracals, antelopes, zebras, penguins, ostriches, pelicans

Activities: Flower season (August-September), Eve’s Footprint and Trail, kayak or kite-surf in the lagoon, birding

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A post shared by Maxie 39 - Marina Villa (@maxie39_villa)

Conclusion

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