Best National Parks in South Africa: More Than A Safari Destination

south africa national parks

Experience the unparalleled natural beauty and diversity of South Africa at any one of the 21 National Parks that span collectively over more than 3% of the country. For those in search of a rich cultural and historical experience surrounded by exquisite flora, fauna and diverse landscapes, look no further than the most popular National Parks in South Africa.

national park south africa

9 South African National Parks Worth Visiting 

1.Kruger National Park (Limpopo and Mpumalanga)

Stretching over 2 million hectares, and an area of land larger than that of Swaziland, Kruger is one of the biggest and oldest Game Parks in South Africa.

Kruger offers one of the top wildlife experiences in Africa and is home to not only the Big 5,  but the Little 5 and plentiful birdlife too.The savannah landscape is dotted with Khoisan rock art sites and scattered with archaeological ruins.

south african national park

Game drives, guided walks, wildlife spotting, and 4×4 eco-trails are just a small selection of activities available to pass the time. Choose from a wide selection of accommodation types in any one of the numerous camps, or simply spend a day in the park.

There is a maximum number of visitors permitted in the park per day, so to avoid being turned away as a day visitor consider making an advance booking.

best national parks in south africa

Serviced picnic spots with toilets and braai facilities are available at all sites, while formal dining from buffets to bush braais and Table d’ Hote can be found selectively at the main rest camps, with familiar favourites like Mugg & Bean and the Cattle Baron included. By far the most famous of all there National Parks in South Africa.

2. Marakele National Park (Limpopo)

Marakele or “place of sanctuary” in Tswana, resides between the meeting place of the dry western and moist eastern regions of South Africa, at the Waterberg mountain range.

Home to the famous Big 5 and an array of wildlife and bird species, here you can enjoy a morning or sunset bush walk or game drive in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. You can also extend the experience overnight at one of the two main camp sites, tented Tlopi or the more rustic Bontle.

If the lure of a more lavish bushveld experience beckons, the tented suites of Marataba Safari Lodge provides the answer. Marataba boasts the title of ‘third best lodge in Africa’ as voted by Conde Nast Traveler.

maratba south africa

Photo courtesy of Marataba South Africa

With the majority of facilities located at the neighbouring town of Thabazimbi, be sure to fill with fuel and stock up on food items and essentials before traversing the park.

3. Mapungubwe National Park (Limpopo)

A National Park and World Heritage Site, Mapungubwe’s rich cultural history makes this a popular destination for educational tours and community based initiatives.

In the home of the famous Golden Rhino, take a tour of the Mapungubwe interpretive centre and the museum or enjoy a game drive, guided walk or bush braai. Choose from a variety of overnight stay options, or choose to soak up just a day at the park.

Pick up curios and snacks at the mini convenience shop or indulge in breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Mapungubwe restaurant. Alternatively, for self-catering, be sure to stock up and refuel in the nearest neighbouring towns of Alldays or Musina.

4. Addo Elephant National Park (PE/Addo)

South Africa’s third-largest National Park, Addo has grown from the humble home of just 11 elephants, to boasting one of the densest populations of African elephants on earth!

Due to its geographical location, Addo is the only park in the world in which all members of the Big 7 reside, namely the African elephant, black rhino, Cape buffalo, leopard, lion, great white shark and the Southern right whale.

national parks south africa

The perfect outdoor experience, Addo affords the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of activities from game viewing to horse riding, guided walks, hikes and 4×4 trails.

If just one day proves not enough time, simply stay overnight at Addo or check into one of the numerous accommodation options neighbouring the park.

5. Namaqua National Park (Namaqualand/Karoo)

Blanketed by over 3500 species of flora and plants, and dotted with quiver trees, springtime in the semi-desert landscape of Namaqualand is an explosion of colour.

A feast for the eyes, days are spent trail walking, birding, mountain biking, picnicking or adventuring by 4×4.

Camp under the star-studded sky or settle into the self-catering guest cottage or rest camp. Be sure to refuel, pick up firewood and food before arriving at the park, as these facilities are not available.

6. Table Mountain National Park (Cape Town)

Arguably Cape Town’s most iconic landmark, the infamous flat top mountain range forms part of this South African National Park and, understandably, has been selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

Sharing in the spotlight, the park also comprises of Signal Hill and Lions Head, the Cape of Good Hope, Boulders, Silvermine, and adjacent beaches.

A wide range of activities are available across these diverse landmarks, so take your pick!

  • Hiking
  • Mountain biking
  • Rock climbing
  • Forest walks
  • Picnicking
  • Overnight trail
  • Hang/paragliding
  • Surfing/windsurfing
  • Kiteboarding
  • Scuba diving
  • Swimming

7. Garden Route National Park (Garden Route)

Along a pristine stretch of south-eastern coastline lies the Garden Route National Park, home to the Tsitsikamma National Park, Wilderness National Park and Knysna Lake section.

With so many outdoor activities at your disposal it would be impossible to fit it all into a day, but well worth the try! From hiking to forest walks, mountain biking, birding and an array of water activities, this National Park is not to be missed.

Garden Route National Park

A tick off the bucket list and perhaps the most well known activity in this South African National Park is the Otter Trail, which commences at Storms River Mouth and ends 45 kilometers and five days later in Nature’s Valley.

8. Camdeboo National Park (Karoo)

Located in the unique, semi-arid region of the Karoo, Camdeboo is home to the ‘Valley of Desolation’, a national monument of precariously perched dolerite columns that have been formed by millions of years of natural erosion.

A landscape scattered with Khoisan rock art and ample fauna and flora, Camdeboo lends itself well to game viewing, birding, hiking, trails walking and swims in the Nqweba dam.

Overnight stays in the park take the form of tented camping, either by self-setup or glamping in the existing furnished tents with easy access to the communal cooking facilities and ablution blocks.

9. Golden Gate National Park (Free State)

With its name aptly derived from the golden hues of impressive sandstone formations illuminated by the sun, Golden Gate has a rich history and is home to a variety of fauna and flora.

Take your pick from game drives, hiking, nature walks, swimming, horse riding, abseiling and canoeing inside the park. Or expand your options and explore the surrounding area for an endless list of things to do.

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Get transported back to the 18th century and spend the night at the Basotho Cultural Village Rest Camp, or lay your head for the night in a secluded wooden cabin, at the guest house or the Golden Gate Hotel and Chalets.

Whether spending a few hours in one of the magnificent National Parks in South Africa, making a day visit, or spending an evening or two under the starry African night sky, make these unforgettable parks part of your journey or a must-see final destination.