When Is the Best Time
Addo is a year-round destination just an hour drive from the Port Elizabeth (PE) airport. Many visitors fly to PE from Cape Town and drive back along the Garden Route or vice versa. The best game viewing months are June to September. Due to the massive expansion of Addo and the park is still growing; you should bring plenty of time for the different sections to explore the rich biodiversity. Continue reading my full seasonal guide and what you may see along with the different loops in Addo.
The best time for the main Addo National Park is the driest time of the year from May to September when elephants gather in numbers around the waterholes. During these months, day temperatures are pleasant nights cold. This is the low season, and the park is quieter. During the summer holidays in Europe in July and August, there are slightly more visitors.
From October to March, migratory birds arrive from the north, particularly in the Zuurberg section like the European stork. Overall there are more than 400 different species of birds in the Greater Addo National Park. More information about birds in Addo.
Weather | Seasons | Crowds
The seasons in Africa are not comparable to the seasons in the northern hemisphere. Summer and winter last longer, while spring and autumn are very short. The climate here is different. During winter day temps are usually pleasant more like spring temps. Overall it's drier; South Africa was suffering a drought in 2018.
September is one of my favourite months. Although the morning and evening are still cold, the day temperatures are pleasant. It is not too hot, and the game is easier to spot. It is the end of the drier season, and wildlife depends on the waterholes. The first babies get born easy prey for the predators, which increases the chance to spot them. September is the shoulder season. It’s not too crowded, and accommodation prices are lower.
The morning and evening are lovely, but during the day, it’s unpleasantly hot. The wildlife is resting and difficult to spot at midday. During summer, more precipitation occurs, but it seldom rains for days. There are two precipitation peaks; February/March and October/November. It is more often overcast and thunderstorms built up in the afternoon. Day temperatures can reach 40°C while nights are cooling down below 20°C. During October, many animals give birth to their young ones. This causes an increase in predator activity and your chance to spot lions and hyenas. Due to the increasing rain, wildlife is not depending on the humanmade waterholes. You spot fewer game active and drinking. Rain can always occur. If it is raining in summer game is not any longer hiding at midday. Addo is Malaria free; however, because of the high temps and rainfall, take precautions for mosquitos at dusk. Mid-December until the end of January often super busy.
Decreasing precipitation in April. Day temperatures are getting more pleasant still around 25°C and nights are cool. It’s getting quieter in Addo; discounts and special rates are offered.
Days are pleasant, usually with a clear sky. Day temperatures can reach almost 20°C from June to August, but nights can be near freezing. Occasionally, cold fronts occur in the winter. The morning and evening are chilly, but it works well with a softshell jacket during your self-guided game drive, but it’s a little cold in open safari jeeps. Although the winter is excellent for game watching, it is the low season. Special rates and discounts are offered for many accommodations.
Gate Times for the Addo Game Area
In summer the gate is opened before sunrise, but very view people get up that early. Unfortunately, gate closure already one hour before sunset. It is not allowed to drive through the park in darkness.
- Oct-March 5.30 -18.30
- April-May 6.00 - 18.00
- June-July 6.30 - 18.00
- Aug-Sep 6.00 - 18.00
There are two large male lions in the Nyathi section of Addo. Therefore, our top accommodation tip is River Bend Lodge. It’s a bit pricey, but it guarantees an excellent stay and private game drives. The game drives are not included in the price but utterly worth booking. The lodge has its own private areal and waterhole. I highly recommend ranger Christiaan not only for the big five also for birding. It's all included at Riverbend Lodge with lots of privacy. Just eight rooms are available.
Our budget tip is the Addo Main Rest Camp with different types of accommodation. Most of them are for two people, some chalets for three or four people. These are basic self-catering cottages, nothing spectacular but beautiful located. A caravan and camping area is also existing. Addo Main Camp types of accommodation
Overall, plenty of accommodations are offered outside and inside of the park; camping in the wild, basic self-catering cottages to five-star luxury lodges. To get the most out of your visit stay inside the park: early booking is advisable, and you might hear roaring lions or laughing hyenas in the night. Lodges inside and around Addo
Helpful Link: Maps of Addo Elephant National Park
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
The unique Addo Elephant National Park is also home to a small population of lions, rhinos, hyenas, buffalos, but you won't see any giraffes. They never occurred in the area.
Facts About the Greater Addo Park
- Addo was already established in 1931 to protect the last eleven remaining elephants.
- It is a big success with more than 600 elephants today.
- However, due to the isolation and the small remaining population, eight elephant bulls from Kruger were introduced into the park.
- This created genetic diversity for a strong and healthy population. These remaining two bulls are bigger and more dominant than the Addo ones nowadays.
- At the end of 2019, three elephant bulls from Tembe Elephant Park were introduced to achieve a richer genetic diversity. Tembe elephants are famous for their large tusks. Tembe is a reserve in Maputaland, KwaZulu-Natal, close to the border of Mozambique.
- The Cape lion is extinct the reason lions were introduced from the Kalahari more than ten years ago.
- Addo is huge with 1.640 km² and the best place in Africa to watch elephants close.
- Unlike Kruger, Addo is malaria-free!
Addo is also popular for one of the smallest animals; it is home to the largest population of the flightless dung beetle. These beetles are endangered and protected by South African law. They are the king of the road; don’t drive over one of their dung balls or pads instead of drive around. One dung pad can at least 30 beetles. The dung is used for food and reproduction. The food balls are eaten by the adult beetles while the brood balls are almost twice the size. The female lays just one egg into the brood ball. It hatches after a couple of days. The larvae feed on the dung ball and pupate. After that, it emerges as an immature adult.
The Addo Main Camp is the only place in the park with a gas station, restaurant, shop with basic food, beverages, and souvenirs, plus a swimming pool for overnight guests of the camp. Game drives and guided horse rides can be booked at the reception as well. Night drives are popular and usually already fully booked a day before in the peak season. On the opposite of the restaurant is a waterhole and hide.
Addo is the third largest National Park in South Africa. It is called the National Park of the “Big 7”; the Big Five, and furthermore the southern right whale and great white shark. The park got extended with Vape Padrone, Woody Cape, and Colchester south of Addo. These sections protect coastal areas and dunes like the Alexandria Dunefield. The dunes can reach a height of 140 meters. Explore this fantastic dune system on the Alexandria Hiking Trail. It's a 36 km long circular trail taking two days. More information and booking through SanParks.
North of Addo is the Nyathi section. To enter this outstanding part of Addo, you have to stay either at the River Bend Lodge or Nyathi Rest Camp. The luxury Rest Camp is operated by San Parks. It got opened in 2017.
Next to Nyathi is the Zuurberg Mountains and Darlington section. The Zuurberg Mountains are on an elevation between 250 and 970 m above sea level. The mountains experience more rainfall than the main Addo park. Hippos are found in the Zuurberg section in the Sundays River only. The area around the Darlington Dam, which is located in the arid Nama-karoo, is home to the black rhino. The most popular accommodation is the Zuurberg Mountain Village with an excellent view on top of a mountain.
More than 200 km to the north got the park extended by the wonderful Mountain Zebra National Park and Camdeboo in the desert next to Graaff-Reinet. The Mountain Zebra was already established in 1937 on farmland. The park is home to over 750 mountain zebras and a huge variety of other wildlife like Oryx now.
Most famous is the Valley of Desolation with its dolerite columns just west of the main town Graaff-Reinet. It's an outstanding area for hiking. There is lots of wildlife to spot, but only when the dam is full of water and not dried out. Usually, thunderstorms and rainfall occur in the summer with its peak in February and March. However, it's hot during summer; temps can reach 40°C. Therefore, late summer and winter with temps below 30°C (April-Sep/Oct) are the best time for the Valley of Desolation. Tip: Watch the spectacular sunset from the dolerite columns.
There is a huge variety of activities from self-guided game drives, to guided night drive, safari by horse, bird watching, several hiking trails, whale watching, great white sharks, and penguin watching in Algoa Bay, St Croix, and Bird Island. Spectacular is the unpredictable sardine run between February to July.
Stargazing is another great activity without any light pollution in the National Park and desert. It's an exceptional experience to watch the milky way bright in the night.
Prices are for adults, children pay half. However, depending on how long you travel through SA and which parks you like to visit, it may make sense to purchase the annual wild card.
- South African Residents ZAR 86
- SADC (Southern African Countries) ZAR 172
- Foreigners (All other countries) ZAR 344
Self-Driving Safari Guide for Addo
The mentioned locations are from north to south. We already spent twice a couple of days here the reason that we explored almost all roads and loops.
The Nzipondo Loop and the Woodlands close to the Nyathi section to spot lions that we did one evening.
Gorah Loop is fantastic for an afternoon self-guided game drive. It’s mostly open grassland, therefore, wildlife can be spotted easily.
Definitely make a stop at the Zuurkop Lookout Point. It’s allowed to get out of the car, however, be aware of lions.
The Kadouw Lookout Point offers excellent views of the park as well. It's worth the short detour. We combined the outlook with the beautiful Mbabala Loop.
The Rooidam is always worth having a look for hyenas. You can continue from here to Hapoor Dam, but it’s a subtropical thicket only. You may bump into elephants, but it’s a narrow dirt path and difficult to pass. It’s almost impossible to spot other wildlife.
For a closer look at the Addo vegetation, make a stop at the Spekboom Hide. It’s a beautiful fenced short walk through a subtropical thicket to the hide. From here, you may spot wildlife.
Jack’s Picnic Site is the only place inside of Addo for a break with exceptional clean restrooms. The first day we prepared our breakfast here after hours of game driving from the early morning onwards. The next day we heated our lunch. This allowed us to explore the Colchester Area in the south afterwards.
To spot a high number of elephants, try out Harvey’s Loop. It’s a narrow dirt road which leads mostly along thicket.
We loved the Ngulube Loop along open grassland. We spotted a herd of buffalos, secretary bird, many different antelopes, and obviously elephants.
Vukani Loop is nice as well and a good mixture of thicket and open grassland.