The 5 Best National Parks in South Africa (for Safari Drives)

Is your heart craving a new adventure or have a desire to see Africa’s Big 5?

Then it looks like you’re going to be venturing into some of the most remote parts of Africa’s wilderness!

In this article, I will be sharing 5 must-visit national parks in South Africa for safari drives!

1) Kruger National Park

Covering a territory of over 19,400 square km, Kruger National Park is among the largest national parks in Africa. Not only this, but it is also considered the most thrilling safari destination in the country.

If your adventurous soul has been craving a Big 5 Safari, Kruger National Park is calling your name.

The wildlife at Kruger is so diverse that you can actually see a lot more than the popular Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Buffalo and Rhino.

You could even witness hundreds of mammals, reptiles and numerous unique fish and bird species.

Given its diversity, the park has now been added to the UNESCO Biosphere reserve list. With its massive territory, Kruger National Park is divided into 4 different areas. Truth be told, it is unlikely that you’ll get to explore them all.

While the central grasslands are home to the vast majority of lions, the Skukuza area is known for the world’s highest concentrations of leopards.

The true thrill-seekers, on the other hand, can head to the Northern off-the-beaten-paths and dive into some of the most remote and secluded regions of the African wilderness.

For the first-time visitors it is advisable to join a guided safari for the best chances to spot the unique wildlife.

The solo travelers will be happy to know that Kruger National Park also allows exploring the game reserve in your own pace with your own car.

Here are some great day tour options you can check out:


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2) Addo Elephant National Park

Home to over 500 magnificent elephants, Addo Elephant National Park is Africa’s third largest national park.

One of the most unique features of this preserved area, however, is that this is the only place on Earth, where you will be able to see the Big 7 – the Big 5, as well as, the great white shark and whale.

Start on the terrestrial part of the park with a guided hike, horse riding session or a 4×4 safari.

Then you can immerse yourself into the coastal sides of the park, or even take a marine tour to St. Croix Island or Bird Island.

As you are enjoying the fresh breeze, you will be able to catch a glimpse of the great white shark and the Southern right whale.

Despite its name, Bird Island will surprise you not only with its huge population of cormorants, but you will also notice some playful penguins.

Fooled by the relatively small size of the park and its close proximity to Port Elizabeth, many tourists plan just a day tour to Addo Elephant National Park.

Do not make the same mistake, though, as there is plenty to see and you would definitely want to take an overnight stay.

The basic camps are perfect for those who would like to become one with nature and fully recharge their batteries away from the hustle and bustle of the city!


3) Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Somewhere along the border between South Africa and Botswana, adventure seekers can find another one of the 5 must-visit national parks in South Africa for safari drives – Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

The word “kgalagadi” translates as the place of thirst, and you will quickly understand the choice of name for the preserved area.

With the first glimpse of the park’s territory you will feel like you have dived into the real African wilderness.

The dramatic landscape of endless fields of sand dunes and completely dry riverbeds is only rarely obscured by parched trees and bushes.

Here in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, however, you will be able to find a thriving wildlife, including leopards, hyenas and lions who have made this place their home.

The park has become well-known for the seasonal migration of animals such as the blue wildebeest, however, it will also treat you to numerous sights of predators.

To make the most of your trip, you may want to visit in the early hours of the morning or as the sun is kissing the horizon goodnight.

Lions in Kruger National Park South Africa

4) Mapungubwe National Park

If you would like to combine the natural landmarks of Africa with a bit of history, you should plan a visit to the next on our list, Mapungubwe National Park.

Following the winding trails of the preserved area, is like taking a step back in time.

The park is home to the famous Mapungubwe Hill, which was once the center of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe.

It is believed that the ancient archaeological artifacts found on the territory of the park date back to 1200 AD.

Not only this, but legends are claiming that dinosaurs were the ones to set their feet on these lands.

Unfortunately, Mapungubwe National Park does not allow visitors to drive private vehicles or venture on their own throughout the park, but there is a large number of activities to choose from.

The sunset safari drives, for example, are perfect if you wish to escape the crowds and fully immerse yourself into the tranquility of the park.



5) Marakele National Park

Last but not least on our list of the best national parks in South Africa for safari drives is Marakele National Park.

Situated in the middle between the dry Western lands and the Moist Eastern forests, the park’s name means a “place of sanctuary”.

This transitional region with its fantastic conditions has made the park home to a huge variety of flora and fauna.

Not only this, but it is also the only place in the world with such a huge population of cape vultures.

So make sure to bring your binoculars and keep your eyes to the sky so that you don’t miss them!

Compared to the other national parks on this list, Marakele National Park is not as popular, so it is a great place to dive into the peace and quiet and get to see the Big 5!

You can even experience it all at your own pace, as some of the roads are accessible for a regular car.

If you want a close up with the monkeys, as well, you should plan an overnight stay at one of the camps.

I can promise you that one of their main motivations to visit you will be to steal your food!


Are you already packing your bags for one of the 5 must-visit national parks in South Africa for safari drives?

Which one would you choose?

The majestic cape vultures at Marakele National Park? Or the chance to see the Big 7 at Addo Elephant National Park?

I’d love to know! 

South Luangwa National Park

In Summary:

5 Must-visit National Parks in South Africa for Safari Drives

If you’re planning a trip to South Africa with the intention of seeing lots of wildlife and admiring the natural scenery, then you definitely head to one of the following parks:

  1. Kruger National Park
  2. Addo Elephant National Park
  3. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
  4. Mapungubwe National Park
  5. Marakele National Park

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