The most unforgettable moment on an African safari is the first time you spot a magnificent animal in their natural habitat.
Often, that animal is often an elephant — simply because their size makes them hard to miss. Elephants are, in fact, the largest land animals in the world, along with being the heaviest.
Because they need such a huge amount of food to sustain themselves, they spend most of the day wandering around, munching on grass, roots, fruit, and tree bark.
Their liveliness makes them more interesting to watch than, let’s say, lethargic lions, who can sleep up to 20 hours per day.
Once you’ve set eyes on your first elephants, you won’t be able to look away. Seeing how inquisitive and playful they are and how affectionate they are with their mates is something that changes you forever — a reminder that intelligent life takes many forms on this planet.
But here’s a compelling question. Where’s the best place in Africa to view elephants? The continent is vast, and there are just so many parks to choose from: Chobe National Park in Botswana, Amboseli National Park in Kenya, Tarangire National Park in Tanzania – the list goes on.
This question has no easy answer, but Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa stands out for a few different reasons.
Addo is all about the elephants
Addo Elephant National Park, is becoming the “crown jewel in the South African National Parks portfolio, with the widest range of eco-systems of all parks in Africa” according to South Africa Nature Reserves.
Established in 1931 to promote elephant conservation, Addo is now the third largest national park in South Africa and home to around 600 savannah elephants. While neighboring Kruger National Park boasts a higher number of elephants, the density of elephants is higher in Addo, making it easier to stumble upon them while driving around the park.
Unlike other parks, where elephant populations have been decimated by poaching, the elephant population is actually growing in Addo due to its winning conservation efforts.
In addition to elephants, you can see countless other animal and plant species in Addo, whose location on the Indian Ocean yields an unusual mix of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. In addition to all the Big Five safari animals — lions, rhinoceros, elephants, African buffalo, and leopards — Addo has southern right whales and great white sharks, making it the only Big Seven safari park in the world. Imagine spending your morning viewing elephants on a game drive and your afternoon whale watching in the Indian Ocean, all in the same park. That makes for quite a day.
How to see elephants in Addo
Another standout feature of Addo is the variety of ways in which you can view elephants. Whereas other parks may only have guided game drives, Addo offers both guided and self-guided options, giving you flexibility.
Having a local expert guide you on your safari is perfect if you just want to sit back and see lots of elephants. But searching for the animals can add some mystery to the adventure, too, which some may want to experience.
Whatever kind of tour you’re on (self-guided or otherwise) you won’t have to go very far in Addo before bumping into a herd of elephants. You can usually find them down at the old watering hole, whooping it up in the mud and teaching the babies how to use their trunks.
Yet another way to see elephants in Addo is from accommodations that have viewing areas such as decks or platforms. Imagine watching elephants at a safe distance from your very own tent!
A variety of accommodations are available inside the park, from simple tents to five-star game lodges and a few things in between. However, there is one danger of staying overnight in Addo. After waking up in your luxury, tented suite and walking out on your deck to a panoramic view of elephants, you won’t want to leave. Ever. You’ve been warned.
What you can do
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This article by Jen Ottolino was first published by Explore on 15 October 2023. Lead Image: Fokkebok/Getty Images.