An incredibly diverse country in terms of the landscapes and ecosystems on offer; South Africa is an amazing destination for any nature lover to visit. Home to the Big Five as well as a plethora of creatures both big and small, this huge country is definitely worth visiting for its abundance of wildlife and the astounding habitats they live in. In fact, the Rainbow Nation as it is known boasts some of the best national parks in the whole of Africa. Consequently, millions of visitors descend upon the parks each year to bathe in the beautiful scenery, hoping for a glimpse of the awe-inspiring animals in their natural habitats. With such a wealth of incredible sights to see, here are the most beautiful national parks in South Africa for you to enjoy.
This colorful park really does give credence to South Africa being called the Rainbow Nation. With a multitude of bright and lively flowers dancing before you in the wind, West Coast National Park certainly does paint a beautiful picture and as such the multi-colored landscapes are simply stunning. Located on the west coast of the country, the park contains meadows of flowers, a couple of offshore islands and Langebaan Lagoon; the focal point of the area. Surrounding the lagoon are expansive wetlands which act as a breeding ground for a huge number of different bird species; subsequently this lovely national park is a great place to go bird watching. Water sport enthusiasts will also enjoy their visit as the lagoon is the perfect place to take to the water by kayak or skim across the surface while kite-surfing. With a number of beautiful views over the lagoon, another great pastime is to take to the footpaths and trails that snake their way through the park.
Located near the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, this park is visually stunning due to its spectacular sandstone cliffs that dominate their surroundings. The ancient rock formations are beautiful to look at and hidden among these colossal cliffs are caves containing San rock art paintings within them. As such, history plays a large part in drawing visitors to the park and a number of paleontological discoveries have also been made within its boundaries as dinosaur skeletons and eggs have been found. Named the ‘Golden Gate’ due to the colour the cliffs give off when the sun is setting, needless to say the unbelievable panoramas on show make this a lovely park to visit.
With its harsh and arid climate it is amazing that plants and creatures have managed to etch out a living over the millennia in this unforgiving environment. The sprawling desert-like park stretches away to the horizon and is great to visit as its desolation and beauty is somehow soothing to see. While the Nuweveld Mountains provide some variation to the flat plains and scrublands, the main attraction of the park is its isolation and the untouched feeling of being in the wild that it gives off. Although a number of animals and birds do call Karoo their home, it is the scenery and feeling of the place that keeps calling visitors back to it.
With a remarkable array of fauna and flora protected within the park boundaries, Namaqua makes for a lovely visit particularly when all of the wildflowers are in bloom. Shining brightly beneath the sun above, a mosaic of colors will overwhelm your senses and stun you with their beauty. The sprawling hills and meadows are delightful to gaze upon and running through the park are a number of great trails for visitors to wander along. A biodiversity hotspot, Namaqua is home to over 3500 different types of plants with over a thousand of these species only prevalent in this incredible park. Most of the year, however, the park is usually quite arid due to its desert-like environment and the accompanying warm and dry climate. Consequently, the best time to visit is in August or September, right after the rains have come.
Formed to protect the former capital of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, the hill which the park is named after is a site of historical importance. The history of the people who used to live in the area dates all the way back to the Iron Age and numerous archaeological finds have been made. Some finds have indicated that the community used to trade with places as far away as China. As such, efforts have been made to preserve the ancient ecosystem in which they lived for future generations to enjoy. The distinctive and scenic landscape is amazing to wander around and Mapungubwe Hill formed an impressive fortress in times gone by as it was only accessible through a narrow gap between the rocks. On the border with Zimbabwe and Botswana, this national park has a number of attractions to entice visitors. Guided tours of the archaeological sites are fascinating while the treetop walkway is a magical way to see the spectacular scenery from above.
Located in the far north of the country, Marakele National Park also lies between two different ecosystems. Due to the contrasting arid and wet surrounding regions, the park is home to a diverse array of fauna and flora as well as animals and birds. This biodiversity hotspot is also beautiful to behold as the stunning Waterberg Mountains impressively dominate and rear above the plains of the park. From the top of the Mountains, sweeping panoramas greet you of the valleys and scrublands below. Residing within the park are a number of large mammals such as rhinos, elephants and lions; keep an eye out for them as you make your way through the different ecosystems on show. You will also notice a lot of vultures circling in the winds around the mountains. Surprisingly majestic, the carrion eaters only add to the picturesque beauty of Marakele.
With its temperate Mediterranean climate, the south of the country is delightful to explore and the Garden Route which encompasses the whole of the coastline is lovely to drive along. Made up of three diverse protected areas, this national park is certainly worth visiting for the beautiful landscapes you will find. At Tsitsikamma, for example, there are amazing rocky coasts that form a dramatic border with the ocean and from the shore trails snake up the sand dunes and into the nearby forests. In this wet and fertile region, nature abounds as do a number of lovely lakes. Knysna Lakes are where you want to head to if you are looking for a great day out on the pristine and tranquil waters. Delightful paths follow the shores of the lakes and these make for some memorable hikes in the breathtaking scenery. The nearby elephant park is also nice to visit if you want to see these majestic creatures up close.
One of the most iconic sights in the whole of South Africa is Table Mountain which forms the impressive backdrop to the city of Cape Town. This immense plateau that is often topped with fluffy white clouds is awe-inspiring to visit such is its beauty. Numerous twisting trails of varying difficulty levels make their way up the side of Table Mountain and the view on the hikes slowly gets better and better the higher you go. At the top incredible panoramas of Cape Town and the surrounding ocean make the trek all worth it. Besides the mountain, the park has a huge range of flora and fauna for visitors to delight in as well as a number of animals such as penguins and baboons to see.
With over six hundred elephants contained within the park, Addo is the perfect place to see the largest mammals on earth in their natural habitat. Already having encompassed seven different types of biomes, the park’s recent expansion means that it now also includes a part of the coastal area as well as a couple of islands. So although Addo was already home to the big five the expansion now makes it the only national park in the world where you can see the big seven! With elephants, lions, rhinos, buffaloes and leopards as well the recent additions of whales and great white sharks, Addo is certainly a mesmerizing and memorable park to visit.
1. Kruger National Park Where to Stay
The most famous of South Africa’s national parks, Kruger alone attracts international tourists to the country such is its renown and prestige. The huge conservation area is home to a plethora of animals and is actually the best place in Africa to see large animals. As well as the big five, there are over 150 other large animals such as zebras and antelopes that roam its plains and visitors are guaranteed an unforgettable experience with such a diverse range of beautiful animals on show. Safaris here are really what memories are made of and, up close, the stripes of the zebra or the mane of the lion will forever be etched in your mind. Kruger National Park is incontestably the pride and joy of South Africa’s national parks and rightly so: the unbelievable natural beauty and breathtaking wildlife on display are almost without match on the continent.