South Africa is one of the most desirable travel destinations for those who are looking for something a little different in a safari. With world-class cities, a rich history spanning centuries and some of the most beautiful wildlife destinations on the planet, a safari in South Africa should inspire you to explore the differing landscape of our most valued assets; our national parks.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park | Credit: Kendra Karr
So which five national parks should you visit in 2023/2024? Take a look:
1. Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State
This popular South African national park situated in the Free State is beloved for many reasons including being a pivotal location for those wishing to explore South Africa’s indigenous Basotho culture. Go back in time to an 18th century traditional village, where you’ll be inspired by a greater understanding of local cultures and their nuances. Enjoy their food, drink and discover the power of African traditional medicine.
In addition, Golden Gate offers horseback riding across the grassy plains shadowed by the Maluti Mountains looming from Lesotho. Enjoy 4×4 adventures and hiking trails that will take your breath away. Wildlife includes wildebeest, eland, oribi and springbok, complimented by 886 birds to check off here. If you’re lucky you’ll spot the rare African wild cat and aardwolf, Cape Clawless otter and black-backed jackal. See more here.
This national park’s close proximity to Lesotho also means one can venture over the border for a journey of a different sort.
2. Mountain Zebra National Park, Eastern Cape
This is another national park not just famous for its abundance of wildlife but also for the fact that it has many locations on site which have great significance to the heritage of the country . San rock painting, ancient farmsteads and cemeteries paint a picture of the South Africa of the past.
Due to extensive conservation efforts by locals and passionate researchers, there is a small group of Cape Mountain Zebra which have survived over the ages, the inspiration behind the naming of this Eastern Cape national park. In addition, cheetah have a special place in this park, and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to track these gentle cats. Some wildlife highlights include spotting Bat-eared foxes, caracal, lion and the elusive Brown hyena.
3. Namaqua National Park, Western Cape
Arguably most famous for its unending fields of blooming wildflowers, Namaqua National Park in the Northern Cape of South Africa is a photographer’s dream. Every year during spring, the landscape of this pretty park is transformed into a carpet of indigenous flowers, adapted to surviving in this wild botanical garden.
If the flowers are not enough to inspire you, the cultural history might. Tools of Homo erectus were discovered here, as well as artifacts from the San people who hunted and gathered in this region centuries later. Read more about the fascinating history of this park here.
Birding, mountain biking and picnicking among the flowers are some of the highlights of this park. There is coastline to explore too, with colonies of Cape Fur seals frolicking in the waves and the skeletons of ships who wrecked off the coast.
4. West Coast National Park, Western Cape
Try this coastal safari from the West Coast of South Africa to Southern Namibia
The West Coast of South Africa is wonderful mini-getaway for residents and visitors to Cape Town. Located just one and a half hours away from the city centre, the West Coast National Park has a sense of true wilderness just outside the urban city. Langebaan is a quaint seaside town, a popular holiday destination for locals that lies right next to the West Coast National Park. The drawcard? The aquamarine Langebaan lagoon which inspires swimming, fishing, house boating and watersports.
This is not the only significance this area has to offer. It’s a haven for birders too, which supports 10% of coastal wader populations. Picturesque landscapes also attract visitors, particularly during the annual spring flower display. Spend time exploring this marine protected region and enjoy powder-white beaches. Mammals include Cape Fur seals, Cape fox and the courageous Honey badger. See more mammals to be found here. The lagoon sometimes (although it’s a rare sighting) attracts Orca whales, sharks and other species of whale.
This corner of the world offers a variety of accommodation from budget to luxury so you’ll never want for a place to stay as this national park requires a few days to explore.
5. Kruger National Park
Last but certainly not least is Kruger National Park. Needing no introduction, this is a premium South African wildlife destination. This is Big Five country and offers a fantastic choice between self-drive adventures and five-star private lodges which include epic safari activities. Comprised of the national park itself as well as private concessions, this is a destination you cannot leave off your bucket-list.
Abundant wildlife and birds are fiercely protected and conserved, making this the biggest and most concentrated wildlife areas of South Africa.