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When people think of seeing the Big 5 in Africa, they typically picture the Masai Mara, Kenya, the Serengeti in Tanzania or Kruger National Park in South Africa. These parks are all fantastic, but they can be quite crowded and not to mention, pricey! South Africa boasts some of the best national parks for viewing wildlife, yet most people only go to Kruger NP.

There are other places to see beautiful wildlife with less crowds, where you can do self-drive safaris and on a budget! Going on a self-drive safari is so exciting. You’re able to have more intimate encounters with the animals and can go at your own pace. Yelling out “STOP!” when you spot something moving in the brush and slamming on the brakes really gets the heart pumping. It’s an adrenaline rush like no other.

south african safari
Going on a self-drive safari in South Africa is a great way to enjoy the wildlife and the scenery

Here’s a list of our favourite, lesser-known National Parks in South Africa that everyone can afford:

1. Addo Elephant National Park:

This park is closest to our hearts. It’s where we spotted our very first big African wildlife! The dirt roads here are well-marked and the brush isn’t too high, which makes for easier wildlife spotting.

safari in south africa
2 massive male lions sauntering towards us…the camera wasn’t on zoom, they were so close! They came right beside the car, we could have touched them

This park is home to leopards, buffalo, jackals, black and white rhinos, lions, antelope, zebra…and of course, elephants! It’s also home to the flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively here.

south african safari
The flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively at Addo National Park

The best part of going on safari here? 

You can do a self-drive! We drove our little Chevy Spark car all over that park and saw 8 out of the 9 lions that live there, elephants, buffalo, the rare caracal cat, jackals and more! Just pick up one of the easy to follow maps at the entrance and you’re on your way.

south african safari
Up close and personal with an elephant at Addo Elephant National Park

Pack a lunch and stop at the outdoor designated (and gated off!) picnic area. We suggest getting there when the park opens and leaving when it closes. Trust us, you’ll want a full day here!

The cost of this South African safari is 160ZAR ($17.21) for adults and 80ZAR ($8.69) for children under 12.

A pretty good deal if you ask me!

2. iSimangaliso Wetland Park – St. Lucia Estuary:

This massive wetland park protects 280kms of coastline and 5 main ecosystems: offshore reefs & beaches, wetlands, woodlands, coastal forests and lakes. It’s such a unique place!

The St. Lucia Estuary part of the park is the place to go to see hippos and crocs. You’ll find them lounging around all of the marshy wetlands and floating around in the lake. You can also see leopards, antelopes and rhinos (although we didn’t see any of those!)

safari in south africa
Lazy hippos at St. Lucia Estuary

As with Addo National Park, this is a great place to do a self-drive safari. The “roads” are great for driving on, the scenery spectacular and there are many places you can even get out of your car (if you’re feeling brave enough) and have a look out at some view points.

south african safari
Walking to a view point at St. Lucia Estuary, watch out for predators!

The best part of this South African safari is the entrance is free!

3. Hluhluwe Umfolozi (Imfolozi) National Park:

This park is near St. Lucia, close to the border with Mozambique. As with the other parks, there’s a great chance of spotting some of the big wildlife here, especially white rhino! This park has the most white rhino in the world.

safari in south africa
Beautiful rhino at Imfolozi NP

Again, we were able to do a self-drive safari here, and again, it sure didn’t disappoint! There are some “hides” here where you can get very close to the wildlife around a watering hole, but they don’t know you’re there because you’re “hidden” in a camouflaged shelter. A great way to see the animals up close.

south african safari on a budget
A stare down with a blue wildebeest, St. Lucia Estuary

This is the place to go to see blue wildebeest, giraffes, elephants, lions, buffalo and lots of antelope. We had some great encounters with giraffes here as well as the wildebeest.

going on a south african safari
A lone giraffe, all to ourselves! Imfolozi NP

The entrance fee to Imfolozi National Park is 110ZAR ($11.83) for adults and 55ZAR ($5.90) for children under 12.

4. Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Swaziland.

Ok, so we realize this doesn’t count as doing a safari in South Africa since it’s located in the tiny country of Swaziland. However, if you’re in South Africa, you’ll most likely make a detour here. Swaziland is bordered by South Africa and Mozambique and is somewhere you should definitely go!

swaziland safari
Hiking through the Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary

The Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary is spectacular. What makes it so great is the fact that you can hike all around the park and not worry (too much) about any predators.

south africa safari
Hippo Island. They weren’t too close to us so we felt safe!

The only dangerous animals here are crocs and hippos and since they tend to stick to the water, you can hike around the plains and hills without any issues  – watch out for snakes though.

south african safari
I wouldn’t want to get in the way of those jaws! Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary

Another perk of this great sanctuary is staying right on the grounds! We stayed in a beautiful roundavel hut and went to bed, and woke up with, antelope, ostrich and warthogs on our front yard! An unforgettable experience.

going on safari in swaziland
Good morning Mr. Warthog! View from our roundavel at the Milwane Sanctuary

Besides having intimate encounters with the wildlife, a great perk of coming here is that the entrance fee is 40SZL ($4.31). Unbelievable.

We highly recommend these fantastic, budget friendly, lesser-known National Parks for your South African safari. We were able to spot everything we wanted to see and more…everything except for the elusive leopard, the rare black rhino and cheetahs, those would have to wait until we were in the Masai Mara in Kenya!

All you need is a map, some food, a vehicle and a sense of adventure. Grab your binoculars and get out there!

Have you been on a safari in South Africa? What was your experience like? Tell us about it below!

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South African Safari: National Parks You Can Afford!

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10 thoughts on “South African Safari: National Parks You Can Afford!

  1. Hey Nick & Dariece,

    This post made me so nostalgic – we did a road trip in South Africa in 2011 – drove from Jo’Burg to Capetown, and on our way did 2 safaris – first in Hluhluwe and the second in Addo – like minds 🙂 and guess what – in a chevy spark 😉 – one of our best experiences so far. I can so relate to your post. Really well written. We’ll share our safari experiences and pictures on Bruised Passports soon – till then I can read this post and dream of going back to SA in the near future. Nice one – I can safely say you are two bloggers after my own heart 🙂 Cheers

  2. Wow, I can’t believe how similar our journey was! That’s great. Doing a road trip in South Africa is one of our top travel experiences of all time. The safaris were great, scenery was stunning and trying to navigate around in our little Chevy Spark was so much fun!

    Thanks a lot for the comment and we look forward to following your journey as well 🙂

    Cheers from China!

  3. We’re finished our teaching contract on July 12th…then we’re off to trek, camp and explore Mongolia, Russia, Central Asia and Iran for 5 months, then going back to Canada for Christmas…..and then who knows where?!

    We look forward to having you guys following our journey 🙂

    Cheers!

  4. Excellent article ! We are two Frecnh girls, and will be travelling in South Africa in a few months… thanks for these tips!

  5. This is great info, thanks so much. I’m hoping to visit South Africa soon, and your advice has helped me decide on the safari parks, and of course self driving :))

  6. Hi do you think I could do a self drive Safari on my own? I am highly capable and traveling solo… What do you all think?
    Cheers
    Michele 🙂

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