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Port Elizabeth is a city on Algoa Bay in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. While it might be a place you automatically think of when planning a South Africa holiday, it is definitely a place which should be considered. I have visited twice now, both times I have loved discovering another part of the diverse country and both times I have found a ton of things to do in Port Elizabeth which involve wildlife.
Alongside being a major port city, Port Elizabeth is also known for its numerous beaches and its very close vicinity to Game Reserves, many of which are home to the Big 5. If you are a fan of wildlife and you are visiting the Eastern Cape or even driving the Garden Route, then add Port Elizabeth to your itinerary, you will not be disappointed.
The best things to do in Port Elizabeth for Wildlife lovers
Dolphin and Whale watching in Algoa Bay
Algoa Bay is frequented by a number of cetaceans all year round. Schools of bottlenose dolphins leap out of the water daily, and can often be observed gliding parallel to the coast in the early morning. Between the months of August and December, humpback whales, Southern Right whales, Bryde’s whales and Minke Whales can be seen moving slowly and majestically in these temperate waters. Dolphin and Whale watching tours are an extremely popular thing to do in Port Elizabeth and also something I definitely recommend.
I took my tour with Raggy Charters and I am happy to recommend them. Having been around since 1992, they are one of the oldest tour companies in the area as well as being one of the most ethical. Raggy Charters undertakes regular beach clean-ups in the Port Elizabeth area and has started an initiative to offset our carbon footprint by planting one indigenous tree for every boat cruise they do.
Alongside cetaceans, you also have the chance to see penguins, Cape Fur seals and Great White shark. As always with any wildlife experience, no spottings are guaranteed but I was extremely happy with our experience.
Raggy Charters do also offer a Shark cage diving experience, while this is something I have always thought about doing, I would LOVE to see a wild Great White Shark, I didn’t as I have still not made my mind up if it is ethically right. There are so many arguments either side, do your research and come to your own decision with this one.
Self Drive the Addo Elephant National Park
Situated roughly 1 hour outside of Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape, the Addo National Park is South Africa’s third-biggest National Park spanning 686 000 hectares, which encompasses 164 000 hectares of land and a 120 000 hectare marine reserve. The park is home to the Big Seven – Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Southern Right Whales and Great White Sharks as well as an incredible array of other African species.
At present, the Addo Park offers the greatest density of elephant per square kilometre in Africa with over 600 wandering freely, making for some truly sensational viewing of the wild family herds.
If you do have a rental car throughout your visit to Port Elizabeth, I really recommend taking a self-drive safari through the Addo. It is a truly fantastic experience and by self-driving, you have the opportunity to take it in all at your own leisure. I have a whole post featuring everything you need to know and top tips for driving the Addo Elephant National Park which you can find here.
The drive to the Addo from Port Elizabeth is a very simple one, pretty much one straight highway, we found driving in this area of South Africa both easy and safe. If you are still looking to book your rental car, we booked with Avis, the booking process was simple as well as collection and drop off at Port Elizabeth Airport (they also have an office in the city centre as well).
If you do not want to drive yourself, you can book excursions to the Addo which include collection/drop from Port Elizabeth. Although a tour will cost more money, the benefit is you will have an experienced guide with you to help spot the animals as well as share lots of information. The linked tour is also all-inclusive of entrance fees and lunch as well, therefore you will not have any additional costs on the day aside from souvenirs.
Book a day safari at Kragga Kamma Game Reserve
Port Elizabeth is blessed with being surrounded by some of South Africa’s best game reserves and visiting one of them is one of the most popular things to do in Port Elizabeth.
If you are looking a day safari in a private game reserve as opposed to a National Park (personally, I recommend doing both, as I find they are both very different, special, experiences) then Kragga Kamma is one of the most popular.
Kragga Kamma is a big 5 reserve which offers both guided tours as well as self-drive safaris (self-drives are not normally something which is allowed inside private game reserves). The prices are also extremely fair with a 2 hour guided tour priced at around £14 per head and a self-drive at just £6 per head.
I have not personally visited Kragga Kamma but it is advertised everywhere in Port Elizabeth and I have heard great things from friends who live in the area.
What not to do when visiting South Africa
When planning your holiday to South Africa please avoid visiting ‘Lion Parks’ or anywhere that allows you to hold and interact with Lion cubs (and other cat species). These establishments all have links with the Canned Hunting Trade.
Book an overnight Big Five Safari at the Amakhala Game Reserve
If you are looking for something extra special then you will need to visit my favourite place in the entire world – The Amakhala Game Reserve. Amakhala is a 1.5-hour drive outside of Port Elizabeth, just a bit further on from the Addo National Park and it is home to the Big Five as well as a beautiful landscape.
The only way you can visit Amakahala is by booking into one of the on-site lodges, which many people tend to do for one to two nights, you cannot, at present take a day-trip here.
Generally, when your booking is all-inclusive of food, alcohol and game drives, so while it is expensive this is something to consider when contemplating the price. I have stayed in two of lodges on Amakhala now and I am more than happy to safe they are 100% worth the price and it is a once in a lifetime experience.
If you are interested in visiting I have created a whole post on the best lodges on the Amakhala Game Reserve.
Visit the SANCCOB penguin rehabilitation centre
While the most SANCCOB rehab centre may be in Cape Town there is a smaller sister site in Port Elizabeth. SANCCOB Port Elizabeth is situated in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve, the centre has been set up to rescue and rehabilitate the wild penguins of the Eastern Cape.
Alongside rehabilitation, the centre also plays a strong role and focus on public education. Visitors can visit the hospital and see the volunteers in action helping to save the sea birds, in particular, the three main endangered species that occur and breed in Algoa Bay, the African Penguin, Cape Gannet and Cape Cormorant.
The centre is located quite a far walk outside of the city centre, therefore, I would recommend using Uber to catch a ride there. Admission is also free if you have a Nelson Mandela Pass.
Be sure to check out the list of events for your travel dates in Port Elizabeth as every so often they have release events. On these particular days, you will be able to witness rehabilitated birds being released back into the wild.
My recommendation for accommodation in Port Elizabeth – Summerstrand
We stayed in the No5 by Mantis, a stunning boutique eco-friendly hotel, located in a suburb of Summerstrand in Port Elizabeth, No 5 by Mantis offers luxurious suites with a private terrace overlooking the landscaped gardens. Facilities include an outdoor lap pool and a spa. The restaurant is also impeccable and I fully recommend eating in there.
While it may be one of the lesser know South Africa cities, I really feel that for Port Elizabeth has something to offer and is a strong contender for any South Africa itinerary, especially if you are a fan of wildlife. A major benefit of it still currently being a lesser-visited destination is the prices are considerably cheaper than if you were visiting other more popular destinations such as Cape Town or the Kruger National Park.
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