If you’re deciding whether to visit the Shamwari Reserve or the Addo National Park from Port Elizabeth in South Africa, it really depends what you want from the experience. Both of these reserves can offer a contrasting experience and it depends on several factors to which you choose, including what you want to see, your budget, privacy, comfort, activities, and your time available. As the reserves are located very close together, to help you get a better idea of the differences between Shamwari Game Reserve and Addo National Park, we have written this brief guide on both areas.
First, let’s start with an introduction to these fantastic places with some info on their foundations and wildlife.
Originally established in 1931 to protect a small herd of the only elephants in the area at that time, the Addo Elephant National Park currently includes just over 160,000 hectares of habitat. Now protecting over 600 elephants and other mammals, this has grown to be the 3rd largest national park in South Africa after Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park that protects part of the Kalahari Desert.
As a private reserve, the Shamwari Game Reserve is a smaller protected area at 25,000 hectares and was established in 1990. Expanded from humble beginnings, the reserve started with the intention to help recover the wildlife concentration that existed on the Eastern Cape. Animals here were almost wiped out in the 19th century by farmers and South African settlers. Nowadays, the Shamwari Game Reserve contains one of the highest concentrations of wildlife on the Southern & Eastern Cape.
As for the wildlife similarities and differences…
Both the Shamwari Reserve and Addo Elephant National Park contain the Big 5, which includes lions, Cape buffalo, leopards, rhino, and elephants, however, given the larger area of Addo Elephant National Park and the higher concentration at Shamwari Reserve, you may have more luck spotting them at the Shamwari Reserve, especially over a short stay of a few days.
Aside from the size of the area protected, the other major difference is the accommodation options.
The Shamwari Game Reserve offers a premium and luxury-level safari experience, which means all the accommodation options offer 5-star service and offer a little more privacy and exclusivity than the majority of options in Addo National Park. Two of the luxury lodges in Shamwari Game Reserve are designed for families with the others suited for families with older children (over 12 years), groups, couples, and solo travelers. One of the lodges in Shamwari Game Reserve called the Lobengula Lodge offers ultimate exclusivity and visitors book the entire villa, which is positioned on its own in the reserve’s northern reaches. However, there are several luxury lodges for the Shamwari Reserve to choose.
A favorite Shamwari accommodation option is the Bayethe Tented Camp, which offers an open-plan tented design with the comforts of a luxury-level lodge. For families, a great choice is the Riverdine Family Lodge with a swimming pool with shallow area for children and a children’s supervised play room & jungle gym. Each of these options offers very comfortable suites, a swimming pool, and other facilities and additions you would expect from 5-star accommodation. The Bayethe Tented Camp also offers an in-house spa, however, if you would like a massage or spa treatment, this can also be arranged at the Riverdine Family Lodge.
From the lodges in the Shamwari Reserve, you will then enjoy twice-daily game drives in the reserve to find some of the Big 5, birdlife, and to see the beautiful landscapes led by very knowledgeable rangers and field guides.
Addo Elephant National Park does include a few luxury accommodation options within the park, such as Gorah Elephant Camp, Riverbend Lodge, and Kuzoko Lodge, but there are also accommodation options for other budgets. As well as the luxury accommodation options mentioned, you can also enjoy different lodges, explorer camps, and camping sites throughout the area. Note that the Addo Rest Camp remains the main accommodation option in the Addo Elephant National Park.
Although Addo Elephant National Park caters to more people and budgets, for a taste of the Shamwari Game Reserve and a luxury camp, you can also consider the Shamwari Explorer Camp. This is a walking safari in the Shamwari Reserve over two or three nights where you head out looking for Big 5 encounters, enjoy delicious food over a campfire, and relax in a very comfortable bed and tent.
Another difference between the Shamwari Reserve and Addo National Park is the activity options.
You can enjoy game-drives in both protected areas to scout for the Big 5. Within the Shamwari Game Reserve, there’s a more rigid schedule with a morning and evening game drive each day. These are the optimal time for wildlife viewing so you get the best safaris while having time to enjoy some other activities in the reserve or simply to enjoy your very comfortable accommodation preparing for your next safari.
Addo Elephant National Park offers several guided game drives throughout the day and you also have the option of self-drive safaris with or without a hop-on guide. In addition to the game drives, you can also enjoy horse trails both from in the Zuurberg Mountain section of the park and from the Addo main camp. Both the Addo National Park and Shamwari Reserve offer great birdwatching opportunities in addition to spotting the larger animals.
The Shamwari Game Reserve also includes some different sanctuaries, information centers, and rehabilitation center you can visit on your stay. These include the Ian Player Rhino Awareness Centre, Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, and Born Free Big Cat Rescue and Education Centres. You can enjoy a tour of these centres from your stay at the different Shamwari Game Reserve lodges.
Now let’s get more into the wildlife and habitat differences between the areas.
The main animals most visitors want to see on their safari are lions, leopards, elephants, wildebeest and also cheetahs. The big cats are seen as favorites and it’s understandable why. Cats are the most specialized predator of all the mammals and were once more globally distributed before human impacts. However, let’s not overlook the magnificent rhinos, giraffes, hyenas, and buffalo among the different large mammals to see.
All the Big 5 animals can be seen in both the Shamwari Game Reserve and Addo Elephant National Park.
Addo Elephant National Park covers 5 of South Africa’s biomes and is similar to the Shamwari Reserve, which we will mention below. The habitats can be roughly separated into savanna habitat, thicket, and forest. The park includes 53 different mammal species, including all members of the Big 5 of lions, elephants, rhino, Cape buffalo, and leopards. Both the black and white rhino are here and also warthogs, zebra, red hartebeest, eland, kudu, bushbuck, black wildebeest, springbok, and brown hyena. Tourists to the Addo Elephant National Park mostly enjoy spotting the large mammals, such as elephants and lions with many visitors wanting to spot elephants exclusively.
Both protected areas have needed to re-introduce wild animals and the populations are increasing to help restore the area’s biodiversity. Lions especially have been the most successfully re-introduced mammals to the reserves and although the most elusive, sightings of leopards occur in both areas.
All the Big 5 of lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, rhino, and leopards can also be seen in Shamwari Game Reserve. The habitat zones of the Shamwari Reserve can be roughly separated into savanna habitat, thicket, and forest. The most common animals to spot in the Shamwari Game Reserve are the white rhinos, elephants, giraffes, zebra, kudu, springbok, warthogs, lions, and cheetah.
On Shamwari Reserve safaris, the majority of wildlife time is often spent observing elephants, lions, rhinos, giraffes, cheetah, and the elusive leopards when we find them. Other animals are then spotted between these stars of the reserve. In total, 56 different mammals have been recorded in the Shamwari Reserve including the favorites such as the above species, but also black wildebeest, buffalo, and both white and black rhinoceros. To spot the animals in the Shwamwari Reserve, you can enjoy exhilarating guided game-drives from the excellent Shamwari luxury lodges.