blog8 Reasons to Fall in Love with iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Posted on:October 28, 2023

While the Kruger National Park often steals the spotlight as a must-see destination for African safaris, there is a hidden gem in South Africa – iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The heritage site, a mere two-and-a-half-hour drive from Durban, should also be on the nature-oriented tourist’s radar. As a result, we put together a convincing argument as to why you cannot afford to skip a visit to the site. We have 8 reasons why iSimangaliso Wetland Park should form part of your itinerary when visiting South Africa.

However, let us learn a little bit about the site’s history and geographic location:

About iSimangaliso Wetland Park: A Marvel of Nature

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, formerly Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site approximately 235 kilometres north of Durban. It covers 3,280 square kilometres and stretches 280 kilometres along the coastline. The park boasts diverse ecosystems and abundant wildlife, including elephants, giraffes, leopards, rhinos, buffalo, whales, dolphins, and marine turtles. Visitors can also spot crocodiles, hippopotamuses, and occasionally a whale shark.

The singular uniqueness of iSimangaliso is perhaps best highlighted in the words of Nelson Mandela: “iSimangaliso must be the only place on earth where the oldest land mammal (rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest terrestrial mammal (elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (whale)”.

More about the heritage site

Here are 8 compelling reasons to visit iSimangaliso Wetland Park and ensure it’s on your South African travel itinerary.


See the Mighty Big Seven

In addition to encountering Africa’s renowned Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), iSimangaliso offers the unique opportunity to see the southern right whale and the great white shark, which make up the phenomenal Big Seven. As one Australian guest expressed on TripAdvisor, the area’s diverse ecosystems make it a “must-visit” destination, with several days required to truly appreciate its wonders, from whale watching to game drives. iSimangaliso Wetland Park is undeniably a treasure trove waiting for exploration.


Boat Trip on Lake St Lucia

Lake St. Lucia is Africa’s largest body of fresh water and home to over 1,200 crocodiles and 800 hippopotamuses, as well as large flocks of water birds, including flamingos, pelicans, and ducks. Visitors can charter one of three daily 2-hour boat cruises across the water, where they can sit back and watch the playful antics of the hippos splashing in the water. The tours also offer excellent sightings of crocodiles basking in the sunshine.


Turtle Tours in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The warm embrace of the azure Indian Ocean and the expansive sandy beaches along iSimangaliso’s coastline provides an ideal haven for endangered leatherback and loggerhead turtles to nest. This stretch is the only location in South Africa where you can witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of a mother turtle heaving herself up the beach to lay her eggs. Two months later, the sight of hundreds of hatchlings making their short but unpredictable journey back to the ocean is an unforgettable highlight that adds a touch of adventure to your safari experience. Thonga Beach Lodge and Kosi Forest Lodge offer guided turtle tours within the designated nesting season.


Birdwatcher’s Paradise

iSimangaliso is a dream destination for birding enthusiasts, with over 526 bird species thriving in the area. From lakes and forests to coastal inlets and sandy beaches, every corner of the park presents a different mini-ecosystem, attracting an enormous variety of resident and migratory bird species. Capturing every birdwatching moment presents the avid birdwatcher with an irresistible challenge.


Snorkelling and Scuba Diving

The clear, warm water of the sub-tropical Indian Ocean offers phenomenal opportunities for scuba diving and snorkeling on pristine coral reefs within the iSimangaliso Marine Protected Area, where over 1250 fish species are known to occur. Beneath the surface, a whole kaleidoscope of vibrant marine life is yours to discover, including the chance to share the deep with dolphins and even sea turtles. Thonga Beach Lodge operates their dive boat directly from the lodge, while both Thonga and Kosi Forest Lodge offer exquisitely guided snorkeling excursions.


Take a Serene Boat Cruise or a Canoeing Adventure

There are numerous picturesque lakes and estuaries to discover within iSimangaliso. Guided canoeing trips explore the network of Raphia Palm-lined channels that feed into the system of lakes, enjoyable from the comfort of a tranquil boat cruise. These guided tours allow guests to see Nile crocodiles and the hefty hippopotamus from the safety of a sturdy vessel. The abundance of aquatic life that inhabits the lakes is astounding. Do not forget your camera to capture that iconic African sunset.


Heartwarming Hospitality of the Locals

Beyond its natural wonders, iSimangaliso Wetland Park reveals evidence of human occupation dating back to the Stone and Iron Ages. To this day, there are visible examples of subsistence and cultural practices dating back centuries. Visitors to the area consistently attest to the friendly smiles and warm hospitality extended by the local people, creating a unique and heartwarming dimension to the overall experience.

Whale Watching

Each year, between June and November, humpback whales pass through the area on their way to the south coast of Africa. Visitors can enjoy spectacular sightings of the whales from the shore and book a chartered boat to get up close and personal with these ocean giants out across the waves.

Accommodation at iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Proximity to tourist attractions is crucial for travelers. You do not want to spend time on the road instead of enjoying sightseeing and safari activities at your earliest convenience in the day. As such, Isibindi boasts two lodges close to Isimangaliso Wetland Park.

Thonga Beach Lodge

Thonga Beach Lodge is a secluded paradise that can only be reached by those seeking adventure and luxurious relaxation. It rests on the beach in the heart of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park and is a short drive from Lake Sibaya, the largest freshwater lake in South Africa. Due to its remote location, a suitable 4×4 vehicle is necessary for self-driving to our lodge. You can alternatively use the lodge’s 4×4 transfers from LIBRODI LODGE in Sodwana Bay twice daily. Guests arriving earlier than expected can park their vehicles at a secure complex that offers a coffee shop and spa.

Check availability for bookings at the lodge

Kosi Forest Lodge

Kosi Forest Lodge overlooks the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. The lodge offers an exclusive escape into the heart of the African wilderness, with eco-conscious practices, comfortable rooms, and open-air bathrooms. Access to the lodge requires a 4×4 vehicle, but twice-daily transfers are available from Manguzi (KwaNgwanasi) for convenience.

Check availability for bookings at the lodge


In A Nutshell

iSimangaliso Wetland Park offers an opportunity to experience the best of South Africa’s wildlife and landscapes. Whether you are a seasoned safari-goer or a nature enthusiast discovering Africa for the first time, iSimangaliso has something for everyone. From witnessing the Big 7 or turtles nesting, the park will leave you with unforgettable memories. Beyond the natural wonders, the park offers a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the local people, ensuring a holistic travel experience.

So, do not miss the chance to explore iSimangaliso Wetland Park – a jewel in the crown of South Africa. Get in touch with Isibindi Africa for a guided tour.


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