Hippo Tours at iSimangaliso Wetland Park: What You Need to Know

I did my first hippo tour at iSimangaliso Wetland Park and loved every minute of it.  

iSimangaliso Wetland Park is South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning 280 km of coastline.  It’s home to species such as the endangered Samango Monkeys, crocodiles and a whopping population of approximately 800 hippos!

Related Reading: Observing Endangered Samango Monkeys in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

A Herd of Hippo in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park

First Things First: The Hippo Tour

From some angles, you might think their smiling at you …  I mean look at the picture above! But I wouldn’t get too close without a guide if I were you. Although hippos are herbivores (plant eaters), they are considered to be one of the most dangerous animals in all of Africa. 

My hippo tour guide assures me they don’t want to eat you, but they do want to keep you out of their territory. Hippo males weigh on average 1800 Kg but can be as heavy as 4500 Kg. That’s anywhere between  3,500 to 9,920 lbs!

Only elephants and some white rhino’s are larger than hippos. Talk about pulling your weight around.

Heritage Tours and Safaris takes you up and close to hippos (safely on an open-air covered boat) in the largest estuary in Africa.

Related Reading: Durban: Lasting Impressions

Observing hippos in their natural habitat is one of the most incredible wildlife viewing experiences I’ve ever had!

Hippo seen on Hippo tour in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

Hippos: Africa’s Wild Ballerinas 

On our two-hour hippo tour up the estuary, I learned that hippos can’t swim or even float for that matter. They simply walk or gallop along the bottom like an aquatic ballerina, their toes just skimming the bottom. hippos are able to float or sink in water by controlling their breathing. If this wasn’t cool enough they also have the ability to hold their breath for minutes at a time.

They may seem whimsical animals but a hippo has one of the strongest bites in the Animal Kingdom. Hippos are also the only mammal that can open its mouth more than 150˚ – as this guy demonstrates:

Hippo yawning in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

Is he yawning because: 

  1. He’s threatening another hippo, or ….gulp….you
  2. He’s trying to cool down by yawning into the wind
  3. The most obvious…he’s tired

It could be any of the above.  Hippos yawn for all three reasons. So which do you think it is for this guy?

Related Reading: The Best Places to Visit in South Africa For Wildlife

Hippos as seen from the boat

Hippos Are Talkative

Before going on this impressive hippo tour, I  had no idea how noisy they were with all their grunts. Hippos are actually super talkative and have 2 distinct sounds, one sound above water and another sound underwater. Mostly they just sound like different pitched grunts to me.

But I guess when you’re resting your head on another hippos hips, it’s a good thing to be communicative!  Clearly, hippos don’t have personal space issues – unless you decided to join them of course, then that’s a different story!

Related Reading: Whale Watching in St Lucia, South Africa

Hippo seen on Hippo tour in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

Visitor Info for iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Best time to visit 

South Africa has great climate throughout the year. The best time to visit the iSimangalsio Wetland Park is between May and September when you can expect cooler weather. But don’t be phased by the fact that these are South Africas colder months.

The temperatures at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park rarely drop below 20 degrees Celcius and that’s in the middle of the night. Rainfall is also rare in these months so there isn’t much stopping you from getting out there and having the best experience on the hippo tours!

Where to stay in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

 I highly recommend staying at Umlilo Lodge where I stayed. It’s the most serene guest house that I’ve ever stayed in. The Lodge even offers traditional dinners for people that want a real African experience.

Best Hippo Tours

Increase your chance of spotting Samango monkeys, other wildlife, and even a leopard if you’re really lucky by booking a tour with Heritage Tours and Safaris.

Our guide from Heritage Tours and Safaris was incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about hippos.  I couldn’t have asked for a better guide!  Heritage Tours and Safaris runs Hippo Tours throughout the year and daily departures.  Visit their website for further info.

I also visited Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Park with Heritage Tours and Safari and saw WAY more wildlife than I would have on my own.

Best Way to Get Around

While I highly recommend doing the safari tours with knowledgeable guides, I also recommend renting a car since it makes it much easier to get to St. Lucia and in general for getting around South Africa.

My hippo tour in iSimangaliso Wetland Park was one of the highlights of my trip to South Africa!

Thank you to Heritage Tours and Safaris for my introduction to wild hippos – such a wonderful experience.  As always all opinions expressed are my own.

Enjoyed this content? Please share:

About Author

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains Adventure Travel. She's passionate about getting outdoors as often as possible and helping travellers do the same on their vacation in a sustainable way. She's Canadian and grew up in the Canadian Rockies but now lives in Munich, Germany. You can find her skiing or hiking in the mountains most weekends, hanging out with her cat or with her nose in a good book.


January 8, 2013
This looks fantastic! Sadly, hippos were one of the only animals I didn't see in South Africa (well, I saw some ears poking out of the water from afar but nothing like this!).
January 8, 2013
@Camels & Chocolate - Oh no! Guess you need to back and head to iSimangaliso :)
January 8, 2013
I can completely understand your fascination wit the hippos. I felt the same when we saw them en masse in the Chobe National Park in Tanzania. The only difficult thing was that the water was slowly disappearing in the dry season and they were all squashed together in small waterholes. At least there's lots of water for the hippos here. I love your photo of the hippo yawning..it's not easy to capture!
January 8, 2013
@Jenny - Sounds like an incredible sight! Thanks for your comment.
January 8, 2013
Hard to believe they are one of the most dangerous animals when you see them like this! Tey look so placid!
January 8, 2013
@Zhu - Agreed!
Sonja @ The {Happy} Travel Bug
January 9, 2013
I love hippos! What a great way to experience them! By the way, I think the yawning hippo is threatening because of the look in his eyes. :)
January 9, 2013
@Sonja - Me too and I like your theory! :)
Ashleen Moreen
January 9, 2013
I want to see hippos personally. Hippos are really great they are one of the endangered species and we must take care and love them. By the way hippos are great hope to see like them soon.
January 9, 2013
@Ashleen - I felt the same way too. Hope you get to see them soon!
January 9, 2013
Very interesting! I had no idea hippos couldn't swim or that they yawn for all of those reasons!
January 9, 2013
@Jennifer - I didn't realize they couldn't swim either.
January 9, 2013
Looks as if you have been close enough to smell the animals breath. Or maybe you just used a good strong lens?
January 9, 2013
@Italian Notes - I did have a good lens but we were really close.
Travis Page
January 11, 2013
Sadly, I've only seen hippos in captivity. I would love to get a glimpse of them in the wild. Dangerous or not, they are amazing animals.
January 11, 2013
@Travis - It was my first time seeing them in the wild as well. Agree that they're amazing animals. I could have watched them all day.
August 2, 2014
Hippos are really great they are one of the endangered species and we must take care and love them. I want to see hippos personally. Hippos is very big animals.
Muhammad Abdullah
October 26, 2014
Hippos remind me of dinosaurs, haha innocent creature!

Leave a Reply