Go on the ultimate Big 5 safari in one of these remarkably wild destinations in Africa.
The African lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo are the most dangerous and difficult animals to kill, which is why collectively they are named the Big 5. There are never any guarantees that going to a Big 5 park or reserve will mean actually getting to see all of these perilous beauties, and some areas are likely to have a bigger population of one species than the others.
On the flip side, you may get to witness two or more species roamining comfortably together or even a big cat taking down one of the grass-eaters. It can be fairly difficult to see all members of the Big 5 on one safari so visiting the right park with an experienced guide that knows the behaviour of these animals can certainly maximize your chances.
Here are four of the recommended destinations in Africa that generally deliver better and more guaranteed sightings than others.
Masai Mara, Kenya
Safari enthusiasts visiting the Masai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration, often overlook the fact these plains are also home to all of the Big 5.
A stare-down on the grasslands of the Masai Mara © Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camps
Private conservancies, such as the Olderkesi Wildlife Conservancy where Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camps is based, are the best for exclusive Big 5 sightings, and the experience won’t be marred by hordes of tourists. The chances of exhilrating predator-prey sightings are increased between August and November when the plains fill with large herds of wildebeest, zebra and antelope. Extraordinary wildlife sightings in the Masai Mara abound during this time and are, in fact, very similar to what you can expect of the Serengeti.
Two of the Big 5 seen in one moment © Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camps
The Masai Mara is home to roughly impressive herds of elephants, rhino, thousands of buffalo and a healthy populations of leopard and lion. It is a year-round wildlife safari destination that can be experienced by game vehicle, hot-air balloon, on horseback or by foot.
Greater Makalali Conservancy, South Africa
Famously a Big 5 stronghold, South Africa is one of Africa’s safari destination with the most reliable Big 5 sightings in the private reserves that border the Kruger National Park, itself a famous Big 5 hot-spot.
The epitome of stealth, power and grace in the Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve © Samantha Hewitt / Garonga Safari Camp
West of Kruger lies the Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, where exceptional sightings of the elusive leopard along with all of the other Big 5 members can be had within a couple of days whilst staying at Garonga Safari Camp and Little Garonga. Unlike Kruger, the Greater Makalali Conservancy is one of the lesser-known parks in South Africa, which allows for a more intimate safari experience and possibly a better chance to spot the Big 5. You can expect regular elephant, lion, rhino and buffalo, whereas catching a glimpse of a leopard is a little less frequent.
Witnessing rhino in the wild is a rare and humbling experience © Garonga Safari Camp
Hippo, zebra and wildebeest are common throughout the park as too are packs of the highly endangered wild dog. Expert guides and trackers lead you through the bush on game drives or on foot, pointing out the varied animal, bird and plant life of the Greater Makalali Conservancy.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
While rhinos are relatively difficult to find in Botswana, the impressive herds of elephants and buffalo along with strong populations of lion and leopard found in the Okavango Delta (as well as in the Chobe National Park) might just make up for this lack.
Jabu and Morula are rescued elephants of the Living with Elephants Foundation © Sanctuary Retreats
A safari in the iconic Okavango Delta is almost obligatory as it is one of Africa’s last remaining great wildlife habitats and home to large concentrations of game. Excitingly close encounters with elephants can be experienced as part of the Living with Elephants Foundation’s activity at Sanctuary Retreats’ Stanley’s Camp. The watery floodplains and lush vegetation of the delta holds robust populations of rhino, lion, elephant, buffalo and leopard, which have all adapted in different ways to this specific wetland habitat.
The Okavango Delta grasses relative provide camouflage for game vehicles and predators © Sanctuary Retreats
Delta lions, for instance, climb trees to better survey the land and swim along the waterways to catch their prey. Buffalo are typically the favoured prey of lions so if you’re looking at a herd of buffalo, you might just to see a lion hunt in action.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
A famous wildlife sanctuary and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ngorongoro Crater is the 8th Wonder of the World. With over 25000 large mammals, including all of the Big 5, the Ngorongoro Crater has the densest concentration of wildlife on the continent.
There is always time to graze among the grasses of the Ngorongoro Conservancy © Sanctuary Retreats
The Ngorongoro Crater is, quite simply, one of the most naturally beautiful and wild safari destinations in the world. Staying at Sanctuary Retreats’ Ngorongoro Crater Camp provides an excellent base from which to venture out and witness the Big 5 in action. Keep your eyes open for other wildlife, including cheetah, jackal, gazelle, hyena, foxes, flamingo and large herds of wildebeest. The wildlife stays in the crater year-round, which means you can visit whenever you want but a low season safari will probably be more pleasant, as Ngorongoro is a popular safari destination.
On the move in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area © Sanctuary Retreats