Top six Africa safari spots to spot big cats
'This year, I’m booking a safari holiday'.
That sounds straight-forward enough, doesn’t it? Well the initial decision is always the simplest bit.
With an intoxicating setting of staggering, dramatic landscapes roamed freely by the iconic Big Five, the grand plains of Africa have tempted travellers and wildlife-lovers alike for decades – all that is required is a desire to give in to the allure.
But then you’re faced with a multitude of options to sift through:
- Which country to pick
- The season to visit in
- Classic canvas-tented accommodations or wooden lodges
- Walking and boating excursions or...
- Game drives and night hikes?
At Rainbow Tours, our Africa Travel Experts can help you with all of your questions and tailor-make the perfect safari holiday by combining your needs with our personal recommendations.
Spotting a majestic male lion basking in the heat of the midday sun, watching a proud lioness stalking unsuspecting prey through the grasslands or catching a flash of a cheetah as it dashes towards its next meal are experiences that vie for the top spot of many safari-goers ‘must-see’ list.
We’re always being asked about our feline friends, so we’ve picked our top six safari spots to see big cats in Africa.
Cheetah in the Wild
If you're looking to see some of the best that a safari can offer, few parks can boast a legendary wildlife reputation that rivals the Masai Mara.
In July, August and September this nature reserve heavyweight provides the backdrop for the Great Migration; over a million wildebeest and zebra risk dashing through crocodile territory around the Mara River to reach the fresh undulating grasslands of the savannah. The abundant plains, bustling with extensive populations of food attract large prides of lion, leopard and cheetah year-round, making the Masai Mara National Reserve a globally renowned spot for exceptional game viewing and up-close sightings of the predatory big cats.
There is ample opportunity to see big cats in Kenya. Here you can follow in the footsteps of Jonathon Scott, as he presented the beloved BBC Big Cat Diary series following the lives of the Marsh Pride lion family across the Mara, from his base at Governors’ Camp – a luxury tented accommodation we use today.
The grassy savannah of the Masai Mara extends further south into Tanzania forming the vast open Serengeti National Park and, oblivious to country borders, the vast herd migrations and moving predators roam unknowingly between the two.
The Great Migration occurs here from December to July as columns of wildebeest and zebra gather for the trek to Kenya’s grazing pastures.
Tanzania’s rivers burst with hippo and crocodile but the real stars of the Serengeti are found in the denser bush and Acacia that span the central regions of the park. Here, lion and cheetah are regularly spotted on safari excursions and game drives, but Tanzania is famous for another of its feline inhabitants. The secretive nature of the leopard makes them trickier to catch sight of, but the central Serengeti and the Seronera River Valley boast some of the best leopard sightings in all of Africa.
Suggested Accommodation: We really like Chaka Camp due to it's authenticity and eco focus.
The eastern border of the South Luangwa National Park is skirted by the endlessly meandering, indecisive path of the Luangwa River, a major tributary of the almighty Zambezi River.
In the rainy season the river bursts its banks, flooding the national park and transforming bare, dry bush into stretches of lush green vegetation.
The life that the river breaths into the region brings in the larger wildlife; herds of buffalo and elephant walk the plains amongst antelope and the snaking river and oxbow lakes are home to the valley’s crocodile populations.
For those looking to spot the big cats, regular encounters with lions and leopards on safari drives and knowledgeable guides experienced in tracking big cats entice travellers to the park’s bush lands and the park is well known for it's walking safaris.
Suggested Accommodation: Chinzombo in Zambia is a luxurious camp that has wildlife sightings in abundance.
Cheetahs at Governors Camp in Kenya
Zambia’s biggest and loudest character is not one found roaming on four legs through the African landscapes.
The Zambezi River thunders over the Victoria Falls, zigzags through the Batoka Gorge, flows into Lake Kariba and then continues more sedately eastwards through the Lower Zambezi Valley. Its course is flanked by exceptionally beautiful national parks spanning remote floodplains, broadleaf woodland and dense forest, supporting antelope, hippo, crocodiles and large elephant herds.
The calm channels of the Lower Zambezi enables river, boat and canoe safaris to take you close to wildlife and the park allows kayaking and fishing activities to add exciting variety to your holiday. The relatively untouched nature of the park is one of its biggest assets. Some of the the African big cats you can see here are prides of lion and leopard. These remain abundant and often easily spotted, hiding in the shade of Acacia tree canopies between hunts.
Suggested Accommodation: The Royal Zambezi Lodge offers divine views and more divine accommodation.
A series of private game reserves cluster around the western border of the Kruger Park, making up the Sabi Sand Wildlife Reserve – South Africa’s premier ‘Big Five’ game reserve.
No fences or barriers exist between the two allowing wildlife to move freely, but in the private reserves your guides are permitted to take you off-road and deeper into the wild bush – giving you the opportunity to get closer to the animals in their wild habitat.
The area is known for its excellent close-range lion and leopard sightings and armed bush walks if you wish to explore the area on foot with your guide.
This park is particularly special at night however, offering a series of late afternoon safaris that follow the reserve’s magnificent leopards into the early evening in the hope of catching them hunting in the dusk.
Where to stay: Nottens Bush Camp is a small family run establishment that puts simplicity at the forefront of everything they do.
Botswana and its beautiful range of landscapes inhabited by plentiful wildlife has helped put it well and truly on the map.
The Kalahari Desert is the world’s largest sand basin and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, to match, is the world’s largest game reserve.
For many years it was closed to the public, rendering it one of Africa’s last great true wildernesses and allowing large wildlife populations to flourish – including the big cats.
Lions, leopard and cheetah can be found throughout the park, waiting for the thousands of wildebeest, zebra and springbok that migrate to the area at the beginning of every year. And, in amongst them, you might be lucky to spot the majestic Kalahari black-maned lion.
Suggested Accommodation: The Kalahari Plains Camp has a strong eco focus that has daily game drives.
Black-Maned Lion in Kalahari
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