Big 5 Safari Destinations
We have selected our Big 5 safari destinations on the basis that each one - with the exception of Namibia's Etosha National Park (no buffalo) - contains populations of lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. What is important to remember however is that there are no guarantees when it comes to actually seeing all members of the Big 5 while on safari: leopards are notoriously elusive for example, and rhino numbers are dwindling all across Africa.
Talk to your Africa Safari Expert about matching the right Big 5 safari destination to your requirements: some of our recommended destinations deliver better and more guaranteed sightings than others and we can also advise you on where to go for the best chances to see a specific animal, such as leopard, or for the most dramatic Big 5 sightings like huge herds of elephant or buffalo-hunting prides of lion.
South Africa: Kruger National Park & Private Reserves, Eastern Cape & Madikwe
Long a stronghold of the Big 5, South Africa offers perhaps Africa's most reliable Big 5 sightings in the private reserves that border the Kruger National Park, itself a famous Big 5 hotspot. The Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve is exceptional: leopards are relatively common and the reserve generally delivers all the Big 5 within a couple of days.
Private game reserves in the Eastern Cape as well as the far northern Madikwe Private Game Reserve offer fantastically easy Big 5 game viewing in a malaria-free, family-friendly environment though it should be noted that leopards are extremely elusive in these reserves.
Botswana - Chobe National Park & Okavango Delta/Moremi Game Reserve
You might well struggle to tick off a rhino in Botswana's two heavyweight safari destinations but since the country boasts Africa's largest elephant herds, massive numbers of buffalo and lion and healthy populations of leopard, you probably won't mind too much.
The Okavango Delta and Savute region of the Chobe National Park are fantastic for elephant, buffalo and lion at any time of year but the Chobe River is at its elephant-packed best from August to late October.
Kenya - Masai Mara
With all the attention focussed on the wildebeest migration, the fact that the Masai Mara is a Big 5 destination is often overlooked. Head for the private conservancies for exclusive Big 5 sightings, and if you time your visit to coincide with the August to November migration, your chances of seeing lions on the hunt are high.
Tanzania - Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater
The Serengeti's huge open grasslands favour the grazing wildebeest and zebra herds more than elephants and rhinos but the sheer abundance of wildlife will more than make up for missing out on a member of the Big 5. With the migration rolling through the Serengeti from November to July, your chances of seeing a lion kill are high, and the lack of trees means that leopards are easier to see than you might think.
Namibia - Etosha National Park
Namibia's flagship reserve may lack the presence of buffalo (though they are in the nearby Waterberg Plateau and Caprivi Strip) but the abundance of elephant and lion more than makes up for it. Etosha is also the best place in Africa to see black rhino; stake out waterholes at night and check them again during the day - both lions and leopards often use them as ambush points.
Zimbabwe - Hwange & Mana Pools National Parks
Zimbabwe is often overlooked as a safari destination but those in the know swear by its combination of authentic accommodation, friendly guides and uncrowded national parks. Hwange is the country's biggest reserve and home to about 30 000 elephants, as well as other less-seen animals like bat-eared foxes, wild dog, sable and roan antelopes and endangered black rhino. It is also renowned for superb Green Season bird watching - more than 400 species have been spotted.
Mana Pools lies on the Zambezi River, making water activities like canoe safaris (you haven't lived until you've paddled past an elephant standing in the river) and sunset boat cruises a major attraction. There are large four ('mana' is four in the indigenous Shona language) pools and low visitor numbers.