At the turn of the twentieth century, wild animals in Africa were found in massive herds, which at times took days to pass on by. Large scale hunting and man’s constant push for development led to their destruction and them being driven out of their natural habitat. Fortunately today, due to the efforts of government as well as private operators, the wildlife remaining in Africa has found protection in the numerous parks and sanctuaries across the continent.
So what are the ‘Big Five’ which compel tourists in their thousands to visit Africa every year? These are the five at one time most hunted, and now most loved and photographed animals that ever roamed the face of Africa namely – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino(both black and white) and Cape buffalo. The fundamental question remains where best to see them out of an endless selection of safari lodges and game reserves to choose from.
To help you narrow down your choice, a list of the best safari holidays to spot the Big Five has been curated below –
When to go for the Best Safari Experience
The key to any successful African safari lies in the timing of the holiday. While most of Africa is warm and sunny throughout the year, some areas do experience different climates. A little bit of planning and research will help you in determining the difference between the dry and wet seasons, which can help in enhancing the whole trip.
If you intend to go on a South African safari, then the dry winter season is the ideal period for game viewing, especially between May and October. Day time temperature is mild, malaria risk is low and animals congregate in large numbers at waterholes. Viewing is easy as the vegetation is sparse and trees are leafless. Between December to March is the wet summer season which is hot and humid with spells of rain. The landscape is beautiful, birding exceptional and provides a new game viewing experience as most animals give birth.
East Africa has more complex weather patterns when it comes to deciding on a safari. From January to March, game viewing in most safari destinations is at its peak. However, for Masai Mara, you will need to go between August and October to witness the great migration. Watching wildlife in Tanzania is best between June and October, while the wildebeest migration of the Serengeti is best seen between August and November.
Where to go
The Big Five safari spots selected here, each, have a sizable population of these animals. While actually seeing them all is not guaranteed, there are chances to see specific animals in some reserves and gradually tick off the Big Five within a few days.
Kruger National Park
Sabi Sands Private game reserve
Madikwe game reserve
All these above places are in South Africa, which has long since been considered to be a stronghold of the Big Five. While leopards are relatively common at Sabi Sands, the other game parks offer great Big Five viewing in an excellent family friendly environment, apart from the leopard which is the most elusive here.
Chobe National Park
Moremi Game Reserve
These are the three heavyweight safari destinationsof Botswana where, apart from the rhino, there are large herds of buffalo, elephant and a healthy population of leopards and lions. While the Chobe and Okavango parks are perfect for lion, elephant and buffalo round the year, the period from August to October attracts massive elephant herds to Chobe River.
Known the world over for the great migration, the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya holds a fair share of the Big Five. Scores of private parks and conservancies are present on the fringes of Masai Mara which offer exceptional Big Five sightings. If by chance you time your visit during the migration period, opportunities to witness a lion hunt down its prey are high.
Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater
You may not come across the Big Five easily in Serengeti, but witnessing the spectacle of vast numbers of grazing herds of animals will more than compensate for that. The huge open grasslands are home to millions of wildebeest and zebra apart from elephants and rhinos. When the animals trudge across the plains during migration, chances of seeing a lion make a kill are high. Leopards, too, are easy to spot here due to lesser number of trees.
Etosha National Park
Possibly the best place in Africa to see the highly endangered black rhino, Etosha, the flagship of Namibia is an extremely popular safari destination. Apart from the lack of buffalo numbers, Etosha is ideal for viewing elephant, lion and leopards which often use the waterholes as ambush spots. Visitors can spot these animals in a crowd free environment, both at night and day.
Where to stay
It is important to select the right accommodation for your Big Five safari. There are places for honeymooners, child friendly lodges and malaria free luxurious camps affording every possible luxury in the middle of the African bush. There are plenty of budget and mid range options to suit every budget. Have a look at Best Camping Tours and Gametrackers for more information.
What to Pack for an African Safari
After months of planning your safari dream is about to materialize but there are many last-minute decisions to be made to enhance the wildlife experience. To help you with your essential packing list here are a few tips:
- Passport, tickets, insurance.
- Prescription medication
- Prescription glasses, hat, sunscreen.
- Camera and binoculars (most people may carry camera but for optimum wildlife viewing binoculars are a must. As far as photography is concerned, Africa has stunning landscapes and colorful people and fabulous light for shots)
- Clothes and toiletries (packing the right clothes is important. They should be casual and comfortable and neutral colored. Pack hiking boots and quick drying fabrics with ventilation)
- Phone, music, laptop (with respective country adapter plugs)
- Torch ( a very good torch is a must as it can get pitch dark in the bush at the middle of the night. The new LED torch which fit on the head are sufficient).
- Travel diary (highly recommended as you will come across many experiences during the safari. Noting them down in a diary or a journal will provide invaluable information on future safaris)
- Hand baggage ( try and restrict your hand luggage to one item only, which is acceptable as carry-on luggage by the airlines).
When choosing any safari holidays in Africa the term Big Five is bound to crop up sooner than later. These nature’s most impressive beasts, though incredible in their own way, require careful research and planning to view them unhindered in their natural habitat. We are sure this guide will go a long way in establishing the same for you.