At a Glance:
No safari to Africa is complete without marvelling at an elite grouping of her most famous residents: The Big 5. Comprised of the lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino, the Big 5 are the crowning glories and likely the most recognised symbols of Africa. The mere mention of the one cannot continue without the other! Thankfully, this illustrious and majestic menagerie is found in several countries around Africa, from Kenya and Namibia to Botswana and South Africa, making a Big 5 safari a no-brainer to your African holiday.
East Kenya is home to thousands of hectares of national park and protected land, most notably in the form of the celebrated Maasai Mara and the Amboseli National Park and Tsavo National Park. The sheer collective size of these parks and their diverse terrain provide habitats for an array of wildlife — including the Big 5 — and an assortment of activities. Not to mention, if you visit at the right time of year, you may bear witness to The Great Wildebeest Migration.
The Serengeti National Park and its neighbours offer some of the best Big 5 safari opportunities in the country. Volcanic grasslands and vast plains are interrupted by rocky outcrops, rivers, volcanoes, and forests. The wildlife wanders freely across the Serengeti’s 1.5 million hectares, into Kenya’s Maasai Mara, and back.
To the south is the Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that, aside from being the only intact caldera in the world, boasts a fertile floor and an abundance of wildlife along with (you guessed it) the Big 5. Fun fact: many speculate — before Ngorongoro erupted — it would have been higher than the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro.
Undoubtedly South Africa’s most iconic game-viewing destination and Africa’s second-largest park, the Kruger National Park is spread across an impressive two million hectares of land in the far north-eastern corner of the country. As the oldest, largest, and most well-established park, Kruger is home to the highest population-density of the Big 5 in South Africa. It’s unfenced neighbour, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, shares the park’s prolific abundance of wildlife.
Despite its obvious appeal, you’d be remiss for thinking the Greater Kruger Area is the only place to enjoy a Big 5 safari in South Africa. From a low-yield cattle farm to a flourishing conservation area, Madikwe Game Reserve is a land of bushveld and grassland, sloping mountains and rocky outcrops. Brushing against Botswana’s border and the tip of the Kalahari Desert, the park has not only provided a haven for wildlife including the Big 5 but has also been a fierce proponent of community upliftment initiatives.
Etosha is home to one of Namibia’s most iconic attractions – and with good reason. It offers some of the best safari territories in the country, from the iconic Etosha National Park that lies centred in the land to a variety of private game reserves on its outskirts. Etosha boasts four of the Big 5, needing only the buffalo to complete its ranks. Both the park and surrounding reserves and concessions offer wildlife experiences that are as rewarding as they are memorable.
Hwange is arguably one of Africa’s very best game-viewing destinations. This massive park and its creatures can be explored on foot, on horseback, or on a game drive. Its impressive range of wildlife — from the Big 5, giraffe, hyena, wild dog, and more — is mirrored by the diversity of the park’s environment: the sandy southern part of the park skirts along The Kalahari Desert and is dotted with semi-arid shrubbery, while the northern grasslands are thick with granite outcrops and groves of teak and mopane trees.
Hailed as one of Africa’s finest wildlife sanctuaries, South Luangwa National Park packs a massive punch within its 9,050km² boundaries. Situated at the tail-end of The Great Rift Valley and skirting along the Luangwa River, this park’s savannah grasslands are populated by 60 species of wildlife and over 400 species of birdlife – making it great for both game viewing and bird-watching. Plus: Luangwa’s remote location and relatively low number of visitors mean you’ll be guaranteed an exclusive safari experience in an unspoilt environment.
Chobe is home to four of the Big 5 and its population of elephants is especially impressive, said to exceed 50,000 in number. From the verdant and lush marshlands of Savuti and Linyanti to the extensive floodplains running along the Chobe River, Chobe National Park is one of Botswana’s flagship safari destinations - thanks to its population of elephants and its status as the most biologically diverse park in the country.
Spread across less than 5,000km² of the Okavango Delta and home to the iconic Chief’s Island, Moremi Game Reserve is renowned for being a protected area of incredible biodiversity. While Moremi is home to an array of prolific birdlife and wildlife (including the magnetic Big 5) the local Basarwa bushmen also reside in the area, offering visitors an intimate look into their traditional way of life.
Not only are they on everyone’s safari bucket list because of their Big 5 status, but they are also revered for their sheer size and strength as the largest land mammals on earth.
Their stocky, armoured bodies and lumbering strides may fool onlookers into thinking they’re slow and perhaps even relatively harmless, but rhino safari onlookers would be mistaken.
Widely considered to be the most elusive of big cats (despite being the smallest of the big cat species), leopards draw animal-lovers and photographers to Africa in droves.
The lion is a large carnivorous feline mammal with a heavy mane around the neck and shoulders. These mighty cats are one of the most recognised members of the Big 5 and African wildlife at large.
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