Most safari-goers want to see the ‘Big 5’ when they visit Africa, but often, people aren’t sure which species make up the collection or what makes them part of it. There are also misconceptions about the ‘Big 5’ species – are they the biggest animals? The hardest animals to see? The most majestic? These are all subjective and up to the viewer. We’ll help you learn about the ‘Big 5,’ and dispel common myths.
Africa’s ‘Big 5’ are made up of lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo. It is an absolute thrill to spot any of these animals while on an African safari, but where did the name come from? It actually originated from big game hunters during Africa’s colonial period.
The name took on legendary status and is now one of the sighting goals for most photographic safari enthusiasts.
The ‘Big 5’ can be spotted on safaris in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi, as well as on South Africa’s currency! Some countries are better than others for viewing these species, either because of population numbers, vegetation/ecosystem composition, or the ability to see them all in one park. Among our top picks for trying to see all 5 of the species during one safari (and perhaps even in one park or reserve) are South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.
South Africa is home to 80% of the world’s remaining rhinos, so it gets our unequivocal endorsement as the best spot on the continent to see these incredible prehistoric-looking animals.
Tanzania and Kenya are also viable options. It’s almost a guarantee to see the critically endangered black rhino in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater. On a lucky day, you might see all five species in the Crater, though leopard aren’t commonly spotted.
Kenya’s Masai Mara holds the possibility of spotting the ‘Big 5,’ but we would recommend a visit to Lewa or Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancies on the Laikipia Plateau. These conservancies have the advantage of more exclusivity and fewer lodges than the Mara. The backdrop is incredible – the jagged, snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya can be seen on a clear day, possibly providing a photographic backdrop for your ‘Big 5’ shots.
Kruger National Park is often credited with allowing guests to see all five species in a single day (but no guarantees!), and it is known for having epic leopard sightings.
Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is also very well known for leopard. With night drives being allowed in the park, you can also enjoy seeing leopards at their most active. Tanzania’s Serengeti is also a great park in which to spot leopard. With the world’s largest migration of ungulates, prey is abundant.
Elephants are widely dispersed throughout the continent, however there are some places with incredible concentrations of the world’s largest mammal.
Chobe National Park is a sure bet to see large herds. Even better, many of those sightings come with a beautiful, watery backdrop. Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park is also a beautiful setting to see elephants – every season brings a different scene in which to see the animals among huge baobabs. Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is another great place to see elephants – the park has artificial water sources for wildlife during the dry season, which makes for great concentrations of elephant (and other animals!) at waterholes.
Cape Buffalo are found in many of Africa’s ecosystems, and one of our favorites for viewing them is the off-the-beaten-path Kafue National Park in Zambia.
Lion numbers are decreasing, but there are still plenty of places to see these top predators. Other than Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana are also wonderful for seeking lions as well. Namibia hosts lions that have adapted to desert life. Seeing these cats in their arid environment is a very special experience.
Our passion for Africa began with a dream of living on the continent – a dream realized. We explored parks, rivers, mountains and villages, learned about the flora and fauna, fell in love with everything, and came away wanting to share our passion for a remarkable continent. Africa Adventure Consultants was born of the desire to give more people the chance to experience Africa’s wonders. Let us guide you into the wilderness.
Africa is enormous. There are endless things to see and do, and it can’t all be done in one trip. That said, we realize that many people believe that a trip to Africa is ‘once in a lifetime’ (though many more end up realizing once is not enough!). What do you most want to see? What experiences have you been dreaming of? Visit our destination pages to narrow your choices down, browse our safari types to get a sense of the activities and styles available, or talk with a Journey Specialist to hone in on the areas that will deliver the journey of your imagination.
We know it can be hard to narrow down what to do on vacation, especially with the wealth of choices that are available on the African continent. That’s why we have created an array of sample itineraries to inspire your travel. Browse through them – you’ll find everything from family safaris to honeymoons to Kilimanjaro climbs – and find the places and activities that excite you. From there, you can contact a Journey Specialist to start the process of crafting a customized safari just for you!