The Best 10 Destinations to Spot the Big 5 on an African Safari

In the early days of game hunting the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, lion, African buffalo and leopard) were considered the most dangerous animals to hunt and these trophies were the most valuable. Although that’s how the collective term originated, thankfully today these megafauna are prized for entirely different reasons. If you’re looking to get up close to this collection of incredible wildlife, look no further than our list of the top 10 places to see the big five…

  1. Mana Pools National Park – Zimbabwe

The World Heritage Site of Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe is supreme territory for a Big 5 safari. Beyond game drives, you can also look forward to canoeing and walking safaris. Travelling by canoe you’ll get to see crocodiles and hippos as well as elephants and buffalo drinking along the banks of the Zambezi river. Possibly even more thrilling is sighting the Big 5 on a guided walking safari.

  • When to visit: The ideal time for spotting wildlife is during the Dry season when the vegetation thins out and the animals remain close to the river.
  1. Majete Game Reserve – Malawi

Prior to 2003 Majete was completely hunted out. Since those dark days, however, the game reserve has recovered well thanks to 5,000 individual animals being reintroduced into the area under the management of African Parks. This modern environmental success story has worked out so well that 200 elephants from Majete have been relocated to Nkhotakota Game Reserve. Today this reserve offers an uncrowded and unblemished wildlife viewing experience.

  • When to visit: You can visit Majete Game Reserve throughout the year, but wildlife viewing is best from July to October.
  1. Okavango Delta – Botswana

The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of Africa’s most classic wildlife destinations. While the delta is home to all of the Big 5, rhino can be harder to spot here. Visitors can look forward to seeing some of the big cats and also buffalo and elephants, which thrive in the wetlands. You’ll be able to spot common safari animals on a game drive, but try to fit in a guided walk or a river cruise in a mokoro – you’ll be able to see hippos and other animals that come to quench their thirst along the banks.

  • When to visit: The ideal time for wildlife viewing is from July to October.
  1. Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania

Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater offers superb wildlife viewing and is one of the best Big Five safari tours in Africa. While it’s possible for the animals to move in and out of this destination, most avoid the steep caldera slopes and spend their time on the crater floor. You won’t have to look far to spot the Big 5 and a special highlight is the black rhino, which is rarely seen anywhere else in East Africa. Leopards can be elusive, choosing to spend more time on the forested rim of the crater.

  • When to visit: Wildlife viewing is always good in the crater but can be even better in the Dry months when the grass is short, making the animals easier to spot.
  1. Phinda Game Reserve – South Africa

Phinda is one of South Africa’s top private game reserves. World class guides will steer you in the direction of elephants, lions, white rhinos and buffalo but the typically elusive leopard can be harder to spot. Ample cheetahs roam the reserve’s rock, mountain, forest and wetland areas. Accommodation at Phinda is excellent and features flour luxury lodges in the reserve.

  • When to visit: Wildlife viewing at Phinda is always very good, but the animals can be a bit easier to spot in the Dry season from May to September.
  1. Kruger National Park – South Africa

Being South Africa’s largest national park, the game viewing at Kruger is excellent. Whether you’re self-driving or going on a guided game drive, there’s ample opportunity to spot the Big 5. The park protects a diversity of habitats and supports a wide variety of wildlife. For the best chance of spotting leopards, head out on a night time safari.

  • When to visit: Wildlife sightings are best during the dry months from May to September when the bush is low and the animals stay close to waterholes and rivers.
  1. Akagera National Park – Rwanda

While it’s perhaps most famous for its gorilla population, Rwanda is also home to the Big 5 and a host of other savannah-dwelling animals. If you’re after a quintessential safari in Africa, head out to Akagera National Park where, thanks to the reintroduction of lions & black rhinos, the park now offers an off-the-beaten-track experience with plenty of chances to see the Big 5.

  • When to visit: The ideal time for a trip to Akagera is during the Dry season from June to September.
  1. Murchison Falls National Park – Uganda

Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park is as worth visiting for its spectacular scenery as it is for its varied wildlife. A boat trip to the base of the falls will yield plenty of opportunities to spot crocodiles and hippos and you’ll also get to see buffalo and elephants along the shores. While you won’t be able to find rhinos at this amazing destination, you can always visit the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for an exciting rhino tracking experience.

  • When to visit: December to February is a good time to visit for wildlife viewing – expect hot weather and wear plenty of sunscreen.
  1. Masai Mara National Reserve – Kenya

Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is home to all of the Big 5 and you can expect to find a large population of big cats, including the usually hard to find leopard. Make for the Mara triangle in the far west and you’ll be treated to sightings of  the elusive black rhino. Visitors to the Lake Nakuru National Park will be able to find large populations of white rhino which come down to graze at the water’s edge – a great photo opportunity.

  • When to visit: Wildlife viewing is good throughout the year, but to catch the wildebeest migration, aim to be in Masai Mara between late August and early October.
  1. Sabi Sand Game Reserve – South Africa

Catching the Big 5 in South Africa’s Sabi Sand Game Reserve is perhaps easier than anywhere else in Africa. Guided drives are allowed to head off-road (unlike other parts of the Kruger National Park) which means you can usually get closer to the animals than on a normal drive. Sabi Sand’s leopards are habituated to this area so you’ll be able to spot them easier than in other parts of the Kruger.

  • When to visit: Wildlife viewing is at its peak during the dry winter months from May to September.