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5 ways to see the Big Five on Safari

Go wild discovering lions, leopards, elephants, rhino and buffalo in their natural habit in Africa.

By Karen Pasquali Jones

When it comes to the ultimate bucket list nothing says adventure as much as seeing the Big Five up close in their natural habitat in Africa.

After months of lockdown, travelers want to explore, be inspired and tick off their dream of a once-in-a-lifetime chance of seeing lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo on an African safari in the savanna and camouflaged in the grasslands of the world’s second-biggest continent.

See giraffes on safari in Africa

Grand Africa VoyagePlane Luxury

Plane Luxury

But while it’s exciting to catch a glimpse of zebras, gazelles, impala, baboons and giraffes, as well as the Big Five, there’s plenty to discover in the majestic surroundings too. After spending the day on safari in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park take a flight over Mount Kilimanjaro, gaze down at the animals below before spending two nights in a safari lodge Out of Africa-style in Kruger National Park.

Private Houseboat

For the epitome of luxury, charter a luxury houseboat to sail down the Chobe River, the banks of which have one of the world’s largest populations of elephants – estimated to be around 120,000. Watch a herd approach the riverbank and then cross the waterway. Or get even closer by heading out to Elephant Bay on a tender boat with a guide on a water safari game drive.

The park through which the river flows is also home to buffalo, lions, leopards, antelope and birdlife.

Spend your days watching the world go by on one of the four luxury houseboats which are for private charter or head out on a fishing safari where you can try your hand at catching a tiger – well a tiger fish at least, one of the greatest fighting fish in the world. There’s also bream, African pike, catfish and upper Zambezi yellow fish.

Venture to Ijambwe – a Namibian village on the floodplains of the East Caprivi – to meet the Subiya tribe village elders and discover how the inhabitants of this 100-year-old village live. Or go on a walking tour, if you’re staying at the Ichingo Chobe River Lodge, to visit a 2,000-year-old baobab tree and learn more about the medicinal and spiritual value of Impalila Islands flora.

Ngala Private Game ReserveLion Camp

If you want to spot lions in the wilderness there’s only one place to go – the Ngala Private Game Reserve, which is linked to Kruger National Park. Ngala means lion and there should be plenty basking in the sun when you head out on safari.

Spend the night in Cape Town, sampling all this hip metropolis has to offer, then get back to nature with a visit to the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, nestled in the foot of the Warmwaterberg Mountains in the Western Cape. Camp out in the wilderness under canvas and try to spy hippos, cheetahs, giraffes, hyenas, black-backed jackals and springboks.

lion cub safari

Water Safari

Why go on a land safari when you can also do one on water in an action-packed trip that packs in four countries in eight days? See South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe on a whistle-stop tour of the area that features a four-day stay in a luxury lodge and water safaris in Chobe and Matusadona National Park.

Travel through stunning landscape where drowned trees reach skywards from the depths of the water on a unique cruise on Lake Kariba followed by a four-day stay in a luxury lodge located on Impalila Island in north east Namibia. Built around a 700-year-old baobab tree, Kaza Lodge offers views over the river banks and the savanna while Cascades safari lodge is on a private island where the Chobe river meets the Zambezi.

Spot elephants on safari in Africa

Addo Elephant National ParkJungle Adventure

Elephants are the most majestic of the Big Five and 400 of them gather at the Hapoor Dam in Addo Elephant National Park, the third largest national reserve in South Africa.

Observe these colossal but elegant creatures from close proximity on a jeep safari in the valley of South Africa’s Sundays River, against the stunning backdrop of the tree-covered Zuurberg mountains.

Alternatively, see 25 game species and 200 types of bird in Kariega Game Reserve before heading on a tour of Durban, the next stop, which is a melting pot of African, European and Indian culture. Starting from the city, an overland visit to Phinda Private Game Reserve offers a true safari adventure with game drives at sunrise and sunset.

There’s another chance to spot the Big Five in Zululand on a game drive through Hlulhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, which is home to buffalo, lions and giraffes as well as endangered black and white rhinos. You can spot 400 birds in iSimangalio Wetland Park, South Africa’s protected wetland area before leaving for Madagascar.

Spot the Madagascar fish eagle, the rare angulated tortoise, the Nile crocodile and several species of lemur at Ankarafantsika National Park.

Hike with rangers through the dense rainforest of Nosy Mangabe and spot white-headed lemurs and chameleons. If you’re lux you might the rate aye-ayes, which are said to have magical powers.

Published 02.03.22