Africa's Big Cats

When, where and how to see big cats on Safari

For many people the prospect of seeing big cats up close in the wild is one of the main reasons for going on safari.

Pick the right areas and you won't be disappointed. Get it wrong and neither you - nor the cats - will be thankful for the experience

The image of beleaguered cats surrounded by vehicles with sprouting long lenses has become an enduring image of why not to go on safari.

Thankfully, with a bit of know-how it's relatively easy to make sure you don't experience this yourself. Seven of the sub saharan African countries will offer you the chance to see the major cat species - leopard, lion and cheetah - in the wild. There are also plenty of chances to encounter some of the lesser known cats, from the diminuitive serval to the lynx-like caracal and the African Wild Cats.

There are certain things in Nature in which beauty and utility, artistic and technical perfection, combine in some incomprehensible way, the web of a spider, the wing of a dragon fly, the superbly streamlined body of the porpoise, and the movements of a cat ”

- Konrad Lorenz

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LION, LEOPARD AND CHEETAH

The Best places to go - and when to go

Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia all offer excellent opportunities to see the big cats. The best known locations are also those where you need to be most careful to avoid the crowds,  but avoid the heavily touristed areas and you'll be well-rewarded. Talk to us about this

Your chances of seeing lion are as close to guaranteed in the Mara and Serengeti as anywhere, while you have an excellent chance to see cheetah and leopard over a few days. For an insight in how to see the best of the Serengeti read five common misconceptions about the Serengeti 

The Okavango is an excellent place to see lions and the prides that hunt buffalo from Duba Plains are among the most famous. Here the private concessions mean you wont be among hordes of tourists. The best game viewing here is in the dry season, between May and October.

Ruaha in Southern Tanzania and Katavi in western Tanzania both have excellent lion sightings year-round, but particularly between June and October when large buffalo herds gather to drink on the rivers. Leopard outnumber lion in Ruaha and the terrain makes this an excellent place to see them. Cheetah are present in both these parks, but in low numbers.

South Luangwa in Zambia has built a reputation for leopard sightings. It's terrain of riverine woodland and oxbow lakes makes for perfect ambush territory. Much of the emphasis here is on night drives. While these can be a great way to see leopard, it's essential to do nightdrives only in the hands of reputable guides. A bad night drive experience can be disappointing to say the least - talk to Rod about how to get see the best of the Luangwa Valley.

Uganda boasts suprisingly good big cat sightings - from the fig-tree climbing lions of Ishasha, widespread leopards and an isolated poulaton of cheetah in arid Kidepo - and is the only country where you can easily combine a quest for Big Cats with Great Apes.  

For the best sightings of any of the cats, commit to time on the ground. Ideally spend a few days travelling through an area and remember not to get obsessed by just the cats. In our experience of leading hundreds of game drives, the cats are often seen when looking for other wildlife. While cat-obsessed missions can lead to disappointment all round.

Take a look at an outstanding safari that gets you away from the crowds with a great chance of seeing big cats in Northern Tanzania's green season.

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Top 5 safaris to see big cats

1 - The wildebeest Migration from Seasonal camps

Highlights:

The Serengeti boasts outstanding wildlife including one of the densest populations of lion, leopard and cheetah in Africa

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Top 5 safaris to see big cats

2 - The best of Botswana

Highlights:

The rich wildlife of Botswana's Okavango offers the chance to see all the major species, including lion, leopard and cheetah

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Top 5 safaris to see big cats

3 - Fantastic dry season game in Southern Tanzania

Highlights:

Ruaha, home to huge herds of buffalo is ideal leopard country and known for some of Africa's biggest lion prides.

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Top 5 safaris to see big cats

4 - Zambia's Big Game & Wilderness

Highlights:

Combine two of Zambia's best game areas - South Luangwa, arguably the best place to see leopard in Africa and Kafue

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Top 5 safaris to see big cats

5 - SIMPLE BRILLIANT CAMPS IN TANZANIA'S SAFARI HEARTLAND

Highlights:

A great safari for those looking to get off the beaten track in Tanzania's Serengeti. All the major wildlife species including cats galore

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And the lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep…”

- Woody Allen

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Our experienced travellers include:

Andrea Hulme
Andrea Hulme
Rod Tether
Rod Tether
Olly Williams
Olly Williams

It takes genuine local knowledge to craft trips that go beyond the ordinary.

All of us at Natural High have over 20 years’ experience in the countries we offer. We’ve lived there, worked there and arranged countless one-off journeys for clients. We live to travel – and love to share our tips on what’s really worth doing. For expert advice (and a traveller’s tale or two), speak to one of our team. They’ll be happy to let you in on their travel secrets, and help you plan a tailor-made trip that’s truly unforgettable.

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