Many people on their first safari in Africa will want to see the Big Five. The term dates back to the days of trophy hunting and refers to the most difficult animals to hunt on foot: African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros*. These days trophy hunting is frowned upon but the term stuck - seeing them is a great goal for those who shoot animals through the lens of their camera!
So what are the best places, the top spots, the prime locations to see the Big Five on an African safari?
South Africa: Kruger National Park & Private Game Reserves
Lions and penguins, traditional African cultures and Western creature comforts and some of the best food and wine on the planet - all that is South Africa. The density, diversity and sheer numbers of wildlife in Kruger and the adjacent private game reserves are almost beyond belief. It is not unusual to spot all the Big Five on one morning’s game drive. Game drives, night drives and game walks are best enjoyed at the private game reserves outside of Kruger.
Botswana - Okavango Delta & Moremi
With the highest number of elephants in the world, a huge continuous wilderness area where animals roam free, the tranquility of the Okavango Delta and rare species such as rhino and wild dog, Botswana is a safari destination like no other. And while Chobe is famous for its huge herds of elephant and buffalo, you need to travel south to the Okavango and Moremi to see rhino and have a chance to see all of the Big Five.
Kenya - Masai Mara
Endless savannahs awash in vast numbers of animals; tribal people who bring colour to the land. That is Kenya in a nutshell. As you are in awe of the herds of wildebeest on the Masai Mara, enjoy yet another glorious African sunset on the plains of Samburu, or spot a leopard in the trees of Nakuru, Kenya will capture you like few other countries do. But it is the Masai Mara where vast numbers of herbivores and predators inhabit the rolling hills, that should be at the top of your list. A must see for anyone wanting to see the Big Five.
Tanzania - Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Selous
Home to the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth - the annual wildebeest migration - Tanzania will impress you like no other place. Take a safari through the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater and you are almost guaranteed to see the Big Five. Or travel to Selous in the deep south: Africa's largest wildlife reserve is remote and sees few visitors. Yet wildlife viewing is unparalled, both from the water, from a vehicle as well as on foot.
Zimbabwe - Hwange
Zimbabwe's largest national park, Hwange has an incredible variety of animal species. While most famous for its huge herds of elephants, which congregate around water holes in the dry season, the Big Five can be seen here, including the rare and endangered black rhino.
Zambia - South Luangwa
While rhino is absent from this park, four of the Big Five can easily be seen here. The park is famous as one of the best places on our planet to spot leopard (pun intended). Some of the best safari guides work in South Luangwa, leading game drives and walking safaris unlike anywhere in the world.
Namibia - Etosha
Centred on a series of salt pans, Etosha is Namibia's premier wildlife viewing area. Watch from the safety of your vehicle, or sit at night by a floodlit waterhole. Some less-in-the-know sources will tell you you can see the Big Five here, but buffalo are actually absent from the park. Still, one of the best reasons to visit Etosha is its healthy population of black rhinoceros.
* technically there are two species of rhinoceros in Africa, the white and the black, so we should actually speak of the Big Six!