The thrill of seeing big cats in their natural environment is a guaranteed life-changing experience. From leopards in Sri Lanka and tigers in Nepal, to puma in Chile and cheetah in Namibia, we’ve rounded up some of the world’s top travel spots for epic big cat adventures.
Known for their distinctive spots (or ‘rosettes’ as they’re actually called due to their rose shape) and graceful yet ferocious hunting style, leopards are one of the sought after ‘Big 5’ and the smallest members of the big cat family. While these majestic animals are hugely adaptable and found in almost any type of habitat across the globe, actually seeing one can be extremely difficult due to their stealth and camouflage skills. Largely solitary, shy and nocturnal, we’ve found 3 of the best places to spot those spots.
Yala West National Park & Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka
Located in the southeast of Sri Lanka, Yala West National Park is an important conservation area and home to one of the highest concentration of leopard in the world. With a professional guide you can catch a glimpse of these beautiful creatures, particularly during the dry season between February and September. Less visited than Yala but just as impressive in terms of scenery and wildlife, Wilpattu National Park on Sri Lanka’s North West coast is home to a significant number of leopards who roam this vast wilderness.
Recommended Safari: Wild Sri Lanka in a Nutshell
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
With its immense areas of remote wilderness coupled with relatively few tourists, a visit to Zambia offers a taste of the ‘real’ Africa. In the eastern part of this incredible country, South Luangwa National Park is a world-renowned wildlife haven and a leopard hot spot, with night game drives giving you the ideal opportunity of seeing one in action.
Recommended Safari: Luangwa Walking Safari
Hemis National Park, India
A high altitude national park, Hemis is well known for its population of the endangered snow leopard, believed to be the highest density of them in any protected area in the world. Recognised by its long tail and almost-white coat, snow these elusive leopards are adapted to the cold, barren landscape; look out for them perched on high rocks or balanced on a vertical ridge.
Recommended Safari: Snow Leopard Expedition
Perhaps the most iconic of African animals, lions form part of the ‘Big 5’ and are the most sociable of all the big cats, living in prides or groups of approximately 15 animals and working together as a group to hunt and protect their young. These majestic creatures spend much of their day napping; seeing a pride sprawled out in the grasslands or if you’re lucky a lioness on the hunt, is simply incredible. Here are our recommended spots for trying your luck.
Masai Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem, Kenya & Tanzania
Known as ‘Big Cat Country’, the Serengeti Ecosystem, which spans northern Tanzania and southern Kenya, is home to the largest lion populations on the African continent and is one of the best places to see these powerful creatures. Each year, the legendary wildebeest migration in the Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara National Reserve attracts predators including lions, increasing your chances of spotting them in action.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s best known, most established and largest nature reserve is Hwange National Park, home to more than 100 species of mammals, including a population of around 450 lion, made famous by Cecil the Lion whose legacy very much lives on here. Stay in superb safari camps and explore on foot or by vehicle. With Zimbabwe’s low tourist numbers it can often feel as though you have this remarkable park all to yourself!
Recommended Safari: Affordable Victoria Falls and Hwange Experience
Ishasha sector, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Named the ‘Pearl of Africa’ by Winston Churchill, Uganda is home to some of the most diverse and concentrated African wildlife. The Queen Elizabeth National Park is a popular tourist area and its Ishasha sector offers one of the only places in the world to see tree-climbing lions lazing in the branches of huge fig trees.
Recommended Safari: Queen Elizabeth Wildlife Safari
Unlike many predators, these beautiful fierce felines hunt during the day to avoid competition – and their hunting skills are truly exhilarating to see. Usually found in groups consisting of a mother and her young or a coalition of males, they may be the fastest land animals in the world but you can still catch a glimpse at our top spots.
Moremi & Central Kalahari Game Reserves, Botswana
Botswana is among the most sparsely populated countries in the world so it’s no surprise that safari tours are both popular and fruitful for those seeking some of Southern Africa’s untouched wilderness. The Moremi Game Reserve within the Okavango Delta offers a contrasting landscape of permanent water reserves, swamplands, forests and drier areas plus a high chance of spotting leopard. The centre of Botswana is dominated by the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the second largest reserve in the world. Big cats rule here and you can find leopards, lions and cheetahs among flat bushland, fossilized saltpans and river valleys.
Recommended Safari: Botswana Budget Fly-in Safari
Khar Touran, Iran
While almost all wild cheetah live in Sub Saharan Africa, a small population of Asiatic cheetah can be found in Iran. Khar Touran National Park is the second largest reserve in Iran, home to one of the largest populations, about 12-15, of the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah.
Recommended Safari: Iran Wildlife Tour
Unique in Africa, Etosha National Park’s main characteristic is a salt pan so vast it can be seen from space. An abundance of wildlife congregates around waterholes and makes for almost guaranteed sightings of game including cheetah. The Okonjima Nature Reserve in central Namibia is home to the AfriCat Foundation, a non-profit organisation set up to support the long-term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores including cheetah, brown hyena and leopard. A visit here offers up activities including tracking rehabilitated animals on foot, visiting the AfriCat Carnivore Care & Information Centre and game drives.
Recommended Safari: 10 Day Namibian Explorer
The largest of the big cats, tigers can be found in India, Nepal, Russia, Bhutan and South-East Asia where there are very few left. Hugely endangered due to illegal hunting and land development, to see one of these magnificent animals in the wild is an absolute treat. Here’s where to find them.
Ranthambore, Pench, Kanha & Bandhavgarh National Parks, India
Researchers believe that India holds around half of the world’s remaining wild tigers in over 47 established tiger reserves set up by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. The Bandhavgarh, Ranthambore, Pench and Kanha National Parks are particularly well known for their frequent tiger sightings and truly rewarding experience.
Recommended Safari: Lure of Indian Wilderness
Royal Bardia & Chitwan National Parks, Nepal
Bardia National Park in west Nepal and Chitwan National Park in Nepal’s southern region offer pristine jungle, forest, marshes and river, home to an incredible selection of wildlife including the endangered Royal Bengal tiger. Explore Chitwan by jeep, canoe or even on foot with an experienced guide whose knowledge can help spot these majestic creatures amongst the dense jungle or head to Bardia where thinner vegetation and less watering holes give you an even better chance of a sighting.
Recommended Safari: Tiger Safari in Royal Bardia National Park
Puma (or cougar)
Found in North and South America, this large cat is often known as the cougar or mountain lion. Extremely adaptable to its environment, the puma is an expert ambush predator and one of the best jumpers in the large cat family. The puma is nocturnal although it isn’t all that rare to see one in the daytime – and here’s where you can do so.
Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile
The spectacular rugged landscape of Torres del Paine National Park, encompassing mountains, glaciers, lakes and rivers, is the most beautiful backdrop to a puma sighting. Expert guides and trackers will give you the very best chance of getting up close to these fabulous felines.
Recommended Safari: Pumas of Torres del Paine
With its distinctive pointed ears topped with elegant black tufts designed to pick up the sounds of distant prey, the caracal is a solitary nocturnal creature with a reddish colour coat and long, sturdy legs which allow them to leap straight up and snatch birds from the air. While these cats like to keep to themselves, it is definitely possible to see one – and we’ve found the best spots.
Kruger & Addo National Parks, South African
The Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest game parks hosting an incredible variety of wildlife including the caracal. While there is no shortage of these gorgeous cats in the area, a sighting can be rare given their shy, solitary temperament, however expert guides know the exact areas to head to in order to increase your chances.
Recommended Safari: Essential Kruger Safari
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds and reptiles, caracal numbers are high in the Etosha National Park, one of Namibia’s very best game reserves. During the dry season, the concentration of watering holes draw the game and are perfect for observing from afar.
Recommended Safari: Classic Namibia Safari
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