Big 5 safaris to Africa include sightings of lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. Here's our guide to see the big five.

Game hunters in the early classic Africa safaris coined the term "Big 5" to refer to animals that were most dangerous and difficult to kill. Modern wildlife safaris have seized the term to refer to the must-see game animals on African safari, lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino. We guide you and suggest some trip packages to go see these majestic savannah celebrities on holiday.

Where to see the big 5

You have not been on a wildlife safari in Africa till you marvel at the big 5 game animals, lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino, on the open savannah plains. For photographers, the big five set the scenes for the most rewarding trophy shooting.

Many safari travellers dream of spotting the entire Big Five cast on the same holiday trip, but we can't guarantee you will sight them in one go. The big 5 animals are wild and roam free in the African wilderness. You must have a smart local safari guide to track their location, using their behaviour pattern and trails.

We organise our Big 5 safaris with an experienced local safari guide, who sometimes doubles as a driver to ensure you are there to catch live wilderness action.

A Lion-hunting action, a herd of elephants elegantly walking down the valley, or a mother leopard with its litters watching its prey over the plains washed with the golden sunlight. Let's take you to East Africa, our home and the birthplace of the Big 5 Safaris.

The annual migration of wildebeests, zebras, and the predator tailing them across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is a world phenomenon that attracts many wildlife travellers.

The Serengeti-Mara is where you are sure to see the Big 5.

The best places in East Africa where you can watch all the big five animals include the Mara-Serengeti, Laikipia Platou in Kenya, Ngororongo in Tanzania, Murchison Falls in Uganda, or Akagera in Rwanda.

However, to maximise the experience of watching the big five plus other noteworthy wild animals on safari, visit a combination of national parks.

Big 5 safaris usually combine at least two national parks on the same trip. Especially in Uganda and Rwanda, where safari gets off the beaten track to explore the rainforest jungles and meet the gorillas, chimpanzees and other rainforest celebrities.

A big five safari in Kenya, extending to Uganda or Rwanda for the mountain gorilla experience, is typical with most ground operators. Let's explore the big 5 game where you may want to find them.

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    Spotting the Big Five in Africa is an epic highlight particularly for first-timers

    1. Lion

    The largest and most imposing African carnivore, the lion is the most sought-after member of the Africa big 5. The African lion is the most social large cat, living in loosely structured prides of typically five to 15 animals. Lions have special cultural significance in most countries on the continent that enjoy a reputation as 'king of the beasts' and are popular symbols of royalty, strength, and bravery.

    These big cats are not born into a rank; they are egalitarian. Which means they don't have a permanent social hierarchy. One male may be dominant over the others, but that can change at any time. Lion society is also matrilineal; the females hold the territories and stay with the pride they're born into.

    We are huge fans of watching lions on a safari game drive, especially in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. There's nothing like watching a pride of lions roaming in long grasses reflecting the golden sunset over the plains. At dusk, you can watch the lions shake off the lazy afternoons, become restless, roar, play, and, if lucky, watch them get into hunting formation for a dinner hunt.

    The best places to watch lions in East Africa are Serengeti in Tanzania, Masai Mara and Laikipia in Kenya, and Queen Elizabeth National Park's Ishasha Sector in Uganda.

    2. Leopard

    The leopard is the most elusive, and also the smallest, of Africa's big 5 animals. Leopards are sneaky, naturally shy, elusively nocturnal, and harder to spot. These big solitary cats haul large kills, such as zebra or antelope, into tree-tops to eat alone in peace.

    These shy cats can be distinguished from cheetahs by their rosette-shaped spots, a more robust build, and their preference for wooded or rocky habitats.

    Typically, any wildlife safari guide will recommend either the Maasai Mara or the Serengeti, as this ecosystem's animal diversity is startling. Predators here flourish, preying on the great migration herds and causing exciting survival battles. To see leopards in the Serengeti-Mara, however, you should usually avoid the open plains where lions and cheetahs dominate. Instead, look up acacia trees or places with adequate cover for these shy cats.

    During Big 5 safaris in Uganda, you can spot leopards in Queen Elizabeth, Kidepo, or Murchison Falls National Parks. In Rwanda's Akagera, finding the leopards is challenging, but it is worth a try for a patient adventurer.

    3. Elephant

    The African Elephant is the largest big 5 and perhaps the most enduring symbol of nature's grace and fragility. It is also among the most intelligent and entertaining to watch on big five safaris.

    A fully-grown male elephant can weigh a whopping 6300 kilos. Even the smallest adult male rarely dips below 4000 kilos, which is way over twice the weight of an average family SUV. Females are usually just over half the weight of males.

    Savanna elephants are large enough to change the landscape, pulling up trees to make grasslands, dispersing seeds, and increasing biodiversity.

    Whether your most exciting encounter with elephants is with a sole bull or it's all about being surrounded by a herd of females and babies, you can see these massive creatures on any game drive or walking safari in East Africa's savanna parks.

    However, the best places to spot elephants in East Africa include Samburu and Amboseli in Kenya, Ngorongoro and Katavi in Tanzania, Queen Elizabeth, Kidepo Valley, and Murchison Falls in Uganda.

    4. Cape Buffalo

    Africa's only wild buffalo ox species is an adaptable and widespread creature that lives in large herds on the savanna and in smaller packs in forested areas. The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) or Cape Buffalo is the most dangerous African game species, especially if wounded or solitary. Its reputation precedes it as a member of the big 5 game animals recognized worldwide.

    African buffalo are huge, even-toed ungulates characterized by their stocky build and heavy horns. Horns are present in both sexes, and they are not ridged. The buffalo is easily distinguished from other animals because of its dark black colour and characteristic horns, which are smaller and lighter, curving outward, backward, and upwards. Ears are large and fringed with hair and hang below massive horns.

    These large cows can easily be seen in any safari park in east Africa. Even when driving by a park, look out your windows, and that big dark patch on the savannah might be a small herd of African buffalo.

    5. Rhino

    Identified by their characteristic horned snouts, rhinoceroses are universally recognized by their massive bodies, stumpy legs, and either one or two dermal horns. In some species, the horns may be short or not obvious. They are renowned for having poor eyesight, but their senses of smell and hearing are well-developed.

    There are two species—the black rhinoceros and the white rhinoceros—and five subspecies left in Africa. Those include the northern white rhino, the southern white rhino, the eastern black rhino, the southern central black rhino, and the southwestern black rhino. Due to largely poaching, the black and northern white rhinos are extinct.

    The African rhinos exist only in a few protected parks and reserves. Spotting one in the wild, with its stumpy legs and tank-sized body, you'll immediately understand how extraordinary these creatures are. You can see them on walking safaris in remote Uganda's Ziwa Ranch and on conservation excursions in Kenya.

    Reasons to trust Nkuringo Safaris

    Matt
    Matt
    2022-10-10
    Verified
    The Best! We highly recommend Nkuringo Safaris. Catherine, our Safari Consultant, planned an excellent itinerary for our family’s two week tour of Uganda, smartly balancing adventure and relaxation. Also, the lodges she selected were truly first-rate. In addition, she was a tremendous help during are arrival and departure from Entebbe. We also can’t say enough about our guide, Jack. He’s a fantastic conversationalist, and his expertise regarding the various communities, parks, and animals of this beautiful country is exceptional. Furthermore, he did a fantastic job of handling our three teenagers, including adjusting the day’s schedule based on conditions and energy levels.
    Ubub32
    Ubub32
    2022-10-10
    Verified
    ein unvergessliches Erlebnis, von Spezialisten organisiert und von lieben Menschen durchgeführt Unsere Reise durch Uganda vom 3. – 25. September 2022 führte uns von Entebbe – Jinja – Sipi Falls – Moroto – Kidepo Game Reserve – Murchison Falls NP, Kibale Forest – Queen Elisabeth NP, Bwindi Rainforest – Lake Mburo wieder zurück nach Entebbe. Wir hatten einen netten und sehr kompetenten Reisebegleiter, der mit seinem Wissen und seiner Erfahrung (auch als Ranger) uns viel Neues über Uganda beigebracht hat. Wir hatten viel Spass zusammen und trotz dem Regenwetter (rainy season) diese Reise sehr genossen – thank you very much, Jack. Die Reise war perfekt organisiert und es hat alles geklappt. Am Vortag ausführliches Besprechen des Reiseprogramms und am Ende ebenfalls ein Feedback unserer Eindrücke. Wir können Nkuringo Safari nur bestens empfehlen. Wir würden wieder über diese Firma unsere Reise buchen.
    Urs N
    Urs N
    2022-07-25
    Verified
    Unforgettable safari in Uganda We did a 19 days round trip and Safari in Uganda organized by Nkuringo. It was just outstanding and most impressive . Jack Twerebere was our driver and guide and finally our friend. He was outstanding and very competent in any activities. Thanks to him we passed an unforgettable journey, encountering all wilde animals including the big five and as an example six rhinos at one place! All lodges were very god to excellent and the food was delicious.
    BCSinig
    BCSinig
    2022-06-28
    Verified
    Amazing Uganda Experience It’s tough to describe just how wonderful our experience with Nkuringo Walking Safaris was. From the minute we arrived in Uganda until we left, they took excellent care of us. Our private Safari (for our family of 4), always had our wonderful driver, Em Ma, on hand, and also a guide for every activity. We felt safe at all times. The experiences we booked included the once-in-a-lifetime gorilla trekking experience in Bwindi, Golden Monkey Trekking (also an endangered species), and a Batwa experience, plus other hiking and canoeing days. We are an active family and our very active itinerary was perfect. This trip was a three-country vacation and Uganda was our favorite, due in part to Nkuringo Walking Safaris, but also because generally speaking, the Uganda people are quite welcoming and friendly. Also, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a must-do. Be sure to add this to your itinerary. Spend the money to fly to southern Uganda if you are arriving from Entebbe. The roads in Uganda are not great at all. As for the overall expense, it is not cheap. Even so, we recommend spending the money. There never was a time where we felt that we were not getting our money’s worth. They really do take good care of you- and this is coming from a very experienced travel family. We will always look back at this experience fondly and HIGHLY recommend Nkuringo Walking Safari’s.
    Frederick B
    Frederick B
    2022-06-14
    Verified
    Incredible Honeymoon organised through a fantastic local Ugandan company We actually did a tailored 12.5 day safari, hiking & primate tour of Uganda with a guide and we had the most incredible time. Nkuringo were by far the best company we talked with when planning our honeymoon. Incredibly helpful, knowledgeable, fast to respond and we felt from day one that they would plan and organise us a special trip. Planning such an ambitious (& expensive) trip to a country which, on the face of it, may not be the most obvious destination for a honeymoon was initially daunting but Nkuringo (particularly Catherine) took all the stress out of it. From the moment we started talking with Nkuringo to the moment we left Uganda everything ran incredibly smoothly. We didnt have to think about anything when we arrived other than to just enjoy every moment. Our guide (David) was simply amazing. Professional, incredibly friendly, endlessly knowledgeable about everything in Uganda, birds, wildlife, history, culture etc - he was fantastic.The lodges were great, the people so smiley and welcoming and the country as a whole was awesome. Highly recommend Uganda and very highly recommend Nkuringo. Final thing to mention was that the trip was not cheap, but that did not mean that is felt expensive. We felt that the trip was actually very good value for money. Non-stop once in a life time experiences delivered to the highest standards. Worth every penny for sure!
    Whitstone11
    Whitstone11
    2022-04-22
    Verified
    Top notch Safari organizer in Uganda We had contacted Nkuringo Safaris directly and together with the great team from Nkuringo we put together our dream trip. We were four and wanted to do a Rwenzori trekking up to Margherita Peak. The necessary 9 days were set. The remaining 11 days were perfectly organized by Nkuringo Safaris. The trip included a walking safari in Mihingo NP, a stunning gorilla tracking, a chimpanzee tracking, and other great experiences in the national parks. Nkuringo Safaris organized the whole trip brilliantly. They booked us the best, most beautiful and suitable accommodations. We were provided with first class VIP service. Our guide was highly motivated and very competent and humorous. We were able to enjoy every moment and felt well taken care of at all times. Due to an accident in the mountains, one of our fellow travelers had to be evacuated and hospitalized and had to cut short the trip prematurely. Nkuringo Safaris organized everything around this incident in an exemplary manner and took care of the organizational issues to the highest degree. Nkuringo Safaris also owns lodges (e.g. Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge) which are of outstanding quality. Probably Nkuringo Safaris is the 1st address for individual travel and safaris in Uganda. Nkuringo Safaris can be recommended without reservation.
    BackPacker710653
    BackPacker710653
    2022-04-18
    Verified
    Eindrückliche Individualreise perfekt organisiert Individualreise vom 21.1. bis 12.2.2022; 4 Personen. Route: 22.1. Entebbe, Papyrus Guesthouse / 23.1. Lake Mburo NP, Game Drive, Boat Cruise. Mihingo Lodge. / 24.1. Nature Walk in NP. Game Drive / 25.1. Transfer zur Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge, inkl. Lake Bunyonyi Transfer im motorisierten Kanu / 26.1. Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP / 27.1. Wanderung Bwindi Forest, Transfer Buhoma via Queen Elizabeth NP mit Löwen auf den Bäumen zum Kasese Sandton Hotel / 28.1. bis 5.2. Ruwenzori; Transfer zum Turaco Tree Top beim Kibale Forest NP. / 6.2. Ruhetag / 7.2. Chimpanzee Tracking am Morgen; Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary nature walk am Nachmittag. / 8.2. Transfer zum Queen Elizabeth NP, Cruise auf dem Kazinga Kanal, Unterkunft Kasenyi Safari Lodge. / 9.2. Game drives in QENP / 10.2. Rückfahrt nach Entebbe, Protea Hotel am Viktoria-See in der Nähe des Flughafens / 11.2. Freier Tag im Protea Hotel; abends Rückflug in die Schweiz. Planung: Aufgrund einer Empfehlung aus der Schweiz, haben wir uns für einen einheimischen Anbieter, Nkuringo Safari entschieden. Wir würden uns auch heute wieder vorbehaltlos und sofort für Lydia entscheiden. Wir haben die Reise nach unseren Vorstellungen geplant; Lydia hat uns dabei mit grosser Geduld beraten. Organisation: Die Reise hat tadellos geklappt, angefangen beim Empfang auf dem Flughafen, wo wir von Catherine noch vor der Zollkontrolle empfangen und speditiv durch das Covid-Testzentrum geführt worden waren. Die Anfahrt zum Nkuringo-eigenen Papyrus Guesthouse war kurz. Obschon Samstag-Abend, wurden wir hier von Lydia persönlich begrüsst; so wie wir auch am Ende der Reise, nach einem Debriefing, wiederum persönlich von Lydia verabschiedet worden waren. Jack, unser Guide und Fahrer des acht plätzigen Range Rovers, hat die vereinbarte Zeiten pünktlich eingehalten. Er und alle lokalen Guides wollten uns immer möglichst viel von ihrem Land zeigen – ein Land, das mit seinen freundlichen Einwohnern und seinen Tier- und Natur-Attraktionen (10 NP) mehr Touristen verdient hätte. Lodges: In sämtlichen Lodges fühlten wir uns wohl und gut betreut; stets gespannt, was unsere Gastgeber wieder auf den Tisch zaubern. Einzig das Sandton-Hotel ist mit seinen lieblosen Zimmern mit z.T. defekter Inneneinrichtung deutlich abgefallen – aber auch dort haben wir gut gegessen und war die Lage als Ausgangspunkt zum Ruwenzori ideal. Herausragend war die Nkuringo-eigene «Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge». Empfangen mit dem üblichen Welcome Drink und warmem Reinigungstüchlein, war die Handmassage hingegen unerwartet. Auch die Zimmer-Betreuung durch den House-Keeper mit Bett-Deko, Wärmeflasche und Cheminée-Feuer haben wir geschätzt. Fazit: Sämtliche Programmpunkte haben unsere Erwartungen erfüllt; übertroffen wurden sie beim Gorilla- und Schimpansen Tracking, ebenso war der Nature Walk im Lake Mburo etwas vom Schönsten. Auch die Bootsfahrten auf dem Lake Mburo und auf dem Kazinga Kanal möchten wir nicht missen. Enttäuschend war hingegen der Besuch des QENP. Die Herde mit 300 Wasserbüffeln war zwar imposant; daneben waren viele Stunden Game Drive wenig ergiebig. Könnten wir nochmals planen, müsste der Besuch des Murchison Falls NP unbedingt integriert werden – wir haben ihn vor 10 Jahren schon einmal besucht.
    Reto
    Reto
    2022-04-16
    Verified
    Bestens aufgehoben und betreut! Wir wurden auf unserer Reise bestens und sehr liebevoll betreut. Bereits bei der Ankunft in Entebbe wurden wir in Empfang genommen und bestens bei den Formalitäten unterstützt. Super Betreuung während der ganzen Reise. Bei meinem Bergunfall wurde sofort gehandelt und ich wurde ins Spital begleitet und ein sofort ein Transport mit Wagen und Fahrer organsiert, der mich innert kurzer Zeit zum Flughafen zurück gebracht hat. Eine Super Service, der nicht mehr überboten werden kann. Die Hilfsbereitschaft aller Beteiligten war top. Ich kann Nkuringo Safaris bestens empfehlen.
    Venture610601
    Venture610601
    2022-02-20
    Verified
    Outstanding experience! My husband & I have been fortunate enough to travel to many countries in the world. To us, Uganda is quite simply the most beautiful country on earth. It truly is the pearl of Africa. Why? Uganda offers stunning scenery (mountains, volcanoes, crater lakes, swamps, savannahs, forests), incredible wildlife experiences (gorillas, chimps, golden monkeys, safaris, birds galore!) and the people are so warm and kind. We booked our trip from the UK through an excellent company called Rainbow Tours. They arranged the trip with the local company NKURINGO safaris, based in Uganda. When we arrived in Uganda we were welcomed by Cathy & Arshley from NKURINGO safaris. Both of whom were very professional, knowledgeable & friendly. They provided a comprehensive overview of our two week itinerary. Arshley Brian was our guide/driver for the trip and he was truly excellent! Friendly, funny, punctual, helpful and he was exceptionally good at identifying hundreds of different birds! On our trip we travelled in a private safari jeep. All the lodges we stayed in were beautiful, with excellent service and delicious food. We started our trip in Entebbe. On day 1 we went to the swamps of lake Victoria in search of shoebills. We then moved on to Kibale forest region for chimpanzee trekking (a troop of chimps walked right up to us!), a community experience & a wetland walk - all brilliant experiences. We then went on to Queen Elizabeth National Park for safari drives (two hyenas came up to our jeep!) and a lovely private boat ride along the Kazinga Channel, we saw so many hippos & elephants and much more! We went to Bwindi, where we did a fab walk through the forest to our next stunning lodge! We spent an hour with the mountain gorillas in the Nkuringo sector (Christmas group). It was amazing!! We saw about 8 gorillas including the silverback, juveniles and a baby! Then on to lake Mutanda for a dug out canoe ride in search of otters. Then to Mgahinga for golden monkey trekking and the challenging Mt Sabyinyo Hike (three country/border hike). In Lake Mburo we went on a boat ride and saw so many fish eagles. We also did some fantastic safari drives and a bike ride amongst the zebras. We saw bush babies at our lodge and fell asleep to the sound of wild animals. We returned to Entebbe and visited Ngamba Island Chimpanzee sanctuary, where we saw about 25 chimps all of whom had been rescued. Our trip was absolutely incredible and we were so well looked after by NKURINGO safaris!! I would highly recommend using this company!!
    VitaliTaeten
    VitaliTaeten
    2021-10-14
    Verified
    Through Savannahs to the gorillas and back Just back from a fantastic 2 weeks journey through western Uganda. Excellent tour guide, well chosen places to stay enriched with a coninuos high level of local knowledge provided by local rangers have been the ingredients for this unforgettable experience. Our itinerary was a perfect mix of classical safari, boat tours, bush walking and of course chimps and gorilla tracking. Thanks to the experience of the guide and the rangers we had the pleasure to experience so many positive and memorable encounters both with poeple and animals.

    Other nature special interest experiences

    Gorilla Trekking
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    Join the daily gorilla trekking excursions deep into the tropical rainforests of Uganda and Rwanda mountains and sit close to a gentle silverback and his family. A forest adventure experience that will leave you forever enchanted.

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