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A Big 5 safari is one of the most popular types of holidays to Africa. Seeing elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo in the wild – often within mere metres of the game-drive vehicle – is very different to seeing them in a nature documentary. There is nothing to compare watching a breeding herd of elephants pass by, the matriarch deciding the way, the little ones being protected in the middle, the teenage bulls practicing being protective. Buffalo may seem inscrutable at first but a herd on the move has awe-inspiring power that intimidates even lions. Lions are very social and the pride will groom each other, play and stretch out in the shade until it’s time to hunt again.

Although sightings of all of the Big 5 can never be guaranteed, our expert travel consultants can advise you about which animals are most commonly spotted in each destination and the best time of year for their sightings. We know how important it is for you to see Africa’s signature animals, which is why we will tailor-make a Big 5 safari for you depending on whether you are focused on travelling to a specific country or at a specific time of year.

Leopards, on the other hand, are solitary, quiet, watchful and elusive. Preferring thicket and tall trees, they can put you through your paces when trying to find them. The rarest of all the Big 5 are, sadly, rhino. Because they are found only in a few select places, the presence of rhino will determine where you go for your Big 5 safari. Their numbers are highest in South Africa and although they are found in other safari destinations, the chances of seeing them are much lower. In South Africa’s beautiful reserves, it is not unknown to see all of the Big 5 in a single trip. If this is your dream, chat to us so we can put you in the right place, at the right time.


  • A must-do for first-timers to Africa
  • Best chances of seeing the Big 5 overlap with Africa’s easiest safari destinations
  • Big 5 lodges are generally extremely comfortable
  • Seeing a rhino in the wild is rare privilege
  • A once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience that can be had nowhere else
  • Exciting to see big cats in their natural habitat


Embarking on a Big 5 safari in Africa is not just a thrilling adventure but also a journey through the diverse landscapes where these magnificent creatures dwell. The term “Big 5” has a fascinating origin and encompasses five of Africa’s most celebrated wildlife species: the elephant, rhino, leopard, lion, and buffalo. Let’s delve deeper into why these animals enjoy such prestigious recognition and uncover some intriguing facts about them.

Why Are They Named the Big 5?

The term “Big 5” was coined by big-game hunters to denote the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot in Africa due to their danger and the challenge they presented. Today, the term has transcended its hunting origins, representing a bucket list for wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists who seek to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitats.

Intriguing Trivia About Each Member of the Big 5

The Elephant

  • Cognitive Prowess: Elephants are celebrated for their remarkable intelligence and emotional depth, exhibiting behaviours such as grieving, playing, and altruism.
  • Matriarchal Societies: Herds are often led by a seasoned female matriarch, whose profound knowledge guides the group to water and food sources, ensuring their survival in arduous environments.

The Rhino

  • Horn Composition: Contrary to popular belief, a rhino’s horn is not made of bone but of keratin, the same protein that makes up human hair and nails.
  • Species Diversity: There are two species found in Africa; however, it is only the Black Rhino, which is more elusive and has a prehensile upper lip, that is part of the Big 5. The White Rhino, which boasts a square-shaped lip is more sociable.

The Leopard

  • Adaptability: Leopards can thrive in various habitats, from deserts and mountains to jungles and grasslands, owing to their versatile diet and ability to swim and climb.
  • Stealth Hunters: Known for their exceptional stealth and strength, leopards can carry prey up a tree to protect it from scavengers.

The Lion

  • Vocalisation: A lion’s roar, utilised to communicate and mark territory, can be heard up to 8 kilometres away, resonating majestically through the African plains.
  • Social Cats: Lions are the most social big cats, living in prides that exhibit a complex, hierarchical structure, and intricate social bonds.

The Buffalo

  • Impressive Memory: Buffalos have remarkable memories, enabling them to remember the locations of water holes over vast distances and recall encounters with other creatures.
  • Defensive Strategy: When threatened, buffalo herds form a robust defensive formation, with strong males forming a shield around females and calves to protect them from predators.

Exploring Beyond the Big 5: Meet Other Celebrated Wildlife Groups

Africa’s biodiversity transcends the renowned Big 5, inviting explorers to delve deeper into its rich tapestry of wildlife through other distinguished groups of animals, such as the “Little 5”, “Ugly 5”, “Secret 7”, and “Big 7”.

  • The Little 5: Taking their names from the Big 5 giants, the Little 5 include the elephant shrew, ant lion, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, and leopard tortoise. These smaller creatures offer a delightful contrast and demonstrate that the continent’s smaller inhabitants are just as fascinating and worthy of admiration and conservation efforts.

  • The Ugly 5: Embracing the unconventional beauty of the animal kingdom, the Ugly 5 features the warthog, vulture, wildebeest, marabou stork, and hyena. Despite their less glamorous appearances, these animals play crucial roles in maintaining the balance of Africa’s ecosystems.

  • The Secret 7: A treasure for night safari enthusiasts, the Secret 7 comprises largely nocturnal animals: the aardvark, African wild cat, civet, large spotted genet, pangolin, porcupine, and serval. These elusive creatures add a dash of mystery and excitement to the safari experience under the African starlit sky.

  • The Big 7: Extending the adventure into the aquatic realms, the Big 7 adds the great white sharks and southern right whales to the conventional Big 5. In select reserves like Phinda, explorers can marvel at the grandeur of these marine giants, appreciating Africa’s terrestrial and aquatic wonders alike.

Venturing through Africa’s wilderness, each group introduces travellers to the myriad of creatures that grace the continent, from the charmingly minuscule to the impressively mighty, and from the visually arresting to the mysteriously hidden. Every journey through Africa’s varied landscapes promises diverse encounters, urging explorers to look beyond the obvious and embrace the wild, wondrous world that awaits.



Without a doubt, the greatest place on earth to see the Big 5 is the Kruger National Park and its surrounding private reserves in South Africa. The terrain here is varied enough to provide each member with their preferred habitat, from open grasslands for buffalo and lion to rocky outcrops and thicket for leopard. Rhino are very well protected and the Greater Kruger, fortunately, remains a stronghold for them. Because it is a fairly small area, guides share sightings and they don’t take long to reach, increasing your chances of spotting all of them in a single trip.



Also in South Africa, Madikwe Game Reserve is a major conservation success story. This private reserve is the fifth largest in the country and has, in just a few decades, gone from farmland back to a wide mix of habitats that support the Big 5. Sightings are carefully controlled to ensure a minimum of vehicles at all times and Madikwe is an easy drive from Johannesburg’s international airport. Accommodation is luxurious with many lodges offering private pools, upscale spas and air-conditioned suites. A bonus for cautious travellers is that Madikwe lies in a non-malaria zone.



A third option in South Africa is Phinda Private Game Reserve. Once a patchwork of pineapple plantations, Phinda is reverting to once again being a wildlife paradise with a strong presence of all the Big 5, especially rhino and leopard. More off the beaten track, it has just five lodges, each with a different design to echo its specific surroundings. Vlei Lodge looks out over a seasonal wetland, Mountain Lodge sits on the edge of a gorge and Forest Lodge is embraced by verdant semi-tropical coastal forest. This is a worthwhile consideration for those who want to be pampered.


Here are our favourite Big 5 Itineraries to inspire you. All of our itineraries can be tailored to meet your specific requirements.


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