We’d hedge a bet that just about everyone coming on an African safari has lions on their wildlife must-see list, and we completely understand why. The most iconic of the continent’s big cats, lion are majestic and fascinating to watch in the wild. There are, however, less around than you might think. In many areas, the cats are under threat from habitat loss and human conflict and to see them in their natural environment has become a scarce privilege. But we’re here to help you find these beautiful beasts and we’ve put together a definitive list of the top places to see wild lions in Africa. Read on to find out more…
Home of the Marsh pride of lions, made eternally famous by the BBC documentary, Big Cat Diaries and more recently, David Attenborough’s Dynasties, the Masai Mara is always going to be one of the top places to see wild lions in Africa. Named after the glorious Musiara Marsh in the heart of the reserve, the pride is everything you would expect from TV superstars – strong and healthy and completely unperturbed by the vehicles that come to see them. But of course, the Marsh pride aren’t the only lions in this beautiful spot; the Mara is carnivore country and there are more than a few cats to be spotted often in larger than average prides, in different areas and territories.
To be in with a chance of seeing the Marsh pride, add a few nights at either Governor’s or Little Governor’s Camp. Both are in the vicinity of the Musiara Marsh, the pride’s stomping ground, and Governor’s was in fact the camp of choice for the Big Cat Diaries film crew.
Ruaha National Park
10% of the world’s lion population supposedly roam the rugged terrain of southern Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, earning it second place on our list of top places to see wild lions. It’s a remote paradise of fat baobabs and sandy riverbeds, far off the beaten track of the country’s usual hotspots, where the lion sightings are private, exclusive and most definitely free of tourist crowds. If you’re brave enough for an up close and personal big cat encounter then this is the place to do it, for Ruaha is famous for both its walking safaris and extraordinary guides – a winning combination if ever we saw one.
It will come as no surprise that wildlife hotspot the Okavango Delta has made it on to our list of top places to see wild lions on the continent. But where exactly should you be headed to maximise your big cat sightings? The Duba Concession is a 33,000-acre matrix of glorious woodland, waterways and palm-spotted islands and it’s one of these tiny islands that forms the stage for some of the most incredible lion activity you’ll ever see. Trapped by the surrounding water, the resident buffalo herd is a prime target for the lions on the island and the battles that commence are epic in every sense of the word. Expect unusual behaviour, fascinating sightings and extremely well-fed cats.
Duba Concession in the heart of the Okavango Delta is home to uber-luxurious Duba Plains Camp as well as the Duba Plains Suite, a fabulous, two-bedroomed house with all the mod-cons for lion viewing in ultimate style.
It’s rare that a blog article appears without a mention our favourite park, but when the lion population is as good as it is in the South Luangwa, we most certainly couldn’t leave it out. The northerly region of the park is the top spot for big cat watching but you certainly won’t miss out if you’re staying around the main gate – the difference is that in the north, you’ll probably have the sightings all to yourself. Up here, the Marsh and the Hollywood prides dominate the animal kingdom (keep your eyes peeled for dominant males George and Brad in particular – just as beautiful as their namesakes!) and it’s rare to not see them lounging and lazing under the trees as you drive. Even better, night drives are permitted in the South Luangwa, increasing your chances of seeing a hunt tenfold.
Our favourite camps for lion spotting in the northern region of the South Luangwa include the aptly-named Lion Camp, Kaingo,or Mchenja Bush Camp– add any of them to your Zambia trip and lion sightings are (almost) guaranteed.
Serengeti National Park
One of the continent’s most well-known parks, the Serengeti is a must-visit if the King of the Jungle (or savannah in this case!) is top of your wish list. The iconic, grassy plains attract herds of antelope, great and small, and if there’s one thing lions love, it’s an antelope. Throughout the year, game drives will provide plenty of predator vs. prey action in just about every region of the park, but if it’s real spine-tingling, memory-making game viewing you’re looking for, time your visit for the river crossings of the Great Migration in the north (July to October are the best months). It’s here that tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra congregate on the banks of the Mara River in a tangle of hooves and horn – and you can be sure that the lions are never far away…
Namiri Plains Camp, in the eastern section of the park, has one of the highest concentrations of big cats in the park and yields incredible sightings year-round. For Great Migration viewing from July to October, our favourite camps include Olakira Migration Camp (a mobile camp) and Lamai Serengeti Camp (our favourite ‘permanent’ choice).
The most exclusive of the Kruger’s private reserves, you’ll often hear the name Sabi Sands bandied around when it comes to the top places to see wild lions. The lions here are ambush hunters and will lie in wait at waterholes, ready to pounce on any thirsty prey that comes their way. As a result, the winter months (July to October) are probably the best for exciting sightings – the grasses are short and you’ll spot the flicker of a tail from miles away. Just north of the Sabi Sands is Timbavati, another exclusive reserve, this one famous for its population of white lions. Unlike their amber-coated relatives, the lions here have completely white fur, not as a result of albinism but rather a genetic quirk known as leucism, and photographing them is a delight.
In the Sabi Sands, Ulusaba Safari Lodge and Dulini Lodge are two fabulous choices to add to your South African route, and both are in excellent game viewing areas, whilst in the Timbavati, it would have to be classic Tanda Tula.