The undisputed “kings” among the world’s wildlife, lions are certainly one of the most sought-after species to observe whilst on a safari in Africa. The success of many first safaris depends on interactions with the big cats. We are often asked where the best place is to see the largest prides, and where we can guarantee superb cat sightings. Below, we list the most reliable locations in Africa for spotting wild lions:
The best places to see lions in Africa
A member of the Big Five, for good reason is the lion considered King of Beasts! Here’s the YZ guide to the best places to see lions in the wild in Africa.
1. Sabi Sands and Timbavati private reserves, South Africa
The Sabi Sands and the Timbavati are two of the most exclusive private game reserves in the Kruger region. With both lunging for the crown as South Africa’s premier game-viewing destination, it isn’t just phenomenal lion sightings that you’ll enjoy. These two private reserves have unfenced boundaries with Kruger National Park – this means they boast the same Big Five wildlife of the Kruger yet don’t experience anywhere near as much traffic. The lions in this area are particularly healthy, so you could be lucky enough to see prides of more than twenty, with plenty of playful cubs.
For those after a bucket-list big-cat experience, the Timbavati in recent years has been benefiting from regular sightings of rare white lions. And some YZ clients have even spotted them, while staying at one of our favourite lodges in the reserve, &Beyond Ngala.
2. Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Although lions can be spotted throughout Africa lazing away in the heat of the day, there is no better way of witnessing this than to go on safari in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park. Here, the big cats take the sighting up a level by sleeping within the branches of immense sycamore fig trees.
It is believed these lions, both young and old, rest in the branches to escape the heat, to gain clear views of potential meals, and to avoid being bitten by insects. To spot these lions, and to appreciate their unique behaviour, we suggest staying at Ishasha Wilderness Camp, where you can combine an authentic glamping experience with superb game viewing.
3. Kalahari Desert, South Africa/Botswana
The lions of the Kalahari Desert are real beauties. A male lion’s mane isn’t just there for protection; its colour actually indicates strength and health. The darker the mane, the stronger and more attractive the male appears to a lioness. So the black-mane lions of the Kalahari really are the picture of peak health.
The Kalahari lions are also known for their size, as well as the stunning contrast between their strong tawny-coloured bodies and the thick, billowy black tips of their mane – quite something to behold. And our recommendations on where to stay to see these male lions? We suggest one of the lodges in Tswalu.
4. The Namib Desert & Skeleton Coast, Namibia
The fact that lions can even survive in the harsh realms of the Namib Desert seems like a miracle in itself. These Namibian lions have had to adapt to living in such an arid environment, so to see these desert-adapted animals is a truly extraordinary experience.
Lions sleep for up to 18 hours per day, usually under shady trees and bushes; however, with very little vegetation in this part of Africa, they make do with the shade of rocky outcrops and the dried-up riverbeds. One particular property that is geared towards spotting these desert lions is Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp. Local lion conservationist Dr. Flip Standers carries out important monitoring and studies of these cats in the areas around the camp, so travel here and you might be treated to a surprise presentation on the enduring animals when Dr. Standers is around.
5. The Maasai Mara and Serengeti eco-system, Kenya/Tanzania
In hot pursuit of the Great Migration that traverses the area between the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti, this concentration of big cats is reputedly the highest anywhere in Africa. With two million wildebeest and other plains game to feed on, it’s no wonder these prides can reach up to thirty strong.
The battle between predator and prey was immortalised in a BBC documentary filmed from Kenya’s side of the migration lands, with the camera crew staying at Governors’ Camp. If you’re a diehard Big Cat Diary fan, this is where we suggest you stay.
And finally… some fun facts about lions:
- Lions are very social and they’re the only cats that live in a group, called a pride.
- Each pride contains related lionesses, the lionesses’ mates (males), and all the cubs. They live in grasslands, scrublands, and open woodlands.
- A lion pregnancy lasts for about four months. The mother gives birth to up to four cubs in a sheltered area, such as a cave or a thicket. When lion cubs are born, they are blind at first, but their eyes open after about a week!
- A lion’s roar can be heard up to eight kilometres away.
- Lions are actually threatened by habitat loss. They are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Can I talk to a safari expert about where I can find lions on an African safari?
If you are interested in a safari that focuses on Africa’s Big Five wildlife, in particular lions, and would like more information, feel free to contact us here. Alternatively, please take a look at our guides below for more inspiration: