For many, spotting a lion in the wild is the highlight of any safari. Dubbed the kings of the jungle, lions are regal and majestic and arguably the most iconic wildlife species of Africa.
Sadly, lion numbers are not what they once were. Experts estimate there are only about 20,000 left in the wild. Lions roam freely in 28 African countries and one Asian country.
Travelling to one of the best places in Africa to see lions will improve your chances of witnessing these increasingly rare and powerful carnivores.
No safari would be complete without the sight (or sound) of wild lions. Their thunderous roars echoing across the plains at night, or in the early morning, is a sound to thrill the heart.
Some destinations offer a better chance of a sighting than others. Here are the 5 best places to see lions in Africa.
The Masai Mara National Reserve (MMNR), in Kenya, is known as one of the world’s most supreme wildlife regions, and host to the annual migration of almost 2 million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle. Perfect prey for hungry lions!
It is estimated that there are close to 850 to 900 Lions in the Masai Mara National Reserve and surrounding conservancies. The terrain in Masai Mara is mostly open savannah, which makes it easier to see the lions in this magnificent African-dream setting.
You may already be familiar with the lions of the Masai Mara. Home of the Marsh pride of lions made forever famous by the BBC documentary, Big Cat Diaries and more recently, David Attenborough’s Dynasties.
Visit the Masai Mara to see these majestic big cats
If the King of the Jungle (or savannah in this case!) is top of your wish list. Then one of the continent’s most well-known parks, the Serengeti is a must-visit.
Why is the Serengeti a must-visit for lion enthusiasts?
Well, the Serengeti is believed to hold the largest lion population in the world. Due to the abundance of prey, the Serengeti is said to be home to over 3,000 lions.
Wondering when the best time to visit is? Your chances of spotting lions on the hunt in northern Serengeti Park are particularly good from July to October when the wildebeest become fair game as they make the perilous Mara River crossing. In the southern part of the Serengeti, things heat up from January to March when the wildebeest are calving, providing easy targets (vulnerable calves) for lions and other predators.
South Luangwa in Zambia is a smaller, lesser-known park compared to the aforementioned Masai Mara & Serengeti but don’t let that put you off. The lion sightings in this park are superb.
South Luangwa is quite unexplored and less touristy. Fewer tourists mean better, more intimate, sightings for you.
Walking safaris were pioneered in this park. Here, you can (safely) walk through the wild plains and experience a different kind of safari. Night game drives are also offered. Whichever safari option you opt for, you are almost guaranteed to see good lion sightings.
There are now over 20 private reserves to the west of the Kruger National Park which make up the Greater Kruger Park. The most well-known reserves include Timbavati, Kapama, Sabi Sands, Karongwe and Thornybush.
While in recent years lion numbers have plummeted throughout Africa, the lion populations in the Greater Kruger have done relatively well.
There are estimated to be more than 2,000 lions in the Greater Kruger Area so your chances of sighting lions are very good.
A good lion population combined with exceptional, highly experienced guides makes for a fantastic safari experience.
Northern Botswana is one of the best places to see lions in Africa, not only for its large prides, but also because the lions display some peculiar hunting habits in parts of the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park.
The lions of Botswana are bigger than your average lions found throughout Africa and on the Duba Plains in the northern Okavango Delta, the specimens are remarkably large and powerful.
The Skimmer and Tsaro prides have adapted to their unique environment by learning to swim in deep water and hunt buffalos by day, which is uncommon for these usually nocturnal big cats.
Do you like a challenge? How about trying to sight the most elusive of all lion prides.
Namibia supports a unique population of desert-adapted lions that survive in the Namib Desert. Africa’s Namib Desert is a harsh and unforgiving place, home to shifting, barren sand dunes, jagged mountains, and gravel plains.
In 1999, it would have been even harder to spot the desert lions. There were only 25 desert lions left in northwestern Namibia. Today, there is an estimated population of 150 lions.
150 may seem like a fair amount, however, the vast desert — whose name means “place of no people” in the local Khoikhoi language — covers nearly 100,000 square miles and stretches along some 1,200 miles of the coast of western Namibia. Therefore, sightings are near impossible.
There are said to be only a few hundred wild lions in Ethiopia. In 2016, a previously unknown population of at least 100 lions was discovered by a wildlife charity in Alatash National Park, a remote park, in north-western Ethiopia.
It was thought, the area had lost all its lions in the 20th Century because of hunting and habitat destruction.
Sightings of the lions are extremely rare.
Now that you know the best places to see big cats in Africa, you just have to decide where to visit.
Where you go will depend on several variables not just the abundance of lions. Other factors can include budget, time, preferences and extensions.
If you need help deciding which destination is best for you, get in touch.
Our team of experts will be able to share their first-hand knowledge to help you make the right choice for you.