Of all Africa's animals it's the big five that are most revered. And they are as resplendent as you are imagining - dreamy animals that celebrate the beauty and power of the wild. Quite understandably, it's the big five that top most wish lists when it comes to safaris, and we have plenty of tips for ticking off all five of these magnificent creatures.
Which animals are included?
Lion prides draped across the savannah, with a small cub pawing at his mother's cheek. Buffalo herds of over a hundred, their grunts and hisses heard from the camp. Elephants bulldozing through the trees, then using their trunks as snorkels when swimming in the river. Rhinos are most the endangered of the five and have a bashful grace that complements their inspiring power. Completing the list is the elusive leopard, a stealthy hunter that's beautiful in the trees and thrilling when stalking prey.
Historically, these five were the ultimate hunting trophies, as they were the only animals that would charge and attack rather than run and hide. They remain the most revered. But what about a cheetah speeding its way to an impala? Hippos playing in the water beneath your lodge? Giraffe, hyena, kudu? Being surrounded by a thousand-strong zebra herd will be much more enchanting than spotting a leopard's tail through the binoculars. Don't limit your imagination; on an African safari there are more than just five impressive mammals to discover.
Where to see them.
On almost all multi-day safaris you'll see lions, elephants and buffalos. The Greater Kruger area is the premium destination for the full big five due to the abundant leopards and rhinos. Most private game reserves have the complete collection. Compact and easy to explore, they are a good choice if you're only planning one or two days for safari.
However, we would advise against discounting a destination because it doesn't have all five. For example, Chobe doesn't have rhinos but does have 100,000 elephants. It's very difficult to see the handful of rhinos that inhabit the Masai Mara or Serengeti; but you can't miss the two million zebra, wildebeest, and Thomson's gazelle.
Seeing the full big five is iconic. Not seeing all five isn't a disappointment. The greatest safari experiences come from witnessing the animal kingdom in all its raw natural beauty and power. And we can recommend dozens of places in Africa where this can be realised.