South Africa's wildlife is one of the biggest reasons why people are so drawn to the country. Adding 'to see the Big 5 in real life' to bucket lists is a common practice among adventurers from all across the planet (the Big 5 is made up of the African elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion). While many people hold the misconception that these wild animals roam freely on the African continent, it is not that easy to come across the famous animals.
In this article, we will be focusing on the fierce, strong lion (if you would like us to do more articles focusing on the rest of the Big 5, please let us know in the comments below). Just remember that while visiting game reserves in South Afica, the lions roam completely freely around huge spaces of bush and there is a chance that you may see them or not. If you would like to be guaranteed that you'll see lions up close and personal, rather visit a rehabilitation centre or sanctuary - just make sure that you don't visit centres who keep lions there for selfish reasons.
Read our guide to find out where the best places are to see wild lions in South Africa.
Gondwana Game Reserve, situated in Mossel Bay along the famous Garden Route in South Africa offers you a true luxury safari experience. The 11 000 hectare game reserve is completely malaria free and is home to free-roaming Big 5 safari animals as well as other wildlife such as eland, giraffe, hippo, cheetah and zebra. Surrounded by superb mountain ranges and views, you'll be totally immersed in South Africa's unspoiled nature, landscapes and plants. Gondwana Game Reserve also offers scrumptious African cuisine and outstanding luxury accommodation, where sometimes the animals even approach your doorstep (don't worry, the game rangers are always around to monitor the animals). Their lions are definitely one of the most thrilling wildlife attractions on the game reserve and the passionate game rangers make a concerted effort to track them down for visitors on game drives to see up close.
Aquila Private Game Reserve offers Big 5 safaris just 2 hours from Cape Town on their 10 000 hectare conservancy, making for an amazing day adventure from Cape Town, or if you'd prefer, you can stay overnight in their cottages. They have a wide variety of safari tours available, depending on your time constraints. Choose between their half or full day safari tours, where you have a great chance of spotting their pride of free-roaming lions. Aquila's game rangers also acknowledge lions as one of the most sought after animals for sightings and will try their best to ensure guests get to have a close-up experience with these big cats. Add in a luxurious spa treatment while at Aquila Game Reserve or visit their animal rescue and rehabilitation centre.
Kruger National Park is highly ranked as one of the best safari experiences on the African continent, acting as a huge draw card for travelers visiting South Africa. The Kruger National Park is made up of close to a whopping 2 000 000 hectares of African bush, where the wild animals roam completely freely. To top it off, Kruger National Park is a world leader in advanced environmental management techniques and policies, established in 1898 and is home to an impressive number of species: 336 trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals. Besides for the wildlife, Kruger also boasts luxury and camping accommodation, bushman rock paintings and archaeological sites. An Estimated 1 600 lions roam freely in Kruger National Park; while lion sightings can never be guaranteed at free-roaming parks, your chances of lion sightings are high.
Kwandwe Game Reserve is a world-class Big 5 private game reserve located in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. This game reserve stretches over 22 000 hectares of wilderness around the Great Fish River and comprises of 26 rooms split across 5 gorgeous, individual and distinct safari lodges and villas. You will most likely spot lions while on a safari game drive at Kwandwe Game Reserve, which will make all adventurers, nature-lovers and wildlife photographer very happy. Kwandwe Game Reserve is situated near to the city of Port Elizabeth and also is a great add-on when traveling along South Africa's famous Garden Route.
Tshukudu Private Game Reserve borders the world renowned Greater Kruger National Park in Hoedspruit, which is in the Limpopo province of South Africa. Tshukudu covers 3 800 hectares of prime Bushveld with breath taking views of the Drakensberg mountains and have actively been involved in conservation efforts since the 1980s. This private reserve is known for its close encounters with a vast variety of game including the lion and other Big 5 animals. Bush walks and the 4x4 safari game drives are also offered by Tshukudu Game Lodge.
Situated in Montagu, roughly 3 hours outside of Cape Town along South Africa's famous Wine Route, lies the pristine Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. Sanbona boasts 58 000 hectares of vast landscape, fold mountains, ancient rock art and of course, lions. They also offer lovely lodges if you'd like to stay for longer than just a day visit (remember to book in advance). Sanbona is home to free self-sustaining White Lions, other Big Five species, as well as many other interesting species. This reserve is a great getaway for those who are in Cape Town - Montagu is also a world-renowned mountain rock climbing destination.
As stated on their website, "Shamwari Game Reserve is one of the most successful private conservation initiatives in Southern Africa coupled with responsible tourism and the most luxurious means of experiencing your African safari adventure". Shamwari Game Reserve is a malaria-free game reserve in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, incorporating 5 star luxury lodges tucked away in valleys, off cliffs and amongst vegetation. Shamwari offers unforgettable game drives in open 4x4 vehicles as well as guided walking safaris where you're sure to encounter some beautiful lions that roam the grounds freely.
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