Best lion safaris in Africa; Lion in the Central Kalahari by Deon De Villiers
Best lion safaris in Africa; baby lions in the Okavango Delta by Deon De Villiers

Best Lion Safaris in Africa

Travel Information

Even the brave are scared by a lion three times: first by its tracks, again by its roar and one last time face to face.
(Somali Proverb)

Information on the Best Lion Safaris in Africa

Here at Safari Guru, we’re often asked about planning for the best lion safaris in Africa. The one almost mythical animal everyone wishes to see, and experience on a safari, is the lion! Most of us are, in turn, almost in awe, fear, and curious about lions. To many, a lion epitomises strength, bravery, and courage. They represent the very essence of the bush. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, even this creature faces much danger. Indeed, their sheer numbers in Africa are declining at a fast rate. In the past 100 years, the world has lost over 90% of its lions.

Listed on the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) endangered species list, the lion is also classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; not a word we would associate with the worlds second-largest cat. 

This regal cat plays such a crucial role in keeping Africa’s wildlife populations in balance, supporting vast ecosystems. The African lion population has almost halved since 1993 and live in less than 8% of their historical and habitat ranges. Today, only an estimated 22,500 remain in the wild. Although they were found across most of Africa, lions are now almost entirely found in East and Southern Africa. We, humans, have taken up much of their land and are their greatest threat. Sobering statistics and facts, aren’t they?  

Many safari camps offer what they consider to be the best lion safaris and will market themselves accordingly; many offer wild predator photographic expeditions; some are even famous for these big cat sightings, but it should be noted that these animals can move along vast ranges of land and different climatic conditions and local and other factors can sometimes make them difficult to find.

There is, however, much hope for increasing the lion population, with many safari companies, governments, and charitable organisations fighting their cause. Of course, the mere fact that so many of us sit in awe of this great cat means we wish to see them in the wild, not just confined to a zoo. Lions are still present in many large and well-managed protected areas across Africa, KenyaTanzania, Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa, to name a few.

Your chances of seeing lions on safari are high if booking via an African safari travel specialist, such as Safari Guru. We know and understand wildlife-protected areas versus wildlife hunting areas, which can significantly impact animal sightings, especially the big cats favoured by many hunters. 

Don’t be fooled into visiting wild cat ‘petting parks’, which can often be involved with ill-practised hunting outfits; they market themselves as cat conservation centres yet, can be engaged in a barbaric practice known as canned lion hunting

For the most rewarding experiences when viewing lions on safari, understanding them is always worthwhile. With a lifespan of roughly 12-18 years in the wild, it is carnivorous and specialised in hunting, dependent on the animal and the size of the pride (the lion family in which they live), buffalo, zebra, impala, wildebeest, and even giraffe and elephant in extreme cases. They are, surprising to many, also effective scavengers and opportunists who will take much smaller prey such as birds, fish, and reptiles.

Lions are rarely solitary and don’t do well on their own. However, you will most likely encounter a lone male on a safari. When he is likely ‘patrolling’ his territory, protecting his pride of females and ‘brothers’ and cubs. You may also see a lone female; she may have just separated herself from her pride to give, or have given birth, to between 2-4 cubs.

Lions are fascinating to see on a safari. Generally, however, during the heat of the day; lions will be lazing in the sun with their family groups or alone. You may see the odd movement, perhaps a flick of the tail, a gentle twitch of the paw, a swat of a fly, or a giant yawn, almost as if they’ve been overfed or indulged in too much rum! This is the main reason that the best lion safaris in Africa are conducted at the crack of dawn! It offers the chance to see the big cats still moving and finishing their night’s activities before daylight and, of course, catching the magical African sunrise.

Yet, if you’re fortunate enough to see these magnificent beasts in action, their true colours come to the fore. This is often at night, although you might be rewarded if an unfortunate prey wanders too close during the day or if conditions are suitable, such as cool, cloudy cover. Then you will see their true strength and speed. These animals can move and react quicker than we see, think and process. A lion hunt is an awe-inspiring sight, yet a lion kill is intense—an assault on your senses and certainly not for the faint of heart.

So, where is it best to see lions on safari in Africa?

East Africa’s best lion populations are in Tanzania and Kenya. However, more recently, the population in Rwanda is also growing in Akagera National Park, allowing a fantastic combination safari with gorillas for a primate safari.

Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park offers easy access to good lion populations from camps offering various comfort levels, such as Mkombe House and Lamai Serengeti CampPioneer Camp, Serengeti Safari Camp and Singita’s Grumeti Concession with Sasakwa, Sabora Plains Tented Camp.

Kenya offers the Maasai Mara National Reserve, an extension of the Greater Serengeti and Laikipia County. Some of our favoured camps in these two regions include Nkorombo, Mara Plains CampMara Nyika Camp and Rekero Safari Camp, located on the Talek River system, part of the migration route for the one million odd wildebeest, or gnu, that pass through every year in the Great Migration.

Lion’s Rock from the movie The Lion King is based on an outcrop in Laikipia County, Kenya. The famous Big Cat diaries documentary is filmed in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, and the fantastic movies, Relentless Enemies, Eternal Enemies and Ultimate Enemies by the excellent National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, photographers, conservationists and film-makers Beverley and Dereck Jouberts are all filmed in Botswana. 

Southern Africa comprises a number of countries actively making strides in wildlife conservation, and this includes lion population management and protection in many areas where they were previously under threat.

South Africa’s Sabi Sands Private Reserve also has a number of safari camps specialising in wildlife photography and lions. These include camps such as Londolozi, Singita Ebony Lodge and Savanna Private Camp. There are other areas in South Africa where one can see lions in a more children-friendly environment offering family safaris in areas that do not have malaria.

One of the best places to see lions in Botswana is the Linyanti (season dependent). One of our favourite lodges is DumaTau Camp, which translates to Lion’s Roar in the local Setswana language. The Okavango Delta in the Moremi Game Reserve of Botswana – they’ve even been known to prowl within some safari camps at night or walk on the boardwalks, which can be an intimidating experience. A few of our favourite camps for lion safaris in the Okavango include Chiefs Camp, Chitabe Camp, Mombo Camp Duba Plains Camp and Savuti Camp..

Zambia (again during certain times of the year) almost guarantees lion sightings.  Zambia’s Busanga Plains is also well known for dense lion populations and a trip here almost guarantees sighting of these hunting machines if booking a safari for three days or more at Shumba Camp.

Photographing Lions

Photographing lions is fantastic fun and achievable for even the novice wildlife photographer with entry-level photographic equipment. They are big, beautiful and majestic. Being within just a few yards of them in an open vehicle is a truly magical experience. A professional safari guide from an authentic safari outfit will park your 4×4 safari vehicle just right, allowing the light to catch their eyes. The golden fur, jaws, claws and paws of these animals make for magnificent images, and playful cubs are simply some of the loveliest photographic sights in the world.

Remember, though, that it’s certainly easy to overexpose or underexpose essential parts of lions – especially the muzzle and the white patches around the eyes. And the eyes, as mentioned above, are a vital part of taking a wonderful photograph – capture the light within them and the eyes staring toward you or their distant gaze on unsuspecting prey!

Safari Guru Deon has spent countless hours photographing lions in many different landscapes of Southern and East Africa, including arid regions such as the Kalahari Desert, where the famous black-maned lions can be found. Deon has also spent many years managing Mombo Camp and Little Mombo Camp in the Okavango Delta. This is Botswana’s predator haven.

Deon’s endless supply of images, memories and experience has come to the forefront when expertly planning our safaris. We know, for example, the best time to visit the Okavango Delta, how many days to stay in the Okavango, which camps give a great opportunity to see lions in the Okavango and photographic tips for photographing lions. Feel free to ask other questions; can lions swim, can lions climb trees, or when is the best time to see baby lions?

Another frequently asked question when planning our custom safaris is how close we will get to lions. Safari goers are often surprised at just how close you can get to lions in an open or closed safari vehicle, and this is often a sign of how much respect the local guides have towards the animals, or of course, whether there is hunting happening within the area, as touched on previously – the latter ensuring the animals always keep a wary distance from any human activity, whether it be vehicle-based safaris or walking safaris (although there is a real difference in Mana Pools and Zambia’s, South Luangwa National Park where walking near lions in the day is possible!).

When photographing lions, it’s always good to take note of what your preferred subject matter is. What is it that you are trying to represent in the image? Sometimes it might not be the lion that actually needs to centre of attention, but perhaps the focus should be on the story and setting around the lion or lions. By understanding this, you can quickly determine where your focal point needs to be – either the face of the animal or the whole animal itself, as in the case of a wider landscape image.

When creating lion portraits, make sure the eye detail is 100% in focus, as when sharing your image, this is where the viewer’s eye will naturally pull toward. By using enough depth of field, you can ensure you have from the eye through the rest of the face suitably in focus for a good wildlife photographic outcome.

Top lion photography tips from Safari Guru Deon:

  • If the lions are on the move, you will need enough camera speed to stop their movement and don’t be fooled; they can move with great speed at any time, so be prepared.
  •  Remember to take your eyes away from the camera and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells; these safari moments are precious.

Now, it’s time to research your safari or consult with Safari Guru to decide where is best suited for your travel itinerary to experience lions in the wild. Safari Guru creates safaris in East Africa and Southern Africa, and there are great lion densities in both if you know when and where to go.

Why it’s important to engage with Safari Guru for the best lion safaris in Africa

Remember, lion densities change per region as the group sizes change according to natural habitat, local food source, pride politics and human involvement. So it is always best to get up to date information before you book your travels to ensure your investment in time and money is well spent. Safari Guru will share information with you on the best places to stay on safari, the best time to book a safari and even other items such as what to pack on safari and what medication do you need on safari. Contact us, and we will gladly help you with lion safari planning.

Best lion safaris in Africa; lioness at Mombo Camp in the Okavango Delta by Deon De Villiers
Botswana! What an incredible destination as we begin to travel again. This is a trip of a lifetime. The game drives were exhilarating, the people are friendly, the food fantastic, and the accommodations are meant to spoil you. Our trip was beautifully planned and executed by Deon De Villiers and his team at Safari Guru. They have been to every camp they recommend and tailor your safari experience to you. What else could you ask for! We will travel with them again and highly recommend Safari Guru to plan your next trip!
~Betsy Surprenant; United States of America

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