It took two years and 30 filming expeditions for the BBC to capture the amazing images seen in the stunning new series Big Cats.
Some wild animals are easier to find than others – you’ll have a hard time spotting such fantastic beasts as Pallas’s cats, Siberian tigers and Amur leopards. But there are places where lions, tigers, leopards and other felines tolerate our presence at least – and how awesome they all are.
The cost of these trips mostly includes flights, transfers, full board, guides, game drives and activities, but check the small print.
King of the jungle: Feeling inspired by BBC’s Big Cats series? Try these safaris for (nearly) guaranteed lion spotting
BEST FOR LIONS
1. GET UP CLOSE TO THE GIRAFFE KILLERS
See the giraffe-killer lions from episode one of Big Cats in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania. Prides are used to vehicles. Expert Africa’s six-day Lesser Kudu Fly-in Safari includes five nights at Mwagusi Camp. From £3,345pp, expertafrica.com, 020 3405 6666.
2. …OR THOSE WITH MORE OF A TASTE FOR BUFFALO
Alternatively, visit the famously beefy, buffalo-eating Duba lions as featured in Planet Earth II in Botswana’s magnificent Okavango Delta.
Aardvark Safaris offers a six-night trip, with three nights at Duba Expedition Camp. From £5,290pp, aardvarksafaris.com, 01980 849160.
3. A PRIVATE VIEWING OF STAR CLAWS
Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa is malaria-free and private, so no sharing your lions with dozens of other vehicles. There are black-footed cats, leopards and cheetahs too.
Aardvark Safaris has a six-night family safari staying at Morukuru River House, with your own chef. From £3,375pp (four sharing), aardvarksafaris.com.
4. BE CERTAIN OF SEEING THE MANE EVENT
Sightings of lions at the 160,000-acre Sabi Sands, one of South Africa’s most famous private reserves, are pretty much guaranteed.
Abercrombie & Kent’s 15-night Classic South Africa trip includes three nights in a riverside luxury lodge, with everything from fine dining to massages. From £6,780pp, abercrombiekent.co.uk, 01242 386 500.
Big game: Look for leopards – from a safe distance, of course – during an 11-day walking safari in Zambia’s premier wildlife park
BEST FOR LEOPARDS
5. STALK YOUR PREY THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY
Nothing beats tracking big game on foot, at a safe distance, of course. Mountain Kingdoms offers 11-day walking safaris in Luangwa, Zambia’s premier wildlife park renowned for its beautiful leopards. From £5,625pp, www.mountainkingdoms.com, 01453 844400.
6. WELL SPOTTED! A GREAT WAY TO FIND YOUR QUARRY
Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park reputedly has one of the highest leopard densities in the world, so you’ve a good chance of seeing one.
Luxurious: Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. Pictured: Chena Huts, which borders the park itself
Modern amenities: Despite being tucked away in the wilderness, Chena Huts offer plenty of creature comforts
Red Savannah offers a trip with four nights at Chena Huts, which borders the park, and three at Uga Bay, with flights and B&B. From £2,921pp, redsavannah.com, 01242 787800.
7. IN THE DEAD OF THE NIGHT, THE KILLERS’ DARK SIDE
Lengthy, after-dark safaris in the north-east of Borneo give you a chance to see rare leopard cats and clouded leopards. Naturetrek’s 13-day trip departs April 2 and encompasses Sepilok, the Kinabatangan River, the Gomantong Caves and Tabin Wildlife Resort. From £4,495pp, naturetrek.co.uk, 01962 733051.
8. CHILL OUT… WITH THE SNOW LEOPARDS
What wouldn’t you give to see a fantastic snow leopard? Head for the remote Ulley Valley in Ladakh, northern India, for a chance to photograph one, escorted by experts and photographer Nick Garbutt, on Wildlife Worldwide’s 16-night Snow Leopard In Focus trip. From £6,495pp, wildlifeworldwide.com, 01962 302086.
Majestic: One of the best places to spot tigers is in Rajasthan, though Kanha and Pench are also popular among visitors
BEST FOR TIGERS
9. ALL THIS ROAR POWER – AND THE TAJ MAHAL TOO
The place where I saw most tigers, mostly effortlessly, was Ranthambore in wonderful Rajasthan.
Transindus’s ten-day Essential India private tour for first-time visitors includes a two-night stop at a wildlife reserve with game drives, as well as visits to the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. From £2,495pp, transindus.com, 020 8566 3739.
10. DRAMA FROM THE PAGES OF THE JUNGLE BOOK
Alternative Indian Bengal tiger-spotting hotspots include Kanha and Pench, which reputedly provided inspiration for Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
Titan’s new 12-day Wild India tour encompasses ten safaris in both parks and Tadoba Andhari Reserve. Other excursions include a trip to Mumbai. From £2,699pp, titantravel.co.uk, 0800 988 5873.
River cruise: In Brazil, safari goers may opt for a boat tour to see jaguars from the river – they claim an 89% success rate
BEST FOR JAGUARS
11. FIVE JAGS… AND A 4×4
The brilliant Projeto Oncafari in Brazil’s Pantanal aims to accustomise jaguars to 4WDs, so tourists are likely to spot one – I saw five.
Last Frontiers’ trip includes four nights at the Caiman Ecological Refuge with jaguar-spotting excursions and an introduction to the project, plus one night in Sao Paulo. From £3,510pp, lastfrontiers.com, 01296 653000.
12. GOING WITH THE BIG CAT FLOW
Tucan Travel’s tailormade 18-day Wildlife Brazil tour includes three nights on a houseboat in the Pantanal and boat trips to see jaguars from the river – they claim an 89 per cent success rate.
There’s an Amazon cruise, too, plus tours to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls. From £4,029pp, tucantravel.com, 020 8896 1600.
High speed: From Namibia to Kenya, several different tour companies offer safaris tailormade for spotting cheetahs
BEST FOR CHEETAHS
13. ADMIRE SURVIVORS WHO CHEATED DEATH
Namibia is home to Okonjima, a massive private nature reserve with rescued cheetahs you can easily see. It’s also home to the AfriCat Foundation big cat charity.
Discover The World’s 12-day Essential Namibia self-drive itinerary can include a stay here and Etosha National Park for wild cheetah. From £2,208pp, discover-the-world.co.uk, 01737 214291.
14. GAZE AT THE GREAT HUNTERS FROM ON HIGH
Alternatively see them in Kenya on a special private charter safari by air. Scenic Air Safaris’ nine-day Endangered Species Safari features an unforgettable flight over the Masai Mara, a renowned cheetah and lion habitat. From £7,100pp (ten guests travelling together), scenicairsafaris.com, 020 7978 4534.
15. GET THE REAL STORY WITH A RESEARCHER
Treat yourselves to National Geographic Expeditions’ and G Adventures’ seven-day Explore Kruger National Park trip, which includes going out with a cheetah researcher from the Carnivore Conservation Programme, part of National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative. From £2,074pp (departing April 10), national geographicexpeditions.co.uk, 0800 440 2551.
Rare: Spotting an Iberian lynx is not an easy task, but Spain’s Sierra Morena offers your best chance for success
BEST FOR LYNXES
16. ON THE TRAIL OF A COMPACT KILLER
The Iberian lynx is extremely rare but Naturetrek reckons eight out of ten groups taking its special six-day wildlife tour in Spain sees one in Coto Donana National Park on a 4WD drive or from a distance in the Sierra Morena. From £1,995pp, naturetrek.co.uk, 01962 733051.
BEST FOR OTHER RARE CATS
17. EYES PEELED FOR THE BIG-EARED BEAUTIES
Captivating, big-eared servals like the open grassland of the Serengeti and Masai Mara. But, says Rob Slater of Safari Consultants, they also like Botswana, especially in the northern Kwando and Selina areas. From £5,195pp for seven nights, safari-consultants.com, 01787 888590.
18. SPOT AN OCELOT ON YOUR DAWN PATROL
For a slight chance of seeing ocelot and margay, try Costa Rica. Veloso Tours’ 14-night Colombus Tour includes three nights in Corcovado National Park, where these not-too-big cats are sometimes spotted at dawn. Keep your eyes peeled during those rainforest hikes. From £3,538pp, veloso.com, 020 8762 0616.
Elusive: A South American margay is difficult to spot, but an early-morning safari in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park may prove just the ticket
19. WANDER IN THE WORLD OF THE PUMA
Pumas can be spotted at Torres del Paine in Chile in the company of the right guide, though it is usually secondary to the hiking.
Veloso Tours’ 14-night Yamana Landmark Tour in Chile and Argentina also takes in Patagonia, plus Peninsula Valdes, Buenos Aires and Santiago. From £4,117pp, veloso.com, 020 8762 0616.
20. RUSTY TV STAR IS ONLY FOR THE LUCKY
You may never see the adorable, very elusive rusty spotted cat, star of Big Cats, in the fur, but for a tiny chance try Pettitts’ tailor-made 15-day Wild Sri Lanka tour.
It takes in some of the national parks where they live, including Udawalawe, which has fishing cats and leopards too. From £2,985pp, pettitts.co.uk, 01892 250 925.