Best places to see lions in Africa?
Most travelers heading to Africa on safari want to see lions in the wild, so we thought we would make it easy for you by telling you the best places in Africa to see lions whilst on your safari. We need to bear in mind that lions are wild animals and so sightings can never be guaranteed, but in our experience the below areas offer the best opportunities to see lions in the wild.
With lion populations on the decline across Africa, due to hunting, poaching and habitat loss, we need to do everything our powers to conserve the kings of the wilderness.
One of the most interesting things to get to know when observing lions on your African safari, is to ask your guide about the dynamics and history of the lion prides. It is fascinating to learn about the pride members, their characters, who the dominant males are and where they came from. It is like a whole series of your favorite soap opera.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
We start our search in Hwange National Park, a vast reserve on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in western Zimbabwe. The mixed habitat is perfect for lions with lots of prey animals as well as pumped waterholes that can support large prides. I am sure everyone remembers the famous lion, Cecil who was shot by an American hunter back in 2015.
Today it is estimated that between 500 and 700 lions live in the Hwange ecosystem that includes the National Park and surrounding buffer zones. Lion prides are territorial and defend their patch of wilderness against other lions. This means that regardless of the season, lions remain in their territories.
Cecil and his pride were resident in and around Somalisa Camp, Linkwasaha Camp and The Hide inside the national Park. Today his pride still lives in the area around Somalisa Camp and is often seen at the camp waterhole. The pride is now under the control of 2 large males who have learnt to hunt elephants during the peak of the dry season when the elephants are weak from lack of food in the park.
With the best chance to see the lions of Hwange, we suggest spending at least 3 nights at Somalisa Camp, Somalisa Acacia or Somalisa Expeditions. All 3 camps are in the heart of the national park and within the territory of the pride.
Hwange is within easy reach of Victoria Falls and is a must during any Zimbabwe safari.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Everyone heading to Botswana on a safari will be heading to the Okavango Delta, a large inland oasis in the heart of the Kalahari Desert. The permanent waters of the Okavango Delta support large herds of prey animals which in turn support good prides of lions. IN our experience, the best lion sightings happen on the larger islands and northern private concessions of the Delta where the lions can move freely without being trapped. As with most cats, lions hate the water, but the lions of the Okavango Delta have had to adapt to crossing rivers and channels to get between the islands of their territories.
The area of Duba Plains in the upper reaches of the Okavango Delta is probably the best place within Botswana to see lions. Made famous by the National Geographic Documentary, Relentless Enemies which documented the constant battle between 2 prides of lions and a large herd of buffalo that moved between the 2 territories and islands of Duba Plains. Shinde Concession, Kanana Concession, Kwara and Splash Camp, Selinda and Zarafa all offer excellent sightings in private concessions. This means, guides can drive off-road following the tracks of lions or follow the pride of lion as they move away from the roads.
Serengeti and Masai Mara Tanzania and Kenya
We have included both the Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania as one location as they are the same ecosystem in different countries. With the great wildebeest migration moving between the grasslands of the Serengeti and Masai Mara, the lions have plenty of prey food to keep them full. As mentioned before, lions are territorial and so are unable to follow the great herds as the migration moves on, but there is still plenty of prey animals to support them until the great migration returns.
The most famous pride in the Masai Mara is the Marsh Pride, made famous by the wildlife documentary, Big Cat Diaries which followed the lives the of several big cats across the Masai Mara.
Staying at any of our preferred camps within the Masai Mara or Serengeti will offer fantastic opportunities to see lions whilst on your Tanzania or Kenyan safari.
Kafue National Park, Zambia
The Kafue National Park in western Zambia is a massive national park of mixed habitats, but it is the central and northern areas that offer the best lion sightings. In particular, the famous Busanga Plains in the north. The Busanga Plains support large herds of buffalo which are lions preferred prey. During the dry season (May through to October) the Busanga Plains are vast open grasslands, but during the rainy season, the plains fill with water making life difficult for the animals, especially the lions. On occasions the lions of the Busanga Plains have been known to climb and rest in fig trees. This is something that is not uncommon in other areas of Africa, in particular the tree climbing lions of Ishasha in Uganda.
Our pick of safari camps within the Kafue National Park, that we would suggest for you during your Zambian safari are the owner run camps of Musekese Camp and Ntemwa-Busanga Camp. Both camps offer excellent lion sightings whilst on your safari in Zambia. Further into the Busanga Plains is Shumba Camp where the lions can often be seen in or around the camp.
Sabi Sands, South Africa
The Sabi Sands bordering the Kruger National Park is the best reserve in Africa to see the Big Five, which includes lions. Compared to other national parks and private reserves within Africa, the Sabi Sands is relatively small, but with great good numbers of prey animals, there are several prides of lion in the Sabi Sands, offering guests on their South Africa safari great opportunities to see and photograph them. Being private, guides and trackers in the Sabi Sands can drive off-road, tracking or following lions into thicker bush.
The most famous and notorious lions of the Sabi Sands were the Mapogo coalition of 6 large males who ruled the Sabi Sands and part of the Kruger National Park with an iron fist killing any rival males and sometimes rival females who crossed their path. Guides and researchers who knew the Mapogo Coalition say the 6 lions were responsible for killing as many as 100 lions over the years they ruled the territory.
As the Mapogo Coalition has grown old, new stronger males have made their way into their territories and slowly dispatched these ruthless killers. Today their offspring live throughout the Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park and things seem to have been restored to some form of normality with several prides now dominating the Sabi Sands.
Staying at anyone of the luxury safari lodges in the Sabi Sands will offer fantastic opportunities to see lions during your South African safari. The ability to drive off-road, the fact all safari lodges within the Sabi Sands have expert trackers and guides and the fact all guides are in constant radio contact gives everyone an incredible opportunity to see lions on their Sabi Sands safari.
The Ruaha is a massive, semi-arid National Park that forms part of the southern circuit of a Tanzania safari and has the title of having one of Africa’s densest lion populations. With such large prides (some that number over 25 lions) the lion prides of Ruaha specialize in hunting large game like buffalo, elephant and even fully grown giraffe, as documented in the film “Lions”.
Our pick of the camps in Ruaha include Jongomero and Kigelia Ruaha. Both camps are pioneers in the Ruaha National Park, employing the best guides and with a strong focus on guiding, the safari experience and conservation. Experiencing Ruaha is a must for any serious safari enthusiast.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
The Ngorongoro Crater floor is 260 square kilometers and has a lion population of around 75 individuals, which means 1 lion for every 3.5 square kilometers, making a safari to the Ngorongoro Crater floor an almost certain opportunity to see lions. It wasn’t always like this though, with the population almost dying out in the 1960 due to disease, leaving just a handful of survivors to re-establish the prides to what they are today.
The Ngorongoro Crater is an incredible wildlife experience and anyone visiting Tanzania on safari needs to visit the Crater at least once. Our pick of safari camps near the Ngorongoro Crater is Entamanu Ngorongoro Camp set on the rim of the crater with incredible views.
Special lion sightings
The above areas offer some of the best opportunities to see lions on an African Safari, but you can of course see lions throughout Africa, so we have included some of Africa’s most special lion populations and ones that you will have to work hard to see and tick off.
The Namib’s desert lions, Namibia
Namibia is an incredible country with vast deserts and sand dunes sweeping down to the cold and unforgiving Atlantic Ocean. The wildlife of Namibia has had to adapt to living in these harsh environments where water is scarce. Elephants wander the deserts for miles in search of water, following trails their ancestors followed, digging into the sand to expose underground water. The other animals of the desert take full advantage of these wells and quench their thirst from the underground water.
Along the Koakaland and Skeleton Coast live a small pride of lions that etch out an existence in this harsh landscape, travelling for miles in search of food which include giraffe, oryx, springbok and occasionally they have been seen on the beaches of the Skeleton Coast killing seals. Seeing the desert lions is rare as their territories are vast, extending from the mountains and dry rivers in the Koakaland to the Atlantic Ocean of the Skeleton Coast. They are often persecuted by local villages for killing their livestock and so are weary of humans.
For the best chance of seeing these rare desert lions, you need to spend time in the Koakaland staying in our pick of safari camps during your Namibia Safari. These include Hoanib Valley Camp, Okahirongo Elephant Camp, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp and Shipwreck Lodge.
Ishasha Tree Climbing Lions, Uganda
Even though lions are cats, they are usually not particularly good at climbing trees and when they do attempt it, you can see they do not belong there. In some parts of Africa though, lions regularly climb large trees to escape the heat and flies at ground level. Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania and the Busanga Plains in Zambia are known to have tree climbing lions, but the most famous tree climbing lions are found in the Ishasha section of the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Guests often see the pride lounging in large fig trees, sprawled out on the branches sleeping during the heat of the day.
For the best chance of seeing these incredible lions we recommend staying at the Ishasha Wilderness Camp which is within the park and within easy reach of the famous fig trees that the pride frequents.
Mana Pools lions on foot, Zimbabwe
By now, you know that at Stanley Safaris we love to get out and walk whilst on safari. There is nothing better than exploring the wilderness on foot with an expert guide. Looking at the tracks and signs left behind by the animals that passed through moments before you. We have been lucky to experience many walking safaris, but even so, each time you are on a walk and come across fresh lion tracks, your heart speeds up as adrenalin kicks in.
Mana Pools in Zimbabwe is one of the best places in Africa to participate in a walking safari. It is also one of the best places in Africa to see lions on foot. For some reason, the lions of Mana Pools have become accustomed to seeing humans on foot and are more relaxed than other lions in Africa. The open habitat allows guides and guests to see animals from a distance and allows animals to see us humans. Whatever it is, being on foot, away from the vehicle with a pride of lions in front of you in an experience and story you will be telling the grandkids about for years to come.
Our pick of camps within Mana Pools that focus on walking safaris include John’s Camp, Zambezi Expeditions and Camp Mana. All 3 of these camps are rustic camps along the river with access to some of Mana Pool’s best walking areas.
Lady Liuwa, Zambia
Unfortunately, Lady Liuwa died of natural causes in 2017, but her legacy lives on in Liuwa Plains National Park in Zambia. Due to years of hunting and poaching in the 1990s all the lions of Liuwa Plains National Park were killed, except one, Lady Liuwa. No-one knows how she survived or where she came from, but she was first seen in 2002 and for many years roamed Liuwa Plains National Park on her own. At times she would find companionship with the people that camped in the park in the early days of its resurrection. Stories of her lying 5 meters away from the campfire and following the wardens when they went to bed are common. She was lonely. African Parks tried to give Lady Liuwa her own pride. In 2008, they relocated a male, but sadly he died during the translocation, so a year later they tried again, this time introducing 2 males. Both mated with her, but unfortunately, she was unable to fall pregnant. In 2012, they introduced 2 female lions to keep her company. One was killed in a poacher’s snare and the other fled towards Angola. She was recaptured and returned to Liuwa Plains where she finally bonded with Lady Liuwa. This new lioness soon fell pregnant and produced her first litter of cubs. Over the years the new female had a couple of litters, all of which Lady Liuwa helped raise.
Liuwa Plains is a special place in Africa due to its revival by African Parks and the Zambian Wildlife Authority. Animals have returned and it is home to the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa after the great migration in East Africa. There is currently only one permanent camp in Liuwa Plains, King Lewanika Camp.
White lions of Timbavati, South Africa
The Timbavati Game Reserve is a private reserve bordering the world-famous Kruger National Park in South Africa. There are no fences between the Timbavati and Kruger and so the animals move freely between them. Home to the Big Five, with some of the best leopard sightings in Africa, the Timbavati is also home to the only wild population of white lions. After years of research, no-one can definitely say whether they are albino or leucistic (loss of pigmentation).
Our pick of safari camps to stay at while on your South African safari in search of white lions is Tanda Tula inside the Timbavati Game Reserve.
When lions call safari camps home.
As you know, here at Stanley Safaris we love safari camps that don’t have fences around them and are so embedded into the environment that the animals often walk through, relax or come to drink in and around the camp. Here is a pick of our top safari camps and lodges where lions frequently call home.
Kanga Camp, Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe. Kanga is located inside the Mana Pools National Park, around the only permanent water for miles around making it a magnet for all animals during the dry season, including lions. The lions often use the waterhole to hunt as thirsty animals come down to quench their thirst. We have witnessed lions at Kanga Camp several times and have heard many stories of buffalo being killed between the tents.
Musekese Camp, Kafue National Park, Zambia. Located in the central part of the Kafue National Park overlooking a floodplain where the lions frequently come to hunt. This brings them close to Musekese Camp on a regular basis.
Shumba Camp, Busanga Plains, Kafue National Park, Zambia. Shumba means lion in Shona, which is fitting as Shumba Camp out on the Busanga Plains in the Kafue National Park is frequented by lions who often rest up on the raised boardwalks that link the tents and main area of the camp.
Mfuwe Lodge, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. Mfuwe Lodge is a luxury Safari Lodge inside the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. The lodge overlooks a lagoon that is frequented by animals as they come to quench their thirst. Being a luxury safari lodge, the staff maintain the gardens which has lush green lawns and for some reason the lions seem to enjoy this and are often seen lazing on the lawn, playing with the water sprinklers or resting on the pathways that lead to the rooms.
Somalisa Camp, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Somalisa Camp, Somalisa Acacia and Somalisa Expeditions Camps all overlook very active waterholes within the Hwange National Park. Because Hwange is an extremely dry park, the animals rely on these waterholes to survive. Aside from herds of buffalo and elephant frequenting the camp waterholes, the resident pride also makes frequent appearances. On one occasion the pride killed 4 buffalo at the waterhole in front of Somalisa Acacia while elephants were drinking nearby and a leopard was watching from a tree.
Here at Stanley Safaris we are very selective as to who we partner with in terms of accommodations throughout Africa. When choosing which camps and lodges we want to use we look at 4 key factors. It is these key factors in each property we use that ensures when our guests come to Africa for their safari vacation, they are getting the most from their time here.
This is what we look for when choosing who to work with:
Small and Privately Owned
By being small and privately owned they can be flexible and agile and be able to offer a more personalized experience to our guests. More often than not, we know the owners and this means we have a personal relationship with people that will be looking after our guests.
The beauty about Africa is that there are extremely passionate people that own and often run the camps we use. They are passionate about Africa, the people, the wildlife, the environment and their guests. Take the time to meet these people and listen to their stories as you sit around the campfire in the evenings.
Kyle Branch is one of the partners of Tusk & Mane who own some of our favourite camps in the Lower Zambezi in Zambia. Here Kyle is out guiding some of the guests staying at the camp. Both Kyle and Luke are very hands on owners and are in camp all the time. This ensures our guests are extremely well looked after whilst on their Zambian Safari Vacation with Stanley Safaris.
Prime locations is key to ensuring our guests get the best from their time in Africa. There is no point staying in a lovely lodge or safari camp, but being so far away from the action it is pointless even being there.
It is not always about prime locations as animals move depending on the time of the year. This is where our expert knowledge kicks in and we can ensure our guests are staying in the right camps, at the right time of the year to maximize their overall African Safari experience.
Somalisa Acacia Camp in the heart of Hwange National Park is right on a permanent waterhole that attracts wildlife throughout the day and night. In the peak of the dry season (June to Oct), there could be over 1,000 elephants that pass through the camp to drink from the pool and waterhole. The perfect location for the camp.
Experience & Guiding
The whole reason our guests come to Africa is to be on safari, meeting the people and experiencing everything that Africa has to offer, so this is vital to ensure our guests go home having experienced Africa to its fullest. Whilst in Africa, your guide is the most important person our guides will meet. They are the person that will make or break someone's safari experience, and so it is one of the most important elements when we choose who we want to work with.
We are not about thread count on the beds, or the gourmet food and butlers, for us it is experience first and the frills are a bonus. Nowadays, exceptional food and world class wines are an expectation and form part of the experience.
Part of what we love about the smaller, privately owned camps is that they are all about the guest experience. There is no such thing as schedules or timetables whilst on safari and it is this flexibility that ensures the best experiences. Getting out on foot and tracking wild dogs through Mana Pools, sleeping under the stars in a fly-camp in Tanzania, walking the length of the Serengeti following the path of the migration, tracking lowland gorillas through the jungles of the Congo, these are the things our guests are going to remember when they head back home. These are things they are going to talk about to their friends, family and grandkids.
Conservation & Community
The survival of Africa's wildlife is our responsibility and for this reason, we only partner with properties that play an active role in conservation and community projects within the areas they operate. Too often, the "conservation and community" tag line is used purely as a marketing tool, so it is important to make sure the camps and lodges are walking the walk. Guests staying at the camps often have the opportunity to visit the projects the camps are supporting and seeing the exceptional work being done on the ground. We are not a voluntourism company, but by working with key partners, we know that by our guests staying at those camps and lodges, their Dollars are going to fantastic community and conservation projects.
Guests can get involved by donating and certain camps and lodges offer opportunities to donate to certain research and conservation efforts and then get to see the work being carried out. Whether guests donate to rhino notching and monitoring in Tswalu Kalahari in South Africa, Morukuru in Madikwe or Marataba Conservation Camps - we know the money is going to the right places.
Often camps have been built in certain locations to help conserve the area. By having tourists paying to go to the area, poaching is reduced and the local communities can then see the benefit of conserving the area and wildlife. Local camps and lodges employ people from the local communities and so again, the tourist Dollar is making its way back into the local communities which is key to the future of our wild places.
South Africa Safaris
Shaun Stanley - owner of Stanley Safaris.