Big cat safari travel guide

A safari is a largely passive experience. You watch, wait and wonder. After hours of travelling through snowbound forest or steamy jungle, you may be rewarded with the briefest glimpse. A tiger crossing the road a few metres from your jeep, a jaguar sunning itself on the riverbank, or just a short, dismissive glance from a leopard as it stalks between trees – chances are you’ll find you’ve been holding your breath throughout.
It’s better to think of these trips as ‘wildlife safaris’ where hopefully the big-ticket attraction will feel like making an appearance.
The thing with big cat safaris is you can never guarantee you’re actually going to see the animal you’re actually searching for. They are wary of humans, and for good reason, so you are dependent on the skill of your guides, travelling at the right time, and of course a slice of luck. Find out more in our big cat safaris travel guide.

What does a big cat safari
holiday entail?

“The clear and consistent message from Reserve Management, guides and trackers was that we humans are the unnatural element and that it is our role to change nothing except our attitude. We tried to do so and the outcome was exhilarating.” – Peter & Brenda Phillipa in a review of their South Africa safari holiday

These are some of the world’s deadliest, most beautiful and intriguing predators, but also among the most shy. And they need to be. Whether through poaching for their meat, skins and bones, habitat destruction or revenge for attacks on livestock, big cats and humans have a long, unhappy history. Given this wariness, you will be dependent on the skill and knowledge of your guides, so it’s lucky then that the holiday companies we work with seek out the very best for their tours.
Local guides know the terrain, they know where recent sightings have taken place so they can make an educated guess where they will appear next, and they also tend to have remarkable tracking abilities. But the finest guides offer a lot more than that. They possess a wealth of knowledge on everything from why a cat is behaving in a certain way to which plants local communities rely on for their medicinal qualities, and who those tracks in the snow might belong to.

Something to keep in mind is that if you do get lucky (and these trips do have excellent success rates) then don’t automatically reach for the camera. Before you’ve got it raised to your eye and the lens adjusted the cat may have already gone. Only the very rarest of photographs could ever do justice to seeing these incredible creatures in the wild anyway.

The big cat safaris featured on our site visit places as diverse as India, Brazil, Russia, Borneo, Patagonia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and far beyond. But the one thing they all have in common is that they take a responsible approach, something that is sadly sorely lacking in many places. Responsible tourism is a vital tool in conservation, from helping with research to convincing local communities to respect big cats, and get in the way of those that would do them harm.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Big cat safaris or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.


Our trips are a mix of small group and tailor made tours, each with their own advantages. By joining an organised tour you can be confident you’ll be accompanied by a naturalist guide, and perhaps a zoologist, a field researcher, or a professional photographer. It means that often highly prized visitor permits such as those in India’s national parks are taken care of on your behalf, and it means that you follow itineraries either fixed or following your interests, but always designed to maximise your opportunities.

Styles of accommodation vary wildly depending on your location and budget. You may stay in tented camps deep in the forest, in mountain cabins, in luxurious safari lodges with a view of the waterhole, in cramped photography hides or in ‘floating hotels’ on the river.
Due to the rarity and elusiveness of big cats it’s important to not measure the success and satisfaction of your holiday against your sightings. Instead, before travelling think about the many other types of amazing wildlife and landscapes you’re likely to see, and if you do get lucky the moment will be all the sweeter.

Your holiday company will provide you with a comprehensive packing list before you travel and of course you’ll have a few essentials of your own: long lens camera, binoculars, inflatable pillow for long game drives. But the one thing you’ll never regret having plenty of on a big cat safari is patience.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: flowcomm] [What does a big cat safari holiday entail?: vishwanath Hawargi] [Practicalities: Jeremy Pagden]