5 best places to see big wild cats

From Tanzania to Mexico, these are the best destinations to witness the largest of felines

The internet belongs to cats. The temperamental creatures think they own the world and their owner’s life and it’s pretty much true. But there is more than a thin line between the lovable ball of fur in your home and the largest beast that brings nightmares to the toughest of adventurers.

To give you a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness some of the biggest cats in their natural habitat, wildlife travel experts from Footloose Travel have compiled a guide to explore the best destinations in the world to see leopards, tigers and lions.   

See tigers in India

 Bandhavgarh National Park has one of India’s highest tiger densities — Shutterstock 5 best places to see big wild cats
Bandhavgarh National Park has one of India’s highest tiger densities – Shutterstock

Tigers are native to Asia, with smaller species typically living in southern Asian countries including India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Indonesia. The larger ones, such as the terrifying Siberian tiger, can be found in northern, colder areas of Asia, namely eastern Russia and north-eastern China.

But with a plethora of national parks across the country, India is one of the best places for tiger spotting.

For instance, the Bandhavgarh National Park in the Madhya Pradesh region in Central Northern India is known for its tiger sightings having one of India’s highest tiger densities. It is estimated that there is one tiger per 4 km of the park, which leads to a high chance of spotting a tiger during your visit.

Other tiger-rich national parks in India are Ranthambore in Rajasthan and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh.

Witness leopards in Zambia

South Luangwa National Park is often referred to as the "Valley of the Leopard" — Shutterstock 5 best places to see big wild cats
South Luangwa National Park is often referred to as the Valley of the Leopard – Shutterstock

Leopards live across most parts of Africa and a great portion of Asia – including China, India and Malaysia – however, spotting the animal can be pretty difficult. Yet, the elusiveness of the leopard makes it all the more exceptional for those lucky ones who manage to spot the magnificent creature.

With the highest number of leopards in the whole continent, Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is widely hailed as the go-to place for sightings. Lodges in South Luangwa are scattered across riverbanks while overlooking bow lakes, meaning it is possible to even spot them from your camp before heading on in the safari.

South Luangwa National Park is so notorious for its leopard spotting that it is even referred to as the Valley of the Leopard.

Watch lions in Tanzania

Tanzania is home to the largest lion population in Africa— Shutterstock 5 best places to see big wild cats
Tanzania is home to the largest lion population in Africa – Shutterstock

African lions used to be present across all of the continents but are now limited to the sub-Saharan countries including Tanzania, Botswana and Kenya. Seeing the king of nature is at the top of many safari travellers’ bucket list, but there are far fewer lions in existence than many people realise, meaning it can be difficult to stumble upon one.

Tanzania is home to the continent’s largest lion population which makes it the best destination for those hoping for a lion sighting. Here you will find the world’s greatest lion sanctuary being home to some 3,000 of the humungous kitties.

During the Great Migration in Serengeti, one of the natural world’s most spectacular events, you also have an increased chance of seeing lions hunting their prey.

Observe cheetahs in Kenya

One of the countries where you are most likely to spot a cheetah is Kenya— Shutterstock 5 best places to see big wild cats
One of the countries where you are most likely to spot a cheetah is Kenya – Shutterstock

Cheetahs also live mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, however, some are home in other parts of Africa and a small number can still be found in Algeria, Niger and Iran. Cheetah may be even more elusive than leopards and as their population is less abundant, meeting a cheetah in safari can be rare.

One of the countries where you are most likely to spot a cheetah is Kenya, which boasts two of the greatest national parks for cheetah sightings.

The Masai Mara Reserve is a large game reserve in Narok County, which is world renowned for its exceptional cheetah population. The game reserve is also one of the locations traversed during the Great Migration to and from the Serengeti, which again increases the chances of seeing cheetahs during this time.

The Lewa Downs Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya is also world renowned for its cheetah sightings, and the recent removal of the fence barriers between Lew and the Borana Ranch have made this cheetah habitat an even better destination for spotting the wild felines.

Gaze at jaguars in Pantanal, Brazil

There is only one place in the world where you can reliably spot jaguars in the wild, and that is the Brazilian Pantanal— Shutterstock 5 best places to see big wild cats
There is only one place in the world where you can reliably spot jaguars in the wild, and that is the Brazilian Pantanal – Shutterstock

Moving away from Africa and Asia, as, unlike many of their fellow big cats, Jaguars are native to central and South America, and also in some parts of North America including Texas, Arizona and California.

However, there is only one place in the world where you can reliably spot jaguars in the wild, and that is the Brazilian Pantanal. Here, jaguar sightings occur on an almost daily basis.

The Pantanal is a vast network of wetlands nearby the Amazonian, in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. The reason the Pantanal has a thriving jaguar population lies in its incredible biodiversity which offers jaguars the three things they need to survive – food, water and protection. Jaguars can be found in Pantanal year-round, but the optimum time for sightings is from June to October.

Information provided by Footloose Travel, experts on responsible wildlife holidays in Tanzania and around the world.