Game Viewing Drives — African Big Five Animals

The African Big Five animals are the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros (black/white). Why are they called the Big Five? The term Big Five game was first used by hunters because they are the most dangerous and challenging animals to hunt on foot.

For most travelers to the African continent, a safari adventure includes game drives to catch a glimpse of the Big Five animals.

I have outlined some of the best destinations for a safari vacation for the Big Five viewing games. Also, as a bonus, I added some tips to make sure that you fully enjoy your game drive adventure on the Dark Continent.

Now without any further ado, where should you go?

Best Destinations for the Big Five

First, before choosing a destination for your safari vacation, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I indeed want to see all the Big Five animals during my African safari vacation?
  • Apart from the Big Five, are there other mammals as well as other wildlife (reptiles, birds, etc.) that I want to see during my safari?

The answers to these questions will help you choose your African safari destinations.

African big five animals — graffiti in nanyuki.
Vasylysk, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here are some of the African countries where you can see all the Big Five animals:

  • Botswana
  • Kenya
  • Malawi
  • Namibia
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Uganda
  • Zimbabwe

Keep an open mind when choosing your African safari destination. Many countries contain only 4 of the Big Five animals. A good example of this is Zambia.

Over most of the Zambian territory, you will not find any rhinoceros, one of the animals of the Big Five. Nevertheless, Zambia is well-renowned to offer the best safari experience on the Dark Continent.

Day and Night Drives

Game drives could be a 2-hour excursion to a whole day! Often time, you will be able to go on day and night drives.

The day drives are usually done early in the morning and late in the afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. Moreover, the animals are most active during those times.

The Sabi Sand Reserve in South Africa is a private concession where you are allowed to drive off the roads. By doing so, you can get even closer to the animals.

However, in National Parks and Game Reserves managed by the government, you have to stay on the roads!

Night drives allow you to observe many nocturnal species that you would otherwise miss. A spotlight is used to find wildlife in the dark. The animals are spotted by the reflection of their eyes.

Most of the National Parks and Reserves don’t offer night drives on their territory. Therefore, the only way to experience a night drive is to go to private concessions or wildlife conservancies.

Open or Close Sided 4X4 Vehicles?

First of all, some safari companies use their game drives a minivan or a minibus. Please, don’t settle for that! The vehicle of choice is a 4X4 vehicle!

Most of the 4X4 vehicles could sit up to 10 persons. However, you should request when possible to be no more than 5-6 people per vehicle. By doing so, you will thoroughly enjoy wildlife sightings.

African big five animals — land rover defender game drive vehicle for use in the kruger national park.
Barkerperformance, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In East Africa, close-sided 4X4 vehicles are the vehicles of choice for game drives. Why? Because of the distance traveled while on a game drive and the weather! The close-sided vehicles always have roof hatches and regular windows.

In Southern Africa, the safari companies prefer to use open-sided 4X4 vehicles, which are built for rough terrain. These vehicles usually have a canopy to protect you from the scorching sun.

Using open-sided vehicles, allows you to experience the surrounding sounds and smells. Regardless of your safari destination, you should always opt for an open-sided 4X4 vehicle for your game viewing drives.


Many African countries offer game drives that focus on the Big Five animals.

However, you should widen your horizon a bit, while you are researching safari destinations. Besides the Big Five, there are other animals worth seeing on the African continent!

If you are looking for a safari experience with loads of game drives, read my full review about the Kruger Park Safari here.

If you have any questions about game drives, please leave a comment below. I would love to get your feedback!

Photo of author

Sonia Zannoni

My name is Sonia, a traveler enthusiast and the CEO of Wildlife Safari Adventures. My goal with Wildlife Safari Adventures is to provide insightful information to help you better plan your African travels. Are you ready to uncover the many facets of the Dark Continent?

8 thoughts on “Game Viewing Drives — African Big Five Animals”

  1. Hi Sonia
    Ah wow, this is right up my alley as I am from South Africa. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen the big five and let me tell you, it still amuses me, and I will never get bored or over it. Seeing those animals in the wildlife is simply a feeling you can’t explain to someone. They have to go and experience it for themselves. My uncle stays in Komatipoort. It borders the Kruger National Park, known worldwide for its wildlife. When sunbathing at the swimming pool, we look right onto the Crocodile River, where the elephants and hippos roam. We actually had a close encounter with a lion on my uncle’s farm as it somehow came over the border fence. It was absolutely horrifying, and we escaped unharmed as I think the lion had more of a fright than us. I just love the wildlife, excellent article.

  2. I’ve never been across the pond where any of these big animals can be found naturally in the wild. If ever I had the chance, I’d definitely go on one of these safari’s. I don’t think that there was a time I’ve ever thought of Africa and not thought about any one of the big 5.

    I’m an animal lover, have been since I was a kid. That would be amazing to me to get out there.

    • I also love the wildlife. I grew up watching a TV show called: Mutual of Omaha’s, the Wild Kingdom hosted by Marlin Perkins. Each week, a documentary was presented, allowing you to learn more about the wildlife and their habitats. The show was a precursor to National Geographic!

      Nevertheless, ever since, I have been fascinated by the Big Five animals and the wildlife, in general, and always looking to learn more and share my knowledge with others.

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  3. Wow, I was so happy to come across your site! Haha, I’ve always wanted to go on a wildlife safari. It is great that you provide some great destinations here, as it’s hard knowing where to start.

    In other news, it’s very disheartening to see individuals who take advantage of this by hunting down these animals. Nonetheless, I’ve heard some great things about Kruger National Park and would love to take a visit there someday. Thanks 🙂

    • You’re referring to the hunter who killed the beloved lion, Cecil, the emblem of Zimbabwe. Yes, it is sad that people are driven solely by greed and willing to resort to poaching to get what they want! Now, that hunter is being hunted!

      The Kruger National Park is an excellent destination for seeing the big five through game drives. If you want to learn more about a safari adventure in the Kruger National Park, read my full review: Kruger Park Safari Review – The Big Five Experience.

  4. It must be really exciting to see the African big five. It must also be a little frightening. I would choose a closed sided 4×4. One never knows!

    • Yes, the African big five animals are awe-inspiring creatures up close!

      As for the vehicles for the game drives, depending on the destination you have selected for your safari, you might not have the choice when it comes to the car used for the game drives! However, even if you get an open vehicle, you’ll be fine if you follow some simple rules, such as: Don’t get out of the car unless your tour guide permits you to do so, and keep your limbs inside the vehicle so that you return home with all of them!


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