Visiting safaris in Africa is an experience high on many travelers’ lists. Having the opportunity to observe wild animals up close in their natural habitat undoubtedly makes for a thrilling and unforgettable trip. Africa’s iconic Big 5 are the African lion, rhinoceros, African elephant, leopard and Cape buffalo. The term “Big 5” and the designation of these animals came about in the 19th century when game hunters listed them as the most dangerous creatures to hunt on foot. 

Today, tourism to national parks and reserves helps support the conservation of the animals living there. The funds go towards protecting them from hunters, poachers and other threats. There are camps, resorts and lodges to fit various budgets and experience preferences. Whether you prefer to venture out into the bush in a vehicle, on foot or above in a hot air balloon, there are options to meet the needs of all adventurers, photographers and nature enthusiasts.

If seeing the Big 5 is a must for you, you’ll want to be sure to select safaris in Africa where they’re known to reside. Here are five national parks and reserves home to Africa’s Big 5. Be sure to plan ahead and book your safari well in advance. Accommodations and tours here are in high demand.

Serengeti National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is brimming with wildlife of all kinds. Nearly 15,000 square kilometers in size, it is home to 500 different bird species and 300 species of mammals. The protected area is one of the key spots for travelers who want to witness the Great Migration. During this yearly occurrence, around two million wildebeest, zebras, antelopes, gazelles and other herd animals travel from the Serengeti to Kenya’s Masai Mara in search of lush vegetation and water. If you’re hoping to visit during this spectacular natural event, you should plan your visit between June and September.

Maasai Mara National Reserve

If you’re hoping to witness the Great Migration during an African safari at Maasai Mara National Reserve, aim to visit between July and October. This area of preserved savannah wilderness is located in southwestern Kenya, and houses 90 mammal species and 500 bird species. Its landscape is comprised of grasslands, rolling hills an the Talek and Mara Rivers. The national reserve is named for the Maasai people who inhabit the area.

Kruger National Park

Spanning nearly 20,000 square kilometers, Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves on the continent. Located in northeastern South Africa, it became the country’s first national park in 1926. In addition to the Big 5, it is inhabited by 150 mammal species, 500 bird species and 100 reptile species. The park’s diversity extends to its plant life with over 2,000 species of plants. Hundreds of archeological sites also can be found in one of the largest safaris in Africa. Kruger is also part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, which UNESCO has named an International Man and Biosphere Reserve.

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park is located in northwestern Namibia. One of the things that makes it so unique is the massive salt pan set within it. At close to 5,000 square kilometers, the Etosha Pan is the largest of its kind in Africa. It is so large it can be seen from space. Despite the fact that this vast, bare area covers almost a quarter of the park, Etosha National Park has no shortage of wildlife to encounter on a safari. Due to the nutrients and vitamins found in the soil here, its elephants are some of the largest in Africa. After heavy rains, a thin layer of water accumulates on the Etosha Pan, attracting flocks of flamingos.