Secretive by nature, the leopard can be one of the hardest predators to come across whilst on safari, yet they are by far the most mesmerising and photogenic cats to encounter. So, we decided to create a safari showcasing the 2 regions with the highest recorded densities of leopards – too ensure that you get plenty of incredible opportunities to view and photograph these beautiful big cats!
Itinerary in Brief
Where can you travel to be guaranteed a leopard sighting? There are only 2 regions where we would be so bold as to guarantee such a thing. Without a doubt the answer is the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa and the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. In fact, in these areas it can happen that you can see 2 or 3 different leopards on a single outing if you are lucky! We take the luck out of the equation and put you right in the heart of leopard territory, so the odds are in your favour.
Starting off in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, an area not only a paradise for leopards but for all members of the Big 5. Spending a full 4 nights here and you’ll most likely view and photograph all of the Big 5 but especially the resident leopards, most of which are familiar to the guides who know their individual habits and how to track them down. A highlight here would be to find a mother nurturing her cubs or a big tom (male leopard) with his fresh kill up an iconic Marula tree – regular sighted in the Sabi Sands! After these first 4 nights, your memory cards might be full so it’s time for a direct flight to the town of Livingstone in Zambia for a bit of R&R. Spend 2 nights here enjoying sunset boat cruises and a guided tour of the famous Victoria Falls while preparing for the next leopard hotspot. Then boarding another flight going via Lusaka eventually has you landing in the Luangwa Valley, also known as the ‘valley of the leopard’ and for good reason too – it’s said to have one of the highest density of leopards on the planet during the dry season. As the availability of water and vegetation decreases, the prey species concentrate along the lagoons and banks of the Luangwa river, supporting a higher density of predators than would otherwise be possible because of the shear abundance of food. This concentration of food leads to less competition between predators and a tolerance of each other’s presence in a much smaller area than typical elsewhere. To cut a long story short, there’s exception chances of viewing lions, hyenas, wild dogs and leopards all within a relatively small stretch of river frontage, floodplains and surrounding woodland – particularly from August to end October. Spending 4 nights here ensures great chances of finding these predators as they hunt, and a great highlight is watching the leopards make use of the deep trenches, formed by hippos, to their advantage to stalk Puku antelope – often during the day!
South Luangwa is also the birthplace of walking safaris, so we highly recommend adding a few extra nights in a dedicated walking safari camp. If you need even more leopards in your life, then we suggest flying down to Lower Zambezi National Park for a few extra nights.
Nights 1-4: Kirkmans Camp
The Sabi Sand is arguably a safari experience like no other in the world. Sharing an unfenced boundary with the Kruger National Park, the reserve benefits from a great diversity of wildlife – although it is particularly well known for its prolific leopard sightings. Game drives traverse an area of 10 500 hectares (26 000 acres) and strict vehicle limits at sightings ensure the exclusivity of an up-close game viewing experience.
Enjoy spectacular views of the unspoiled landscape that surrounds the Sand River from each of the lodge’s 12 guest cottages. Here, old meets new; with antique-styled beds seamlessly blending with modern comforts and claw foot bathtubs, fireplaces and private verandas creating a warm and inviting ambience.
Nights 5 & 6: Thorntree River Lodge
Thorntree River Lodge is set in Zambia’s Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, just a short distance from the famous Victoria Falls. The lodge has drawn inspiration from local customs and culture to create a modern and contemporary design with tented roof structures to maintain the feel of authentic Africa. Take advantage of a combination of wildlife, culture and adrenalin activities on offer in the area. Eight suites and two family suites are situated along the edge of the mighty Zambezi River. Each unit has its own indoor and outdoor bathrooms, as well as a luxurious private plunge pool.
The lodge offers a tranquil base from which to explore a plethora of awe-inspiring activities, all within easy access of the lodge in Livingstone Zambia. Showcasing incredible river panoramas from its unique vantage, the shared areas are fluid hubs of relaxation; the lounge flows seamlessly into the dining area, and the library hosts WIFI connectivity. The communal deck is set on the edge of the stunning riverside and is home to a sunken boma area and an infinity pool. There is also a gym and spa which promote a sense of holistic wellbeing at Thorntree River Lodge.
Nights 7-10: Lion Camp
Lion Camp is located far north of the busier Mfuwe area of the South Luangwa National Park, in an area which offers more exclusivity and has an abundance of wildlife. The area is home to spectacular and frequent sightings of lions, wild dog, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and everything else!
The camp offers 10 luxury canvas and thatch suites of which 8 are luxury suites and 2 are deluxe suites. Each suite is on a raised timber platform and offers a private deck, ensuite bathroom facilities, charging facilities, hairdryers, free wifi and outstanding quality linen. The main lodge contains an airy thatched area with many seating areas, swimming pool and a well-stocked bar, full size snookers table, shop and coffee station. The camp has electricity 24 hours a day which is supplied by solar power and backup generator.
The area lends itself to outstanding photographic opportunities with little other traffic compared to further south in the park, making this a great destination for keen photographers, particularly those in search of predators. Walking safaris are also on offer which are a great way to experience the finer details of the landscape otherwise missed on a vehicle.
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Contact SAFARI FRANK to get started on your safari of a lifetime!