Alternative Ways to See the Big 5
Big 5 Safaris Rhino Sighting

The African safari is simply not complete, especially for the first-time traveller, without seeing the Big 5. While the African continent is packed full of some of the world’s most incredible animals, living freely and somewhat safe and undisturbed in the continent’s various national parks and conservancies, the Big 5 are still the animals travellers are most excited to see. 

And what a sight they make.

The iconic lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo are revered by both locals as well as international travellers and whether you see them for the first time or the twentieth, the experience is always unique as no two sightings are the same; the animals are always doing something you haven’t seen them do before, they are always in a different location (or even a different park altogether) and the feeling is always magnificent. 

What can also make the experience feel different is how you choose to see the Big 5 on your African safari. 

The most conventional or traditional way to see the Big 5 is from a safari vehicle. These open air vehicles are built specifically for the safari game drive, providing seating that has the traveller sitting high up enough to spot all sorts of animals from afar, all while enjoying the fresh air and the interesting smells. 

But this is far from your only option, and if you are looking for a more unique way of seeing these exceptional animals, this is just the blog for you. 

African Walking Safari

Seeing the Big 5 by Land

This is by far the most accessible, most affordable and most common way of seeing the Big 5. 

While traditional vehicle safaris offer fantastic opportunities to see the Big 5, there’s a whole other world waiting to be discovered when you explore Africa’s wilderness on foot. 

Game walks offer a far more immersive and intimate experience with nature compared to a vehicle safari. Gone are the engine noises and the limitations of staying on designated tracks. Instead, you become part of the environment, moving quietly alongside your experienced guide, following animal signs and learning how to “read” the bush.

And game walks have plenty of benefits too! 

For starters, you can learn the unique art of tracking animals on foot, deciphering their footprints, looking at dung samples, and finding the other clues left behind. The satisfaction of following these signs and encountering a magnificent herd of wildebeest and zebra or a leopard hiding in a nearby tree, for instance, is like no other. 

A game walk also allows you to experience the African bush with all your senses. 

You can listen to the chattering monkeys, the trumpeting elephants, and the lazy purring of crickets on a hot day while you feel the warm African sun on your skin and the soft grass beneath your feet (although, we do, of course, encourage sturdy walking shoes when on a walking safari. Stepping on a thorn from an acacia tree is no joke!). 

All game walks are conducted by a knowledgeable guide, who will transform the landscape into an open book, by teaching and showing you the intricate relationships between plants and animals. You also get to learn about the medicinal properties of local flora and how certain species have adapted to survive in this harsh environment.

Aside from the walking safari, another alternative way to see the Big 5 overland is with a horseback riding African safari.

For those seeking an extra dose of adrenaline, the lesser known horseback riding safari offers a truly unique perspective of not just the Big 5 and the bush, but also about how the earliest settlers would have made their way through these rough and wild places. 

These safaris will have you cantering across the savannah plains, feeling the wind in your hair and encountering wildlife most unobtrusively. Horseback safaris are perfect for experienced riders and come with the added benefit of potentially accessing areas inaccessible by vehicle.

While walks and horseback tours are a wonderful experience, there is still the option of the humble game drive. 

One of the best ways to explore any wildlife park, including the Kruger which remains Southern Africa’s most popular safari destination, really maximise your chances of spotting the Big 5 is through a classic guided game drive. 

A defining feature of the vehicle safari experience is the open-air vehicle. These specially designed 4x4s allow for unobstructed panoramic views, ensuring you don’t miss a single moment of the action. And these tours are generally conducted in the company of experienced rangers or guides and with their deep knowledge of the park’s ecosystem and animal behaviour; you will have a real African adventure. 

Botswana Holiday in the Okavango Delta

Seeing the Big 5 from Water

We’re now getting into some real alternative sightseeing! Being able to spot the Big 5 from a watercraft is something that can only be done in two destinations, which adds to the uniqueness of this particular experience. 

For just a moment, imagine a place where crystal-clear waters weave through a reed-lined emerald labyrinth. Away from the crowds and the noise of our modern world, all you hear while seated in a light boat is the gentle swish of the oars as they touch the waters and the occasional chorus of birdsong. 

This might sound like an out-of-reach paradise, but it’s actually the Okavango Delta, a breathtaking oasis in the heart of Botswana. 

Often referred to as Africa’s “Jewel of the Kalahari,” the Delta is home to one of the continent’s most unique ecosystems, one teeming with wildlife, including all of the members of the Big 5.

The Okavango Delta is a marvel of nature. 

Unlike most deltas that empty into the ocean, the Okavango River spreads out into the Kalahari Desert, creating a permanent wetland that perfectly supports the wildlife. Lush papyrus reeds line the waterways, while islands of acacia trees dot the landscape, offering refuge to an array of animals. 

For travellers, this ecosystem provides a harmonious blend of water and land travel, creating a wildlife-viewing experience unlike any other.

One of the most captivating ways to experience the Okavango Delta is through a river tour. These tours are normally done on a traditional boat called a mokoro but there are also motorised boat tours, depending on the tour you’ve booked. 

Unlike traditional vehicle safaris, these boat excursions allow you to glide through a network of channels and waterways inaccessible by land vehicles, seeing the Big 5 and more along the way. 

The Okavango Delta is not just home to the iconic Big 5, but there is also a variety of semi-aquatic animals that thrive here. 

Aside from the Delta, you can also have a boat safari on the Zambezi River, although this one might not have you seeing all of the Big 5. 

Few sights in Africa inspire awe quite like the mighty Zambezi River. 

Snaking its way across Zambia, Zimbabwe, and several other countries, the Zambezi is a lifeline for the region, nourishing the ecosystems and home to stunning scenery. But beyond its utter beauty, the Zambezi also supports a range of wildlife, including some of the members of the Big 5, making it a prime destination for an unforgettable safari adventure.

Gliding silently along the water allows you to access hidden coves and inlets, spotting wildlife that may be more elusive on land. It is not at all uncommon to come face-to-face with a family of elephants enjoying a drink at the water’s edge or to see crocodiles basking on sun-drenched rocks.

Namibia Safari Light Air Craft

Seeing the Big 5 from the Air

Finally, and possibly the most unconventional way to see the Big 5, taking to the skies is another option and one that will place you among the lucky few who have been able to have such an exclusive experience. 

Drifting silently above the vast expanse of the Namib Desert, the world’s oldest desert, as the first rays of dawn light up the dunes, a hot air balloon safari is an unforgettable experience that takes you beyond the limitations of land-based safaris and offers a truly once in a lifetime perspective on Africa’s wilderness.

Hot air balloon safaris offer a uniquely serene way to see wildlife. 

Unlike the adrenaline rush of a land safari, these gentle journeys allow you to observe animals from a distance, without disturbing their natural behaviour. There is a certain peacefulness that comes from drifting above a herd of elephants as they graze on acacia trees, or spotting a pride of lions lazing in the morning sun. 

And for those seeking an extra dose of exclusivity and an exceptional aerial view, small plane tours and helicopter flights are also available. 

These aerial tours often cover huge distances, allowing you to see a variety of incredible natural spectacles like animal migrations in all their glory. Some of these tours even take you over Etosha National Park, where your chance of a Big 5 sighting increases that little bit more. 

It’s important to acknowledge that small plane tours and helicopter flights come with a higher price tag compared to other safari options. However, the exclusivity, the out of this world aerial perspective, and the chance to witness nature on a grand scale make these African safaris an experience just perfect for the truly adventurous traveller.

Tired of the same old safari experience?

Forget the bumpy game drives and crowded vehicles and try out one of these alternative ways to see Africa’s majestic Big 5!