Where Are the Best Places to See the Big 5?

Posted on November 17th, 2020 by Overland Africa

Members of the Big 5 are found in different concentrations across Africa. If you want the best chance of seeing them all on a single safari – sometimes, if you’re really lucky on a single game drive or in a single day – then head to the following places:


How to Photograph the Big 5

African elephant (Loxodonta africana)

The classic way to watch elephants in Chobe is by boat. This gives you great sightings of them swimming, wallowing and spraying themselves with water. 

Male African elephants are the world’s largest terrestrial animal reaching heights of four metres / 13 feet and weighing up to 7 000kg / 15 000lb. Their incisors grow into tusks, which they use to move objects, dig and as weapons, while their famously large ears help control their body temperature. Related females live in family groups with their calves, while mature males live alone or in bachelor herds. Elephants are gregarious with multiple family groups socializing together.

Where to see big herds:

How to get the shot:

Use a wide-angle lens to contextualize them in the natural landscape. Choose a zoom lens to capture intimate physical characteristics, like their tusks, trunks or wonderfully expressive eyes. Emphasize their size by shooting from different angles, for example from ground level if you can get into a hide.


Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

Buffalo on the move can be a formidable sight – this determined herd was spotted in Hwange. 

The African or Cape buffalo is a large, horned bovine found in South and East Africa. Both males and females have horns that form a continuous bone shield across the top of their skulls. Buffalo are very unpredictable and quite fearless, which explains why buffalo have never been domesticated. They are not the ancestors of domestic cattle and are only distantly related to other bovines, like the Asian water buffalo. Only lions have the group strength to hunt buffalos and these bovines are no easy meal – they are quite capable of defending themselves and will gore predators to protect their herd mates. A herd of buffalo can easily intimidate a pride of lions and there is footage of a resolute buffalo putting its head down and simply ‘walking off’ attacking juvenile lions.

Where to see big herds:

How to get the shot:

Buffalo are tricky to photograph because the darkness of their hides is a constant challenge to your exposure. However, a backlit herd on the move with dust clouds kicked up around them offers one of the most atmospheric scenes to photograph. Lone bulls offer great character studies too with their huge horns and inscrutable expressions. Bulls love to wallow in mud, which makes for superbly textured black and white images. Look out too for small birds known as oxpeckers that nibble ticks and fleas out their ears, which can make for interesting images as the delicacy of the birds contrasts with the looming bulk of the buffalo.

African Lion (Panthera leo)

An exclusive sighting in the Sabi Sands as this lion surveys his territory. 

About 10 000 years ago, lions were among the most widespread large land mammals after humans. Today, they are a vulnerable species with most of the world’s wild lions living in sub-Saharan Africa. Lions are unusually social compared to other cats – a pride consists of related females, their cubs and a handful of adult males. Prides spend their days dozing in comfort and hunt in the dark hours between dusk and dawn. Females typically hunt together and are considered apex predators.

Where to see them:

How to get the shot:

Capturing an extraordinary lion image depends as much on your patience as on your ability to observe them when they are resting during the day, preparing to hunt at dusk or on a kill at dawn. Only private reserves and concessions offer night drives, which offer the chance to capture a pride in a playful mood before hunting or after feeding. If you are lucky enough to witness lions feeding, don’t forget to shoot some wides of the action happening around a kill, like incoming vultures, sniffing hyenas or skulking jackals. Cubs are wonderful subjects and often more active during the day than adults. A tight zoom makes the most of all their adorable features, from oversized paws and ears to kitten-like growls.

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

A leopard limbers up from the safety of her tree before sauntering off to see what the Masai Mara holds. 

Leopards are smaller and lighter than jaguars with similar rosettes on their fur and, like jaguars, melanistic leopards are called black panthers. Leopards are solitary creatures that make excellent use of camouflage and are strong enough to drag their prey up into trees, away from rival predators and scavengers. Leopards are one of the fastest big cats, able to reach speeds up to 58km / 36mi per hour. Leopards are masters of camouflage, naturally shy and nocturnal, which is why they are so hard to find and observe in the wild. If this is the creature you most want to see, definitely let your consultant know so that your game viewing takes place in reserves where leopard sightings are regular and the population of these cats is healthy and stable.

Where to see them:

How to get the shot:

Triple check your settings and review your images between shots to make sure your exposure is good when shooting leopard. If your leopard is in a tree with a bright sky background, use your camera’s spot meter function to get the best possible reading of the light where the leopard is – not the sky – then either manually plug in the values or use your Auto Exposure lock function to prevent your leopard from being underexposed. In low light, bump up your ISO and set your aperture at its widest – your depth of field will be very shallow, so take a moment to think about the focal point in the image you’re composing. Some of the most evocative leopard images make a focal point of their wonderfully enigmatic eyes.


Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis and Ceratotherium simum)

A lucky shot in Phinda: adult rhinos aren’t bothered by a single lion as their horns could easily gore him to death. 

Rhinos range in colour from pale grey to medium brown – it’s not their colour but the shape of their upper lip that determines which sub-species is which. ‘Black’ rhinos have a hooked, pointed upper lip while ‘white’ rhinos have a broad, square upper lip. The species is classified as critically endangered: rhinos are killed to supply the demand for their horns in Asia. A rhino horn is made of keratin – the same substance as our hair and nails – which means it will re-grow if cut. However, the illegal trade values the base of the horn under the skin, the harvesting of which results in such severe wounds that rhinos that might have survived the initial assault invariably die of shock and blood loss when their horns are removed by chainsaw or machete.

Where to see them:

How to get the shot:

Like elephants, the sheer massive bulk of rhinos make for a rich variety of composition options. A wide angle delivers context while a zoom allows you to focus on the fascinating aspects of their prehistoric-looking bodies. Their ears and eyes are particularly expressive and the bouncing antics of young calves more than makes up for the fairly sedentary habits of the adults. Rhinos lend themselves to compelling compositions featuring a lone individual in a wide-open landscape as well as hopeful images of youngsters whose horns have yet to grow.

If you’d like to help the rhino survive, we support Rhinos Without Borders because we believe their approach has the best chance of success. You can help them move rhinos from poaching hot spots in South Africa to safety and security in Botswana, a mammoth operation involving helicopters, vets, trucks and special bomas.

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Our 10 Favourite Destinations in Namibia

Posted on November 3rd, 2020 by Overland Africa

1. Sossusvlei

The mesmerising sand dunes of Sossusvlei  in the Namib Desert are often referred to as the highest dunes on the planet. Situated in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the biggest conservation area in Africa, Sossusvlei is one of the most spectacular sights in Namibia and delivers incredible photographic opportunities – best around sunrise and sunset.

Why Go

2. Etosha National Park

Considered by many safari aficionados as one of Africa’s greatest wildlife reserves, Etosha is situated in northern Namibia and is a self-driver’s paradise – thanks to its great roads. Weighing in at 22 270 square kilometres (8 600 square miles), it’s home to four of the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, lion and leopard), as well as giraffe, cheetah and an abundance of plains game.

Etosha aptly means ‘Great White Place’ as it’s dominated by a colossal mineral pan, Etosha Pan, four times the size of Los Angeles. During Namibia’s dry season (May to October), the temporary water holes around Etosha Pan host animal numbers of biblical proportions and is undoubtedly the best time for a safari in Namibia.

Why Go

3. Damaraland

Arguably one of the most scenic parts of Namibia, Damaraland is a massive, untamed and ruggedly beautiful region. If you’re the intrepid kind, this incredible hinterland offers an adventure beyond compare. Prehistoric water streams with wide-open plains and grassland, granite hills and deep gorges are par for the course with Damaraland. The geography changes dramatically to the west: endless sandy wastelands eventually meet the turbulent Atlantic Ocean at the Skeleton Coast.

Damaraland is home to very unique animals that have adapted their lifestyles to survive in one of our planet’s harshest environments. Small populations of desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe, ostrich, oryx and springbok (gazelle) can be seen here. Desert-adapted elephants can travel up to 70 kilometres (40 miles) a day through the desert in search for food and water – and unlike their savannah cousins, they don’t destroy any trees in their quest for nourishment.


The Brandberg

The ‘fire mountain’ is the highest peak in Namibia at 2 573 metres or 8 440 feet. It’s named after the effect that the setting sun creates on its western face, causing it to resemble a burning slag heap. The Brandberg harbours one of the world’s richest collections of ancient rock paintings (including the famous ‘White Lady’) and is considered Africa’s biggest open-air art gallery. The area also has a number of archaeological sites and a fascinating variety of rare plant species.


Twyfelfontein (‘doubtful fountain’) is a World Heritage Site of about 2 000 ancient rock engravings and paintings, one of the biggest and most important concentrations of rock art in Africa. A visit to this alluring valley will reveal artwork produced by San hunters of the early Stone Age. The San people are members of different indigenous hunter-gatherer groups that are the first nations of Southern Africa and were likely drawn to the area’s only perennial spring during this prehistoric period.

The Petrified Forest

This prehistoric relic is located in the southern part of Damaraland, an area that was subjected to immense volcanic action. About 200 000 years ago, huge tree trunks were washed down ancient rivers and deposited in rich alluvial soils. These tree trunks became fossilised through a process called silicification that transforms wood into stone. Erosion has exposed many of the giant logs that can be seen in the area today.

The Organ Pipes

The Organ Pipes are a distinctive series of dolerite pillars and another well-known geological feature in Damaraland. Located near Twyfelfontein, The Organ Pipes were formed about 150 million years ago by the intrusion of liquid lava into a slate rock formation.

4. Kaokoveld

Considered one of the last remaining wilderness areas in Southern Africa, Kaokoveld is an otherworldly and mountainous landscape of rugged beauty. Like Etosha, the region is a refuge for rare desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe, oryx and even lion. Silent, huge and for the most part empty, Kaokoveld is truly off the beaten path and best experienced as a fly-in destination.

Kaokoveld has a population density of only one person per two square kilometres (0.8 square miles) and about a third of the region’s inhabitants are the Himba: a semi-nomadic and pastoral people noted for their ability to survive in an arid and unforgiving environment.

Why Go

5. Skeleton Coast National Park

Usually associated with famous shipwrecks and fables of sailors walking for hundreds of miles in search of food and water, the Skeleton Coast is a mysterious place where the dunes of the world’s oldest desert meet the turbulent Atlantic Ocean to form one of the most dramatic coastlines on our planet. The San Bushmen called it ‘The Land God Made in Anger’ and the Portuguese explorers knew it as ‘The Gates of Hell’, but it’s believed to be named after all the bones that lined the beaches from old whaling operations and seal hunts.

The one-of-a-kind Shipwreck Lodge is the only property situated in the Skeleton Coast National Park. Here you can track desert-dwelling animals on 4×4 excursions or go on guided beach walks to explore the debris from centuries-old ships that fell victim to the Skeleton Coast’s shifting sandbanks, dense fog and perilous currents.

Why Go

  • 4×4 excursions into the Namib Desert and Hoanib River Delta
  • Track desert-dwelling elephants, the elusive desert-adapted lion and brown hyena
  • See the rich birdlife – nearly 250 species
  • Scenic flights over a hauntingly beautiful coastline

6. Zambezi Region (formerly Caprivi Strip)

Considered by many as Namibia’s answer to the Okavango Delta, the Caprivi offers an incredible water-based safari experience within its riverine forests and vast wetlands. The region’s big drawcard is that it’s surrounded by four perennial rivers – Chobe, Kwando, Linyanti and Zambezi – which makes it a haven for elephant, buffalo, hippo and crocodile. The birdwatching is also superb: the region has recorded a staggering 600 plus species. Caprivi is home to several intimate game reserves with excellent lodges that offer boat safaris and fantastic sunset cruises.

Why Go

  • Outstanding bird-watching destination
  • Fantastic game drives, boat safaris and fishing excursions
  • Excellent safari lodges in serene riverside settings

7. Swakopmund

The quaint seaside holiday town of Swakopmund blends its German colonial heritage with a distinctive African character, one of Namibia’s most surreal and unique destinations. Its palm-lined streets, seaside promenades and pleasant summer climate make Swakop a great stop-over during a Namibia safari and the perfect place for self-drivers to restock and get some rest.

Swakopmund has become Namibia’s leading adrenaline destination and offers a wide range of activities like sandboarding, quad biking and 4×4 driving in the dunes. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can also enjoy boat excursions to look for seals and dolphins or simply explore Swakop’s restaurants, cafés, art galleries and museums.

Why go

  • A great stop-over during your safari moving between Skeleton Coast or Etosha and the Namib Desert
  • Explore quaint cafés, restaurants and art galleries
  • Namibia’s adrenaline capital – enjoy activities like sandboarding and quad biking
  • Guided tour to see the Little 5 of the Namib Desert: Namaqua chameleon, sidewinder snake, Namib dune gecko, Fitzsimons burrowing skink (a legless lizard) and the white lady dancing spider

8. The Fish River Canyon

Located in the south of Namibia, the Fish River Canyon is the world’s second largest canyon and features a colossal ravine of about 160km (100 miles) long, up to 27km (17 miles) wide and almost 550 metres (1 805 feet) at its deepest. The immensity of this magnificent landscape is truly breath-taking: a flat plateau that suddenly drops half a vertical kilometre into a twisting kaleidoscope of hues formed over millions of years by erosion.

This spectacular environment provides refuge for mammals and an abundance of reptiles, insects and fish. Natural hot springs on the canyon’s floor form pools of water which also attract many types of water birds. Other canyon residents include mountain zebra, kudu, oryx and gazelle that attract predators like leopard, jackal, brown hyena and bat-eared fox.

Why Go

  • Explore the world’s second largest canyon on foot or by horseback
  • Visit the popular Ai-Ais: natural hot springs on the canyon floor
  • Some of the best hiking trails in Southern Africa

9. Kolmanskop

The country’s most famous ghost town is situated in the Sperrgebiet (‘forbidden territory’) of southern Namibia. After a diamond was discovered in the area during the early 1900s, fortune hunters moved into Kolmanskop causing a huge and frantic diamond rush. The small town soon developed into a bustling centre featuring elegant houses, a hospital, ballroom, school, casino and an ice cream factory. Development reached its pinnacle in the 1920s, but the town started declining after World War One when diamond prices crashed.

Within a period of 40 years, Kolmanskop flourished and died. The Namib Desert is slowly but surely swallowing this ghost town’s crumbling ruins which bear very little resemblance to its former affluent glory. Today, Kolmanskop delivers eerily beautiful photographic opportunities and is a popular destination for film shoots.

Why Go

  • Take a tour through a real-life ghost town
  • A one-of-a-kind photography experience

10. Okonjima Nature Reserve

konjima lies halfway between Windhoek (Namibia’s capital) and Etosha National Park, making it a convenient stopover between the two. The reserve is well known for its fantastic cheetah and leopard sightings, and it’s home to The AfriCat Foundation – a non-profit organisation that makes significant contributions to the long-term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores like leopard, cheetah and brown hyena in their natural habitat.

Why Go

  • One of the best places to see leopard in Namibia
  • Track cheetah and brown hyena on game drives
  • Fantastic birdwatching destination

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