Guide to Big Cat Safaris: Leopards & snow leopards
Handsome and elusive, leopards are found in more diverse habitats in Africa and Asia than any other big cat.
The experience of seeing leopards and snow leopards in the wild
Every experience of spotting a leopard is different depending on where you are, what season it is and what time of day you’re looking for them.
Two things that you need whatever your circumstance, however, is patience and an eagle eye. They are very good at keeping still and blending into their environment, and rarely make it easy for you to find them. On the plus side, though, they are not usually very skittish so will often hang around to be admired if you’re quiet and they’re comfortable – they are cats, after all!
Planning a safari to see leopards
In India, you generally have more chance of seeing leopards where there is no significant tiger population. We’d therefore recommend that if seeing leopards is your main goal, some of the smaller parks could be better than the larger Indian reserves, and possibly best of all is the Jawai Hills in Rajasthan.
In Africa, they really are everywhere but there are some reserves which are particularly known for their leopard sightings. Possibly the best plan is to decide what else you are keen to see, then talk to us about an itinerary which would bring together your best chances of seeing leopards plus including your other interests.
Since leopards are found in more places than any other big cat, this list of places includes just some of our recommendations. We’re always happy to advise.
Probably the most difficult big cat to find, the snow leopard inhabits remote, mountainous areas in central Asia. For us, the place to go is Ladakh in the foothills of the Himalayas. You need to give it time, you need to be prepared for discomfort and cold, and you need a good guide, but if you allow for these things, you stand a decent chance of seeing one of these ‘ghosts of the mountain’.
INDIA, Nagarhole National Park
Set in the Western Ghats hills in southern India, this is one of India’s best places to see leopards and you might even see a black leopard (black panther) which is known to be in this park. With a good variety of other wildlife in the park, and some great birdlife, this is a great choice.
Suggested Places to Stay
Botswana is generally good for seeing leopards, especially around the top-end luxury lodge, Mombo, and in the wider Okavango Delta. In Savuti and Mashatu Game Reserve in the south there can be some great sightings too. There is good game viewing throughout this country.
Suggested Places to Stay
AFRICA: Masai Mara, Kenya
The Masai Mara is definitely one of the best big cat spots in Africa. Leopards are found throughout the national reserve and also in the adjacent private conservancies such as Olare Motorogi, Mara North and Naboisho which all boast good leopard sightings.
Suggested Places to Stay
The best time to see leopards and snow leopards
SNOW LEOPARDS, INDIA: The best time to see snow leopards in India is in the mid-winter months from January to March – but beware, it’s cold!
LEOPARDS, INDIA: As with tigers, your very best chance of seeing these big cats is in the hottest, driest season (say March to June), but much of this time tends to be unbearable for most travellers, so we recommend February to April as the best months to come. However, you might see leopards any time from October to June.
LEOPARDS, AFRICA: You can see African leopards all year round, though the hot, drier seasons of each destination are the best times (see the ‘Best Times’ table).
The number of leopards we saw was amazing. We saw at least one on most days at South Luangwa, and some cubs at Lower Zambezi
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Seeing a leopard at night as we paddled down the tranquil river at Satpura in India was just magical.”
The leopard is listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Unsurprisingly, their biggest threat comes from humans: their habitat is taken from them and they are killed for eating livestock, plus they are killed for their body parts, especially their beautiful coat.
If you want to help leopards, various charities work with them to help reduce or mediate in human-wildlife conflict, such as the African Wildlife Foundation.
Seeing snow leopards in the wild has been a long-held ambition of my wife and me and this trip delivered big time, with no less than four separate sightings. Expectations were low given the difficulties involved and the rarity of the animal but they were well exceeded.
14 days from £4850pp plus international flights.
Visit the remote region of Ladakh north of the Himalayas as you trek in the mountains in search of the rare and beautiful snow leopard.
- Trek in the mountains in search of snow leopards
- Guide and spotter to optimise sightings
- Homestays in remote villages
- Visit Hemis Gompa
- Walk on a frozen river
12 days from £7500pp plus international flights.
Experience the contrasts of city life, the desert and safari as you stay in style at specially selected luxury accommodation.
- Go on fynbos and flower walks in Hermanus
- Explore Cape Town
- Go sea kayaking and meet the penguins at Boulders Beach
- Have a family day out in the Winelands
- See black-maned lions and black rhino in the Kalahari
- Game drives and walks in a private concession by the Kruger
8 days from £6400pp plus international flights.
An excellent week's safari in Zambia's South Luangwa with owner-run Shenton Safaris camps.
- Shenton Safaris are a respected owner-run safari operation
- South Luangwa is one of the best parks in Africa
- Stay at high-quality Kaingo Camp and Mwamba bushcamp
- Known for excellent photographic hides
- Game drives and walks
- Excellent guides, hosting and cuisine
11 days from £3300pp plus international flights.
Enjoy the vast plains of the Masai Mara and all the wildlife found here. This is big cat country. End your holiday relaxing on a beach on Zanzibar. The perfect combination.
- Game drives in Kenya's Masai Mara
- A must for cat lovers
- Stay at Governor's Camp of Big Cat Diary fame
- See the wildebeest migration (July to October)
- Relax on Tanzania's tropical Zanzibar island
- Go snorkelling, diving and kayaking
Read more in our Tribes blog
The Tribes blog brings you regular articles written by our specialists, travellers or partners and conservationists in our destinations. We have a big collection of articles now, so have a mooch to find some interesting short reads.Explore more
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