Snow leopards to tigers: the world's best spots to have a big cat adventure

South Africans are spoilt as far as wildlife holidays are concerned, but you may have to head further afield if you've got your heart set on seeing a particular type of wild cat

19 May 2019 - 00:05 By Nick Trend

Notoriously elusive, snow leopards inhabit remote, mountainous parts of central Asia, including northwest India.
PODCAST | Time Travel: Who's dumb enough to make a travel podcast on cassette tape?
Subscribe: | Spotify | Apple Podcasts | Pocket Casts |
Wildlife specialist Wildwings offers an annual tour to Ladakh in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, near the Tibetan border, in February, while the animals are roaming the lower, less snowy Himalayan foothills in search of food. Ten days of camping at 3,600m means this isn't a trip for the faint-hearted, but two nights in Leh, the regional capital, allows for acclimatisation.
Although its reddish coat lacks the striking markings of more glamorous felines, the caracal has distinctive pointed ears topped with elegant, black tufts. They are largely nocturnal but your odds of spotting one in Etosha National Park, Namibia, are good since its caracal numbers are high.
Thompsons Holidays offers several trips to Namibia, including three nights at the four-star Etosha Village from R8,154. Includes flights to Windhoek and car hire.
Deramakot wildlife reserve in Sabah is home to the clouded leopard - so called because of its blotchy, cloud-shaped markings - and the chestnut-coloured Borneo bay cat.
Adventure Alternatives offers a tailor-made tour that includes this reserve (book early as the number of visitors permitted is limited, as is accommodation) and a chance to view orang-utans on the Kinabatangan River. Travel between March and September to avoid the rainy season.
The location for the BBC's Big Cat Diary TV series following the lives of lion, cheetah and leopard families, the Maasai Mara in Kenya, is a top region for big-cat lovers. It's home to a good number of lion prides, and the best time to visit is between July and October to coincide with the wildebeest migration. Avoid April and May, when east Africa's rainy season can make roads impassable. Flight Centre has packages, including a seven-night "Kenya Wildlife Safari" from R12,950 pp.
Yala National Park, over 1,000km2 of forest and grasslands in the southeastern corner of Sri Lanka, has the highest density of leopards anywhere in the world.
Long-haul specialist Kuoni offers an escorted tour that includes two game drives to maximise the chances of spotting these elegant animals. The circular itinerary also takes in the lesser-known Wilpattu National Park and the elephant rehabilitation centre within the Udawalawe National Park.
It's never too soon for children to learn about wildlife conservation, and taking them on safari can be an inspiring way to get the message across. Wild Frontiers offers tailor-made, family-friendly safaris to several countries, including Botswana. Here, a recommended combination of "water and land" camps offers game viewing on foot, by mokoro, and in a 4 x 4, with expert guides to tell you all about the fastest animal on Earth.
Bandhavgarh National Park, in India's large, centrally located state of Madhya Pradesh, has the country's largest population of these magnificently charismatic big cats.
A tailor-made itinerary with Abercrombie & Kent includes this remote region on an adventure that also takes in Pench National Park, another of the country's foremost tiger ranges. With two more game drives included in the tiger reserve at Kanha National Park, the chances of spotting one run high.
Also known as cougars or mountain lions, pumas are solitary hunters and the Torres del Paine National Park, in Patagonia, Chile, is one of the best places to view them.
Wildlife Worldwide has a photography-focused itinerary departing in early spring, when females are nursing cubs. A maximum of four guests stay in a comfortable camp in the park, with daily activities dependent on animal sightings and weather conditions.
Spain's mountainous Sierra Morena and the grassy wetlands of Coto Doana National Park are home to some of the most endangered cat species. Around 400 Iberian lynxes live in these areas, and wildlife specialist Naturetrek visits both on a popular itinerary that is filling up for this year and 2020. Sightings of the animals, with their flecked coats and pointed ears, aren't guaranteed, but early-morning starts increase the chances.
Native to the plains, mountains and rivers of South America, jaguars are classified as threatened - but conservation teams are working to save them.
Steppes Travel offers an insight into their efforts with a trip to the Pantanal wetlands in Brazil, in October (the dry season, with best chance of sightings). With two nights at Caiman Lodge, the group joins the Oncafari jaguar team over a couple of days with 4x4 trips into the southern Pantanal. - Telegraph Media Group Limited [2019]

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.