Is a safari ever truly complete without a sighting of a Cheetah? Whilst Lions bring majesty to the savanna, and Leopards bring sleek sophistication, Cheetah bring pure, unbridled speed. Widely known for being the fastest land mammal on earth, these gentle cats have much more to offer than raw pace alone. With their beautiful spotted coat, graceful demeanour and adorable cubs, we at Pictus Safaris believe that Cheetah sightings should be treasured, whether it's your first sighting or your thousandth.
Sadly, the Cheetah is under threat. Their sensitivity to predation, habitat loss and even poaching has driven their population to under 7,000 mature individuals. In many parts of their former range, this beautiful felines have now disappeared completely. And, with just a handful of specimens remaining in Iran, it seems possible that this iconic species may soon be restricted to Africa alone.
With this in mind, Pictus Safaris provide a countdown below of our 'Top Ten' destinations for Cheetah sightings in Africa. As always, we've had to leave some great national parks and reserves off this list - let us know in the comments which you think we should have included! If you are interested in some 'off-the-beaten-path' destinations for Cheetah, look out for a blog post on this very subject coming soon.
10. Etosha National Park, Namibia
Cheetah Population: c.50
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 445.4 sq/km
Overview: Namibia is the centre of the Cheetah universe. With vast open areas, low densities of other large predators and a plethora of small mammal species on which to feed, this is hardly a surprise. What may come as a surprise, however, is how difficult it can be to find one of Namibia's approximately 3,000 Cheetah. There are a few reasons for this - for example prey densities in the dry interior of Namibia can be far too low to support anything but the most transitory of Cheetah populations. Perhaps the key reason, though, is that so much of Namibia's land is set aside for agriculture, and it is on this farmland that most of Namibia's Cheetahs reside. Unfortunately, safaris on farmland aren't all that easy to arrange!
Probably one's best bet of locating a Cheetah in Namibia is to head to the country's flagship national park, Etosha. This vast salt pan is a must-visit, home to stunning landscapes and excellent game-viewing at its many waterholes. Lion and Elephant are easily seen here, although Cheetah and Leopard can be more challenging to locate. Our favourite area in Etosha for Cheetah sightings is around Namutoni in the east of the park - it is here that coalitions of males are most likely to be encountered. This being said, Cheetah may turn up pretty much anywhere in the park, aside from the far west where the terrain becomes less suitable for these speedy cats. It's worth noting that Etosha is fenced, so does lack wilderness appeal - if this doesn't bother you, Etosha could very well be a great destination for your next safari.
How to Get There: Etosha is served by a lot of operators, and we recommend undertaking a self-drive safari if Etosha is your sole focus. If you want to see more of the country, Pictus Safaris are organising a 2022 safari taking in Etosha, as well as the vast wildernesses of Damaraland, Khaudum National Park and Bwabwata National Park. Dates and prices are to be confirmed, but do contact us at email@example.com to secure your place on our wait list.
9. Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda
Cheetah Population: c.20
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 72.1 sq/km
Overview: Kidepo Valley must be one of the best kept secrets in all of Africa. Tucked away in the far north-east of Uganda, this small national park regularly produces excellent sightings of Cheetah, as well as Leopard and Lion. Visitors may even encounter species rarely seen on a 'typical' East African safari, including Patas Monkey and Lesser Kudu. The park is little-visited and, in our opinion, well worth the trip. In addition to the wildlife, the park also offers views across into neighbouring South Sudan - not something you see every day!
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will be running a small-group 'Undiscovered Uganda' safari in January 2022, taking in Kidepo Valley NP and Murchison Falls NP, available for just £3,495 for eight nights.
8. Kafue National Park, Zambia
Cheetah Population: c.65
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 344.6 sq/km
Overview: Zambia's small Cheetah population is sometimes pointed to as a failing of the country's management of its wild areas. In reality, much of the country is simply not as hospitable to these cats as many of Zambia's neighbours, with hard, uneven terrain in the east, swamps in the north and woodland in the west. However, there is one fantastic location in the remote Kafue National Park that bucks this trend - the Busanga Plains. This spectacular wilderness area is home to a viable population of Cheetah, as well as Lion, Leopard, Wild Dog and a particularly impressive array of birdlife. Whilst this is not an easy area to get to, we could not possibly recommend it highly enough.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will be running a 'Zambia - In Depth' safari to Kafue in October 2022, and we will also be visiting South Luangwa, North Luangwa, Bangweulu and Kasanka on this tour. This incredible 20-night safari is available for just £3,995 per person sharing.
7. Tuli Game Reserve, Botswana
Cheetah Population: c.10
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 72 sq/km
Overview: OK, so a reserve with of population of only ten or so Cheetah might seem like an odd choice for an article professing to detail the best locations on the continent for Cheetah sightings. However, we at Pictus Safaris could not recommend Tuli highly enough. An authentic wilderness tucked in the far south-eastern corner of Botswana, Tuli is probably the best destination for tracking and trailing in all of Africa. Perpetually coated in a thin layer of dust, the tracks this area's wildlife leave behind are remarkably clear and, with an experienced guide, visitors can enjoy the incredible experience of tracking wild Cheetah down on foot. The area is also home to Lion, Leopard and Brown Hyena and we consider this a must-visit for any safari nut.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will be running a specialist 'Track & Trail Masterclass' to Tuli in August 2022, visiting the incredible Tuli Wilderness and Mashatu reserves. This eight-night tour is available for just £2,995 per person sharing.
6. Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Cheetah Population: c.50
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 293 sq/km
Overview: In recent decades, Zimbabwe's Cheetah population has crashed in a big way. By some estimates, 85% of the country's population of the beautiful cats have been lost in just 20 years. Whilst vagrants cling on across the country, the only two locations with viable populations appear to be the Bubye Valley Conservancy (only open to hunters) and Hwange National Park. However, even in Hwange, these fast felines can be devilishly difficult to find! Pictus Safaris have had most of our luck in the Sinamatella area of Hwange but, in truth, Cheetah could turn up almost anywhere in this large national park. Putting in the hard yards, and never leaving a stone unturned, are your best tactics when it comes to locating these few remaining Zimbabwean cats.
How to Get There: Zimbabwe is one of Pictus Safaris' very favourite destinations, and we will be running a 'Land of Lycaon' safari to Hwange NP and Mana Pools NP in September 2022. This tour is available for just £3,495 for 11 nights.
5. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
Cheetah Population: c.200
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 101.1 sq/km
Overview: It might initially be surprising to some that Ruaha is such an excellent location for Cheetah. With rocky koppies and treacherous sand rivers, the habitat seems a better fit for Lion and Leopard than for the fragile Ferraris of the savanna. It is true that Ruaha supports excellent populations of Lion and Leopard, as well as Elephant, Buffalo and a host of other game, but the idea that Cheetah don't persist here is mistaken. The spotted cats of this area tend to use the sand rivers as arterial routes between territories, spending their days relaxing on the narrow plains between the rivers and the rugged terrain inland. On our last visit to Ruaha, we had a coalition of four young males sat with the vehicle for quite a while - a magical sighting!
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris don't currently offer tours to southern Tanzania, but we would happily point you in the direction of excellent operators who do. Just reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Cheetah Population: c.110
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 480 sq/km
Overview: One of the most fashionable safari destinations on the continent right now, Central Kalahari Game Reserve (or CKGR) takes up a significant portion of Botswana's dry interior. Incredibly quiet, game drives here can take in more Lions than other vehicles, and the wildlife can be truly excellent. Cheetah, Leopard, Wild Dog and a multitude of desert species are present in good numbers. We recommend staking out waterholes in the early morning and late afternoon, or trawling the road network for fresh tracks, as your best chance of a special Cheetah sighting during your stay. Be quick to visit though, with game this good CKGR won't stay quiet for too much longer!
How to Get There: CKGR is a good self-drive destination, but is also offered by a number of operators in Botswana and elsewhere. We would gladly recommend several of these operators on request.
3. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa/Botswana
Cheetah Population: c.200
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 190 sq/km
Overview: We can't say enough nice things about this brilliant reserve, straddling the border of South Africa and Botswana. The Botswana side is quiet and remote, with the South African side offering a more developed road network and tourist infrastructure - take your pick! On both sides of the border, game-viewing is fantastic. We recommend visiting immediately after the rains, when fresh grass attracts grazers into the valleys, which in turn attracts an impressive diversity of predators. Cheetah, Leopard, Lion, Brown Hyena and more are all seen regularly, and those with luck on their side may even turn up Caracal and African Wild Cat. Auob Valley is a good bet for Cheetah, although we have had sightings just seconds from the main entrance gate in South Africa!
How to Get There: This park is well-served by a number of operators, many of whom we would gladly recommend. Bear in mind that the South African side of the park is best equipped for self-drivers, unless you have extensive 4x4 experience.
2. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Cheetah Population: c.250
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 120 sq/km
Overview: When one is asked to conjure up an image of Africa, the Serengeti must be one of the first places that comes to mind. Huge open plains that host the world-famous Great Migration are home to impressive wildlife densities. All of the big game species are exceptionally well-represented throughout the park, with Seronera in the centre of the national park perhaps the most commonly visited area. Whilst we would recommend Seronera for Leopard and Lion, Cheetah sightings are typically more reliable in the Ndutu and Grumeti areas, or along the northern border with Kenya. Be sure to time your visit to coincide with the Migration, as this will greatly increase your chances of seeing these incredible cats on the hunt.
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will be offering a 'Beyond the Serengeti' tour to Northern Tanzania in September 2022, visiting Arusha NP, the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tarangire NP, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. This tour has an exceptionally high chance of locating Cheetah and is available for just £4,395 pp sharing for 11 nights.
1. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Cheetah Population: c.30
Cheetah Density: 1 cheetah per 50.3 sq/km
Overview: The Masai Mara is the spiritual homeland of the African safari and it is easy to see why. Just across the border from the Serengeti, this compact reserve offers it all, with excellent views of the 'Big Five', rarities including Serval and Aardvark and the added spectacle of the Mara River crossing during the Great Migration. Cheetah are easily seen here too, and Pictus Safaris has previously recorded 14 individuals in a single day! Don't be alarmed that there are 'only' 30 cats estimated to be in the Mara, as the reserve is surrounded by a number of sensational conservancies, which Cheetah travel from and to over the course of weeks and months. At any given time there may be up to 60 cats roaming the area!
How to Get There: Pictus Safaris are in advanced talks to deliver a small-group safari to Southern Kenya in 2022 - be sure to contact us at email@example.com to register your interest!
Do you agree with our 'Top Ten' destinations for Cheetah sightings? Where have your best sightings been? Where on our list would you love to go next? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!