This powerful animal lives outside of the rainforest and deserts, in the Sub Saharan areas of Africa. Due to uncontrolled hunting in the past, the lion is very rare in West Africa, and exists mostly in reserves and National Parks in East and South Africa. With an estimated 200,000 or less lions in Africa, this is one species that it is an honour to see in the wild.
If you are keen to pursue your dream of watching wild lions on a safari, there are many tour operators who offer packages that will maximise your chances. Concentrating on the countries which have good density of lions is the best place to start. This is likely to include Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa. However, you will need to ensure that you visit the best regions in any of these countries, as the lions tend to be located in some areas rather than others.
Kenya provides excellent opportunities to spot lions. The Masai Mara has an enviable concentration of large game, and provides the true ‘Out of Africa’ experience. There are concentrations of all of the ‘Big Five’ animals, and the Masai lions are known for their famous black manes, which makes them especially easily to spot. Amboseli National Park is also home to plenty of lions. There are specialist lion conservation vacations available in Kenya, such as the Greater Tsavo's project to preserve the unique maneless lions of the region.
Tanzania is fast becoming a safari Mecca, and this is understandable due to the prevalence of wildlife in areas such as the Serengeti, Tarangire National Park, and Ngorongoro Crater. You can expect to see big cats, including lions, in all of these areas. There are safaris that specialise in ‘green season’ trips when many animals are migrating, or ‘dry season’ trips where the wildlife congregate at waterholes.
Etosha National Park in Namibia is an excellent place to visit for a lion safari. This massive reserve is deservedly popular, and can get crowded between May and September. However, these months do provide the optimum conditions to spot lions out on the prowl. Big cat fans can also hope to see cheetahs and leopards.
Last, but not least, South Africa is a great country to visit if you specifically want to spot lions on your safari. They are not literally roaming free, but are restricted to the excellent National Parks, particularly Kruger, but also Kalahari Gemsbok and the Transvaal and Natal reserves. The Kruger National Park allows day visitors, so this is perfect if you are on a short safari but want to ensure that you return having seen the King of Beasts firsthand.