The Big 5 in 3 Days

When going on a safari in Africa, everyone’s talking about the Big 5 – it’s a must to have seen them, but not all tourists are that lucky. As a recap – the Big 5 are: the elephant, the buffalo, the lion, the (black) rhino and the leopard. The first two should be the easiest ones to find, but I had less faith in spotting the last two. Unfortunately you hear about these beautiful animals getting extinct lots of times on the news. We tried to lower our expectations for our first safari vacation, just not to get disappointed. But we very soon realised we had nothing to worry about…

Lake Nakuru


N° 1 of the Big 5: The Buffalo


The first one crossing our path was the buffalo, which we encountered in Lake Nakuru National Park. It was our second day in Kenya, after arriving the day before and our first game drive in jeep with open roof. I remember how we were amazed by the size of these animals. There were a lot of ostriches near the buffalo’s, which made us realize they are pretty big as well. I have to be honest – of all Big 5, this is the one that is least impressive to me. I see it as a big cow with nice horns.

N° 2 of the Big 5: The Rhino


We have seen so many different species during this first safari, there are too many to mention. We were exited with every new one we saw and crossed them of our list. After lunch, when we returned for making our second game drive of that day. It didn’t take too long before we saw… the white rhino. And not one, but a few of them. Our guide was over the moon. They were pretty far away, but close enough to get some really good shots. Ok, I know – it’s not the black rhino, but c’mon – it’s pretty amazing to see the white one during your first day game drive already! We would see another one the next day at Masai Mara. And we actually did see the black one too, in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania – that was the closest one we’ve seen.

By the way, do you know the difference between the white and black rhino? The white one has a wider snout, because it eats grass from the ground. The black one has a pointed snout, for eating leafs from bush and branches. And the name “white” doesn’t refer to the colour, but is a bad translation from the Dutch word “wijd”, which means “wide”. Normally my husband acts like the know-it-all, but I couldn’t resist… and it’s fun to know, right?

N° 3 of the Big 5: The Leopard


So, excited with having seen the rhino and all the other marvellous creatures in the African savanna, we were about to calling it a day, when our guide Alex suddenly stopped the jeep, looked through his binoculars and pointed to something in the grass a few meters left ahead of us. Did I hear him say that correctly (I was sitting in the front seat this time, right next to him)? Did he actually say “leopard”? You’ve got to be kidding me! We were like children, you should have seen us. All nervously grabbing for our binoculars, camera’s and video cameras. And then staring at the grass, holding our breath… First we didn’t see much… then some movement… OMFG – yes, there it was. To me, the most beautiful cat in the world (and you have to know I’m crazy about cats)… It was walking slowly towards the road – towards us… Before we knew it, it was standing on the road, it’s eyes on us, then looking behind from where it was coming from. Alex’ eyes followed the path back and with some extra excitement in his voice, he said: “There’s a baby leopard as well, just next to the side of the road”… No way… But yes, there we saw it, very carefully and with some hesitation running behind it’s mother. The mother had already crossed the road and the little one was creeping behind it. In the meantime Alex was calling the other guides through the walkie talkie and taking pictures with his mobile. It was clear that this wasn’t something these guides come across very often. Alex explained that by keeping our distance in the beginning, the leopard felt enough at ease to make its way over – thank you, Alex!

And – lucky bastards as we are – this wouldn’t be the only time we saw a leopard. It was the most memorable one, that’s for sure – with the little guy and the crossing and everything, but we would see another one again, higher in a tree, 2 days later, on our second day in the Masai Mara.

Masai Mara


N° 4 of the Big 5: The Elephant


On our third day in Kenya, the infamous Masai Mara was our destination. Alex made us guess the first animal we would spot, after entering the gates. None of us got it right, but we were so happy when we saw our very first elephant. No, sorry, that’s inaccurate – not one elephant, but a whole family of elephants. And like with the leopard, it looked like they were waiting for our arrival to cross the road. Impressive animals, that’s the least I can say. With the elephants it’s a female that is leading the group. And indeed, the leader was waving fiercely with her head and trunk before stepping on the road to make sure we knew we had to keep our distance and let her and her family pass. And at the end of the line, a little one came running somewhat faster, to keep up with the others, his ears flapping in the wind. Adorable…

We would come across the elephants a few times during our vacation, but every time we enjoyed the encounter almost as much as the first time. You start to put the camera’s down, looking at the details of the animal, how they behave, how they move and how they interact. At the Serengeti in Tanzania, a few days later, we saw a bull getting very irritated when we tried to drive next to him. Again, our guide Maravit was very careful, backing up to give the animal some space, until it calmed down and we could continue our journey. Never boring, such a safari…

N° 5 of the Big 5: The Lion


Ah, another giant cat… And indeed, the resemblance is striking with our four-legged lazy friends at home. There it was – lying in the shadow, not moving a muscle when we approached him. The most we got was him raising his head a little, just enough to notice that we were there – not like he cared – and then he continued his beauty sleep. We would see him again, in action, the next morning. Then we saw that it was actually Scar – you know, the bad guy in The Lion King. He had a scar across his right eye, but was still looking he could take a stand. Actually, when he was walking down to the bush that morning, at the same time a hippo was getting out of the water, a few meters further. What a dilemma to choose who to watch… man, we were spoiled!

Lions in abundance in Kenya & Tanzania. We met a group with younger ones twice in the Serengeti and another pack in Ngorongoro Crater. The thing is to remember that – although these animals seem very at ease and used to humans entering their territory, they are still wild animals. We were shocked when during the safari in Ngorongoro Crater some tourists in a jeep in front of us were taking selfies with a lion, while hanging half of their body out of the jeep, just to get the pictures. Maravit was furious at their guide and explained that it’s the guides’ responsibility to make sure all tourists behave as they are supposed to and do not put themselves (and the others) in danger. Seems pretty obvious to keep your distance, but some people never learn…

Other Countries we visited

Have a look at the other countries we ‘achievied’ to visit, and other Achievies