Where are the best big cat safaris in India and Sri Lanka?

Aside from snow leopards, which should surely be on every wildlife enthusiast’s ‘must see’ list, the following parks and reserves in India and Sri Lanka offer the best wildlife sightings for big felines.


India is indeed the land of the tiger, with some magnificent tiger reserves found from the foothills of the Himalayas to reserves in the deep south.

Nagarhole near Mysore there is a splendid wildlife reserve and one of the best tiger habitats in Asia. There are some magnificent lodgings and luxury camps here and Nagarhole fits well with a tour of South India and Kerala.

The famous tiger reserves of central India as Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench and Tadoba They are still extremely rewarding in terms of tiger sightings, but they are busy for this very reason. Kanha remains a favorite with two exceptional campgrounds, Shergarh and Flame of the Forest, and excellent guides.

Propensity (see BBC series: Tiger: Spy in the Jungle) has a delicious new campground called Jamtara Wilderness that has opened at the north end of the park. With only 5 jeeps allowed from the door, and no other lodge or campground in the area, you have this beautiful variety of the park north of the Pench River all to yourself. Best of all, you can access other ranges of the park from here. Jamtara is a very convenient link between the Tadoba or Kanha Tiger Reserve and my favorite tiger reserve: Satpura.

Satpura: Satpura, one of the largest, wildest and least known tiger reserves, offers the best wilderness experience in tiger country. You can hike here or go on an exciting 2-3 night hike through the park that ends at the highest point in central India; Explore the edge of the forest by canoe and experience safaris where you may be the only jeep in sight for long periods. Tigers are shy and uninhabited to jeeps and people, and therefore less visible than in other parks, but Satpura is best for leopards, wild dogs, sloths, giant squirrels, gaur, and birds. Best of all, the unique tourism model allows you to virtually explore the jungle for yourself and experience the precious joy of being alone in tiger country. Combine Satpura with Corbett for a unique tiger safari.

Corbett: An absolutely beautiful tiger reserve in the foothills of the Himalayas east of Delhi offering the ability to live within the tiger reserve in secluded splendor with your expert guide, cook and helper. It offers a fantastic way to experience the jungle, and you can combine this with fishing for the mighty mahseer and hiking through the scenic middle Himalayas of the Kumaon region.

Ranthambhore: For anyone traveling to Rajasthan and wanting to include a tiger safari, Ranthambhore is the most convenient reserve. It is a very beautiful park rich in wildlife, with an atmospheric fort that dominates the landscape and romantic ruins scattered throughout the jungle. Tiger densities and sightings are excellent, and recent new regulations now guarantee a much more enjoyable experience in this busy park. Here are two small and very beautiful campgrounds: Sherbagh and Khem Villas that have excellent accommodation, food, and guides.

Asian leopards

Sri Lankan parks have made a name for themselves by the visibility of leopards, a distinct breed from the Indian leopard. Yala is the most famous and while it is certainly beautiful, it is also the busiest.

Willapattu: My favorite park in Sri Lanka. Long forgotten from the civil war, this special park is very convenient for any itinerary to Anuradhapura. A charming luxury mobile camp provides the perfect base for exploring this park, and leopard sightings are common. It is still an incredibly peaceful park and there are days when you could have the park to yourself.

Bera and Siana in Rajasthan: I’ve gotten so used to seeing leopards inside protected forests that I forget how adaptable and widespread this big cat is. In the arid, rock-filled landscape that is home to colorful herding communities in southeastern Rajasthan, there are two regions where leopards and humans exist in relative harmony outside of any wildlife sanctuary. In Bera, we have seen children walking to school watched by a leopard on a rock just a couple hundred meters away, both parties comfortable in the presence of the other. Here, a luxurious new camp called Jawai Leopard Camp offers the perfect base to spot leopards and experience a truly unchanging and picturesque region of India. Siana, which is also located in the same rocky hills, offers a more basic and larger campground with the added appeal of excellent driving.

Satpura tiger reserve: In central India, this beautiful, mountainous reserve is home to a large number of highly visible leopards, along with sloth bears, which are even rarer. Sightings are fabulous both within the park and in the buffer zone forests accessed on night tours.

Mudumalai Tiger Reserve: In the foothills of the picturesque Nilgiri Mountains and near Ooty, the forests in the buffer zone of this park are very good for sightings of leopards and wild elephants, hyenas and sloths. This park can be combined with Nagarhole for a splendid wildlife safari in South India.

Asian lions

Few people even know that lions exist in Asia. Extinct throughout the rest of its Asian range, Panthera leo persica was driven into exile in a small corner of the western Indian state of Gujarat and protected by the ruler of the former princely state of Junagadh. The current population of almost 400 is still limited to Gir National Park. The history of the Gir lions is remarkable, as is their coexistence with local cattle herders called maldharis. Our lion safaris also include Gujarat’s other unique wildlife and landscapes, including the last population of Indian wild ass in the Rann of Kutch, the diverse wildlife of the vast Banni grasslands, and the small fragment that is all that remains. Of what was once vast Gujarati savannas that are home to blackbuck and bluebull antelopes, hyenas, wild boars, wolves and wild cats. And in winter, spectacular concentrations of migratory harriers.

Snow leopards – Ladakh – Visitors can enjoy the best snow leopard safaris in Ladakh, India.

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