Tiger watching travel guide, including top tiger watching destinations, tips for tiger watching and when to go
There can be few experiences that delight nature-lovers more than spotting some stripes stalking through the undergrowth. But seeing a tiger in the wild requires patience – and a bit of luck. And while there are no guarantees of spotting one on safari, you’re bound to see plenty of other wildlife that means you won’t go home disappointed.
Everyone knows tigers are in trouble; accurate estimates are difficult to come by, but there are thought to be as few as 3,200 remaining in the wild. The solitary predator has no natural enemies, but poaching continues to be a major problem, while rapid development is also pushing the tiger out of its natural habitat.
India is by far the best place to view tigers, although they are also found in other Asian countries such as Bangladesh, China, Sumatra in Indonesia and Nepal, as well as Siberia in Russia.
India’s 25 reserves are home to around 40% of the world’s tiger population, so it’s no wonder they feature heavily in our list of top tiger watching locations.
But it’s not just a question of numbers when it comes to catching a glimpse of a big cat in the wild; habitat, influenced by the time of year, and behaviour are both important factors.
Tigers are naturally nocturnal, but some have adapted to being the star attraction and are quite happy to pad about during the day in some parks.
Allow at least three days in a park to increase your chances of a sighting and check out our travel tips section for advice on when to go.
Viewing in most reserves is by small jeep, usually called a ‘gypsy’ in India. In one of the country’s most popular reserves, Ranthambhore National Park, canters are more common – large open-topped trucks for up to 20 people – although it does have some jeeps.
A more leisurely option in some reserves is exploring on elephant-back. The big plus is that you get off the main jeep tracks and, as you’re higher, you can see a lot more. But your four-legged friend’s gentle gait can make taking photos a little tricky.
Tiger-tracking on foot is a thrilling new twist on the standard safari experience, and you can do this in Satpura National Park in India and Chitwan National Park in Nepal.
Whichever option you go for, choose a travel company that is committed to responsible tourism and has the interests of the tigers at heart, such as members of Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT).
This former royal hunting reserve in the heart of India has one of the country’s highest tiger densities, so there’s a pretty good chance of spotting one. The rugged, forested hills are a haven for a variety of animals, including spotted deer, sambar, langur, sloth bear and leopard. Safari by jeep and elephant-back.
Ranthambhore, in the desert state of Rajasthan, is probably India’s most famous park. With its rolling hills and crumbling ancient fort, it’s certainly the most scenic. You’ve got a pretty good chance of seeing a big cat here, but the experience can be spoilt by crowds in large open-topped trucks, and excessive rules and regulations. Safari by canter trucks and jeep.
The teak and bamboo forest of this 625 sq km reserve in Maharashtra state in central India is home to around 40 tigers, so fingers crossed you’ll see one. There’s a lot to see regardless, with sloth bear, gaur, dhole, striped hyena, jungle cat and perhaps even leopard if you’re lucky. Safari by jeep.
This 1,945 sq km reserve in the state of Madhya Pradesh features lush sal and bamboo forests, grassland and rugged plateaus. The grasses attract large herds of swamp deer, so you may be lucky enough to see tigers hunting here, as well as leopard and jackal. There’s plenty of birdlife too, with over 200 species spotted. Safari by jeep and elephant-back.
Spread over 1677 sq kms of teak forest in western state of Maharashtra, the rugged terrain can mean Melghat’s tigers, thought to number around 70, can stay well-hidden in winter. You’re sure to see gaur – the reserve has India’s second largest population – as well as sloth bear, sambar and spotted deer, nilgai, and monkey. Safari by jeep.
The subtropical forests in the lowlands of south-central Nepal are home to tiger, as well as leopard, langur monkey, wild elephant, four-horned antelope, striped hyena and over 450 species of bird. The grasslands on the edge of the park attract endangered Asian one-horned rhino, with about 400 animals in the park and surrounding areas. Safari by jeep or elephant-back.