South Africa and Botswana are two of the most well-known safari destinations in Africa and both offer visitors the opportunity for some exceptional game viewing and some fantastic camps and lodges from where one can explore the landscapes and rich variety of animal and bird life found in both countries’ parks and reserves. But how do safaris in South Africa and Botswana differ in terms of game viewing, experience, accommodation and cost?
When it comes to safari you will often hear the phrase ‘The Big Five’. These animals – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo – are on many people’s wish lists and can be seen in both South Africa and Botswana although the latter does not have many places where rhino can be found, unlike South Africa where most reserves have reliable sightings of these endangered creatures. However, while it is undoubtedly exciting to see these animals in the wild, there is so much more to going on safari than just five species and both countries have a wide variety of game beyond these high profile draw cards. While a lot of the same animals can be seen in both South Africa and Botswana e.g. zebra, giraffe, cheetah, hyena and numerous antelope species, in Botswana you can also view ungulates such as red lechwe and possibly sitatunga and are more likely to see larger herds of animals including buffalos and especially elephants in the Chobe National Park. For anyone with a general interest in birdlife neither country disappoints with their huge variety of avifauna from large raptors to colourful insectivores.
The safari experience
It is not just the wildlife that you see when on safari that is important. Where you see them, in terms of the surrounding environment, and how you see them, in terms of the activities on offer, are also important factors in your overall safari experience. In South Africa, national parks such as Kruger are popular with self-drivers but here at Africa Travel we arrange safaris predominantly at private reserves bordering Kruger and in other locations around the country. On these reserves, in addition to day game drives, guests can usually take guided bush walks and night drives to look for nocturnal creatures. In some circumstances, off road driving may be allowed for high profile sightings so you may, for example, be able to follow a leopard as it walks through the bush rather than just catch a glimpse from the track. While there may be other lodges in the vicinity the number of vehicles at a sighting is usually limited so you do not feel that you are part of a crowd.
Botswana also has many private concessions with limited numbers of camps and the freedom to offer activities such as night drives and walks to enhance your safari experience. Some of these tracts of land are vast giving a real sense of space and true wilderness. The exclusivity that comes with large areas of land with a small number of guests is what draws many people to Botswana. It should be noted however that this is not the experience throughout the whole the country and certain areas, particularly the area of Chobe National Park around Kasane, do see higher concentrations of visitors although not in the numbers experienced in other parts of Africa. Compared to South Africa, Botswana offers much more variety in terms of habitat and landscape with diverse areas to explore including the grass plains of the Central Kalahari, salt pans, marshes and the watery world of the Okavango Delta.
The mainstay of safaris throughout Africa is the game drive, exploring the bush in the company of a guide imparting their knowledge on the animals, birds, plants and insects that you see. Travelling by vehicle allows you to cover a lot of ground and see more animals which you can approach closely and safely. For the most part safaris in South Africa involve morning and afternoon game drives, with possibly the chance to take a short bush walk too, while, in addition to these, Botswana offers a wider range of activities particularly water-based safaris including boat trips and that quintessential Botswana experience, gliding through the Okavango Delta’s waterways on a mokoro canoe trip.
While it is perfectly possible to take a short safari in Botswana staying in one camp, the country, with its varied habitats and activity options, does lend itself to a longer safari of a week or more. Combining diverse areas and flying around on light aircraft hops makes a safari here much more of a journey. South Africa has so much more to offer with Cape Town, the Cape Winelands, beaches and opportunities for self-drive holidays that safaris here tend to be shorter, typically a three night stay in one lodge. Even in this relatively short amount of time the density of wildlife and the ease of viewing means that you can still see a great range and number of animals.
As well as the game viewing experience, the style and standard of accommodation is an important consideration for many people. Generally speaking lodges rather than tented camps tend to predominate in South Africa while the opposite is true in Botswana. Lodge accommodation is a more permanent structure with solid walls and a thatched roof and for some first time safari goers this may feel like a safer option. Tented camps however are perfectly safe and in most cases the “tents” are really quite far removed from most people’s notions of camping, ranging from comfortable to luxurious and even opulent. Whatever the level of comfort, sleeping under canvas allows you to feel closer to nature as you listen to the night sounds of the bush from the safety of your tent. For those with a slightly more adventurous spirit, Botswana offers the opportunity to take a mobile safari which, for many, is a more authentic experience as you move from one area to another with a guide to lead you and camp staff to take care of the tents and cooking. On a mobile safari, which also have varying degrees of comfort and luxury, you really feel like you are on a journey, which is after all the meaning of the word in Swahili.
In terms of cost Botswana is, on the whole, the more expensive of the two options although South Africa has its fair share of ultra-luxury lodges costing around £1,500 per person per night. In the peak game viewing months of July to October a typical cost of a camp in Botswana would be around £700-800 per person per night while in South Africa an average price might be £400-500, although in both countries the best camps and lodges can cost much more than this. The rates in South Africa do not tend to be seasonal with many lodges maintaining the same prices throughout the year and some even offering reduced rates during the winter months of May to September. Despite this time offering the best game viewing it is considered low season in other parts of South Africa such as Cape Town. Most camps in Botswana reduce their rates, sometimes by about 50%, in the wetter months between November and March. Going on safari at this time of year can still be very rewarding and these price reductions make Botswana particularly good value.
Whether South Africa or Botswana appeals to you more, or if you are undecided which country is right for you, please do contact us on 020 7843 3500 to discuss your options with one of our consultants. Both countries offer wonderful safaris but they do not have to be mutually exclusive. Why not combine both of these iconic destinations in one trip for the safari of a lifetime?
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