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By Antonina 11 February 2020

South Africa vs Botswana: how to choose the right safari destination

YZ expert Antonina explains what you should take into consideration when it comes to planning a safari to Southern Africa’s leading safari destinations, South Africa and Botswana. Here’s her guide to picking the safari best suited to you:

1) The destination experience of South Africa vs. Botswana

When considering South Africa and Botswana, you are really choosing between Southern Africa’s top leading safari destinations.

Although South Africa is well known for amazing safaris in places like the Kruger National Park, there are many other places or experiences that you can combine with your safari. For example, there’s Cape Town for a bit of history and culture, the Winelands region for wine tasting at some of South Africa’s best wine estates, and even Hermanus for the best land-based whale-watching spot (June–November). All within driving radius from each other and only about 2 hours’ flight from the Kruger area, these usually combine brilliantly with the national park for a balance of relaxation and adventure!

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Cape Winelands, South Africa

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Central Kalahari, Botswana

Botswana is purely safari destination because, unlike South Africa, it doesn’t have any extensive ‘non-safari’ elements to combine with safari. If you think about it, more than half of Botswana is the Kalahari Desert and the other part is covered by the Okavango Delta. However, other safari areas do combine very well with the Okavango Delta, such as Chobe, Linyanti, the Central Kalahari, and the Makgadikgadi Pans.

2) The game viewing in South Africa vs. Botswana

Many people travel across the globe to go on safari to see the ‘Big Five’ – elephant, leopard, lion, rhino, and buffalo.

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The Big Five in South Africa is very much ‘in your face’ due to high animal densities in small private reserves as well as in the Kruger. On the other hand, Botswana has many larger private reserves (some three times the size of Singapore) and various national parks that must adhere to strict rules (for instance, off-road driving), which makes it harder to spot certain animals quickly, especially rhino. This species can be found in Botswana, but they’re very hard to spot as they have only recently been reintroduced. They tend to shy away from game vehicles and are tucked quite deep into the Okavango Delta – simply for protection.

Moving on from the Big Five, each country has a variety of animals and birds that are particular to the destinations at different times of the year. 

For example, when the deep-water channels of Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Linyanti carry seasonal water levels, they attract unique water antelopes, such as lechwe and sitatunga – neither of these species can be spotted in South Africa.

These little differences make your overall safari just that more unique.

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3) The ideal duration for a safari in South Africa vs. Botswana

As it’s such a big and diverse country, South Africa is a place where you can get a good amount of time on safari as well as exploring other non-safari parts, like Cape Town, the Winelands, Hermanus, and the Garden Route. This is a plus point whether you’re on your own or travelling with friends or family, as there is plenty to see. You could easily spend at least two weeks in South Africa – although we think a 10-night trip is the right length for fitting in two or three of the country’s highlights.

For Botswana, the main focus really is the safari. But you don’t want to spend two weeks in the bush as, firstly, it would all become quite repetitive and, secondly, although there are different safari areas to experience, each has its ‘best season’ at certain times of the year. So what you really want with Botswana is a safari of 6–9 nights in two or three different areas, which balances quantity with quality and another important factor – pricing!

4) The budget

It’s no secret that not only is Botswana one of the best safari destinations in Africa, but it’s also the most expensive! However, depending on the time of year you travel and how in advance you book, this doesn’t always have to be the case.

Botswana is seasonal in its rates, and during its peak season (June–October) is when you get the best of Botswana yet with a hefty price tag. But if you’re able to plan your safari a year or more in advance and you’re flexible with dates, we would recommend you travel during Botswana’s shoulder season (April, May, and November). This would still give you a really good safari, but lodge prices would be slightly lower. Alternatively, there is low season (December–March), also known as green season, when the camps that are still open are offering their lowest prices, which can even start to be quite competitive against South Africa’s pricing!

South Africa, in comparison, is a commonly high-rated safari destination because of just how good the safari is all year round, and the density of game. Also, all safari lodges are priced in local South African Rand, making it a great-value choice any time of the year.

If you’re planning your safari in advance and looking for quite an exceptional diverse safari experience within a well-balanced price bracket, I advise travelling to South Africa first, and then Botswana. Go in April/May/November so you’ll get the Big Five in South Africa, and then move on to Botswana where you’ll be able to appreciate the beautiful exclusive surroundings that the country is known for, at great value.

So, to sum up, you really can’t go wrong with either destination. South Africa is for your all-year-round great-value safari with other fun elements to add on, while Botswana is for your full-focused diverse safari experience, which, when planned well, you can get quite a price bargain for – and it’s quality over quantity that wins!

If you’re still not sure what destination would suit you better, why not contact our Southern Africa experts today? Alternatively, take a look at our favourite trips below for more inspiration: