Both countries offer an exceptional safari experience with best-in-the-world lodges in pristine bushveld settings, outstanding natural beauty and rich fauna and flora. And they both boast an extraordinary region that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, namely Okavango Delta in Botswana and Kruger National Park in South Africa.
South Africa and Botswana are neighbours and compete as the premier safari destinations in southern Africa. It’s impossible to choose one over the other because both countries have so much to offer but we can tell you what you’ll trade-off when weighing South Africa up against Botswana for the safari tour of your dreams.
South Africa offers you the iconic Kruger National Park and its exclusive neighbour, Greater Kruger. Located in the far north-eastern corner of South Africa and sharing an unfenced boundary, the two Big 5 safari regions represent the finest and most diverse biospheres in Africa.
Kruger Park is the oldest and largest national park in South Africa while Greater Kruger is an amalgamation of 18 unfenced game reserves that are privately-owned and exclusive. Familiar names include Sabi Sands, MalaMala, Londolozi, Lions Sands and Singita.
The fence between Greater Kruger and Kruger Park has been removed and the animals roam freely over an area that spans some 22 000 square kilometres. Combined, Kruger Park and Greater Kruger are core to the Kruger2Canyons (K2C) and Vhembe UNESCO Man and Biospheres and fall within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.
However, you’re not limited to visiting Kruger Park or Greater Kruger in the far north corner of the country. South Africa has 21 national parks and a wide choice of topnotch private game reserves. Familiar names include Pilanesberg, Madikwe, Addo Elephant, Phinda and Hluhluwe Imfolozi. The beauty of these safari destinations is they’re located in malaria-free areas in South Africa.
Okavango Delta needs no introduction. The magical wetland region is Botswana’s flagship safari destination and possibly the most magnificent place to visit in Africa. It’s one of the world’s largest inland deltas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.
The vast wetland lies on a tectonic trough in the parched Kalahari Basin where the Okavango River empties onto the vast savanna plains. Annual flooding increases the size of the inland delta to three times its size and transforms the region into a lush tropical haven, attracting an abundance of animals and migrant birds which are best viewed from a river canoe silently paddling down the narrow channels.
Botswana has a lot more to offer than Okavango Delta. It has some of the finest protected ecosystems in southern Africa; each an oasis so diverse that travellers return year after year for new experiences in the wild and untamed corners of the country. Familiar names include Chobe, Moremi, Savuti, Linyanti, Kgalagadi and Makgadikgadi Pans.
South Africa versus Botswana: which offers the best safari experience
South Africa offers a more commercial, tourist-friendly safari experience with a wider choice of accommodation for all safari budgets. Greater Kruger and the private concessions in Kruger Park unashameably target the top-end safari market but there’s more than enough to choose from for comfortable accommodation that doesn’t deplete your credit card.
Safari destinations in South Africa are all within easy commuting distance from the big cities. You have the option of self-drive safari tours which are family-friendly and help to keep costs down; otherwise choose a reputable tour operator who offers first-rate safari tours at a price that’s affordable on the current exchange rate.
A safari tour to South Africa can be combined with a tour of Cape Town and the glorious Garden Route where breathtaking scenery, rich cultural heritage and excellent wine and gourmet meals beckon. Or head east to KwaZulu Natal for beautiful beaches, splendid mountains and outdoor living at its best.
Botswana attracts a more adventurous traveller with a bigger budget. You’ll find a selection of bush camps and campsites suitable for the cost-conscious traveller but on the whole, Botswana is a more expensive choice. The trade-off is an incomparable safari experience that’s worth every cent.
Botswana’s sought-after safari destinations are located in remote areas that are wild and untamed, and harder to get to than those in South Africa. Getting to your safari lodge in Botswana typically involves an international flight to Johannesburg and another to Maun and then a fly-in/fly-out charter flight. The benefit is lower tourist numbers and thus, less habituated wildlife.
Unlike South Africa, the safari regions in Botswana are unfenced and game migrates freely across the vast savanna plains.
The remote, rugged areas coupled with low tourist numbers offers travellers a more authentic safari experience that’s hard to beat anywhere else in southern Africa. So, to answer the question; which country offers the best safari experience?
South Africa and Botswana come tie because they both boast the finest wilderness regions, incredible wildlife and birding as well as outstanding safari facilities. You’ll have to try both and decide for yourself.