South Africa and Botswana are neighboring countries that both offer superb wildlife sightings and top class camps and lodges, but there are a number of differences to keep in mind when choosing one over the other. South Africa lacks the rugged remoteness of Botswana, but for those eager to see a maximum amount of wildlife in a short amount of time, private concessions like those in South Africa’s Sabi Sands are a reliable option. Unlike Botswana, South Africa’s game reserves are all fenced. This has the effect of limiting the natural migration of animals within the ecosystem but results in a higher concentration of game, especially big cats.
Botswana’s game viewing, while excellent, can be unpredictable at times, as animals migrate according to the seasons. South Africa has a number of private concessions that offer a very exclusive, intimate safari experience on par with Botswana, but these areas are much smaller so guests do not get exposed to the same variety of habitats in Botswana. South Africa has very few unfenced camping areas, making it safer for families camping with children, but disappointing for those seeking a wilder camping experience. South African campsites, such as those in the Kruger National Park tend to be crowded, especially during school holidays. South African game reserves are mostly accessible by car and few require a 4x4 vehicle, while a 4x4 is absolutely necessary to negotiate the thick Kalahari sand tracks in many of Botswana’s wild areas. Because Botswana has a no fences between its national parks and outlying areas, it is completely normal to see elephants, buffalo, lions, giraffes, or even a pack of wild dogs padding along the country’s main highways.
Botswana, with its simpler infrastructure and small remote towns, has a charming ‘real African’ feel while the plentiful shops in South Africa, even within the Kruger National Park, make stocking up on supplies very convenient. A South African safari is generally the cheaper route with more choice when it comes to mid-range accommodation options. Botswana, on the other hand, only offers two options – camp or stay in a luxury lodge, and most luxury lodges are only reachable by light aircraft so it is important to pack light. Booking for a camping safari in Botswana needs to be done at least a year in advance as campsites are limited, whereas you are far more likely to get away with a last minute bookings in South Africa, although booking ahead is always the wiser option.