Go Wild: How to Plan Your Once-in-a-Lifetime Safari Adventure in Botswana
Bring Your Binoculars & Have Your Camera at the Ready
While it may not be the first destination that comes to mind when considering an African safari, Botswana safaris have become highly sought after due to the high concentrations of game and variety of wildlife habitats.
About 40% of the country is dedicated to nature preserves and wilderness areas where you’re sure to see plenty of animals, but barely any people. That’s because Botswana takes a low volume tourism approach, only offering a limited number of beds at traditional or luxury camps.
Types of Safaris
With so many tour operators and private camps, planning a Botswana safari can become overwhelming. Ultimately making a choice boils down to what type of safari experience you want to have.
Guided Mobile Safaris
Are you looking for constant adventure, camping out under the stars night after night? A guided mobile safari would be your best choice then.
A private guide and camp assistant will travel with you in an open-sided 4×4 vehicle from location to location. Campsites are pitched every night at designated locations inside preserves and national parks.
Mobile safaris typically provide bow tents and bedrolls at the very least, with more luxurious options offering actual beds under canvas tents. Bush toilets and showers or private en-suite bathrooms are also provided depending on the tour operator.
Typically there are four variations offered in mobile safaris: luxury, comfort, budget and participation. The less you want to do upon arrival at camp, the more expensive the safari becomes.
Permanent Lodges & Camps
A variety of permanent lodges and camps are offered at the Okavango Delta, Linyanti Reserve, Makgadikgadi Pans, Kalahari Desert and Chobe National Park. Camps are broken down into tented and non-tented options, with the latter making up the majority of luxury accommodations.
These camp experiences offer a base of operations with accommodations, activities and facilities included. Actual safaris are booked through the lodge, utilizing their vehicles and guides.
Many offer unique experiences due to their exclusive locations in the Botswana wilderness, with animals like wild dogs and elephants roaming near their doorstep. At the very least, these permanent camps have onsite dining areas and lounges with some even providing plunge pools and spas.
Booking a Safari
When pre-planning any type of vacation, booking through a reputable company is of the utmost importance. Many big time travel websites and publications offer pre-booked or tailor made Botswana safari tours lasting anywhere from five to 10 days.
REI, National Geographic and WWF all have structured trips with small groups of up to nine people. Most of these kinds of safari tours include transfers, a variety of accommodations, activities and most meals/beverages.
Expect to pay between $6,000 to $10,000 per person for a safari booked through one of these organizations, not including airfare.
Private international travel companies also provide Botswana tours, which usually require double occupancy. However, like the big time corporate sites, these tours typically fall on the luxury end of the spectrum and can become very expensive.
Most will have agreements in place with specific camps, which can range anywhere from $200/night to $12,000/night (really!). Stick to Wilderness Safaris and Great Plains Conservation — companies with established reputations that have excellent reviews on sites like TripAdvisor.
Your other option is to take out the middleman and book directly with local travel companies. Check with the Hospitality and Tourism Association to find tour companies, camps and lodges that are registered members of the association and are highly rated.
You can also inquire and book directly with one of the lodges and camps, which will often allow you to save money and create a custom package to your exact specifications. Local tour companies are usually able to accommodate all kinds of budgets and you may be able to find packages from as little as $3,000 per person this way.
What to Expect
Each individual travel operator provides something a little different, but in general, Botswana safaris are going to be a combination of public and private parks, wet and/or dry areas, and permanent lodges or guided mobile safaris.
The majority of safaris actually start in Livingstone, Zambia with a tour of Victoria Falls and then from there you’re flown over to Botswana. Typically, safaris start on the north end of Chobe National Park and the Linyanti Preserve and then move into the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Preserve.
Itineraries will consist of game drives in open air Land Rovers, guided bush walks either during the day or after dark, mokoro (dugout canoes) and boat excursions along the delta, or even specialized activities like cultural presentations and aerial excursions by helicopter or hot air balloon.
Depending on the areas traveled through, you can expect to see animals such as hippos, hyenas, lions, giraffes, elephants, impala, antelope, leopards, buffalo, kudu, monkeys and a wide variety of bird species. Following daytime activities, meals are served at camp and are usually prepared by an onsite chef or camp assistant.
Overall, when embarking on a Botswana safari you can expect complete immersion in the local wilderness where you might witness animal feeding times, mating, bathing and migration. Although many operators will take care of most of the gear you’ll need, there are some things you’ll need to pack for a safari to ensure your comfort and safety.
Whether you’re camping in a traditional tent or a luxury lodge, the sounds of Africa’s bush animals will lull you to sleep and stimulate your imagination. There’s a reason why people often travel to Botswana for a spiritual vacation — safaris are truly magical experiences and none more so than those among the true wilderness and remote beauty of Botswana.