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Botswana in January

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Hi Southern Africa experts,

My husband and I are planning a honeymoon trip to South Africa / Botswana / Mozambique for around 3-3.5 weeks from end December 2016 to mid January 2017. Unfortunately now that I've started doing research I have realized that it seems January isn't the ideal time to visit Botswana. I've read a lot of different information regarding rainy season on the internet, ranging from "don't go as tracks in the reserves are almost all impassable" to "best time to go". Needless to say, I'm a bit confused.

Can anyone advise on
- whether we can risk a safari at the beginning of January in Botswana? We were thinking Chobe, Okavango and 1 day trip to Victoria Falls.
- if there are maybe other areas/camps vs. the above which are better during rainy season and areas where the chance of seeing wildlife is much lower? I did read somewhere that Kalahari may be better than Okavango. Is it very different in terms of wildlife/landscape?
- our priority is to see wildlife vs. staying at a luxury camp (the camp should have basic amenities though) as my husband has never been on safari before
- how high is the risk of ending up at a camp and then not actually being able to do safari outings due to mud and impassable roads? We are thinking if it is a very high risk we may stick to doing safari in South Africa. Botswana is the preference though as it is supposed to be an even better experience than South Africa.

Thank you!!!

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    Go and have a look at some rainfall statistics for Botswana. You'll find the rainiest months have around 100mm of rain. That's not a lot- go and compare it to areas in Kenya/Tanzania where at the peak of their rainy season you will get more like 250mm.

    Botswana essentially has a desert climate. The Okavango Delta is only a wetland because of the tectonic movement that has caused the river to fan out into an inland delta. If it were not for that the area would be a desert. The terrain in northern Botswana is mostly sand, so well drained and so you don't tend to get "mud", not like you might in some areas of Kenya and Tanzania which have black cotton soil.

    I am not sure why you would consider South Africa to be a better option, as it is also rainy season there! Possibly more rainy than Botswana!

    The main issues with green season are that game might disperse away from main water sources, and that vegetation might be thicker making animals harder to spot and photograph. But these issues will be exactly the same in South Africa.

    On the upside, in Botswana you will find cheaper prices. Although you say luxury is not an issue, what cheaper pricing means is that you may be able to afford the private concessions which are very expensive in high season. In private concessions you can drive off road, and this is particularly helpful in green season where the guides can track game and you can also have more freedom to drive around and position the vehicle which helps to overcome visibility problems caused by thicker vegetation.

    The main problem with your plan to me is that you are looking at the Xmas/New Year timescale. Unfortunately, this will increase the pricing which slightly eliminates some of the benefit of going in low season. I have been to Botswana in early December and late January/early Feb and had some great game viewing at very good prices. But over Xmas/New Year you won't get such a good deal. I would look at the Kwando camps- they do have special green season pricing to which they only add a small surcharge over the holiday period.

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    Oh, and green season is indeed peak game viewing time for the Kalahari, because animals are attracted in for the green grass and water. So it's worth including in an itinerary in addition to areas in the north like the delta.

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    Hi stokeygirl,
    Thank you so much for the detailed response. You are confirming what we already thought, my husband in particular is not too bothered about rainy season :-)
    I read in many places though that Chobe is really not recommended during rainy season. Would you disagree?
    Unfortunately New Year is really the only period we can get that much time off to do this trip of a lifetime, so we may have to take into account the higher prices during that time... But I agree it's worth it for us to look into perhaps preponing or postponing a few weeks.
    Thank you,

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    Chobe wouldn't be top of my list at any time of year, as it can be very busy, but I would say it is also one of the areas most adversely affected by rainy season. One of its big attractions is the huge numbers of elephants that are drawn to the river in dry season, and seeing them in the river from a boat trip is a highlight. But in the rainy season, with more water elsewhere, you don't get them congregating in such large numbers.

    I would prioritise the Delta and the Kalahari. Possibly 2 camps in the delta. Or one Delta, one Kalahari, one Linyanti. If you look at Kwando, I would go with Tau Pan, Little Kwara and Lagoon or Lebala. If you have time, you could put in another delta camp with some more extensive water activities. I think Pom Pom is in the same special (called the "5 rivers special") and that has more water activities than Kwara. But I've been to Kwara in Dec and Jan and had very good game viewing.

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    Hi Srishti,

    A honeymoon in Southern Africa will be magical! Good choice. Since others have commented on weather in end-Dec/mid-Jan I thought I’d jump in with some ideas for your safari. With that said, many lodges tend to fill up over the holidays so I do recommend starting to make plans as soon as possible so that you get your top picks!

    First off, take a look at Ker & Downey properties! I know that you mentioned that “luxury” isn’t a priority, however, these camps are stunning, offer great green season game viewing AND are a fabulous value for money over the holiday season. Their recommended selling price is roughly $500 per person/per night. They don’t adjust their pricing over the holidays, so if there is still space available, this would be one of the first places I would look.

    I’ve mentioned to others on the forums that Shinde – a Ker & Downey property – is a homerun! It’s located in the NG21 concession of the Okavango Delta, has really welcoming accommodations, and fabulous game viewing! Not to mention the staff and guides are great here! Shinde also offers many different activities year-round from mokoro and boat cruises to traditional game drives, night drives and walking safaris. Pair Shinde with Kanana in the NG27a concession which offers a unique sleep under the stars option free of charge if you stay 4 nights. The little camp is comprised of just 7 tents for an intimate/personalized feel! They also offer a glass bottom mokoro at Kanana which is quite unique and well worth a try.

    It’s worth noting that Ker & Downey closes their camps Jan 6th through February so you’d have to plan accordingly if you want to fit this into your trip!

    If you are looking for an even more “authentic” African feel without the frills I recommend checking out Kwando’s properties as well. Kwara and Lebala are two of my favorites. They offer a special from mid-November through the end of March that offers tremendous savings during that time of year if you book a minimum of 3 nights at one of their camps or a minimum of 4 nights at any two camps. Kwara is located on the second largest concessions in Botswana so you could easily spend 4 nights here without getting bored. Their simple Meru-style camp is in a really a prime location with frequent wild dog, cheetah, and other predator sightings on the concession. Lebala is also known for its high density of game – especially elephants. This again is a great camp to consider if the game is the focus for you and frills aren’t important. The game viewing in low season here is some of the best I know of! They have many activities on the menu here as well.

    To round off your time in Botswana, I recommend that you consider visiting either Tau Pan or Nxai Pan. These properties are both under the Kwando umbrella as well and either would give you a unique experience compared to a safari in the Okavango Delta. Tau Pan is located in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, whereas Nxai Pan is located southeast of the Okavango Delta and is closer than Tau Pan to the Delta region. These properties would offer a unique cultural component to your trip that is otherwise rare at other camps in Botswana. Here, you can interact with the San Bushman – they bring you on a nature walk and help to you decipher the world around you using their traditional ways of life. You also might be lucky enough to encounter the incredible zebra migration in Nxai Pan that time of year. Zebras in the tens of thousands make for a pretty incredible sight!

    If you are interested in seeing meerkats you can also look at Camp Kalahari, San Camp, or Jacks Camp which will be good in terms of game that time of year as well. The San Bushmen are here as well. Unfortunately you can’t go into the Makgadikgadi Pans during the green season so if you notice that offering on their websites just keep in mind this won’t apply during your travel dates.

    Just to throw in a wild card- if you aren’t 100% set on Botswana (or you can’t find space at your preferred camps), I recommend looking into Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Similar to Botswana the foliage will be more dense and the animals will disperse as there is generally plenty of water to go around, but game viewing is generally still quite strong here! Somalisa or Camp Hwange would be the camps to check out. Both are fabulous options for the more intrepid travelers and they are very reasonably priced. Somalisa offers stunningly beautiful scenery and both offer walking safaris. Somalisa has the additional advantage of being able to off-road for game viewing, which in my opinion is super important! Having to stay on the road when there is a lion or another predator 50 feet of the road can be quite maddening.

    Then there is still South Africa and Mozambique to consider!

    For South Africa I’d consider spending time in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve or the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve outside of Kruger National Park. There are lots of great camps here including Lion Sands’ properties, MalaMala, and Kambaku River Sands just to name a few favorites.

    I would pair a safari in the Greater Kruger with your safari in Botswana as this will give you the opportunity to see the all 5 of the Big 5! If you opt not to visit the Kalahari in Botswana there is also a camp I love in South Africa on private land in the Kalahari called Tswalu. This camp is on the pricier end of all of my suggestions, but if you started your trip in Botswana, then continued to the Sabi Sands via Victoria Falls, you could then head to Tswalu and easily connect to Cape Town. Cape Town is truly not to be missed! I spent a full week there on my last trip and could have stayed much longer. January is also a lovely time to be in Cape Town because it’s summer! Hotels do full up quickly over the holidays.

    For Mozambique check out Azura Benguerra Island and &Beyond Benguerra if you want to splurge. Otherwise, Villa Santorini offers great value as well.

    I hope all of this information helps!

    Kayla Torgerson – Safari Consultant – Travel Beyond

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