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Tanzania vs. Botswana

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I could really use help deciding between Tanzania and Botswana . . . and which company to book with. I've heard the crowds can literally ruin a trip to Tanzania. Because we want to take our time looking at creatures (the small as well as the large) we're thinking of booking a private trip but can't afford that in Botswana. The tour ops we've talked to say their guides can always find more secluded areas, but I just want to be sure. And it seems very important to find a company that uses open vehicles (for photography) rather than enclosed.

Our travel dates are flexible, but this fall would be nice. We can spend about $4000 per person, not including air. We'd love to see meerkats, bats, chameleons, hyenas, snakes, baboons, funky bugs, etc. in addition to the traditional game.

Anyone willing to offer advice? Thanks!

Kim in Atlanta

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    Now there's a matchup! I don't know which I'd vote for in that election.

    "I've heard the crowds can literally ruin a trip to Tanzania"

    If you are in central to northern Serengeti in September (since you mentioned fall) there will be few people and good game. Not the numbers of hooved species found in the Mara, but good.

    In the Ngorongoro Crater there were other vehicles, but not hordes in one area. One hint is to request a breakfast box and be one of the first into the crater in the morning. We had the place and a rhino in the brush to ourselves for about half an hour. Sopa Lodge has its own access road into the crater to avoid crowds.

    In Tarangire or Manyara, I've never encountered crowds.

    The crowds I've encountered have been in the Masai Mara rather than Tanzania. Even in the Mara, they could be avoided, and by no means ruined my experience.

    "Because we want to take our time looking at creatures (the small as well as the large) we're thinking of booking a private trip but can't afford that in Botswana"

    A private Tanzania trip would be a great option that is affordable and would allow you to observe and appreciate the small creatures/insects/tracks/dung. There are many other wonderful aspects of the private safari, where you are much more in control of where and how you spend your time.

    Not that you couldn't spend time on the micro aspects of the safari in Botswana. Since there aren't crowds to beat and avoid, the pace in Botswana can be more leisurely to allow more time for small sights. Botswana clients would more likely share some of your interests in the smaller stuff than an average group going on a Tanzania safari. Not to disparage the Tanzanian tourist, but Botswana is more likely a repeat destination and because it costs more people are apt to be really into all that Africa has to offer--like you are. So private is not as necessary in Botswana in my opinion.

    My Tanzanian safaris have been private but none of my Botswana safaris have been. They've all been great.

    "And it seems very important to find a company that uses open vehicles (for photography) rather than enclosed."

    There may be a few places in Tanzania that offer open vehicles, but most are the pop tops. Unless you are in a private concession in East Africa, the vehicles are not open as they are in Botswana. I did not find the pop tops to hinder photography. In fact, taking pictures from the window rather than out of the top is often a better angle and the window ledge is a good support. But there are other advantages to the open vehicle such as better peripheral views and experiencing the bush more closely.

    "We'd love to see meerkats" Only place I know is Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Jack's and San have troops nearby. I'm going to see those creatures (I hope) in August.

    "bats" Only places I've seen bats is in Uganda in Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kampala, Uganda all over the lawn of the Sheridan. But the largest mammal migration, which is BATS, takes place in Zambia around Nov.-Dec.

    "chameleons" Seen only in Zambia, living in the shower part of a hut in South Luangwa, but I am sure they are out there, just hard to see, of course.

    "hyenas" Plentiful in Tanzania and Botswana.

    "snakes" Lucky to catch a glimpse. I've seen about 4-5 in Botswana and 0 in Tanzania.

    "baboons, funky bugs, etc." Plentiful.

    As for the company to book with, you'll find many glowing recommendations among posters. I've had good experience with Fish Eagle, Adventure Travel Desk, Eyes on Africa (Southern Africa specialist), Africa Adventure, and Roy's (doesn't do Southern Africa). Africa Adventure has done most of my trips and has done them flawlessly. I did a recommendation on them previously in a thread titled "Central Kalahari in July"
    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4

    If you can’t find it, you could email me.

    Happy Travels. With Botswana and Tanzania you cannot lose!

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    kimatl,

    Sounds like you should also be considering Zambia! :)

    Zambia is home to some amazing parks and also home to the single largest known bat migration in the world. Take a look:

    http://www.kasanka.com/bat-gallery.htm

    This would cost you about $200 per person per night sharing, and it would include full board with all activities.

    This migration takes place each November and it is possible to see the bats between early November to mid December.

    Best of all, by going in November, you also open yourself up to preferential pricing in South Luangwa.

    For only $250 pp per night sharing it is possible to stay at this great looking lodge:

    www.luangwariverlodge.com

    Best of all, after your 3rd night, the rate goes down to $200 pp per night sharing.

    I think you will have a hard time finding a better designed camp in all of Zambia, yet I can assure you that you are in a very strong wildlife area. This is a very exclusive camp and only caters to a maximum of 10 guests.

    Then, you could finish it off (or start it off) with a couple nights in Victoria Falls at a great looking place like this:

    http://www.stanleysafaris.com/lodge.htm

    This would run you about $250 per person per night sharing.

    So, really, you could create an itinerary like this if you wanted to include the fruit bat migration in your itinerary:

    Luangwa River Lodge (5) $2,300 total for two people.

    Kasanka (4) $800 pp sharing. $1,600 total for two people.

    Stanley Safari Lodge (2) $500 pp sharing. $1,000 total.

    You would most likely either fly into Lusaka from Johannesburg, although there are also a couple weekly direct flights from London.

    From Johannesburg to Lusaka, you are looking at about $400 per person for a return (r/t) flight. A round trip would cost you $800 total for two people.

    From Lusaka to South Luangwa (Mfuwe Airport), you are looking at about $325 per person, return flights. So, a round trip would cost you approximately $650 total for two people.

    From Mfuwe to Kasanka, you are looking at $250 per person each eay, assuming there are only two of you, although the true cost is $500 each way for up to four persons. A round trip would cost you $1,000.

    Your flights from Lusaka to Livingstone, would only run you about $125 per person each way. $500 total for two people.

    SUMMARY

    Luangwa River Lodge (5) $2,300
    Kasanka (4) $1,600
    Stanley Safari Lodge (2) $1,000
    Joburg - Lusaka, return $800
    Lusaka - Mfuwe, return $650
    Mfuwe - Kasanka, return $1,000
    Lusaka - Livingstone, return $500

    GRAND TOTAL = $7,850 USD.

    With the extra $150, remaining in your budget you could spend one night in Kawaza Village, a cultural experience outside of South Luangwa.

    http://www.gonomad.com/helps/0103/schlesinger_kawazavillage.html

    This would be perfect on your return from Kasanka...perhaps you even would like 2 nights?

    Other cultural type experiences such as Gudigwa in Botswana and Songwe Village in Victoria Falls are about FIVE TIMES the price, and most of that likely goes directly to the owners of the lodge, while all of the money for your stay at Kawaza Village goes directly to the village.

    Itinerary:

    Luangwa River Lodge (5)
    Kasanka (4)
    Kawaza Village (2)
    Stanley Safari Lodge (2)

    GRAND TOTAL, including all air from Johannesburg, $4,100 per person.

    However, if you go to the wrong operator, the price may likely go up an extra 15%, but over the last three years, I have made some very good contacts in Zambia, and I, myself, will be making my 3rd trip to Zambia, in as many years, this September.

    I prefer not to endorse agents by name on this forum, but if the above appeals to you, feel free to e-mail me at rocco_morelli@hotmail.com

    If November does not work out for you, there are plenty of other options in Zambia, especially in high season (June - October) and this would open up other parts of the country to you such as Lower Zambezi National Park, Kafue National Park and North Luangwa National Park.

    The right parts of Zambia are every bit as remote as the most remote parts of Botswana. Sorry to rant, but I really love Zambia and find it to well live up to its motto as being "The Real Africa."
    :)

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    I just wanted to add that if choosing Tanzania, you may want to include the less visited southern parks of Selous and Ruaha, among others. Or perhaps do a southern circuit exclusively rather than the more heavily visited northern circuit. I haven't been to these parks myself, but you can find a few trip reports on this board. I've yet to read a report which doesn't speak glowingly of this area.

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    This is one of those time I would recommend you try and make contact with a guide directly like John Stevens of Zimbabwe or Mark Harvey of Shiwa Safaris in Zambia. They can design and lead the kind of safari you want.

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    I don't believe open vehicles are allowed for game viewing in most of Tanzania (Serengeti, Ngorongoro, etc.), so if that is the major criterion, you should probably cross Tanzania off your list. My husband and I just booked a 15-night private safari in Tanzania for November, for under $4,000 per person. We priced a lot of operators and went with Good Earth Tours. They use pop-top vehicles, as I believe most Tanzanian operators do. Tanzania Serengeti Adventures and Roy's were runners-up. Good luck with whatever you decide.

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    Wow! Thank you all for the advice. I'll have to look into Zambia since I hadn't thought of that before. After looking at a dozen operators' websites, I am surprised that so few offer a good combination of private, mobile tents AND the quaint permanent camps. So I'll look into all of these that you've mentioned. It's also interesting that all the websites talk only of the big game and not the smaller critters that make this world so interesting. Thanks again!

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    kimati -

    For a private safari - Kenya / Tanzania - if you want a combination of mobile and quaint permanent tent camps - ask for them. That's why it's called a private safari. What you see on websites are usually set safaris or "suggested" safari routings and accommodations. It's a place from where to start.

    You can search on this board for East African - Tanzania and/or Kenya itineraries booked within the past year and you'll see all kinds of combinations when it comes to Parks/Reserves visited, types of accommodations, drive or fly or a combination, and even time spent on the coastal areas of these countries.

    There are a number of recent threads with such itineraries... you don't have to search that far.

    Of course, little critters abound, but "Big 5" and "Safari" go hand-in-hand. There are plenty of birds, hyenas (aren't that small), snakes (most people prefer not to even mention these and hope never to see any), baboons, monkey, meerkats, whatever - they're all to be found.

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    FYI, open vehicles ARE allowed in Tanzania National Parks.

    They are just not allowed on the roads between the parks! Some operators use vehicles with doors that unhook and get stored once they enter the parks!

    Usage is not restricted to lodges either. All tour operators who are willing to be licensed and have their vehicles inspected can use open vehicles.

    Tourists must sign indemnity forms and costs are 50% more than normal vehicle fees. There are also rules such as no more than 2 open vehicles at the same spot when viewing wildlife, etc.

    One can argue that there is a safety concern when using open vehicles with driver/guides from budget outfitters who are not qualified/experienced for this kind of safari.

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    SUPERB response from atravelynn, especially!

    I am absolutely with you on preference for some of the small critters - we always make sure we let our guides know that we would really appreciate their helping us to see and appreciate these especially - and have been lucky to enjoy them on trips to Kenya, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia.

    meerkats - As atravelynn said, best place is Jack's Camp in the Kalahari desert. We were there last June and spent almost an entire morning within (yes do mean within and not with) a troop/group/whatever the collective for meerkats is and it was amazing. We sat on the ground right by them, they ran between us, even onto our bags occasionally, we walked with them, knelt by them... watched the teeny babies beg for food and gobble it down... it was magical.

    chameleons - only time I've seen one was on our 2001 trip to Namibia and I had to applaud our guide who spotted it on the sand ahead whilst driving at a pretty fast pace. We got out and got really close and watched it standing as still as a statue for a while and then racing off with it's wobbly gait.

    hyenas - had great sightings in both Southern and Eastern Africa and spent time with hunting packs as well as at the den site with pups out and playing.

    snakes - because we travel in winter we don't see many, I think I've come across 3 or 4 in all, one was a huge rock python and the others were small grass snakes, all in Botswana.

    baboons - ubiquitous everywhere in Africa

    funky bugs - dragonflies, beetles of all kinds, huge grasshoppers of various types, spiders (not keen on these myself) and much much more.

    Also loved our porcupine sightings in Ndumo, honeybadger in Mombo and genets (can't remember without my diary which type) in Tubu Tree.

    Didn't see so many of the unusual things on my Kenya trip BUT it was a group trip and the guides were concentrating on the bigger game really.

    I do prefer the open vehicles to the pop tops myself, but clearly that's not universal. I just find it easier to get pictures 360 degrees without so much standing and moving and that is much easier for me. Plus I love being fully exposed to the bush!

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