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Tanzania vs. Botswana

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I am a single, female traveler planning a first-time safari in September or October. I am really torn between Tanzania and Botswana.

On one hand, I feel that the varied landscape and large numbers of animals in Tanzania is great for a first-timer and seems like the quintessential safari destination. However, I have heard the crowds can really detract from the experience, which worries me. I could do the southern circuit in Tanzania, which I believe is less crowded.

On the other hand, I was thinking about Botswana, because I have read there are so many less tourists there. Also, I know there are a lot more opportunities for boat, walking, night safari experiences, etc. The only worry I have about Botswana is that I will be disappointed by the fact that the landscape is less varied than Tanzania. That may sound silly though!

Any insight or advice would be greatly appreciated!

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    Hi Mindyc76,

    I believe both Tanzania and Botswana are phenomenal safari destinations whether it be your first time or a frequent visitor. With that said, you made a brief mention of the southern circuit (Ruaha and Selous). I typically don’t advise first time safari goers into this area, or at least this area as a stand-alone destination (may work into a part of a longer itinerary to include other parts of Tanzania). The southern circuit, especially Ruaha, has phenomenal scenery, but the density of game is not as strong as the northern circuit. If part of the draw to Tanzania is the large number of animals, southern Tanzania will likely not produce what you are looking for.

    Northern Tanzania will certainly produce a higher density of animals and much more varied landscape in comparison to Botswana. When one who has never been to Africa is asked to conjure images of Africa in their mind’s eye, it’s often East Africa they are seeing. Sweepings views, acacia studded savannas and massive herds. Indeed, crowds do exist here in certain pockets, but if your budget permits, you can also work your way around this issue. Choosing privately managed land other National Parks or visiting the more remote sector of National Parks will mitigate this issue. The only area in which this becomes a tremendous issue is in the Ngorongoro Crater. It’s effectively a 102sq mile “bottom of the bucket” in which all safari vehicles have to stay on designated road networks. The Crater Floor is riddled with vehicles and many of the guides fighting for the best viewing opportunities for their guests. It can be hectic. In the Serengeti, I recommend you take a good look at the norther Mara Sector/Kogatende area. In September and October, this is where the massive herds will be. In recent years, more and more operators are setting up camps in this area, but it still remains less impacted than the Seronera area or “downtown” Serengeti.

    If you wish to visit the Ngorongoro Crater, I’d look into a camp/lodge that uses the eastern descent/ascent route. Most of the camps/lodges and day visitors will descend via the western route which is by far the busiest. Going down via the eastern side will ensure that you have minimal traffic in the Crater for at least the first few hours until vehicles from both sides converge near the center of the Crater. I also enjoy staying in the town of Karatu and going into the Crater from here. Albeit busier, Karatu does offer a unique contrast to “safari” with glimpses of how Tanzanians live in rural parts of the country.

    For Tarangire, I recommend you look at the remote central/southern sector of the park. If your budget permits, looking into Little Chem Chem would be the prize. Likewise for Lake Manyara, unless you are day tripping there en route from Tarangire to Karatu/Ngorongoro, I’d say avoid the busier northern sector. Chem Chem Lodge (not Little Chem Chem) operates in a private area in Manyara as well.

    In addition, one thing you didn’t address is the cultural component. In addition to Kenya, I’d say that Tanzania offers a much stronger cultural component than Botswana which is relatively void of cultural experiences outside of camp.

    Lastly, in regards to East Africa, have you considered taking a look at Kenya? I’d recommended it for many of the same reasons I recommend Tanzania, but generally speaking, Kenya tends to drive better value. You can still have the stunning landscape, massive herds and the cultural component whist avoid the crowds. In East Africa, I’d also say that it’s good for active folks with more opportunities for great hiking/walking safaris. They exist in Botswana too, but not to the same extent.

    Onto Botswana. Again, another stunning destination. Note that October is the hottest month of the year. If you are adverse to heat, take a good gander at the temperatures in northern Botswana this time of year. I personally love it, but it can turn some folks off. If you are comparing Tanzania to Botswana, I see a few major benefits. Generally speaking, Botswana is a much lower density tourism destination. Pockets of “business” exist in Botswana in places like the Moremi, Chobe and Khwai areas, but it’s nothing compared to the “busy” areas of Tanzania. Furthermore, because of the permanent wetlands, this area has not been utilized for agriculture or grazing (only on the fringes of the Delta). Meaning, the environment here is untouched by man and very pristine. Arguably the most pristine commercial safari destination. With that, however, comes a higher price tag. Yes, there are good budget options, but if you want to extract the best out of Botswana, it costs significantly more. As you mentioned in your post, there are a good variety of activities in Botswana as well from land to water activities. However, you shouldn’t discount East Africa based on activities as there are lots of interesting options in Kenya and Tanzania as well.

    Botswana’s topography is flat. Very flat. But there is tremendous natural beauty. It’s big, big sky country and the water element is majestic. Although I am landscape driven myself, I find a stronger connection to the natural world more so in Botswana than anywhere else in Africa. It’s nourishing for the soul. And just because it’s flat doesn’t mean that there isn’t diversity. I’d encourage you to look not only at the Okavango, Chobe, Linyanti areas, but also at more unique places like the Boteti River and the Makgadikgadi Pans. The Makgadikgadi is hauntingly beautiful. Talk about flat and nothing. It’s one of the most beautiful life experiences.

    If you want to experience Botswana without spending top dollar, I’d also encourage you to look into “shoulder” season; between Nov 15 and March 31 (excluding Christmas period). Many camps go on deep, deep discounts during this period to fill empty beds. Game viewing is still very productive and later into the “shoulder” season, places like Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Nxai Pan become increasingly more productive.

    I can’t say that one place is better than the other. Both are tremendous and leave lasting impressions. However, I will say one more thing: it’s often the people of Africa that bring visitors back. You will have much more exposure to this element in Kenya/Tanzania than you will in Botswana.

    Have a wonderful trip!

    Kota Tabuchi – Managing Director: Africa – Travel Beyond

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    I think Kota's advice is great. A friend (first time to Africa for her) and I (7th safari for me) have just gone through this decision and will be going to Tanzania in March -- largely for the reasons mentioned above. You will have a wonderful time either way.

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    I have been to the three places mentioned. First trip: Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Second trip: Southern Tanzania. Third trip: Botswana. We always travel in the "green season" as it is a much better value. I would order the destinations in regard to wildlife interactions thus; 1. Botswana (few people and many animals -- animals are very approachable) 2. Southern Tanzania (fewer people and fewer animals -- animals are shy and harder to find) 3. Kenya/N. Tanzania. (Massive numbers of people with marginal animal numbers -- fewer cats, no off roading ). Botswana offered the absolute most varied and up close encounters of anywhere. While you may think that a varied landscape is a must, from my experience nothing trumps sitting in a heard of grazing elephants, following a leopard on the hunt, spending a day with a mother cheetah as she teaches her cubs to hunt. We did all this and more in Botswana.....nowhere else.

    Whatever you will be magical.

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