Where Should I Go on my first Safari: Tanzania or Botswana Part #2
In Part #2, we will be comparing the cultural, game viewing and recreational experiences of Tanzania and Botswana. For more insight on each country’s wildlife, scenery and/or the game driving experience, you should click on the following link:
Click the drop-down Table of Contents below to go directly to a particular section you have in mind.
Split about evenly between Kenya and Tanzania, the Maasai are perhaps the most famous tribesmen in Africa. These tall an dignified pastoralists are renowned for their red and black checkered cloth and diverse beadworks. You’ll also find that several of the camps & lodges are bedecked with Maasai textiles and architecturally influenced from Maasai bomas.
Visiting a Maasai boma (village) is a worthwhile experience. It’s an insightful look into how human-animal conflict can be resolved: don’t be surprised to see cattle and sheep grazing alongside Thompson’s Gazelle and zebra! The quality of the experience, however, varies from place to place.
You will find many bomas in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area; however, they tend to be rather commercialized. For a more immerisve, authentic experience, bomas at off-the-beaten-path destinations like Sinya Private Reserve (north of Arusha National Park) and Lake Natron (north of Ngorongoro Conservation Area) are a good choice.
But for a truly edifying experience, Tanzania offers arguably one of the best tribal visit in all of Africa: the Hadza bushmen. The Hadza are one of the last remaining true hunter-gatherers in the world. They are concentrated along the shores of Lake Eyasi – halfway between Lake Manyara National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
As this is an off-the-beaten path destination, a visit with the Hadza is by no means “touristy.” With the Hadza, all you know is that you will track and hunt a small antelope (or perhaps a bird or rodent) in the morning, gather fruits roots and tubers with the women later on. Such a lifestyle is undeniably challenging, never mind that our modernizing world is making it even more so.
For those who do not have the time for such a diversion, another option is a visit to Oldupai Gorge. This is the site of some of the most significant discoveries in the field of paleoanthropology, made famous by a 1.75 million year old hominid fossil discovered by Dr. Mary Leakey. The museum and the gorge it overlooks is a great place to stop for lunch en route from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the Serengeti. If you’re really interested in seeing the Leakey fossils themselves, consider visiting the Tanzania National Museum and House of Culture in Dar es Salaam.
Another excellent cultural destination is Zanzibar: a small, Indian Ocean island only a 25-minute flight from the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam. Read more about it by scrolling down to our Beach Retreat section.
Like the Hadza, the San bushmen of Botswana are also hunter-gatherers. The insight gleaned from spending a half-day with them is similarly rewarding. The main difference, however, is that a visit here is more like a “simulation.” Nevertheless, it’s a cool experience: they demonstrate how they make a fire to chase a porcupine out of its den, how they build a trap to catch duikers (small antelope), how they identify the right roots to drink water from, among other things.
Tanzania is home to Mount Kilimanjaro: Africa’s tallest mountain (19,340 ft) and one of the world’s “seven summits.” And the view is simply stunning: as the world’s tallest “stand-alone” mountain (16,000 ft above the surrounding plains), a clear sky will provide jaw-dropping views of plains stretching hundreds of miles in each direction.
Fortunately, Kilimanjaro is arguably the easiest of the “seven summits.” However, a hike to the summit will take at least 5 days and you will need a baseline level of fitness. However, we advise taking a longer route. This is because climbers will contract altitude sickness if they attempt to summit too quickly – the #1 reason a climber will fail to reach the top.
The best time of year to climb Kilimanjaro is from mid-December to February and September through October. This is when it is sunniest and warmest. November through mid-December and April are the wettest months, so they should be avoided.
For those who only want to stretch their legs for a couple of hours, visitors can hike at the nearby Olmoti and Empakaai Craters. While hiking, you’ll also be able to see Ol Doinyo Lengai (a holy mountain for the Maasai), Lake Natron, and on a clear day, Mount Kilimanjaro.
Botswana is not much of a hiker’s destination. That said, the more active/adventurous sort can find several opportunities for walking during a walking safari!
For some, a walking safari might seem too rife with danger to consider. But here’s why you should reconsider:
- Your guide will be armed for your security;
- Your guide is well-trained, meaning he knows when and how to approach certain animals by foot;
- It really is that exciting and enhances a trip that would otherwise be limited to a vehicle!
In our opinion, you can’t go wrong with walking safaris in either country. But if walking safaris are your priority, you should instead consider visiting either Zimbabwe or Zambia. These itineraries are particularly good for the ambulatory-minded:
- 4-Day Safari to Mana Pools
- 6-Day Walking Trail in South Luangwa – Zambia
- 12-Day Legends of Zimbabwe Safari
- 12-Day Classic Safari to Zambia
- 12-Day Group “Eyes on Elephant: Safari to Zimbabwe
- 12-Day Old-Fashioned Group Walking Safari to Zambia
- 14-Day Botswana and Zimbabwe Wildlife Flying Safari
- 14-Day Explorer’s River Trail Safari to Zambia
There are two types of walking safaris, each calibrated to your preference for authenticity, mobility and safety.
Traditional Walking Safari
First, you have the traditional walking safari. Your guide will track spoor, droppings, animal calls, etc., and will approach animals within a safe distance. As mentioned before, professional guides are accredited and therefore able to assess whether or not to approach an animal a certain way or at all. Because the route trekked will be different every time, visitors should maintain a good level of fitness.
Second, you have the nature walk. This is typically predetermined course where the guide will point out the “little things” that often go unmentioned over the course of a game drive, like insects and plants. Wildlife encounters are generally avoided, and the walks are not physically strenuous.
Traditional walking safaris can be arranged at Mweba and Grumeti Private Reserves (adjacent to Serengeti National Park) and the southern national parks of Ruaha and Selous.
These wildlife areas also offer nature walks. In addition, one can go on a nature walks in Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and Serengeti National Park. Check with your safari consultant as not every lodge/camp offers walking safaris.
Notably, guests cannot go on any type of walking safari in Lake Manyara National Park.
There are 3 places you can go on walking safaris in Botswana: the private concessions within and near the Okavango Delta, the Linyanti region, and Mashatu Game Reserve.
Like Tanzania, each lodge/camp has a different policy when it comes to walking safaris. Some will offer both traditional and nature walks (Kwando Reserve, for example), most will offer only nature walks, while some will not offer any type of walking safari at all. It’s important to discuss your options with a safari consultant.
Your best (and only) bet for water activities in Tanzania is river cruises along Selous Game Reserve’s Rufiji River. Unfortunately, it is not possible to view game by boat in the Northern Circuit wildlife areas of the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, and Tarangire.
But don’t discount the Selous; though less well known and visited than the parks in the Northern Circuit, this is as close to untamed wilderness as you are going to get in Tanzania.
While cruising along the Rufiji River, you will be able to approach wildlife as close on motorboat as you do within your game drive vehicle. Especially numerous are hippos and crocodiles, but no need to worry: if you listen to your guide’s instructions, you will be safe!
Additional activities available to guests at Selous Game Reserve include fishing, bird-watching, and celebratory sun-downers.
For those with a penchant for thrill-seeking, the neighboring country of Uganda offers Class Five white-water rafting along the Nile River! Consider requesting it as an add-on from one of our safari consultants.
Botswana should be considered the unofficial capital of “water safaris.” All the country’s river and wetlands provide numerous opportunities for water activities. Not only is it a relaxing change of pace, the experience also affords opportunity to see wildlife and especially birdlife you wouldn’t see otherwise. Therefore, it’s highly recommended that if you visit Botswana you get out on the water.
The main two water activities are motor boating and dug-out mokoros. The former is available within the Okavango Delta, Linyanti region, and Chobe National Park. The latter is available solely in the Okavango Delta.
Depending on your preference, motor boats can either be optimized for comfort (ensuring some festive sundowners!) or photography. Comfort-optimized boats will often have plush, leather seats, will be well-shaded, and be large enough for those on-board to walk along the deck with ease.
None of the photographically optimized boats will have middle seats nor obstructed views. Additionally, they are also smaller, and therefore more nimble in tough to access areas. They end up feeling more “safari-authentic.”
Fishing is also a popular activity that camp/lodge staff are more than happy to arrange for you. It also just so happens that the two best months for fishing in the Okavango Delta (September & October). In the Linyanti region, fishing months are limited to May until August. For Chobe National Park, your best fishing is from May until September. Common species in Botswana include Tigerfish, Bream, Barbel, Nembwe, and African Pike. Coincidentally, great times for fishing tend to be during the best times for wildlife viewing!
Just as you would ride a gondola if you visited Venice so should you ride a mokoro if you visit the Okavango Delta. You and perhaps one other passenger will be gently propelled by a pilot wielding a long pole. The pilot propels the boat by pushing against the riverbed: in most instances, the Okavanago Delta is very shallow!
Modern-style canoes have, unfortunately, been phased out in Botswana. Nevertheless, if a canoe safari is your highest priority, we highly suggest to one of the following links for a canoe-inclusive itinerary:
- 14 Day Botswana and Zimbabwe Wildlife Flying Safari
- 4 Day Safari to Mana Pools
- 12 Day AAC Legends of Zimbabwe Safari
- 12 Day Group “Eyes on Elephant Safari to Zimbabwe
- 14 Day Explorer’s River Trail Safari to Zambia
- 14 Day Wilds of Zambia
Like Tanzania, white-water rafting is not offered in Botswana. But in the bordering countires of Zambia and Zimbabwe lies Victoria Falls, yet another world-class white-water rafting destination! Victoria Falls is a very popular extension; talk to one of our safari consultants to make a plan.
To drift soundlessly perched in a hot-air balloon over an African savanna as the first rays of light cascade over the horizon is an unmissable highlight for anyone’s safari. As a further reward for waking up earlier than normal, you will more than likely be greeted with a bush breakfast at your landing site!
Tanzania gets the edge for hot-air balloons. Though also offered at select camps/lodges in Ruaha and Tarangire National Parks, the best way place to do so is in the Serengeti. Why? Because you cab arrange a balloon safari where the Great Migration herds are present.
Sadly, there is only one place in Botswana where you can go on a hot-air balloon. In the northern Okavango Delta, Vumbura Plains Camp allows guests to take in the horizon-spanning wetlands of the Okavango Delta. You also just might happen to cross path with some wildlife coming to the riverbed for a drink of water!
If you haven’t heard, Africa is also an incredible beach destination! Tanzania is one of countries with excellent, yet uncrowded beaches suitable for the sunbather or the more active-oriented. Other countries that fit the profile include Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar, Kenya, Seychelles, and Mauritius. These destinations are great to keep in mind, especially if you’ll be travelling with young children or going on your honeymoon!
To start, here are 3 itineraries to look at in order to familiarize yourself with your options for a Tanzanian beach retreat:
- 14-Day Tanzania Safari and Spice Coast
- 14-Day Group Lodge Safari and Island Getaway to Tanzania
- 18-Day Group North and South Safari to Tanzania
Tanzania is blessed with countless miles of white sand beaches on both its mainland and several Indian Ocean islands. These islands include Zanzibar, Pemba, Mnemba, Mafia, and Chumbe. We suggest finding tropical bliss at one of Tanzania’s many islands.
Zanzibar naturally sticks out. The largest of the aformentioned islands, it is also the most culturally lively. Sailors have docked at Zanzibar’s ports for more than two millenia. But it was the medieval era Arab traders who have made the most significant impact on Zanzibar’s cultural and physical landscape. Put it this way: imagineer Stone’s Town, Zanzibar’s largest city, as an Arabian soukh transplanted to a tropical isle. The architecture is just as fascinating as its details: look for the decorated teak doors and the antique shops filled with little wonders all to their own.
Talk with one of our safari consultants to know which accommodation is right for you. Whether you want the all-inclusive amenities of a resort, the idyllic privacy of a beachside chalet, a place with easy access to snorkeling, they’ll know the best option for you!
Botswana, as a land-locked country, has no beaches to speak of. But that doesn’t mean you can’t add a beach destination to your trip. Consider Mozambique or South Africa’s Garden Route as an add-on.