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ZAMBIA VS ZIMBABWE VS BOTSWANA: WHICH IS BEST FOR SAFARI?

ZAMBIA VS ZIMBABWE VS BOTSWANA: WHICH IS BEST FOR SAFARI?

In this blog we look at the Southern African countries of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana and how they each compare for an African safari.

We will cover the following :

Location and landscape

Budgeting

Best accommodation

Big 5 sightings and other wildlife

When to go

Other activities besides safari

Best suited to which travellers

Health (Vaccinations & Malaria)

What to combine with each

1. Location and landscape

ZAMBIA

Shares borders with The Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Angola.

Main conservation areas South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi, North Luangwa, Kafue and Liuwa.

Terrain Zambia has two healthy river systems – the Luangwa and the Zambezi – that feed its enticing combination of tropical woodlands, wetlands and savannahs. You can expect gently rolling hills down in Lower Zambezi and wide-open plains up in the north of Kafue.

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ZIMBABWE

Shares borders with Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.

Main conservation areas Matusadona, Mana Pools, Hwange, Matobo, Victoria Falls and Gonarezhou.

Terrain Besides a small area around Victoria Falls that is fairly thickly forested thanks to the spray, the rest of Zimbabwe is classic dry savannah – think flat plains and golden grass. Mana Pools and Matusadona lie on the Zambezi River (which is shared with Zambia) while Gonarezhou and Matobo in the south are known for their massive boulders, cliffs and rock formations.

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BOTSWANA

Shares borders with Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia.

Main conservation areas Central Kalahari, Makgadikgadi Pans, Nxai Pan, Okavango Delta (including Savute and Linyanti), Moremi and Chobe.

Terrain Botswana is a unique country: while most of it is semi-desert, it is also home to the world’s largest inland delta known as the Okavango, which leads to the savannah area around the Chobe River.

2. Budgeting

The general rule of safari is: the bigger your budget, the more private you can go and the more exclusive your safari will be. This means you can access a private game-drive vehicle or visit a private concession or reserve rather than a national park.

But you don’t have to be a millionaire to go on safari. With clever planning, on-the-ground research and the knowledge of your personal Safari Expert consultant, you can manage an affordable safari in any of these destinations.

Here is a breakdown of rough costs for each. ‘Low season’ runs from roughly November to May; ‘high season’ from about June to October. Costs are per person sharing and generally include meals, drinks and activities like game drives but exclude transfers, flights and optional activities like white-water rafting or helicopter flips.

Zambia

4-star comfort 4-star luxury 5-star luxury

Low High Low High Low High

$580 $690 $600 $800 $1000 $1400

Zimbabwe

4-star comfort 4-star luxury 5-star luxury

Low High Low High Low High

$499 $500 - $700 $600 $1000 $1850 $1850

Zambia and Zimbabwe ‘share’ the Victoria Falls – if you’re in the town of Livingstone on the Zambian side it’s easy to cross the border to Zimbabwe to see the full array of the Falls. Low and high seasons at Vic Falls are different to those for safari. The spray is highest and most impressive between February and May but dries up gradually to be the least impressive by October, when the hot, dry weather reduces the Zambian side to bare rock face.

If you want to see the Falls in all their magnificence and go on a satisfying safari, then aim to do both in about May, June or July at the latest.

Victoria Falls

4-star comfort 4-star luxury 5-star luxury

Low High Low High Low High

$350 $400 $400 $450 - $600 $650 $700 - $1200

Botswana

4-star comfort 4-star luxury 5-star luxury

Low High Low High Low High

$400 $550 $550 $850 - $950 $1000 $1200 - $2000

3. Best accommodation picks

ZAMBIA

Zambia’s charm lies in its many ‘bush camps’. Truly rustic, intimate, rebuilt every season from scratch out of wood and thatch by local villagers, bush camps hark back to the safaris of yesteryear. Forgot mod cons, they give you a true digital detox in the middle of some of Africa’s most glorious wilderness areas.

If you do want to splurge, however, then Zambia does have top-of-the-line camps where tents are the size of small houses and come with outdoor showers and private plunge pools. It’s fun to do a combination of both: start with a down-to-earth camp to totally ‘switch off’ and end in tasteful luxury.

ZIMBABWE

Zim has accommodation as varied as the country. Some are under-canvas tented camps that use lamps and bucket showers; others are super-luxurious with sensational views and every amenity like spas, tennis courts, Jacuzzis and wine cellars.

You can even, up in Mana Pools, stay in a houseboat on Lake Kariba. Consider taking over the whole boat for your friends and family so you can have total privacy and run your vacation according to your schedule and interests.

BOTSWANA

Botswana is home to some of Africa’s most beautiful and luxurious lodges when you can find everything from beaten copper bathtubs set out on your private deck to yoga marquees set up in the Kalahari Desert next to tented swimming pools. The government does not allow any permanent structures to be set up in the Okavango Delta so lodges are built of natural materials like timber and thatch that can be removed completely if needs be (there is even one built in the shape of a pangolin, one of the world’s rarest and most endangered species).

On the other end of the accommodation scale are practical tented camps shorn of luxuries like air conditioning and Wi-Fi that that you straight back to the basics of the Botswana bush. A terrific way to see much of Botswana is a mobile-camping trip that starts in Maun and ends in Kasane, taking you through the Delta, Moremi, Savute, Linyanti and Chobe. You will stay in a campsite that moves every two days, allowing you to truly immerse yourself in Botswana.

4. Big 5 sightings and other wildlife

The Big 5 – rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo – are among the most sought-after sightings for especially first-timers to Africa. Unlike places like the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania or Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa, it is rare to see all of the Big 5 in a single day in Botswana, Zimbabwe or Zambia. You are more likely to see them on different days but the ‘chase’, expectation and satisfaction of finally finding the final one is very satisfying.

ZAMBIA

The remarkable thing about Zambia is that many of its camps and lodges close for up to six months of the year because the heavy rain makes the black-cotton soil impassable (most roads in national parks are still dirt). This means that, for up to half a year, the game doesn’t come into contact with many humans or vehicles, making them ‘wilder’ and less habituated than animals that see people and cars every day. The result is spectacular encounters: mock-charging ellies, wary lions, curious cubs, skittish puku and monkeys keen to observe everything they can. Lower Zambezi’s escarpment has prevented giraffe and wildebeest from taking up residence while the Busanga Plains up in Kafue are known for massive herds and very intense predator action with few visitors around.

ZIMBABWE

Zimbabwe’s huge open plains in Hwange make it ideal for big game viewing and you should see good-sized families of elephants and buffalo. Like most places in Africa, rhino are hard to find but a dedicated guide can get lucky. Head to the rockier regions to find species that like to hang around boulders like leopards, klipspringers and rock hyraxes. In Mana Pools, enterprising ellies are known to balance on their hind legs to fresh fresh young leaves or soft new fruits.

BOTSWANA

Moremi Game Reserve is probably your best bet for finding all the Big 5 in the shortest space of time. But the Delta is full of other species not really found elsewhere so look out for tssesebe (a kind of antelope), Pel’s fishing owl, red lechwe and sitatunga (an aqautic antelope). Chobe is, of course, world-famous for its massing of elephants, which move here as the dry winter wears on in order to find sufficient water. And don’t overlook the Kalahari: the desert springs to life after the summer rains with plentiful grazing that fuels the annual zebra migration. About 30 000 zebbies move around the Boteti River area to find water, kicking up the dust and making for spectacular photos.

5. When to go

As mentioned, safari high season is from about July to October across the region.

ZAMBIA

Some camps are closed from the November rains until the end of the April rains, especially bush camps in very remote areas where the roads become impassable. If you want to see Vic Falls during your stay, aim to go between February and May.

ZIMBABWE

Zim’s camps are generally open all year round and the same rule-of-thumb applies to visiting Vic Falls as it does on the Zambian side.

November’s rains bring plenty of fresh grazing – ellies in Mana Pools are famous for standing on their hind legs to reach fresh fruits and berries.

BOTSWANA

The Delta is at its fullest between about April and September so go then if you want to be able to do boating activities like mokoro rides or motorboat excursions.

6. Other activities besides safari

Although game drives in customised safari vehicles will be your chief activity, there are still plenty of others to look forward to.

ZAMBIA

Zambia is the birthplace of walking safaris, the place where you leave the vehicle behind and lace up your hiking boots to go in search of on-foot encounters with game both big and small. Nothing beats the thrill of rounding a bush to see a herd of gently grazing puku in the distance or looking up to see a tree filled with brightly coloured Lillian’s lovebirds.

ZIMBABWE

Chock-a-block with historical ruins and home to Africa’s adventure capital at Victoria Falls Town, Zim packs a punch in extra things to do like rafting, bridge swinging, elephant encounters and shopping in the colourful markets.

BOTSWANA

Botswana is deeply dedicated to safari, so much so that they have come up with countless ways to explore the wilderness. In addition to mobile safaris or mobile camping, you can also go fly-camping (spending the night in the middle of nowhere with a guide and campfire for company) or sleep out on a star-bed, usually a raised platform completely open to the surrounding night.

7. Best suited to which travellers

ZAMBIA

If you love hiking, camping and canoeing back home, then Zambia might be for you. Its rough-and-tumble bush camps are loads of fun for outdoorsy types. If you love birding, then Zambia is also for you as the country has some of the best birding in the world. About 500 recorded species should keep you busy.

ZIMBABWE

First-time visitors to Africa will enjoy how close Hwange and Victoria Falls so you can tick off a Big 5 safari and one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World on a single vacation.

BOTSWANA

Discerning travellers love Botswana and the Okavango is on everyone’s ‘must-do’ lists. If you’ve been to Africa a couple of times, then think about exploring off-the-beaten-track areas like Nxai and Makgadikgadi Pans.

8. Health (Vaccinations & Malaria)

Always talk to your doctor or travel clinic before you set off for a foreign destinaton and try to be as fit and healthy as you can be, especially if you’re coming to Africa to do a physically taxing walking safari or undertaking mobile camping. If you and your doctor decide that you must take anti-malarial medication, then be sure to inform him or her if you are going scuba diving afterwards as some medications may interfere with that.

Bring along a small bottle of hand sanitizer but there is no need to rush out and buy specialist equipment (masks and gloves are definitely not necessary!). In all cases, your Safari Expert consultant can give you more information.

ZAMBIA

Depending on your country of origin, you may need a yellowfever vaccination. There is a risk of malaria during summer around water and some areas still have tsetse fly, which can leave a nasty nite. They are attracted to black, blue and bright colours so don’t wear clothes of those hues (there’s a reason all guides dress in grey, green or khaki!).

ZIMBABWE

Much like Zambia, there is a small risk of malaria and you may have to get a yellowfever vaccination. It is also best to leave the blue jeans and black sweaters at home as you may go near a tsetse fly zone.

BOTSWANA

Depsite so much water around, the risk of malaria in Botswana is very low (unless you go into villages). Tsetse fly has been eradicated so there is no risk of what is called African sleeping sickness.

9. What to combine with each

The natural destination to combine with each of these countries is Victoria Falls because it literally lies in the centre where they meet. Naturally Zambia and Zimbabwe have the easiest access to the Falls but many Botswana safaris end at Kasane, which is about a 2-hour drive from the Falls. You can easily leave Botswana in the morning and be relaxing on a Zambezi River cruise that afternoon, watching the elephants cross the water, seeing hippos vie for territory and crocodiles that haven’t moved for hours suddenly and swiftly spring to action.

ZAMBIA

As the furtherest north of the three, Zambia combine easily with its direct neighbour Malawi, a paradise with gorgeous secluded beaches along beautiful Lake Malawi. It also pairs easily with classic East African safari destinations like Kenya and Tanzania, where you can visit the Masai Mara and Serengeti.

Our East African Adventure includes Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, and is ideal if you really want to experience some of the best destinations that Africa has to offer.

ZIMBABWE

Because it shares a border with South Africa, one of our most popular combinations, especially with first-time visitors to Africa, is connecting Cape Town, the Kruger National Park and Victoria Falls. Take inspiration from this 11-day itinerary that gives you enough time to explore all that each place has to offer but also wraps up your African vacation in two weeks with the round-trip international flights added.

BOTSWANA

Like Zimbabwe, Botswana also shares a border with South Africa and the same easy logistics – you could be in Cape Town in the morning and the Delta by the afternoon thanks to a direct flight linking the two. This honeymoon-focused tour puts you in Cape Town, Kruger, Chobe and Vic Falls but remember that substituting the Delta for the Falls, for example, is easily done and gives you a bigger slice of Botswana.

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