A question we get so often is ‘Should we go on safari to the Kruger Park or to Botswana?’, and one which has no right or wrong answer because they’re both incredible. In this blog we’ll go through the differences and the added bonuses of each, making it an – ever-so-slightly – easier choice, depending on what you’re looking for in a safari!
We’ll start with a short explanation of each, and then get into the nitty-gritty.
Greater Kruger National Park
The Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP) is one huge area of national park in the north-east of South Africa. Covering 20 000 000 hectares, the area includes the Kruger National Park and over twenty private reserves. The whole area is unfenced and wild, with free movement of game across this spectacular land.
Due to the enormity of the area, habitats differ and of course animals gravitate toward whichever habitat is best for them. Some areas are better known for their leopard sightings, others for their incredible bird life and others for their large elephant herds, etc.
Botswana is a sparsely-populated country covering 58 173 000 hectares, most of which is desert. This is part of Botswana’s beauty – mile upon mile of desert landscape, shimmering in the heat. Most destinations that safari-goers visit, certainly those on short trips, are in the north of Botswana. These are Chobe, Moremi and the beautiful waterways of the Okavango Delta. This does not, however, mean that the rest of the country has nothing to offer. Far from it.
The desert plains of Kgalakgadi in the south and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in its middle, and the desolate salt pans of Makgadikgadi are just three of the other attractions this friendly country offers. Another bonus is its proximity to Vic Falls, just over the border in Zimbabwe, and Namibia, just next door.
In most cases, international visitors fly in to Johannesburg en route to both a Botswana or Kruger safari. A large number of daily flights fly into and out of OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg with a range of international carriers, making it the most cost-effective route in most cases.
From Johannesburg, it’s a scenic 5- to 6-hour drive or an hour’s flight to the Kruger National Park.
If heading onwards to Botswana, many opt to fly directly to Victoria Falls (just over the border between Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe) – a flight that takes just under two hours – and enter Botswana from the north. Alternatively, you can choose to see the landscape and drive from Johannesburg, a good 5-hour trip to the border and then an hour or two into Botswana to the first stop, depending on which safari you do.
To Fly or Drive
Choosing between flying or driving depends on a number of factors, most importantly, time. Driving in Africa includes long distances. As mentioned above, it can take half a day or more to reach a destination. This, for those who have the time, is often a wonderful part of the journey, driving through spectacular scenery and getting a feel for the African lifestyle.
If, however, you only have five days to spare – and we’d recommend you extend it for as long as possible, you’re not going to want to leave! – flying is probably the best option. The views from above are pretty amazing too!
The Experience: What the Differences are
Safaris to both places provide incredible game-viewing, spectacular scenery and friendly people, so what’s different in the experiences?
Number of Visitors
The Greater Kruger Park hosted almost 2 million visitors in 2016. Around the same number visited Botswana that year – the whole country, not just one of its parks. This means that, in Botswana, safaris and camps are far less crowded than at Kruger. It’s more likely that you’ll get to experience the true solitude of the African wild in Botswana’s game parks.
Location, Location, Location
Here, both destinations have bonuses, very different ones. The main difference is that Botswana is slightly more remote than Kruger.
Botswana’s main parks – Moremi, Chobe and Okavango – are located in northern Botswana, close to the other ‘Bucket List’ destination, Victoria Falls. Within a – relatively-speaking, by African standards – small area, you can visit many of the world’s most famous reserves. Plus there’s the breath-taking splendour of Vic Falls and all the adrenaline-pumping activities available around them, just there, and the deserts and perfect desolation of Namibia next door.
Kruger, on the other hand, is easier to get to, usually eliminating one flight (the Johannesburg-Vic Falls leg) and, well, it’s the world-renowned Kruger Park! This means incredible game-viewing, good roads and access and a range of accommodation to suit any budget. From Kruger it’s easy to get to Mozambique for a bit of tropical beach action or the Drakensberg and KwaZulu Natal coast. How good does a beach-safari-combo-holiday sound?
Botswana is truly wild. On a Botswana safari, game viewing is varied with both water- and land-based trips. Okavango offers gorgeous waterways, prolific bird life and the laid-back feeling that one only experiences when close to water. In Chobe, river cruises offer up spectacular elephant, crocodile and hippo sightings, while in both Chobe and Moremi, the plains are filled with game.
Heading south, the barren starkness of the salt pans of Makgadikgadi and Nxai provide the perfect backdrop for magnificent baobabs and desert animals. If you choose a safari trip through Botswana from Vic Falls to Johannesburg (or vice versa), you may get to stop at the Khama Rhino Sanctury and witness these incredible and highly-endangered creatures.
Choose your safari carefully and you can also include a visit with the San people, whose home has been the Kalahari Desert for time immemorial. Learn about their cultures and traditions and get some tips on how to survive in the desert.
Kruger is a little more – how can we say it – refined. It’s been going since 1926 and the infrastructure is constantly worked on and upgraded. Many roads are tarred and easily navigable, cell phone reception is available at almost all camps and it’s more highly populated with visitors.
This said, it also offers safari-goers – depending on where you choose to stay – a variety of game viewing, from day trips to night drives to walking safaris. Due to its size, too, there is a huge range of different habitats within the park and, resultantly, a huge range of animals and birds: almost 150 mammals, over 110 species of reptile, and over 500 species of birds.
Cost and Availability
The South African Rand (ZAR) is, to put it politely, rather weak, in comparison to the GBP or USD, or any other currency, really. ABS safaris to Kruger are priced in ZAR. The result: a safari to Kruger can very easily fit into your budget. In fact, you may even be able to extend your stay and include some other parts of spectacular South Africa.
Botswana, on the other hand, has safaris quoted in USD. Most places in Botswana also go by the philosophy of smaller numbers of tourists, resulting in slightly higher costs. Cost is also driven by the remoteness of camps and the costs of transporting everything in. Limited numbers of camps mean that some places get booked out months – and even years – in advance.
Again, it depends on what’s important to you (and what your budget is, both dollar-wise and time-wise).
So we’ve listed some of the main differences in this blog but what we really want to say is that whether you choose Kruger of Botswana for your safari you’ll be getting huge African skies, incredible game sightings, spectacular scenery and friendly hosts. Contact one of our ABS consultants to book your trip of a lifetime. If we were you, we’d set aside more time and go on a safari that includes both destinations!