How to plan a Botswana Safari depends on your budget and your appetite for adventure. From luxury to budget, read our guide to discover more.
Botswana is a landlocked country in southern Africa. The south is characterized by the Kalahari Desert, while the Okavango Delta dominates the north. Botswana is known for being an amazing safari destination and it certainly lives up to the hype. From Europe or America, most flights go via Johannesburg in South Africa. From there you can fly to Gaborone, Maun or Kasane.
While Gaborone is the capital of Botswana and its largest city, it’s not that close to the main safari destinations. Maun, also known as the gateway to the Okavango Delta, is a much more popular entry point for tourists. Many organised safaris start in Maun and if you are self-driving you can rent a 4×4* and get supplies in town.
Tips for planning your Botswana Safari
- Book your trip well in advance, everything from luxury lodges to campsites sells out in peak season (July-Sept)
- Prices at lodges go down significantly in the rainy season (Dec-Mar) but some lodges close during this time.
- The Tracks4Africa Botswana Map* is very useful, especially if you’re self-driving.
- You can rent an equipped 4×4* from Maun, Kasane or Gaborone.
- To save on banking fees get a Wise Card*, they have Botswanan Pula, very low conversion fees and you avoid ATM charges for your first several withdrawals per month.
- Make sure you have travel insurance* to protect you in case of holiday cancellations or lost luggage.
- On any safari, you’ll have a lot of relaxation time, so check out the best books to read while in Botswana.
- We went on a self-drive safari around Botswana for just over a month. You can read more about what it’s like on the road in the travel adventure book I wrote*.
Types of Safari in Botswana
There are three main types of safaris in Botswana: A luxury all-inclusive safari, a mobile tented safari or a self-drive safari.
Luxury, All-Inclusive Safari
At the most luxurious, expensive end, you can book an all-inclusive package*. You’ll stay in fancy lodges, fly between places and won’t have to worry about a thing, apart from the early wake-up times to see the animals. You can go on a similar safari but stay in less luxurious places to make it cheaper, but this type of trip will always run into multiple thousands of dollars/euros/pounds per week per person. This kind of trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a popular option for a honeymoon*.
Mobile Tented Safaris
Mobile tented safaris in Botswana are a great option if you want a relatively affordable and adventurous safari but don’t want to organise everything yourself. They are a bit of a mix between the self-drive and all-inclusive experience. It’s fully organised for you but you aren’t staying in luxury accommodation. On these multiday safaris you’ll always be accompanied and be driven through the parks in a 4×4. Overnight, you’ll stay in basic tents within the parks. You’ll have a bit of the self-drive experience and be able to camp in the wild. However, you won’t have to worry about the driving, getting lost, or booking any accommodation. You can get an idea of how mobile tented safaris work and how much they cost here*.
The cheapest and most adventurous option is a self-drive safari where you stay in campsites (read our article all about how to organise a self-drive safari). If you don’t have your own 4×4 you must rent one (Britz 4×4 rentals* are designed for self-drivers) and this will be one of the main costs. For a fully-equipped Toyota Hilux or similar you might expect to pay roughly $150 per day. Campsites within the national parks can be expensive ($35-$60 per person per night), though in some of the desert parks in the Kalahari (Mabuasehube, Central Kalahari, Makadikagai Pans) you can find campsites run by DWNP, very good value at only P40 ($3.50) per person per night.
If you do consider a self-drive safari in Botswana you should have some basic vehicle maintenance skills, including being able to change a tire and fix simple car problems. You should also have some experience driving off-road, and for example know when to use low-range.
Self-drive Safari without a 4×4
Another option that might be good value if you don’t feel like driving through the parks yourself is to rent a normal (not 4×4) car (prices start from around $35 per day) and stick to the tar. You can then drive to lodges located by the side of the main roads. From there you can go on day or multiday safaris organized by the lodges themselves. It’s probably easiest and cheapest to book trips directly with the lodge, but the links below give you an idea of prices and activities on offer. If you bring all your camping gear, camp at the lodges and cook your own food, this will be a very good value option. However, you will be restricted in where you can go, for example the desert parks are far from any affordable lodges.
If you do choose this option, places to consider visiting include:
- Maun, where you can go on day trips* and multiday trips* into the Okavango Delta or Moremi Game Reserve.
- Kasane, where most lodges organise day game drives* or river cruises* into Chobe National Park.
- The Salt Pans, where lodges such as Nata Lodge* or Planet Baobab* can organise safari trips to the salt pans themselves.
How to Organise a Safari in Botswana
If you book an all-inclusive luxury safari to Botswana*, you’ll have little to organise apart from deciding where and when to go. If you plan a self-drive safari you’ll have more to think about and can read our Self-Drive Safari Guide.
Where to go on Safari in Botswana
Most tourists visit the north of Botswana when on safari. This is where the concentration of animals is highest, and also where the most safari lodges can be found. The northern safari areas are bounded by the Okavango Delta in the west and the Chobe River in the northeast, on the border with Namibia.
In the south the Kalahari Desert dominates and there are far fewer lodges and tourists. Animal sightings can be amazing but are not guaranteed and more patience is needed than in the north.
The Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is the most famous safari area in Botswana. Most of the lodges are extremely expensive ($1000+ per person per night) and you can only reach them by flying in from Maun. You’ll get a discount if you book through a tour operator* and stay for several nights at a time. Additionally, prices drop in the rainy season (though many lodges close during this time).
If you go on a self-drive safari, the only parts of the Okavango Delta you can reach are the panhandle (from the A35 highway) or Moremi Game Reserve. Along the panhandle there are several villages and lodges with camping. It’s less wild here than in Moremi, so Moremi would be the first choice. If you have time you can visit both areas.
While less famous than the Okavango Delta, the neighbouring Khwai region has an abundance of animals and the lodges are much cheaper. There are also some great campsites for self-drivers. Additionally, most of the tracks are not flooded in the rainy season and most of the lodges are open year-round. You don’t have to fly in, and while it might not be so exclusive, it’s a great option for a cheaper but still luxurious safari.
Chobe Riverfront is the next most popular area to go on safari in Botswana. It’s much busier than the Okavango Delta because tourist vehicles concentrate along the river, though you’re basically guaranteed amazing animal sightings. There’s only one lodge and one campsite in the park so most people stay in the town of Kasane just next door. There are many reasonably priced lodges here, though of course it’s not quite the same as being in the middle of the wild Okavango Delta.
Far from anywhere, Savuti is halfway between the Okavango Delta and Chobe Riverfront and is truly wild. There are only a few lodges (ranging from vaguely affordable to extremely luxurious) and one campsite here, so it never gets crowded. You have to have some patience for animal sightings as there’s no permanent water, but when you do see something it’ll probably be only you and the animals.
The Salt Pans
The Botswanan Salt Pans cover a large area of the country and are protected by two national parks – Nxai Pan and Makgadikgadi Pans. There are several campsites in the area and lodges, both affordable and very luxurious, around the pans. It’s a completely different landscape from the wetter parks of the north. There are few trees, but vast expanses of grass and flat salt pans stretching to the horizon. Sunrises and sunsets are amazing, and the stars are incredible. It’s an easily accessible area, only a few hours from Maun, and definitely worth exploring.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The Central Kalahari is an amazing park covering a huge area in the centre of Botswana. There are a couple of luxury lodges within and just next to the park, each with its own airstrip. For self-drivers and mobile tented safaris, there are plenty of remote campsites reached only by hours of driving along sandy tracks. It’s a very wild place, and like the salt pans, the sunrises, sunsets and stars are amazing.
Khutse Game Reserve and Mabuasehube
There are no lodges in or near either Khutse Game Reserve or Mabuasehube. This means they are not included on luxury all-inclusive safaris and are only visited by self-drivers. Similar to Central Kalahari, you can have amazing animal sightings but be prepared for them to be few and far between.
When to go on a Safari in Botswana
The most popular time to go on safari in Botswana is in peak season, which in general is July to September. This is when the Okavango Delta is in full flood but the rest of the country is very dry as it’s the end of the dry season. The dry season starts around April, and as it progresses, the countryside gets drier and drier. This forces the animals to concentrate around the remaining water. In the north animals flock to the Okavango Delta and Chobe Riverfront, as well as to the Boteti River and permanent waterholes in the Salt Pans.
In the southern half of the country, which in general is less visited by tourists, the animals are adapted to survive for long periods without water. There is very little surface water remaining in the Kalahari Desert in the dry season and animals disperse into the bush, spreading out to find juicy plants which sustain the animals when they can’t drink. This means that the dry season isn’t the best time to visit the desert parks, though you can still be lucky and have fantastic sightings at any time of the year.
How much does a Botswana Safari cost?
The price of a safari in Botswana depends on what type of safari you go on. An all-inclusive safari can be thousands of dollars per day, while self-driving you can find campsites for $3.50 per person per night. Especially for lodges, prices are highest in peak season then decrease in shoulder-season and in the off-season can be up to half the price. Though it’s important to note that some lodges close in the off-season. In Botswana peak season is roughly July to Sept/Oct. Shoulder season is Sept/Oct to Nov/Dec and Apr/May-June. Off-season (or Green Season) is Dec-Mar, though sometimes the Christmas period is more expensive.
On a self-drive safari, the main costs are vehicle rental* ($100+ per day), national park entry fees ($35-50 for two people with a car per day for international visitors, slightly less for SADC), campsite fees ($60-120 for two international visitors per night in National Parks) and fuel. Excluding vehicle rental, food and small extras, you’re looking at roughly $800-$1400 for two people for 7-14 days through the national parks. See our self-drive itineraries for more detailed cost estimates.
The price of fuel in Botswana is more similar to America than Europe (i.e. relatively cheap), but if you have a large 4×4 it won’t be super fuel-efficient. Expect the cost of driving to work out around $15 per 100 km (in 2022 – it was half that price in early 2021). Over roughly four weeks in Botswana we drove about 6000 km and used 628 litres of diesel, which in 2022 would cost about $900. This works out at about $30 per day on average for diesel.
Gear for on Safari in Botswana
Gear for on a Game Drive
- Camera* – Panasonic makes some super-zoom compact cameras which are great for animal photography on a safari without having to think about changing lenses.
- Binoculars* – A real must-have item, it’s definitely worth taking binoculars with you on safari and ideally you should have one pair per person to avoid frustration.
- Wide-brimmed Hat – Sitting at your campsite or on a mokoro boat, a hat is extremely welcome. A hat with a wide brim is much better than baseball caps or similar which don’t protect the side of your face or neck much.
- Safari backpack* – It’s useful to have a small backpack to take in the game vehicle or on a walking safari for carrying water, a light jacket, a camera, binoculars and other items. Get one in neutral colours – not too dark and not white, and something quite sturdy that won’t break if caught on acacia tree thorns.
- Sunscreen and mosquito repellent – don’t forget these!
- Wildlife Guide* – If you’re self-driving, a wildlife guide will increase your enjoyment of the animals. Although some are obvious, like giraffes and lions, there are many different types of antelopes and smaller animals in Botswana that you won’t be able to identify without a wildlife guide.
- Bird Guide* – When you’re at your campsites or driving through the parks, you’ll see many birds. It makes it a lot more interesting if you can identify them, and you’ll never have a dull moment even if you can’t see any big animals. I bought a fairly thin bird guide as I was a beginner. It’s very easy to use and has most of the common birds you’ll see, though it only has one photo per bird so sometimes identification can be a challenge (especially of flycatchers which all seem to look the same!).
Other Gear for a Safari Trip in Botswana
- Malaria tablets – in the north of Botswana malaria is present. Check with a travel nurse or similar before you leave. Remember, you may need to start taking tablets up to a week before you arrive in Botswana and after you leave.
- Clothes – on safari you should wear natural coloured clothing (but not camouflage or army clothing as it’s actually illegal to do so in Botswana). Avoid dark and bright colours and white.
- Long trousers and long-sleeved tops – although shorts and T-shirt are fine most of the time, covering up is useful in the evening to avoid mosquito bites. Morning game drives in open safari vehicles can be cold so covering up is also a good idea for these. In rural villages it’s also more appropriate.
- Fancy clothes for evenings at the lodge bar or restaurant. Even on a self-drive safari mainly camping, I brought one dress to posh-up when we occasionally camped at a lodge and visited the bar.
- Down jacket – useful especially in the dry winter season when mornings and nights can be cold.
Can I see the Big 5 On Safari in Botswana?
The animals that make up the Big 5 are the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. These Big 5 animals all live in Botswana but rhinos are extremely uncommon outside of Khama Rhino Sanctuary, a small reserve in the centre of the country. See our Guide to Botswana National Parks and Game Reserves for more details of the animals you can see within each park.
Easy to See
Elephants are the easiest of the Big 5 to see in Botswana. With more than 100,000 elephants wandering the land you’ll almost certainly see a lot. You’ll even see them crossing the main highways. They mainly live in the northern half of the country, and Moremi and Chobe are known for their large elephant populations. Wandering males travel further and can sometimes be spotted further south in the Central Kalahari and Khutse Game Reserves. We saw so many elephants in Botswana, they really seemed to be everywhere.
Good chances of Seeing
Buffalo are probably the second easiest of the Big 5 to spot in Botswana, though you won’t find them in the southern half of the country. Large concentrations of buffalo can be found in Chobe Riverfront and around the Okavango Delta, especially in the dry season. We saw large herds of buffalo in Chobe Riverfront and a few others in Moremi and Savuti.
Lions are also fairly commonly seen, though you do have to be lucky. They live in all the parks in Botswana but stay further from civilization than the elephants and can certainly stay more hidden. The great desert parks of the south – Mabuasehube, Khutse and Central Kalahari are famous for their lions, and the prides of Savuti rose to fame for their elephant-killing abilities. On our safari through Botswana we saw a pair of lions in Mabuasehube, heard them wander around our car at night in Khutse, saw one large male in Central Kalahari, a mother and cub in Khwai, and large prides both in Savuti and Chobe Riverfront.
More Difficult to See
Leopards are much more tricky to see and you have to be very lucky to see one. They live everywhere but can remain camouflaged just out of sight. Check in the trees near rivers or around waterholes and get up early for your best chances. The only leopard we saw in Botswana was in the Central Kalahari.
Rhinos have been reintroduced to some of the northern parks though they are very shy and you have to be super lucky to see them in the true wilderness. However, if you visit Khama Rhino Sanctuary your odds are much better and you’ll almost certainly see a few white rhinos. Even in the Sanctuary, the black rhinos often remain hiding in the bush.
There’s more than the Big 5 in Botswana
Apart from the Big 5, Botswana has plenty of other animals to see on safari. Wild dog sightings are a real possibility everywhere apart from the far south of Botswana. We saw them both in the Central Kalahari and in Khwai, two locations where they’re often seen. Cheetahs live everywhere but are very hard to see – Central Kalahari and Nxai Pans are good places to try and spot them though we didn’t see any in Botswana. Brown hyenas, the stars of the book Cry of the Kalahari*, can be seen in all the desert parks and we really wanted to see them in Central Kalahari but we didn’t. However, we did see a gorgeous caracal (small lynx-like cat) in the park. We were also super excited to see a pair of honey badgers in Chobe, though these are more often seen in the desert parks.
Of course, all the grazers are lovely to see – giraffes, zebras, gemsbok, sable antelope, red lechwe, puku, springbok, impala, bushbuck, kudu, wildebeest, ostriches, eland, hartebeest, waterbuck, steenbok and more. These can be difficult to tell apart – we use this Guide to Animals of Southern Africa* to identify them. Additionally, we note down where and when we see them in every new country we go to.
Birds of Botswana
When the animals are hiding, the birds are always there. A few years ago I wasn’t into birds at all, but now I love identifying them in my bird guide*. It means there’s never a dull moment on safari, and Botswana has such a varied climate that you can see many different species. My bird guide is fairly thin, unlike the huge bird guides you can get. It means that not all the birds are in it and you only get one picture of each bird (not male/female/juvenile/front/back) which can sometimes make the birds harder to identify. But it does mean you don’t have to flick through an enormous guide and get confused.
Guidebooks & Maps to Explore More of Botswana
The Lonely Planet Guidebook* covers all of Botswana, but not in much detail. The Bradt Guide* has a wealth of information and is great for planning a safari around northern Botswana, but doesn’t cover southern Botswana. The Tracks4Africa Map* is an essential item for driving around the country and its national parks. For more information, see our Best Botswana Guidebooks article.
I hope you enjoyed our guide to Botswana Safaris. For further information, read our guide to Botswana National Parks, Camping in Botswana or how to plan a Self-Drive Safari in Botswana. For detailed information about the different areas of Botswana, check out our overall Guide to Botswana.
We went on a self-drive safari in Botswana for two months in our trusty Defender. Find out more by reading the travel book I wrote, No Footprints in the Night: On Safari in Botswana*.
FAQS: Botswana Safari
Botswana is an amazing safari destination. There are very high concentrations of animals and they are free to roam across most of the country. The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of the world’s most unique safari destinations.
A safari trip to Botswana can cost many thousands of dollars/euros/pounds per person per week if you stay at luxury lodges, while if you self-drive you might get by on $500 per person per week, or less outside the national parks.
The cost of accommodation in luxury lodges in Botswana is the main contributing factor to the high price of safaris. The lodges are often very remote and exclusive, so building them and getting in supplies is expensive for them. Additionally, you have to fly to some lodges and local flights are quite expensive. What the high cost brings you is pristine wilderness and amazing animal sightings. If you go on a self-drive safari, it’s much cheaper.
Useful things for a holiday in Botswana
- Travel Debit Card: we have Wise Cards* which allow you to cheaply convert most currencies into Botswana Pula. You can then pay by card (a few lodges have card machines), wire transfer or withdraw cash from an ATM inside Botswana for no extra fees.
- Travel Insurance: we use SafetyWing*, it’s simple to buy online and they have a downloadable letter proving you have travel insurance which includes Covid-related issues.