Here we are showing a three-way comparison between Botswana versus Zambia versus Zimbabwe for safaris.This is part of our occasional series when we compare one safari regions or countries to a “competing” one. In terms of competing for your attention and ultimately your money! These countries have a lot in common for visitors. And so it is sometimes tricky for people to identify which one they are most interested in.
So it tends to be a case that the strongest brand (Botswana) often gets the lion’s share.
So before I focus on the differences, let’s briefly mention why they are comparable.
- Broadly the same climate – sub-tropical with summer rainfall
- Same peak safari season, basically being the dry season peaking between July to October
- Same extreme heat in October
- All priced in US dollars
- All offer excellent game-viewing
- A broader range of safari activities on offer than in either South Africa or East Africa (with game drives, bush walks, boating, fishing, canoeing or mokoros, sometimes horse-riding)
- Easy access to Victoria Falls to add to the start or end of your safari
- Nearly all nights are “fully inclusive” of all meals, safari activities and a wide selection of soft and alcohol drinks
With all the above in common, no wonder it’s difficult to tell your Linyanti from your Lower Zambezi or your South Luangwa from Savute…
This chart shows my ‘quick and dirty’ comparison between Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe – which naturally is subjective.
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Note: Top option = 3, Solid performer = 2, Reasonable, but others have the edge = 1 and 0 score would mean that they cannot compete at all…
Now let me explain my reasoning:
Price – Botswana vs Zambia vs Zimbabwe
None of these are inexpensive safari destinations. (Actually that doesn’t really exist.) But some are definitely more expensive than others.
Botswana is the most expensive safari destination in Africa (on average). See our blog on the cost of a Botswana safari for what to expect.
Zambian camps tend to be less expensive. But the cost of the charter flights does tend to add to the overall cost.
Zimbabwe is the least expensive, even when using charter flights. And you have the option of road transfers between Victoria Falls, Zambezi National Park and Hwange which brings down the cost.
Ease of travelling
Both Botswana and Zimbabwe are well-connected to South Africa with direct flights from Cape Town International and Johannesburg to Maun, Harare and Victoria Falls.
Zambia – as a whole – is less well-connected. The exception is the regional flight from the Kruger into Livingstone.
Once in the countries, Zimbabwe can be accessed by road and scheduled charter flight. Botswana is mainly scheduled charter flights but the distances are small enough to allow mobile safaris. Zambia is an exclusively fly-in destination.
Terrain and Specific animals
Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe all have several game reserves which offer both beautiful and varied terrain. Which naturally leads to an enjoyable safari experience. Botswana has to be the most diverse, with the Okavango Delta, the Kalahari Desert, Linyanti Swamps, Chobe and the Makgadikgadi Pans. And we haven’t even factored in Mashatu Game Reserve (Tuli Block) in the far south. The unique landscape of the Okavango Delta does offer some unique antelope species not easily seen elsewhere such as Tessebe and Lechwe.
Southern African guides tend to be well-trained with a focus on the guiding aspect, rather than simply driving from sighting to sighting (as can be the case with some East African camps).
However Zimbabwe, with its very strict guide exams, still has an edge here.
Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe all offer walking safaris. But these are much more prevalent and encouraged in both Zimbabwe and Zambia. In my experience the guides are more comfortable taking their clients closer to the wildlife as well. This will suit some people. But may be too much for people who are more fearful.
Overall it is a much wilder experience in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Climate – Botswana vs Zambia vs Zimbabwe
This is a tricky one to judge as one man’s perfect climate is another man’s hell.
All broadly share the same climate. But Zambia seems to get the most heat in October. But the plus side is that it rarely gets cold in the winter evenings. Whereas Hwange in Zimbabwe and the Kalahari in Botswana can get positively nippy!
All are hot and humid in summer and so bugs will always be a fact of life on a safari then. There is greater mosquito activity in Zambia and the riverine parts of Zimbabwe than in Botswana, with its lower population density.
Tetse flies are also a factor in parts of South Luangwa in Zambia. These are harmless in the long run but some people (including me) are quite allergic to the bites with a definite rash for a few days. Not a big thing but worth considering if you know you are affected.
There are no big security issues with any of these countries.
Botswana has been a stable, relatively successful economy for several decades. In contrast Zimbabwe has had a chequered history in the last two decades and is still struggling economically. Whilst few overseas visitors hear much about Zambia, which may cause an element of uncertainty due to lack of knowledge.
Conclusion: Botswana vs Zambia vs Zimbabwe head to head
As you can see, between Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, there is no one country that wins out. Which one will suit you best depends on what you value most.
My aim was to bring to your attention that if you are considering Botswana, then you may like to look at Zambia and Zimbabwe as well.
But if you have already been to one country, they are sufficiently different to plan a second safari visit to one of the others.