If anyone asks how we planned the safari portion of our trip, my head will explode. Or yours. Either way.
We did (or Mr. P did) a huge amount of research and reading to decide what we were going to do. To save you that, it really comes down to two things: what region you will visit and how much money you want to spend (or what type of experience you want).
For us, it came down to choosing between Tanzania and Botswana. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of what we had to decide. A lot of the decision hinged on what we were comfortable with since we’re introverts and don’t like talking to people. Animals are fine since they don’t talk to me.
Pros and Cons about Tanzania
Visiting the Serengeti. Think “the Lion King.” Most people when they think of safariing picture the vast Serengeti with herds of game. Tanzania is the place to see it.
Cheaper. We could hire our own private guide. This would mean we introverts wouldn’t have to talk to other travelers, but it also might mean that we’d have to constantly talk to the guide. We agonized over this bit.
Closed vehicles, driving long distances. Transferring between different safari camps or areas is done by car. Since the car will travel long distances, it’s not an open air vehicle. These cars usually have windows that open and pop tops. Still, it’s not as ideal for picture-taking or getting up close and personal.
National Parks mean more cars. Although we could have a private guide experience, safariing isn’t closed off to 1 or 2 cars per area. If there is a game sighting or you are visiting a famous location, you could run into as many as 30 other cars who are there to see the same thing.
Pros and Cons about Botswana
More expensive. Botswana set out to deliver a particular type of higher-end safari product. Safariing is done in private reserves and it generally costs more.
Private reserves mean fewer cars. A safari camp on a private reserve will send out just a handful of cars. It’s possible to go all day without seeing another car or just 1-2. It feels much more private.
But that means you will probably share a car. Unless you spend an ungodly amount of money for a private car, you will probably share a car with 2-4 other people during game drives.
Safari transfers by air = open air cars. In Botswana, the safari companies have small aircraft and transfer guests to the different camps by air. Aside from the cool experience of flying in a small plane, it also means that your car is open air. It’s ideal for picture-taking and getting a good view of the animals.
Different landscape, smaller herds of game. The landscape is different than the Serengeti and you are likely to see smaller herds. But . . .
More up close and personal. You will probably get closer to the animals since you are on private reserves and there are fewer cars.
Possible visit to Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is very close to Botswana and can easily be added onto a trip.
What we Chose and Why
We agonized over whether having a private guide or having car-mates was the best way to go. We chose Botswana and here’s why:
The open-air vehicle was worth having car-mates. This turned out to be 100% true. I would not trade the view we had from our car for anything. And our car mates were very nice (of course they were, but it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes we don’t like to talk to people).
We wanted the experience Botswana was offering, even if it meant that we wouldn’t see huge herds of animals. Believe me, we saw plenty. See above, fewer lions but extreme closeup.
Adding South Africa. We added a safari camp in South Africa to our itinerary so we could see white rhinos. I liked having the safari experience in two countries. Plus, we got to add in some time in Cape Town at the end.
Easier to fly to. We got to South Africa to start our safari with one layover. To Tanzania, we would have needed 2 stops.
We were able to get a green season deal. We traveled in November and were able to get a few deals on our safari package because it wasn’t the “high season” yet. This does mean that there wasn’t as much game as there would be a month or two later, but we did see a lot. It also meant that there might be bug issues, but that’s a story for later.
Is having a private guide really better for introverts? Or is having car mates better? Honestly, the latter. Yep. For a couple of the days, the camp wasn’t fully booked so we had a car with just us. We felt like we were “on the spot” a lot, with our guide making more conversation with us, us having to be more communicative about what we were thinking/feeling during game drives, having to talk more during our stops for coffee and drinks, etc. It was hard to simply sit and observe the animals sometimes because they thought we were bored unless we said something (when you stop taking pictures, they sometimes think it’s time to move on). Having car-mates meant that we could quietly observe animals or step away from the group when we were stopped. Definitely food for thought.
What would you pick? I hope this helps fellow introverts!