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Best big cat safari: South Africa or Botswana?

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Best big cat safari: South Africa or Botswana?

First time safari visitor interested in feedback on best areas for big cat (cheetahs, lions, and leopards) viewing in late Aug/early Sept? Also interested in elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, etc. but big cats are the priority. Victoria Falls looks interesting also but only after our wildlife viewing has been fulfilled. We'll be in Cape Town before so travel convenience is also a factor. Looking at a 3-7 day follow on to Cape Town.

8 replies to this topic
Long Island, New...
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21 reviews
1. Re: Best big cat safari: South Africa or Botswana?

This year? Availability will be very, very limited.

There are very few rhinos in Botswana. Have you considered the high cost of Botswana? Does cost matter? For just 3 nights, Kruger is much easier. With 7 nights, you have time to take bush flights to 2 different lodges in Botswana and a night in VF but very rare rhinos. Hippos are only available with permanent water so choose lodges that you’ll have the opportunity. My best elephants have been in Tembe and Mashatu but Kruger and Chobe and most other reserves have great populations.

Cheetahs are not usually common where there are significant lion populations and require savannah/open ecosystems. Leopard are elusive but many Kruger and Botswana lodges have “resident” leopard as they are territorial. Sabi Sand lodges in Greater Kruger claim the best. Your chances of seeing lion is pretty good. Duba Plains has interesting lions. I certainly haven’t been everywhere but best cheetah in Manyoni Reserve in KZN and Entabeni in the Waterberg, best leopard in Mashatu and self drive in Kruger, best lions DP and Tembe. But that’s just my limited experience. Everyone has different bests. And there are no guarantees any time.

For all around wildlife experience and convenience, Kruger wins hands down.

Cape Town, South...
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2. Re: Best big cat safari: South Africa or Botswana?

Kruger will probably be your best option, depending on how long you want to spend you could try and do 2 different areas to increase your chances of sightings. Availability might be tough, if you give a budget we can advise on lodge options, maybe even 2 different areas in SA.

Sandy - owner - Love Africa Travel

United States
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3. Re: Best big cat safari: South Africa or Botswana?

For me, I would go to one of the private reserves in the Kruger area. The private reserves off road so you'll get incredibly close to the cats if they aren't lying in plain sight. Sabi Sand is usually my first pick but since cats are your goal... I recently went to the Manyeleti and I was blown away by the amount of lions we saw. They have also had several cheetah sightings lately and I saw leopards too, but not on the scale that I see leopards in Sabi Sand regularly. You can take a look at Tinstwalo, Honeyguide tented camps, Pungwe, or they have a self catering facility (but you can't off road then). You can stay with an outside operator/lodge that does their drives in the Manyeleti, but they are supposed to stick to the main roads so viewings might not be as good as if you stay inside the reserve. Not sure about availability if you're going this year.

The Victoria Falls are in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and can be reached from Cape Town, JNB or MQP (Kruger International). Zambia has a nonstop flight in and out of MQP or you can fly into JNB from either Zim or Zam and then fly to any of the 3 Kruger airports.

Washington DC...
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4. Re: Best big cat safari: South Africa or Botswana?

If you're open to going farther afield, and with big cats particularly in mind, I'd recommend going home via Kenya and heading to the Masai Mara. It wouldn't be much extra travel as compared to Botswana or Kruger and at that time of year you'll see the Great Migration of Wildebeest and Zebra. And with all that prey, you'll be seeing lots of lions and cheetah, not to mention crocs the size of small monsters waiting to set upon animals making a river crossing. It would likely be easier to find leopard in Kruger, but your Kenya guide will do all possible to get you leopard as well. Just another option for you to consider....

Tempe, Arizona
Destination Expert
for South Africa, Sabi Sand Game Reserve
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5. Re: Best big cat safari: South Africa or Botswana?

steveb is 100% correct about the opportunity to see predatory lions in action if you

choose to go to Kenya instead of South Africa. And your chances of seeing cheetahs are greatly improved, too.

Leopards are simply more relaxed and regularly seen in South Africa. The Sabi Sand reserve gets the most publicity - and it is prime country for leopards. Rhinos, too - especially white rhinos, but friends of mine saw 3 black rhinos in the Thornybush reserve In South Africa just last week. Remember that the fences are down at Thornybush except on the western boundary.

Speaking now of Botswana -the time of year you are thinking of is High season and it would be very expensive to go there. Game drive experiences are less predictable, in my experience. To me, the real value in a Botswana trip is how easily you feel the remoteness and special nature of game drives there. You realize quickly that you are in wild country.. Country that is basically untouched.

Washington DC...
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6. Re: Best big cat safari: South Africa or Botswana?

Dave, your description of Botswana is spot on and reminds me of my first visit there. I asked a well-traveled couple I met in the delta where they most often choose to go in Africa. They said if they were with their grandchildren they pick Kenya so they'll have plenty to see but if alone they opt for pristine and relaxed Botswana...that reasoning has stuck with me since 2005.

Edited: 06 July 2018, 19:21
Manchester, United...
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157 reviews
7. Re: Best big cat safari: South Africa or Botswana?

Cheetahs are now struggling in Kenya. The density of vehicles following them has had a drastic effect on their ability to raise young.

That said I am reporting facts as it is a major safari country I haven’t visited. Botswana is fantastic but ludicrously expensive. Etosha is now difficult to get bookings and is bedevilled by safari vehicles from outside rushing from waterhole to waterhole. South Luangwa has excellent predator sightings but no rhinos and strangely small elephants . Kruger is great and reliable, recently we sat with 2 other vehicles as a leopard hunted a steenbok across a tar road. The Kgalagadi is utterly amazing but nearly impossible to book and such a trek to get there. Tanzania is a real ‘out of Africa ‘ experience but the vehicle density in the main areas and in the crater can be crazy.

So you pay your money .....

Gold Coast...
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8. Re: Best big cat safari: South Africa or Botswana?

All three big cats is a big ask, especially in Kruger, although we have had excellent cat sightings there, we go for a long period. Some trips we see more leopards, others more cheetah.

To be perfectly honest, I absolutely agree with Steve and Dave, you need to look at East Africa. Rather than the main park, have a look at the Masai Mara conservancies, few people, very few vehicles, they are simply incredible, in one especially we saw pretty well all three big cats every drive, including cheetah chases, births, kills, and so much more. [If interested search for my reviews, or PM me, won’t discuss here]. I do understand it’s a long way from CT, but well worth it IMO.

Having said all that it is very late for booking, availability may affect your decision anyway, including in EA where there will be migration viewing

Edited: 07 July 2018, 11:26
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