Best Safari? Botswana.

This year, my wife and I will be marking our 20th wedding anniversary – a fact to which our kids excitingly wanted to know, “where are we going to celebrate?”

Becoming an expert on family travel has pretty much mandated that we vacation with the children at every opportunity. Not that I’m complaining, but Carol and I haven’t traveled together without the kids along in quite some time. This occasion would be an exception – or so I thought.

“You can’t go without us,” the kids protested. “We were with you on your 15th anniversary!” (Five years ago, our family traveled around the world for more than a year.) Touché, boys.

Whenever people ask me to name the best place we’ve ever traveled to, I’m quick to rephrase the question to where is the one spot we’d most want to go back to. And that’s Botswana, hands down. So we decided to ditch the bucket list this year, and – yes, together as a family – honor our anniversary by going back to Botswana and some of our other favorite places.

Zebras migrate twice each year in Botswana. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

Zebras migrate twice each year in Botswana. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

Why Botswana?

One word: Safari. We sampled a wide variety of safaris throughout southern and eastern Africa in the course of our yearlong trip. Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, and Namibia all have terrific wildlife-viewing options with plenty of outstanding family-friendly programs. But if you asked me which country offers the best and most authentic overall experience, I’d say Botswana.

For starters, most of the camps and lodges are only accessible by air. Yes, this makes the journey to and from more cumbersome (and expensive), but the thrill of flying over the African plains is unforgettable. And if it feels like you’ve landed in the middle of nowhere, you have! Savor it. The animals and sheer beauty of the African bush are guaranteed to hold your kids’ attention — even without WiFi access.

Is Botswana Child-Friendly?

If there’s one thing most kids have in common, it’s their love of animals. Have you been to a zoo lately? But what’s the appropriate age for taking your children all the way to Africa? Most outfitters that cater to families (not all do) suggest waiting until they’re at least 8 years old. If you’ve had experience traveling as a family, this age is definitely ideal. This is probably when kids are at the peak of curiosity, so everything will interest them.

Where to Go?

Even the fastest land mammals on Earth slow down from time to time.  (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

One of Africa’s fiercest predators takes a rest before hunting for her next meal. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

There are about a half dozen regions in Botswana that offer unique safari experiences. The Okavango Delta is easily the most popular, thanks to an abundant year-round water supply that attracts wildlife like a giant magnet. During the dry season (May to October), giant herds of elephant, antelope, buffalo, and zebra migrate to these permanent watering holes. For a fun change of pace from the traditional four-wheel drives, you can explore the Delta’s lily-covered channels in an old-style dugout canoe called a mokoro.

For something completely different, there’s the Kalahari Desert. The animals that reside here — including healthy populations of lion, cheetah, and jackals — seem to have adapted quite well to the  semi-arid environment.  These vast plains of central Botswana are also home to the San Bushman, local guides who can take you on a bush walk or tour to find rock paintings that date back thousands of years.

When to Go?

If you plan to visit Botswana when the kids are off from school, remember that June through October is the “high and dry season.” It’s also winter in the southern hemisphere, so nights can be quite cold. Their summer, or  “green season” might be a good bet if you’re on a tighter budget and can get away during the holidays or over winter recess.

Where to Stay?

A ranger from the Little Kwara Camp showing our group an elephant skull. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

A ranger from the Little Kwara Camp showing our group an elephant skull. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

All safaris are not created equal. There are several different environments, accommodations, and activities to choose from. Lodging options range from permanent luxury camps to tented mobile safaris.

For a good mix of comfort and adventure, I would recommend Kwando Safaris, a company that has camps in the Okavango Delta, Linyanti wetlands, Nxai Pan National Park and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. In addition to offering a nice variety of environments and family-friendly activities, the staff is especially welcoming to children. The rangers are terrific storytellers who make finding elusive predators almost look easy.

More Information?

Planning an African family safari might seem daunting, but don’t let that dissuade you. I always suggest contacting a country’s tourism board directly. And while an initial web search is a good way to start, don’t be afraid to make some phone calls.

Do you have tips for planning a safari? Share them with the Intelligent Travel community by leaving a comment!

Rainer Jenss is a special correspondent for Family Time and the founder of Smart Family Travel. Follow his story on Twitter @JenssTravels.

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Comments

  1. Allan Blanchard
    South of France
    November 1, 2013, 7:32 am

    There is no doubt that Botswana is one of the best locations in the world to see the BIG 5; as well as the incredibly rare and beautiful, African Hunting Dogs. However many people are put off by the incredibly high prices charged by the fly-in camps; especially in the High Season. I would therefore recommend renting your own private vehicle and expert guide (from Maun) and enjoy some spectacular wild camping in the Delta, Moremi and Chobe. This is what my sister did in July 2013 with her family and she enjoyed incredible sighting of Wild Dog at Khwai, as well as Leopard, Lion, Rhino and Elephant. To see how she did it visit http://www.wildlifetrails.co.uk/tours/category/botswana-safari

  2. Kelly Lane
    Santa Barbara, CA
    October 23, 2013, 6:46 pm

    I loved Botswana! You can see photos of camps and wildlife that I took during the week that I was in the Okovango Delta here: http://kellymarielane.com/category/botswana/

  3. Michael Garey
    Houston, Tx
    May 13, 2013, 1:32 pm

    I enjoyed the article, Thank you.

    My family and I are thinking about exploring Africa in a couple of months and I found this article extremely helpful. There are so many options in Africa when a traveler is choosing a safari. My main goal is to go trekking in the Uganda and Rwanda jungles for Mountain Gorillas. Other people in my want to see the Big 5, that can be exciting as well, but the gorillas are one of the closest relative’s the human. I want to see them up close and personal.

  4. Stean
    Kampala
    May 13, 2013, 3:14 am

    Exploring the beauty of Botswana is my dream. I have been to Uganda for gorilla trekking with http://www.gorillatrekkingtrip.com but I wish to enjoy the fun of wild game in Botswana. This is a fantastic experience.

  5. Lisa Niver Rajna
    Koh Samui, Thailand
    May 12, 2013, 9:29 pm

    Rainer,
    An African safari is on the top of our dream list. I love your photos. I am glad you shared your anniversary (again) with the kids but I hope you get a private get-a-way too! We just saw Rhinos in Nepal which was fantastic but I am ready for the BIG FIVE! Thanks for the inspiration.
    Lisa
    We Said Go Travel

  6. Vikki Threlfall
    UK
    May 8, 2013, 4:32 pm

    The Northern Tuli Game Reserve is a great location in Botswana for a family holiday. The lodge there accepts children of any age, and it’s really easily accessible being just across the border from South Africa.

  7. Monique
    May 7, 2013, 9:48 am

    We’ve been on a few safaris in Africa and really loved Botswana. It’s such a great safari destination because of the diverse landscape which allows for game viewing by air, land or water, and we were able to experience a bit of each. http://bit.ly/10g8902

  8. BV
    United States
    May 6, 2013, 1:27 pm

    I would love to take my family on a safari, great article.

    One question, isn’t the photograph of a leopard, not a cheetah? Or am I mistaken?

    • Leslie Trew Magraw
      May 9, 2013, 10:12 am

      You’re completely right. The caption has been changed. Thanks!