When I was planning my trip to South Africa, and I was scrolling through the travel forums, one question pooped out rather frequently: Chobe or Kruger? Some raised concerns about the overall game viewing experience, quality of facilities and tours, accessibility, etc. While I have already introduced Kruger, I also visited Chobe when I was in Victoria Falls. This time, I am going to share my experience in Chobe and there are some differences between the two national parks.
What you need to know about Chobe
Chobe National Park is Botswana’s first national park and the third-largest. Somehow it is the most visited national park in the country because of its close proximity to Victoria Falls. If you have time to explore the parts of the country, visit Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve, a salt pan; or the Okavango Delta. Before the establishment of the national park in the 1960s, the land was once inhabited by the San Bushmen, or the Basarwa, who are nomadic hunter-gatherers.
Today, their ancient rock paintings could still be found in some places in the park. The game reserve covers an area of cover 11,700 square kilometers, and the Chobe riverfront in the north is an iconic area known as the Chobe Flood Plains. This region is probably easier to get to from Victoria Falls in the neighboring countries Zambia, or Zimbabwe. In fact, Chobe National Park is one of the top wilderness reserves in the world. The park is also noted for having a population of lions that prey on African elephants.
How to get there?
To some, Chobe offers a more secluded and pristine safari experience, many rustic and luxurious camps are scattered in the park and they could be accessed from the major towns in the region like Maun or Kasane. For Safari tours operated in Maun, visitors could explore the Okavango Delta, which has a diverse game viewing including lions and other big cats.
Kasane is a small town close to Africa’s “Four Corners”, where four African countries meet: Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Kasane is merely an hour away from Victoria Falls, making it the most visited section of Chobe. Tour operators usually include connecting transportation from Livingstone, Zambia, or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
Safari tours that kick off from Kasane usually cover the area of Chobe Flood Plains. There are some lodges in the area, but Chobe Game Lodge is the only permanent accommodation located within the park itself. Another unique way to game viewing in Chobe is staying aboard one of the houseboats that sail down the Zambezi and Chobe rivers, and witnessing the wildlife action along the riverbanks at different times of the day. Although we didn’t go deep into the center of the national park, we had quite an amazing experience and saw a diverse range of wildlife on the edge of the Chobe River, bothering four African countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana.
Many visitors may need a UniVisa (or Kaza Visa) to enter Zambia and Zimbabwe, the visa should cover a day trip to Botswana for exiting and re-entering the country the same day. For more info about the visa, check out: The 101 Travel Guide of What You Need to Know about Victoria Falls.
When to go?
May to October (the dry season) is the best time to visit Chobe National Park. This period has sunny, dry, and warm days which is more pleasant for game viewing. Besides, the roads are easily navigable for safari vehicles and mosquitoes are at a minimum.
Most importantly, the lack of water during the dry season encourages animals to stay around the river, making it much easier to view a huge group and a variety of wildlife.
My Chobe Safari
I have yet to visit the Okavango Delta, but I heard some amazing comments about the area. I visited the Chobe Flood Plains in the north of the park and it was not any less exciting.
The day tour is divided into two sections: a boat cruise through the Zambezi and Chobe rivers in the morning, followed by an open jeep safari drive in the afternoon after lunch. Sometimes the order may switch depending on the different arrangements.
The entire Chobe National Park has one of the greatest concentrations of game in all of Africa. As mentioned, it has the most spectacular elephant herds – an estimated population of around 120,000 elephants living within the park boundaries. Not only did we see them in the park… but we saw them bathing, eating, feeding, frolicking, and socializing in different locations throughout our tour. The most impressive sighting was on our boat cruise, while the elephants were gradually approaching our boat as they gathered the grass from the water and turn it into sheaves with their trunks. Fascinating!
Although I saw (or precisely, heard, because we saw them floating by the river outside the lodge at night) Hippopotamus from our Kruger lodge, the best Hippopotamus sighting was in Chobe. Again, on our boat, we saw the Hippo swimming in the river. Given their reputation of having a very bad temper, we didn’t get very close, still, we had a clear shot of a big group.
The park also has an impressive population of Buffalo. We saw many of them in the plain by the river. More, I was told the area has a healthy population of lions, but big cats (cheetah, or lions) are less likely to be seen here, as compared to Kruger. It’s possible to spot a lion and leopard occasionally, but rhinoceros are quite difficult to find.
What you need to know about Kruger
You are welcome to find out more about Kruger National Park in my other post, but I am giving a short introduction about Kruger here anyway. Kruger Park is located in South Africa, and it is one of the largest game reserves in Arica. The National Park covers an area of 20,000 square kilometers, and now it is also part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The park was established in 1926 and it is also South Africa’s first national park. It has a diverse game viewing experience as visitors can meet the big five: Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, and White Rhinoceros.
What else you may see there? Black rhinoceros, plains zebra, blue wildebeest, giraffe, impala, kudu, waterbuck, and warthog. If you are lucky, you will spot some rare animals like African wild dogs, sable antelope, nyala, mountain reedbuck, or eland.
My Kruger Safari
Amongst the seven most common and popular types of animals, sighting the more “friendly” Elephants and buffaloes would be easy.
If you are after the big cats, i.e lions, cheetahs and leopards may need a little bit of luck or a very good safari guide. It doesn’t mean that seeing the other animals was any less fun. It was true that I was not as excited as the first time I saw a herd of zebra or a waterbuck on the 19th time, but pay attention, I learned a lot about their behavior, habits, and way of life in the process. For my experience of these animals in Kruger, I have written about them in A Day on Safari.
So… Chobe or Kruger?
First of all, both national parks (Chobe and Kruger) have no shortage of wildlife viewing. For the few days that I spent in the park, I saw a lot of giraffes, Impalas, waterbucks, kudus, buffalos, bears, crocodiles, and elephants in both places.
For Chobe, I had the best elephant viewing experience from the boat, and it was absolutely fun to see hippos in the river. On the other hand, I saw rhinoceros, African wild dogs, and some big cats in Kruger. We must be incredibly lucky to see them all in a few days. Having said that, African wild dogs and leopards are not limited to Kruger, they may be spotted in Chobe as well. There is no guarantee that you get to see the animals you want, just bring a lot of positive energy and enjoy the experience.
Comparing the two national parks, I prefer the natural environment in Chobe (the Kasane area). The open space along the Chobe River offers wider and unobstructed views of wildlife, a.k.a. we don’t have to seek for the game through the bushes. I enjoyed my boat cruise a lot because the boat is steadier and more comfortable, and I could move around, or even reach the upper deck for better game viewing (That’s why I said the elephant viewing was better in Chobe).
However, for a first-time safari experience, or family travelers, Kruger is probably a better choice because it is more accessible, it has better tourist facilities, and there are more options in terms of accommodations within and outside the park (at different price levels, too). Visitors have a better chance to see more animals.
Lastly, your travel itinerary or route factors in your decision-making process. If you only have time for one place, and you want to explore Victoria Falls, choose Chobe. But if you want to discover Blyde River Canyon, the second largest canyon in Africa instead, then Kruger would probably be a better choice.