Botswana is a wild land of contrasts, with a rich diversity of wilderness areas for travel and safari vacations.
Traveling to Botswana will bring you to a country where more than 17% of the land is dedicated to protected wildlife areas like national parks and game reserves. These include revered wilderness areas like the Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta, the Makgadikgadi Pan, Savuti Marsh, Kgalagadi and the Central Kalahari – the second largest game reserve in the world. It is nothing short of a paradise for nature lovers.
|Size||581 730 sq km / 224 607 sq mi|
|Population||2 209 208|
|Currency||Botswana Pula (BWP)|
The most visited travel destinations in Botswana include Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta. These two wildernesses offer some of the best game viewing in Africa, in areas that lie largely untouched by time and humanity. Accommodation is provided in small luxurious safari camps located in pristine wilderness settings.
Though not as well known, nor as popular as the destinations listed above, each of Botswana's other destinations offer truly unique and exciting vacation endeavors.
The Central Kalahari is one of the largest game reserves in the world. Stretching across 52,800 km², this safari destination covers an eleventh of Botswana's land mass. Supporting a treasure trove of wildlife, the Central Kalahari consists of mopane woodland, open grassy plains and red desert sands.
The remnants of what was once the greatest lake in Africa, Makgadikgadi is a unique destination that may not appeal to everyone. For avid nature lovers, however, it offers some truly remarkable sights and experiences, ranging from close encounters with meerkat colonies to great flocks of flamingos that visit the area during the rainy season.
The Moremi Game Reserve is a protected stretch of the verdurous Okavango Delta. Some 5 000 square kilometers in extent, the reserve harbors remarkable diversity, including almost 500 species of birds. It is home to one of the Okavango Delta's most famous and largest islands - 'Chief's Island'.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park encompasses a sandy slice of the border between South Africa and Botswana - an area comprising more than 3.6 million hectares. It is home to the legendary black-maned Kalahari lion and desert-adapted plains game like gemsbok (oryx) and springbok.
Nxai Pan is a large salt pan that lies around 50km northwest of the Makgadikgadi Pans. Thousands of years ago, they formed part of the same lake system. Though significantly smaller, Nxai boasts a more permanent wildlife population than Makgadikgadi, including large predators, elephants and giraffes.
Botswana vacations are characterized by unforgettably wild encounters in authentic wilderness areas. The game viewing is sure to be topnotch.
Botswana travel will bring you to a seasoned safari destination, which means that it hosts many established safari camps and lodges with decades of experience. The government harbors very strict conservation regulations, ensuring that these properties are often considerably more eco-friendly than those in other African countries. Wherever you may roam in Botswana, you will find a heavy emphasis on the preservation of its natural resources. Wildlife tourism is the lifeblood of this country.
Botswana boasts a unique variety of wilderness areas unlike elsewhere in Southern Africa. From the emerald waterways of Okavango Delta to the otherworldly landscape of the Makgadikgadi Pans, the contrast is almost dizzying and yet indelibly captivating. Travelers to Botswana may experience anything from the lush green paradise of the Delta to the sprawling desert sands of the Kalahari.
Botswana's wide variety of wilderness areas provides a wide variety of vacation activities. Unlike the safari areas of Namibia and South Africa, Botswana is able to offer a range of water-based safari ventures, from gliding along the veins of the Okavango Delta in a traditional mokoro canoe to motorized cruises on the Chobe River and on the Linyanti marshes.
The lodges of Botswana's remote locations mean that the properties' architects have to be quite creative in ensuring both eco-sustainability and unbridled comfort. Their creations are innovative, inviting and enveloped in pristine wilderness. Though not as hedonistically luxurious as some of the lodges in South Africa, these establishments are augmented by their incomparable surroundings.
After arriving in Johannesburg, guests will fly to either Maun or Kasane in Botswana. Known as Botswana’s tourism capital, Maun is the entry point for most African safaris in the area. This is largely due to Maun’s proximity to the prolific Okavango Delta. Kasane is located in the north-eastern corner of Botswana close to the Kazungula border post where four countries meet – Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. This makes the town the ideal access point for safaris to Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta, Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and even the Victoria Falls.
Botswana's climate is similar to that of its Southern African neighbors, although its rainfall is less substantial than countries further east. The rains in Botswana typically arrive in December and continue into March, when average minimum temperatures rise to the low twenties. Some days will be bright and sunny, some will experience afternoon thunderstorms, and some may be mercifully overcast. This is known as the ‘emerald season’.
April and May in Botswana are quite pleasant, with clear skies and a verdant landscape. Evening temperatures diminish during these months, particularly in the Kalahari. Places in and around the Okavango Delta tend to have less extreme, more moderate temperatures than the arid reaches of the Kalahari.
From June to August, the nighttime temperatures in drier areas can be close to freezing, but it warms up rapidly throughout day, when the sky is typically clear and blue. This is considered 'peak season' for most safari areas, as the land is dry in most areas. The result is that wildlife is concentrated around the few available water sources.
This continues into September and October, when temperatures climb again, drying the landscapes and concentrating game even more. This is the best time for game viewing, keeping in mind that October can feel very hot, with maximum temperatures sometimes approaching 40°C. November is difficult to predict, as it can sometimes be a continuation of October's heat, whilst other times it is cooled by the first rains.
Currently, foreigners from Commonwealth countries are not required to obtain visas for entering Botswana. Botswana has also signed visa abolition agreements with a number of countries, including the United States and most of Western Europe. Much of Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East still require visas, however.
Visas need to be acquired before arriving in the country, and, at the time of writing, cost 25 pula (less than 3USD). Be sure to check the Botswana government’s official website for clarification, or contact your nearest embassy.
While the southern half of Botswana – home to safari areas like Kgalagadi and the Central Kalahari – is considered a low-risk malaria area, the popular wildernesses of northern Botswana are high risk malaria areas. This should not be a deterrent – malaria can easily be prevented with anti-malarial medication prescribed by your personal physician. It is, however, not recommended to travel to Botswana with small children who are unable to take anti-malarials. Most lodges will provide mosquito repellent and the like, but it is always convenient to have some of your own.
In terms of vaccinations, visitors are not legally required to present any proof of any particular vaccination. It is still strongly recommended that you are up to date with routine vaccinations like measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and your yearly flu shot. There is no risk of yellow fever in Botswana. The government of Botswana requires proof of yellow fever vaccination only if you are arriving from a country with the risk of yellow fever.
Surrounded as they are by spectacular wilderness, petty crime at Botswana's remote lodges is hardly an issue to worry about. Nevertheless, be discreet with valuables and, should you be traveling with items of considerable value, confine them to your in-room safe or ask reception to look after them for you for the duration of your stay.
As the majority of lodges are unfenced and susceptible to 'wild' visitors, be sure to follow any instructions recommended by lodge staff (i.e. not wandering alone at night between buildings) and heed your ranger's advice during safari activities.
In terms of unique experiences, Botswana's are wonderfully primeval and all about tuning into nature. Here the din of civilization is drowned out either by deafening silence or the captivating cacophony of the wilderness.
While traveling in Botswana, your transportation will typically take the form of modified open-air 4x4 vehicles that are used by the lodges during your safari game drives. This is usually the case when, for example, enjoying a safari in the Chobe National Park.
Should your safari take you further afield to indelibly wild areas like the Okavango Delta, Savute or Linyanti, then light aircraft charter flights will be required. Keep in mind that this generally augments the price of any safari in Botswana, and that particular luggage restrictions apply when taking charter flights.
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If an authentic safari in some of the world's last remaining pristine wilderness areas is of interest, you can hardly make a better choice than Botswana. Please just bear in mind that most areas have absolutely no mobile phone coverage, or internet connection of any kind. For some, this might be a hindrance when planning a safari. For others, it is the ideal opportunity to really get away from it all.Read More
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Botswana's most significant tribal group is the original Tswana tribe, which comprises almost half of the entire population, followed by the Bakalanga people, who inhabit the northeast and central districts of the country, where they have lived for almost a thousand years.
The riverine tribes of the Bayei, Basubiya and Hambukushu inhabit the Okavango and Chobe waterways in the Ngamiland District, subsisting on the water and its natural resources. The Bayei were the first to arrive in the 1700s, closely followed by the Basubiya who established their base at Luchindo on the Chobe River.
The Hambukushu are master basket weavers who are more recent additions to the cultural tapestry of Botswana. They arrived in waves from Namibia and Angola over the past couple of hundred years, with the last group of 4 000 moving into the country in 1969 to escape the Angolan civil war.
The Bakgalagadi tribe are also of Sotho-Tswana origin and are closely related to the Batswana people, sharing similar customs and beliefs. Many Bakgalagadi still practice subsistence agriculture. The San are also deep rural dwellers who shy away from contact with the larger villages.
The Tsodilo Hills, whose rocky cliffs rise up about 400m (1 312 ft) above the surrounding plains, can be seen from the Okavango Delta more than 50km (31 miles) away. They are one of the most significant rock art sites in the world, which has many as 3 500 individual paintings charting over 25 000 years of almost continual human habitation in the area.
Situated in the Kalahari Desert, around 50km east of the Aha Hills, Drotsky’s Caves, otherwise known as the Gcwihaba Caves, form one of Botswana’s most beautiful and unusual national monuments. The caves are easy to miss, nestled within the undulating dunes of the Kalahari, below a nondescript low ridge of rock. What lies beneath, however, is quite spectacular.
The labyrinthine cave system spreads out below, generously strewn with the most remarkable and unusual stalagmite and stalactite formations. From frozen waterfalls and flowstones to mammoth obelisks of naturally formed rock, sweeping hallways and chambers - some up to 10 meters high - to beautiful inlets and apertures, all awash in subtle lights and colors, Drotsky’s caves demonstrate the passage of time in all its petrified glory.
Stretching through nine degrees of latitude, more than half of the country lies within the tropics, but unlike most 'tropical' countries, Botswana is drier and quite prone to drought. The boundless Kalahari Desert, the largest unbroken stretch of sand in the world, covers 84% of Botswana, extending from the Orange River in South Africa to the equator in Gabon.
While Botswana is often depicted as being a flat, featureless semi-desert, there is much wonder and variation to be found. One of the greatest paradoxes this arid sandveld encompasses is the lush, verdant jewel of the Okavango Delta, formed as the wide, fast-flowing Okavango River spills out across a massive area of sand where it eventually soaks away, drying up in its futile search for the sea.
Other remarkable features punctuating Botswana's terrain include the immense Makgadikgadi pans, whose salt-cracked surface marks the death bed of the great Lake Makgadikgadi. Along the eastern edge of the country, the landscape has more variety with hills and koppies, while in the far west and south-west, deep in the Kalahari, the terrain is completely flat and arid.
The Okavango River has its origins in the Angolan Highlands from where it drains in a south-easterly direction. It is the fourth longest river system in Southern Africa and runs for a distance of 1 600km (or approximately 900 miles). This river does not drain towards the sea, but rather empties its waters into a swamp in the vast Kalahari Desert, where it creates a unique inland delta that supports an abundance of wildlife.
Mokolodi Nature Reserve covers an area of 3 700Ha in southeastern Botswana. The reserve was established in 1994 with the purpose of protecting species endemic to the area, some of which are very rare, like the white rhino and cheetah. Mokolodi is easily accessible, as it is situated a mere half hour's drive from Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana. Visitors to the area are accommodated in a few chalets or in the unique McCall Smith Camp that resembles a traditional Tswana dwelling.
Khama Rhino Sanctuary, which covers an area of 8 585 hectares of Kalahari sandveld, is a community-based conservation effort dedicated to the protection of black and white rhinos. Thirty other mammal species as well as two hundred and thirty species of bird can also be spotted at Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Visitors are accommodated in eight basic but comfortable chalets, while camping options are also available.
Kubu Island is a unique granite outcrop on the edge of the vast Makgadikgadi Pan, where ancient baobab trees took root thousands of years ago. Kubu Island is one of the most unique natural sights on the planet. The entire island is considered sacred by the local population, and it is thus also a national monument protected by the government of Botswana.
The Caracal Biodiversity Center in Kasane, Botswana's most northerly town, is focused on conservation and education projects. Those passing through town will definitely find a short visit rewarding, as many small mammal species, a large number of snakes and other reptiles can be viewed while receiving an informative briefing on their habits and behaviors.
Nata Bird Sanctuary is situated on the far northeastern corner of the great Makgadikgadi Pans. It forms part of the Makgadikgadi Important Bird Area and may be considered one of the greatest birding attractions in Botswana. Following good rains, the area attracts hundreds of thousands of lesser flamingo and a variety of other water birds. November is normally the best month to experience this grand natural spectacle.
Named for the artist and explorer Thomas Baines, this cluster of baobab trees is located in the Nxai Pan National Park in an untamed corner of Botswana. Those adventurous enough to venture slightly off the worn path when visiting Botswana will surely be rewarded by the sight of these magnificent trees that are thousands of years old.
The beautiful Moremi Gorge is located in the Tswapong Hills in southeastern Botswana near the town of Palapye. The gorge is an impressive natural sight where the endangered Cape Vulture breeds on rocky outcrops surrounding the three ancient waterfalls. The area has been designated a national monument by the government of Botswana.
Tsodo Hills is located in the northwestern part of Botswana. These hills rise spectacularly and abruptly from the relatively flat sands of the Kalahari. For the San and the Hashuduku, it is a spiritual place where the spirits of their ancestors dwell. Many rituals were held here in ancient times. Exploring the three main hills offers a journey into the distant past through ancient rock art. Archaeologists believe that the area has been inhabited for almost 100 000 years, making Tsodo Hills one of the world's oldest historical sites.
Bordered to the north by the Central Kalahari, Khutse Game Reserve is a drive of about three hours from Botswana's capital city of Gaborone. The reserve was officially declared in 1971. It offers visitors a few unique pans where wildlife often congregates after the rains. The most common species spotted in Khutse include springbok, gemsbok, giraffe, blue wildebeest, kudu, hartebeest, steenbok and duiker. Predators found in the region are lion, cheetah, leopard and a number of small cat species.
The Nogatsaa & Tchinga areas are located in the northern Chobe National Park about 80km south of Kasane. Nogatsaa, characterized by a number of clay bottom pans, holds water well outside the rainy season and attracts a number of different species to the area. These pans are surrounded by mixed vegetation, ranging from open grassland to mopane forest. It is an ideal destination for the adventurous traveling by 4X4 from Kasane to the Savute area.
Bush walks are conducted in a number of reserves in Botswana. These include Chobe, the Okavango Delta, Khutse and Central Kalahari. However, it is the Okavango Delta that offers some of Africa's most unique walking safaris, as guests often take a morning boat ride to an uninhabited island. From here the morning is devoted to exploring this part of paradise on foot, accompanied by a ranger and tracker. These walks often offer the opportunity of viewing elephant crossing channels between islands, large buffalo herds and a variety of game animals like lechwe and sitatunga if you are fortunate.
The Okavango Delta is synonymous with "mokoro" trips, a unique way of getting around the shallow waterways of the Delta in a dugout canoe propelled by a single pole bearer. All visitors to this region are encouraged to try at least one exploration of the Delta in a traditional canoe. It offers a silent and peaceful way of spotting various species around the reed-lined channels, and is sure to get the adrenalin flowing if there are hippo or crocodile about.
The more common way of viewing the game found in the Okavango Delta is on 4x4 vehicle game drives that are conducted during the early morning and late afternoon from lodges which are not isolated on the small islands of the Okavango, but have access to larger land areas. Specially adapted Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles are typically utilized, with local rangers and trackers providing unique insight into the behavior of the various species that can be viewed.
Most of the luxury lodges in Botswana offer a selection of spa treatments to indulge the senses and relax mind and body. These treatments are often performed on the deck of your own luxury tented suite, with magnificent views and the sounds of the African wild creating the backdrop to a perfect pampering experience.
Many of the lodges in Botswana offer both conventional and fly fishing for indigenous fish found in the area. Most notable amongst the fish species is the notorious tiger fish, legendary amongst the world's fresh water fighting fish. Other species that can be caught include bream and catfish. The best time for a fishing trip in Botswana is from late August to around the middle of November.
The Chobe River, which forms the northern border of Botswana, offers some of Africa's grandest sunset cruises. On these late afternoon boat cruises - which depart from or close to the town of Kasane - great numbers of animals, especially elephant, can be seen coming to the water's edge for a drink. A great diversity of bird species can also be observed. Keen photographers will find that these cruises present exceptional photographic opportunities.
Botswana is a birder's paradise, with five hundred and ninety three identified species of which a hundred are rare or accidental. Whether they choose Chobe or the Okavango Delta as their safari destination of choice, ornithologists are sure to find the bird spotting exceptional.