Botswana Travel Guide


Botswana Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration

PureTravel Says: "Botswana is one of the best countries in the world for going on safari. It contains some of the best wildlife on the planet and is home to some of the most beautiful and remote safari camps and lodges. You see few other people, get to watch the animals on foot or boat and really get to appreciate the vastness of Africa."

Holiday Highlights

Safari adventures - Botswana is world famous for its high quality safari holidays. It is a fairly expensive destination compared to some of its African neighbours, but the facilities and game-viewing opportunities are exceptional.

Many of Botswana's camps and lodges are in remote locations, ensuring that for the duration of your stay you will see very few other people. They are small and intimate, often with luxury facilities and excellent services. They cover a wide diversity of terrain, meaning that you can move camp to camp after a few days and enjoy different landscapes and their flora and fauna.

The most famous safari destination is the Okavango Delta. This is formed by the Okavango River which rises in the Angolan heights before running east into Botswana. Here it is trapped, making the waters spill out into a vast network of lagoons and rivers, and making it the largest river in the world to not reach the sea. In this untouched wonderland you can enjoy nature up close and unspoilt.

Elephant-Back safaris - Botswana is one of the very few countries to offer safaris on the backs of elephants. As elephants are accepted by most other animals it is a peaceful and unique way to get up close to the wild animals and have a unique safari experience.

Horseback Safaris - The experienced horse rider can enjoy a stay here, exploring the wide-open spaces in the company of an experienced guide. You see plenty of game, including many big game animals, and have a unique riding experience, often swimming rivers with your mount.

When To Go

Botswana's climate is semi-arid and days are hot and dry most of the time, although the summer months (December – February) can be characterized by sporadic rain showers. Summer days can be extremely hot, and it’s not uncommon for temperatures in the shade to reach 38C, and can sizzle at over 44C on occasion. Winters are mild and pleasant, with clear days and sometimes very cold nights.

As a rule, the best season for game viewing is during the dry winter season, when animals gather around water sources. That said, game viewing is possible all year round in Botswana and unique viewing opportunities are available at other times of the year.

For example, in the Okavango region, excellent bird viewing takes place in the rainy summer season, which is January through March. While summers can be exceedingly hot and rains can make roads muddy and impassable, the summer grazing areas receive large numbers of migrating animals, such as the Savuti area of the Chobe National park, which is filled with thousands of migrating zebras, among other species, in March and April.

Top Tips

- Bring a strong sun block. When boating on the Okavango Delta the rays reflect off the water and can burn you in minutes.
- Bring a scarf for safari, they can keep you warm in the morning and keep the dust out of your face later in the day.
- Bring your battery charger - most camps, however remote, have generators which can charge your camera batteries for you.

Holidays In Focus

Camping Tours and Safaris - With ample preparation and a good four-wheel-drive vehicle, a camping trip in the bush is an excellent way to enjoy Botswana's vast, untouched landscapes and view game in their natural habitat.

The country's well-developed National Parks and Game Reserves are excellent places to tour and camp, including the Kalahari Transfrontier Park, the Central Kalahari and Khutse Game Reserves, Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve and Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks.

Campers are advised to research their itineraries for Botswana vacations
in advance, and be sure to pack appropriate supplies and clothing, and stock up on food, water, gas (petrol) and other necessities before embarking on a bush excursion.

Maun and the Okavango and Moremi - The Okavango Delta is comprised of 15,000 square kilometers of channels, lagoons, swampland and islands; perfect for a spot of adventure! In fact, it is the world's largest inland delta system, covering an area measuring about half the size of Switzerland.

The most popular starting point for a visit to the Okavango Delta is the town of Maun, known as the tourism capital of Botswana. Numerous safari operators and air-charter companies are headquartered in this area, due to its proximity to the Okavango and the Moremi Game Reserve, two of the country's most visited locales. Once a small outpost servicing nearby cattle ranches and hunting lodges, Maun is now a town of 30,000 residents, with shopping centers, restaurants, gas stations, car rental agencies, tour operators, hotels and lodges.

In the eastern section of the Okavango Delta lies the Moremi Game Reserve, created in 1965 and covering nearly 5,000 sq. kilometers, or nearly 20% of the delta area. Once hunted by Bushmen as long as 10,000 years ago, it is considered one of Africa's most picturesque game reserves with an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Moremi’s varying landscape includes mopane woodland, forests of acacia, lagoons and floodplains. The Magwee gate, the southern entrance to the Moremi Game Reserve, lies approximately 100 kilometers from Maun over gravel, dirt and sand (4x4) roads.

Visitors can view multitudes of plant, animal and birdlife, including baboons, monkeys, cheetahs, leopards, crocodiles, hippopotamus, elephants, buffalo, giraffe, lion, leopard, black and white rhino, hyena, jackal and antelope. Perhaps the most unique sighting is the wild dog, an endangered species of which about 30% of the remaining wild dogs live within the boundaries of the Moremi.

The Kalahari Desert - This desert, which stretches between Botswana, Namibia and South Africa has been home to the Bushmen (also called the San, or the Basarwa people) for thousands of years. Within the desert lies the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, established in 1961 and covering an area larger than Denmark! In fact, it’s the second largest game reserve in the world. The terrain varies from open plains, saltpans and riverbeds to sand dunes, flat bushveld and wooded mopane forest areas.

The best wildlife viewing takes place from December to April in the northern half of the reserve, where giraffes, hyenas, warthogs, wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards, lions, blue wildebeest, elands, gemsbok, kudu, red hartebeest and springbok are frequently sighted.

In the western Kalahari, about 50 kilometers from of the town of Sepupa, lie the four Tsodilo Hills, which the Bushmen named the male, the female and the child. The fourth hill, which is smaller and slightly distanced from the other three, remains un-named, but is said to have been the male hill’s first wife who was cast aside when he traded her in for the taller, more majestic female hill!

Aside from the charming names for the hills, Tsodilo has spiritual significance for the Bushmen who believe they are a resting place for spirits of the deceased, and that various gods reside in their caverns.

When visiting this area, one can view rock paintings, particularly on the north side of the female hill, although numerous works are spread out over a large area of the hills. It is believed that the majority of the paintings are Bushmen art, and archaeological evidence indicates that the Tsodilo region has been inhabited for over 100,000 years, making it one of the world's most historically significant rock art sites. This has earnt the site a coveted UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Another area to visit within the Kalahari are the Gcwihaba Caves (also called Drotskys Caves), considered to be among the wildest and most remote of Botswana’s tourist destinations. The caves form a network of caverns linked together by tunnels and passages filled with rock formations, colorful flowstones, stalactites, stalagmites and frozen waterfalls.

Chobe National Park - Although it was the first national park to be established in Botswana, Chobe is the second largest national park in the country, but remains an excellent place to view game, particularly elephants. Along with elephants residing in Zimbabwe to the north, Chobe’s elephant population is said to be one of the largest in the world, even though elephants are migratory and travel seasonally over 200 kilometers.

Within the park, the Savuti area is said to be the best area for wildlife viewing, as animals are present in high concentrations year round. This area is best known for its predators, in particular lions and hyenas, but with enough time (and luck) visitors have a chance of viewing almost all the major species. Another excellent location within the park for wildlife viewing is Linyanti, which many visitors prefer as it is relatively secluded, quiet and uncrowded.

Classic Itineraries

- The Okavango Delta
- The Moremi Game Reserve
- The Central Kalahari Game Reserve
- The Tsodilo Hills and the Gcwihaba Caves
- The Chobe National Park, including Savuti and Linyati

Holidays In Focus

The Republic of Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa, bordered by South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Once known as the Bechuanaland Protectorate when it was under British rule, Botswana became an independent nation in 1966, and the city of Gaborone was named its capital and seat of government. Long before the British and other European colonial forces came to Africa, the land was home to the Bushmen (San) and the Hottentot (Khoe), both hunter-gathering people whose lifestyle has changed very little since the middle stone age.

Botswana is a relatively flat country, with no true mountain ranges to speak of. Its highest point, Otse Mountain, measures just under 1,500 meters. Aside from the Kalahari Desert region, its landscape is characterized by rivers, kopjes (hillocks dotted with granite), tableland and rolling hills. Covering nearly 600,000 sq. kilometers (approximately 230,000 sq. miles), Botswana is the 45th largest country in the world, similar in size to France, and slightly smaller than the state of Texas! The Kalahari Desert covers approximately 80% of the country’s land area.

Tourism is an important sector of the economy, and visitors come to Botswana to view wildlife and tour the natural wonders of the Kalahari desert, Okavango Delta and the Makgadikgadi salt pans. Like many southern African countries today, Botswana is actively pursuing the eco-tourism market and has made significant strides towards wildlife preservation and conservation of its natural resources.

Culture - The majority of the Botswana's inhabitants are black Africans representing the Tswana, Kalanga, and Bushmen people, among other tribal groups. The main tribes are of Tswana origin, and are closely related to the Sotho people of nearby Lesotho. There are small populations of East Indians and Indian-Africans from various African countries along the eastern seaboard. Whites make up only about 3% of the total population. All told, around 80% of the country's approximately 1.7 million inhabitants live in the eastern hardveld region.

The official language is English, and the national language is Setswana. In the Setswana language, the country's citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, are called Batswana (the singular being Motswana). The Setswana name for the Republic of Botswana is Lefatse la Botswana. It is useful to note that Batswana refer to white people as lekgo. Linguistically, this is a mildly derogatory term, and visitors should not take offense, but should also not use the word, even jokingly.

Botswana's economy is fairly strong and stable, largely thanks to its mining industry. Jwaneng is the site of one of the world's largest and richest diamond mines and worldwide demand for Botswana’s diamonds is high. The country’s mines also produce gold, copper, coal and uranium and many jobs are related to the mining, processing, marketing, trading and shipping of these resources.

Since its independence in the mid-1960s, Botswana's per capita income has been one of the fastest growing in the world and the country has transitioned from one of the poorest countries to a middle-income country in a relatively short period of time. It’s also considered to be among Africa’s least corrupt nations.

A peaceful and stable nation, Botswana rarely makes the headlines but has enjoyed moderate fame on the silver screen as the location of the 1980’s film The Gods Must be Crazy (although many scenes were actually filmed in South Africa). More recently, Botswana was featured in Season 7 of the hit reality show The Amazing Race and filming for the movie version of Alexander McCall Smith’s popular mystery novel Ladies’ Number One Detective Agency about a matronly crime solver named Precious Ramotswe was completed here.

Know Before You Go - Visitors from the United States and the majority of European countries may enter Botswana for tourism purposes with a valid passport. Citizens of other countries should check with the Botswana's embassy or consulate in their home country regarding entry requirements and visas. Currently, no inoculations are required, unless you are entering the country from a yellow fever zone.

Be prepared for your Botswana holidays; the monetary unit is the Pula (BWP), which equals 100 Thebe. In Setswana, the word pula means rain, and thebe means shield. Many hotels and lodges accept foreign currency, as well as major credit cards and traveller’s checks, and banks and ATMs are easily found, as are exchange bureaus in city centers and tourist areas and border posts.

Although Botswana is a peaceful country, crime does exist and visitors should be careful when using ATM machines, avoid walking or taking taxis alone at night, and should always be mindful of their wallets, passports, cameras and bags.

Visitors Should Bring -
- water purification tablets and malaria tablets (for camping or for extended stays in the bush)
- mosquito repellent and clothing to cover the arms, legs and ankles
- a GSM mobile phone
- a power converter and adaptor for electronics (standard 220V current)
- sun protection
- layers of clothing and appropriate clothing for tours and activities (note: light colored cotton clothing is appropriate and comfortable for game viewing, but avoid Safari “costumes” such as head-to-toe khaki and pith helmets).
- Binoculars and cameras

Botswana’s time zone is Central African Time (CAT), which is UTC/GMT + 2 hours. Daylight savings time is not observed. Remember that Botswana is in the southern hemisphere and therefore seasons are opposite to those in North America and Europe.

Travel - International and domestic flights arrive into the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (GBE) airport, located 9 miles north of the capital city of Gaborone. Air travel within Botswana is a convenient way to move around the country, and domestic commercial flights as well as charter flights are available from Gaborone as well as other cities and tourist destinations. The Maun airport, for example, serves a steady tourist market and is one of the busiest airports in southern Africa.

Renting a car, or better yet – a four-wheel-drive vehicle such as an SUV - is a recommended way to travel around the country on your own schedule, and vehicles are available for rent with a valid English language driver’s license or an international driver’s license. In general, Botswana’s roads are quite good and most major cities are connected by highways and paved roads, with more paving and road construction in the works. Away from these main routes, many roads are gravel or sand and require drivers to proceed more carefully and allow extra time to reach their destination. Seatbelts and insurance are mandatory, and driving is on the left.

Bus travel is quite common in Botswana, and there are several companies operating routes throughout the country. Additionally, Botswana Railways offers air-conditioned passenger trains with luxury private sleeper compartments and dining facilities on overnight routes, and economy class seating on daytime routes.

Within the country's urban centers, a system of mini-buses or vans, called combis, operate on a set route and can be flagged down along the road, or caught in a mall or station. Shared and private taxis are also available for your Botswana adventure.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

There is one World Heritage Site in Botswana; Tsodilo, which is home to the greatest collection of rock art anywhere in the world. In fact Tsodilo has been dubbed the 'Louvre of the Desert' with more than 4,500 preserved paintings within the Kalahari Desert. The archaeological finds indicate that human activities have been present here for at least the last 100,000 years

National Holidays

1 January - New Year's Day
March/April - Good Friday and Easter Monday
1 May - Labour Day
May/June - Ascension Day
1 July - Sir Seretse Khama Day
3rd Monday in July - Presidents' Day
First Tuesday after 3rd Monday in July - Presidents' Day holiday
30 September - Botswana Day
1 October - Botswana Day Public Holiday
25 December - Christmas Day
26 December - Boxing Day

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By Julie Bowman

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