Traveling to Botswana? This southern African nation will leave you enchanted! Botswana is a wild and dramatic land, blessed not only with its bountiful wildlife, but also with an extraordinary scenery – from shimmering salt pans and diamond-rich deserts, to raging rivers and fertile flood plains, the landscapes here come in many guises. Here, you can get your fill of the ‘Big Five’ – lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino, and buffalo – along with a peek at graceful cheetahs, meerkats, hippos, Nile crocodiles, and packs of wild dogs.
Nearly half the country is given over to national parks, reserves, and private concessions, which makes for a most excellent safari experience. Botswana’s policy of favoring low-impact luxury tourism, ensures that even the most famous game viewing areas rarely feel crowded – and with its population of just over two million people, adding to the sense of wilderness. Home to 40% of Africa’s entire elephant population, the country sees a larger number of tourists every year than its entire population.
Botswana is perhaps the most rewarding country in Africa to experience a safari. The north of Botswana in particular offers superb wildlife-watching opportunities. It is home to the wondrous Okavango Delta – the largest inland delta in the world – where shimmering lagoons and fertile waterways are crammed with more than 400 species of bird. Away from the water zebras and giraffes amble across grass flats and flood plains, keeping an eye out for the big predators that also reside here.
Each year, floodwater flows into the Okavango from its source in the moist central African highlands southwards and into the Kalahari Desert to create a unique wetland that supports and sustains a huge diversity of wildlife. Apart from year-round excellent game viewing, the beauty of this water wonderland is awe-inspiring. To the north-east of the Okavango Delta are the Chobe and Linyanti Game Reserves, where the many varied habitats within the Chobe and Linyanti parks have created an area renowned for its predators and large concentrations of game, particularly elephant. The grasslands of the Kalahari together with the lunar expanse of the Makgadikgadi saltpans complement and are in thrilling contrast to the verdant, game-rich north.
Northeast of Okavango is another jewel in Botswana’s crown: Chobe National Park features four eco-systems with the largest wildlife concentration in all of Africa. Chobe is surely the best place in Africa to see elephants, particularly in the water. Individual herds sometimes number in the hundreds, and there are an estimated total of 120,000 elephants in the park. There are equally large herds of buffalos to be found. In fact, both can often be seen outside the park boundaries, wandering around the outskirts of the town of Kasane, unperturbed by traffic or people. The park also offers great lion and leopard sightings, while the river has an unbelievable wealth of bird wildlife, including a number of rare species that are highly sought after by top wildlife photographers.
Chobe National Park sits in close proximity to the borders with Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia, making it a popular and easy day trip destination for visitors from Victoria Falls, as well as for those touring throughout the wider region of southern Africa.
In 2002, Botswana adopted a national ecotourism strategy aimed at conserving the country’s natural resources and wildlife. Conservation started in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the “Jewel of the Kalahari”. The Delta springs to life several months each year, when the rains from Angola reach its neck, transforming it into a rich wetland attracting wildlife including zebras, hippos, impalas, lions and leopards.
All concessioners operating in the Delta are encouraged to have solar lighting and to recycle water, making. Game Lodges on Botswana’s northern border cut down their waste footprint by about 95% by using solar-powered boats and electrical vehicles for game viewing, allowing guests to enjoy an emission-free viewing experience.
Proud, strong-willed, and resourceful, the people of Botswana are certainly the life and soul of their country – and the main reason for Botswana’s success over the last century. One of the joys of traveling across Botswana, is the visibility of the country’s success. The rewards are on display, often highlighted in both urban and rural settings, as the old and traditional are adjacent with the new and modern.
All of the citizens of Botswana are collectively referred to as Batswana or Motswana, and can be grouped into two broad categories: the Setswana-speaking people and the non-Setswana-speakers. Over 60 percent of the population traces their heritage to one of the Setswana-speaking groups:
- The Bangwato, who constitute the largest of the Setswana-speaking groups, come from Serowe
- The Bakgatla, Bakwena, Barolong, and Bangwaketse come from the southern regions around Gaborone, Kanye and Molepolole
- The Batawana, who broke away from the Bangwato, settled further north around the southern edges of the Okavango
- The Babirwa come from the Tuli Block
- The Batswapong come from the eastern regions around Selebi Phikwe
- The Bakgalagadi, who are one of the oldest groups, live in the central regions of the Kalahari around Ghanzi and Kang
The major non-Setswana-speaking groups include the Bakalanga, Basarwa, Banoka, Baherero, Bayei, Mbukushu, Basubiya, Europeans and Asians.
Most of Botswana’s Safari lodges serve excellent international-style cuisine that incorporates local influences, such as game meat, or maize-based Botswana staples. Many national dishes in Africa are based on meat and maize, and Botswana’s national dish is no different. The main meal is typically eaten at lunchtime, and leftovers or bread and tea are eaten for dinner. The national dish of Botswana is called Seswaa, consisting of a meat stew served over thick polenta. The stew is made by boiling meat with onion and pepper, adding anything else is considered an infringement. Once the meat has cooked for two hours, it is shredded and pounded with salt to add flavor. This is then served on top of the thick maize meal. It is often served with Morogo, a leafy green.
When is the Best Time to Visit Botswana?
Generally speaking, wildlife-viewing at Botswana camps is good all year-round. During the ‘Green Season’ (December – March), Botswana is a productive paradise of vibrant floral displays and a kaleidoscope of colors. This a special time in southern Africa. The temperature is perfect for warm pre-dawn starts to the day – like the animals, you can use the hotter midday for a siesta. There’s an explosion of new life: many species give birth to their young and areas like the Central Kalahari are at their wildlife viewing peak. Predator sightings are frequent as they take full advantage of the abundance of inexperienced younger prey. It’s also the best season for birding: several species display splendid breeding plumage and many intra-African and Palearctic migratory species are present.
Winter (May-August) is the dry season with mild temperatures of around 70 F, sunshine and barely any rainfall. Animals congregate around watering holes at this time making for great game viewing. Summer (November-March) is hot with temperatures of up to 104 F, cloud, rain and muddy roads. Of these months January and February are the wettest and see some heavy downpours. The rainy season attracts many birds to the delta. Weather-wise, April and May are good months to visit. Between April and November, huge numbers of animals migrate towards the Okavango Delta, and in November/December it’s calving season, offering ample opportunity to see animal mums with their babies.
AirlinePros partner Air Botswana is the national carrier of Botswana, operating a route network across southern Africa. Based in the capital Gaborone, destinations served include Maun, Francistown, Kasane, Cape Town, and Johannesburg.