Botswana is a favorite travel destination among a myriad of eco-enthusiasts who are attracted by the large game reserves stocked in abundance with bird life and game that make up close to 17% of a country the size of Texas. Popular destinations include the Okavango Delta, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, and the echoing central Kalahari Desert.
Botswana is a dry land marked by characteristically rolling plateaus. The central Kalahari Desert extends across 70% of the area. To the north lies the Okavango Swamp, which is claimed to be the biggest inland delta on earth. To the east lie the vast salt pans of Makgadikgadi, which are so immense they are already visible on Google Earth when half the continent still fills the screen. Almost all the economic activity takes place along the South African border – beyond this, the people eke out a perilous existence except where game reserves or diamond mines intervene.
The population of Botswana stands at approximately two million. The indigenous Khosean and Basarwa peoples disperse among twenty tribes. The generous nature of these indigenous African peoples has allowed many foreigners driven by poverty, drought and civil war to settle among them. As a result, the mother tongues of Zimbabweans, Namibians, Angolans, Zambians, and South Africans fill the streets and the open-air markets.
Climate, Best Time to Visit And What to Wear
The semi-arid Botswana climate provides achingly hot summers and warm dry winters. Summer marks the rainy season, with the heaviest rainfalls in the Chobe Reserve and the Okavango Delta, and the lowest over the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. It is wise to take cool clothes with you such as cotton shorts and shirts and broad brimmed hats. Bear in mind though that the local population is deeply conservative and that outside the cities and tourist attractions, short-shorts that show the bum and exposed tummies will be frowned upon.
My Dream Journey in Botswana
Botswana is about nature reserves and eco tourism. My dream journey would take in as many of these as possible, in no particular order and spending upward of four days in each. Every reserve has its own character and game-mix, which is determined by the prevailing climate and rainfall pattern for the area. The joy of these great open spaces lies in the exclusive game drives available both day and night, as well as the opportunity to walk for long distances through the bush under the protection of an armed guard and a skillful game spotter. It is impossible to return from one of these walks through nature unchanged – every one brings fresh experiences that enrich one's life forever.
Gemsbok National Park
Located in the southwestern corner of Botswana, the 10,000 square kilometer Gemsbok National Park provides perfect conditions for antelopes and their predators. Rare or endangered predator species include the cheetah, leopard, brown spotted hyena, and black mane lion that hunt the abundant gemsbok. Blue wildebeest, eland, springbok, and red hartebeest wander among the red sand dunes and dry riverbeds of the Auob and Nossob Rivers. Facilities are basic with six different camp sites offering varying sizes and levels of accommodation.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is reputed to be the second largest game reserve on earth. Tourists flock to view the saltpans, ancient riverbeds and vast plains that spread out towards the horizon. Prevailing flora vary from sand dunes through dense bushveld to forests of mopane trees. The majority of the game is in the northern area, where brown hyena, giraffe, warthog, wild dog, cheetah, leopard, blue wildebeest, lion, eland, kudu, red hartebeest, gemsbok, and springbok may frequently be seen in large numbers.
Makgadikgadi Pans Nature Reserve
This relatively small reserve is located within the far larger Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. The riverbeds remain dry from June through October when the summer monsoons arrive. The vast sheets of water that remain until May attract huge flocks of migrating birds and vast herds of wildebeest and zebra. Unfortunately, this is not a good time to visit by car or foot as the whole area becomes inaccessible by land during the annual flooding. There are two rest camps.
The huge meandering delta is without a doubt one of Africa’s jewels, being a labyrinth of interconnected lagoons, lakes, and secret channels kept clear by grazing hippos and covering 15,000 square kilometers. The Okavango is also the only delta that rises from the sand and vanishes back into it at the end of its journey. It comprises a mixture of savannah and indigenous forests that are home to a galaxy of wildlife attracted to its lush green moistness in the centre of the arid semi-continent. Notable among these are lions, hyenas, elephants, wild dog, hippo, buffalo, crocodiles as well as the smaller varieties like warthog, spotted genets, mongoose, bush babies, monkeys and tree squirrels. A wide variety of accommodations is available through privately owned safari companies, ranging from primitive bush camps to sheer luxury accommodations in the adjacent Moremi, Linyanti, and Chobe Reserves.
Moremi Game Reserve
Moremi is justifiably regarded as one of the finest forested game reserves in Africa. A tremendous variety of prolific game can be encountered in the Acasia and Mopane woodlands, not to mention on the savannas and in the many lagoons and floodplains. These include extensive herds of elephants especially in the dry season, as well as giraffe, buffalo, lion, cheetah, leopard, wild dog, jackal, hyena and the whole range of antelopes, both large and small.
Chobe National Park
In a land of superlatives, the Chobe National Park provides undeniably the finest accommodations, and these have been host to many famous names. Notwithstanding this, the star attraction remains the vast herds of African elephant that roam the area in the company of giraffe, impala, zebra, roan, sable, tsessebe, wildebeest, buffalo, kudu, waterbuck, eland, warthog and some of the prominent predators like lion, jackal, hyena, bat-eared fox, cheetah and the wild dog, to mention only the more numerous larger mammals.
Local Time & Daylight Hours
Botswana time is GMT plus two hours, or South African time. The entire southern African region is popular among European tourists because the absence of jet lag prevents the loss of a day recovering from travel fatigue.
The cities have willingly embraced western culture, and just about anything goes in the richly decorated hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. Botswana is a land exceptionally rich in traditional art, sculpture and music that build bridges to the minds of the indigenous peoples and their history. Although western style food is readily available, many braver tourists say that one of the highlights of their visit was sampling traditional foods eaten with fingers in an open-air market.
The Botswana Pula is roughly equivalent to one South African Rand. While cities have numerous banks and cash machines and businesses are happy to take debit and credit cards, tourists will find things are very different in the rural areas where cash or barter are the only means of payment. Visitors are advised to carry a sufficient supply of cash or traveler’s cheques with them and to enquire about internet facilities when making a booking.
The capital city of Gaborone has a modern airport serviced by a number of European airlines and it is possible to fly onwards from there to other destinations in the country using smaller aircraft. Alternatively, the excellent road network across Botswana makes it entirely possible to drive in from South Africa and some of the other neighboring countries.
Health & Medical Considerations
Constant effort since independence has resulted in a well-developed public health service in both rural and urban areas. Private pharmacies are scarce outside of the cities and it is wise to take a good supply of prescription medicine with you. The country is unfortunately cursed with the three African scourges of malaria, typhoid and HIV aids, and the rural water is unsafe to drink. The seasoned tourist ought not to be troubled by these, provided that he takes reasonable precautions and immediately seeks medical advice when it is required.
The peoples of Botswana are a friendly lot with a tradition of welcoming strangers and crime is low especially outside urban areas. Notwithstanding this, visitors are encouraged to take the same precautions as they would when staying in great western cities such as London and New York.
The sparsely populated country of Botswana has a great deal to offer tourists, both in terms of its splendid natural environment and the culture of its friendly peoples. Main attractions are the vast game reserves and many visit only these – this is a pity because in the process they miss many of the fine details of the indigenous peoples that make Botswana such a fascinating place to visit.