Botswana is a country in Southern Africa with endless possibilities when it comes to landscape, wildlife and nature. For good reason, Botswana was named by Lonely Planet as the top travel destination in 2016. It’s a country with a great range of scenery being home to both desert and delta.
I can only agree with Botswana being a must see travel destination. Having visited multiple times, in various seasons as well as over a few years, I must say that Botswana has undergone some interesting changes in a positive way. As an introduction to the country, here are some interesting facts that provide some great inside information to any future visitor.
From an insider’s point of view, I have listed various reasons why Botswana should definitely be on your bucket list, either in 2016 or the coming years.
Unique and very diverse national parks & game reserves
Botswana is home to a wide range of national parks and game viewing reserves. The uniqueness comes from the uncommon combination of desert and delta, giving the different parks each an unparalleled appearance. Almost all offer excellent wildlife viewing possiblities, each with their own highlights.
Some of the more well known national parks and most visited are:
Okavango Delta: Listed as Unesco’s 1000th World Heritage Site, it’s one of the largest inland deltas in the world. It’s a very diverse ecosystem that attracts many animals to live in this unspoilt wilderness area, including the Big Five. Bird lovers will be spoilt during the rainy season when many migratory birds join the resident ones in the delta.
Tip to read: Okavango Delta: Oasis in the middle of the Kalahari desert
Chobe NP: This park is most famous for the Chobe riverfront attracting large herds of elephants during dry season. It’s also a Big 5 park.
Tip to read: Spotting the Big Five on your African safari and The African Elephant
Kgalagadi Transfrontier NP: Set up in collaboration with South Africa, it is the first transfrontier peace park in Africa. It mainly consists out of dry riverbeds and the Kalahari desert and attracts a whole wide range of predators, making it a perfect area for viewing wild cats.
Makgadigadi Pans: It’s one of the largest salt pan areas in the world. Famous for hundreds of thousands of flamingoes that arrive during the floods.
Other parks that are worth mentioning are Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Moremi Game Reserve, Thuli Block and Central Kalahari Game reserve. More detailed information via Botswana Tourism.
Large diversity of wildlife
The large diversity of national parks each attract different concentrations of wildlife. Basically most of the wildlife of Southern Africa can be seen in Botswana. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier park is most famous for spotting large predators and more unique sightings such as the brown hyena and the African wild cat.
Chobe NP hosts the largest concentration of elephants anywhere in Africa. When taking a boat cruise down the Chobe River during dry season it is not uncommon to spot hundreds of elephants along the riverfront, as well as crocodiles, hippos and buffalos. Wild dogs are also very commonly spotted in the Okavango delta and Moremi game reserve.
Various types of Safari
Botswana is a country where possibilities seem endless. Most people have either seen or been on safaris where a safari guide drives you in a 4X4 open vehicle through the African bush to spot wildlife. This is also the most common way for any safari. In most of the parks selfdriving safaris are possible as long as you have the appropriate vehicle (normally 4X4 and high clearance). In most national parks you are not allowed to go in with a normal 2X4 vehicle, mainly due to the road conditions such as sand, mud and rivers that need to be crossed.
However, there are some other great ways to enjoy wildlife. The most popular way to visit Chobe NP is by boat on a river cruise. The boat allows you to get a much closer look at the wildlife that lives in and around the water, like crocodiles, hippos, buffalos and waterbirds. During dry season the riverbed also attracts many other animals that come to drink. Being on a boat, sipping a tasty cocktail under a setting sun and obversing the animals that come for an evening drink is just like paradise.
Also in the Okavango Delta, motor boats are used to cross the small meandering channels that crisscross the area.
A mokoro is a traditional dug out canoe used as a primary means of transport in the Okavango delta. It allows for anyone to use the shallow reeds and papyrus fringed waterways that meander through the islands which are impassible by motor boat. It’s also a perfect way to soak up the sounds of nature while the mokoro cuts slowly and quietly through the water. A mokoro is handled by a poler using a long stick to push the boat, comparable with a gondola in Venice.
Flying by plane or helicopter
Flying is another way to discover the huge area of the Okavango Delta, either by plane or by helicopter. It’s more to discover the Delta itself, but at the same time you can spot wildlife from a completely different perspective. By plane you will only be able to see the larger mammals like elephants and giraffes (unless the pilot decides to dive down to come closer to the ground when he sees something…been there done that…horrible for your stomach…).
When flying over by helicopter, you are much closer to the ground and being able to hover, you should see most other animals as well. You can even see the hippos sitting in the water, while on land you can only see their ears and nostrils. So funny.
Some national parks allow you to go on foot, with an experienced armed with a rifle safari guide, of course. The advantage is that you are in the middle of nature, not protected by anything else other than yourself (and your small group and guide with gun, used to scare animals away, if necessary). It’s such a thrilling experience to walk in the middle of a game viewing reserve knowing there are dangerous animals around. You will not be able to get as close to an animal as with a car or a boat, since most animals will flee when they pick up your human smell. But just looking at them in the wild is one of the most amazing things to do on a safari. And anyway, you really don’t want to get too close to a lion or a leopard, your guide will make sure of this.
In a lot of places around the world, the most stunning sunsets and sunrises can be seen. What makes Botswana so unique is that the country is flat and so the sun rises and goes down with that perfect golden and orange glow.
The peacefulness and quietness of the country, the sounds of animals in the distance and up close, the variety of nature and hardly any other people around while enjoying the golden glow of the sunset, priceless. For everything else, there’s your Mastercard, or Visa.
Unique and exclusive travel experience
Botswana’s tourism policy is generally based on ‘high price, low impact’. Basically Botswana likes to attract tourists who are willing to pay a higher price for a unique and exclusive experience. This does not mean that it’s only all about staying in a luxury lodge while sipping champagne and admiring the sunset. It’s also about the general experience. The lodges and campsites are small scale and will accommodate less visitors than your typical All-In European / Mediterranean resort. Some of the lodges in the Okavango Delta are only reachable by flying in with a small plane and in this case, the remoteness comes with a price, obviously.
This does not mean that you need lot’s of money. It just means that there won’t be large amounts of tourists in the same place at once. None of the type of people who are just visiting the country for an extra stamp in their passport, but just the ones who love to discover the country and the beauty it has to offer.
Almost all possibilities are possible. Either you can stay in a luxury lodge, in budget accommodation or even camping.
Unique wildlife experience
When staying over in some of the national parks, your wildlife experience will be one of a kind. Most of the accommodations stay true with nature and are unfenced. This means that wildlife will walk through the camp, especially at night. And this is the case as well with the luxury lodges as with the standard campsites. The whole purpose is that animals are free to go wherever they like to go and if an elephant decides to eat the juicy fruits from the tree next to your safari tent, he is allowed to do so. There are rangers around the unfenced camps who will keep track of this and are there for your safety. It’s an amazing and unmatched wildlife experience. Who can say they took a shower with an elephant just standing a few metres away munching on a tasty fruit.