Table of Contents
- Introduction: The Magic of Botswana
- Choosing Your Safari Experience
- Understanding Botswana’s Climate
- Wildlife Encounters: Beyond the Big Five
- Cultural Immersion: Engaging with Local Communities
- Photography Tips: Capturing Botswana’s Essence
- Health and Safety: Staying Informed
- Eco-Friendly Travel: Protecting Botswana’s Wilderness
- Packing Essentials for Botswana
- Savoring Botswana’s Cuisine
- Exploring Beyond
- Navigating Botswana: Tips for Travelers
- Budgeting for Your Safari
- Conclusion: Embracing Botswana’s Wilderness
Introduction: The Magic of Botswana
Botswana is a top destination for African Safari Holidays, where the wild roam free and the landscapes speak volumes. As someone who has lived across Africa and experienced its diverse wonders, I find Botswana’s untamed beauty captivating. Whether you seek the luxury of a private lodge or the thrill of a 4×4 camping adventure, this guide is your compass to navigating the Botswana safari landscape.
Choosing Your Safari Experience
Luxury vs. Adventure: Botswana offers a spectrum of safari experiences. For those seeking luxury, the Botswana safari lodges in the Okavango Delta and beyond (pun intended!) provide unparalleled opulence amidst nature. Alternatively, the self-drive adventurers can travel from the Mehuasehubi Lions to the Central Kalahari and onto the Delta and Chobe with a rugged 4×4, a rooftop tent and camping under the stars.
As a family, we have always had the camping bug. We love the sheer remoteness of campsites in Botswana, such as Xakanaka, a far-flung campsite in the Okavango Delta’s Moremi Game Reserve. Xakanaka is a tiny spit of land with water from the Delta on three sides, which forms a natural funnel and, hence, a hunting ground for predators. We have spent many nights there with encounters such as elephants rubbing an itch on the side of our rooftop tent, buffalo grazing below our tent and hyenas making a midnight feast from our footwear left at the bottom of the ladder during the night.
But equally delightful, albeit in a different way, is the beautiful Camp Xakanaka from Desert & Delta Safaris – one of Botswana’s first safari lodge operators. With its beautifully appointed 12 exclusive luxury tents, it will only cater for a maximum of 24 guests, ensuring you get the ultimate personal touch and attention. The double-decked campfire area protruding over the Kwhai River creates an enchanting evening hangout to sip the finest gin and tonic and recount the stories from an always-epic day of game viewing.
Understanding Botswana’s Climate
Seasonal Insights: Botswana’s climate significantly impacts the safari experience. The dry season (May to October) offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities as animals congregate around water sources. The wet season (November to April) transforms the landscape into a green paradise, ideal for bird watching and experiencing the Delta’s waterways.
Defining what you want to get from your Botswana safari experience is critical for deciding when to visit. It is heartbreaking to hear a guest at the end of the day, in the middle of the rainy season, who had seen no wild animals and endured the slog of bouncing through slippery mud puddles and black cotton soil and seen nothing but long grass and rain clouds. And yet that same game drive, for an avid birder, may have sent him into a tailspin of excitement at having caught a glimpse of a Pel’s fishing owl or White Backed Night Heron.
As a general rule of thumb, when there has been little rain, the grasses will have died back, and visibility through the bush will be best; animals will congregate (often in huge numbers) around water sources, and game viewing will be plentiful. But when the rains come, the animals are more difficult to find as they spread far and wide and find their water elsewhere. This, coupled with longer grasses, makes visibility more difficult but attracts a higher number and variety of species of bird life.
Wildlife Encounters: Beyond the Big Five
Unique Wildlife Experiences: While the Big Five are a major draw, Botswana’s wildlife includes remarkable species like the African wild dog and the Okavango’s unique aquatic antelope, the sitatunga. Whilst extremely uncommon across the continent, it is not unusual to find packs of wild dogs (or Painted Dogs as they are now known) roaming close to town in Kasane or along the tracks in the parks. On one solo photographic trip in the Central Kalahari, I drove patiently behind a pack as they trotted down the road, refusing to either move off to one side or pick up the pace so I could get to my campsite before dark. It was a magical experience.
Cultural Immersion: Engaging with Local Communities
The Heart of Botswana: Engaging with true local traditional tribes like the San Bushmen can give a unique understanding of Botswana’s rich cultural tapestry. Experiencing their traditional way of life offers invaluable insights into the country’s heritage. Sometimes viewed as slightly controversial for its potential to commercialise their ways, I believe that it is an incredible experience and one that leaves the visitor marvelling at what once we, as the human race, had and let go. From witnessing the highly skilled tracking and hunting techniques to identifying minute signs of life and food sources in an otherwise barren and desolate landscape and hearing their stories of ancestors. They are inspiring, and it is a brilliant experience for all.
Photography Tips: Capturing Botswana’s Essence
Wildlife and Landscape Photography: Botswana’s diverse landscapes are a photographer’s paradise. For wildlife photography, patience is key, and respecting the animals’ space is paramount.
Whether you are looking for something special or want to hone your photography skills for those self-created momentos of your trip – Botswana has it all. From the Black Mained Lions of the Central Kalahari to the rare birdlife of the Delta, Black and White Rhinos at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, or the ancient rock art of Tsodilo Hills, anyone with a shutterbug will find something to photograph in Botswana.
But remember to enjoy the moments, too, and remember that when looking down a viewfinder, you may also miss out on something spectacular.
Health and Safety: Staying Informed
Precautionary Measures: Malaria can be prevalent in some parts of Botswana, so access to prophylaxis and mosquito repellents is advised. When camping, be aware of wildlife and always follow park rules. Extremely close wildlife encounters are not uncommon. You may easily drive (in a guided safari or on your own) into the middle of a herd of elephants, a pride of lions or the path of a hunting predator.
While getting out of your vehicle in Botswana is allowed (it is one of the few places in the world where you still can), it is always advisable to only do so at registered stop-spots and, even then, to be very aware of your surroundings. Most campsites are unfenced, so be careful when going to your tent, the ablutions, or just sitting and relaxing.
Eco-Friendly Travel: Protecting Botswana’s Wilderness
Sustainable Practices: Botswana’s tourism industry was founded on low-impact tourism – favouring lower footfall and thus lower impacts over the high-density tourism in other countries.
The Botswana model is now enshrined in the Botswana National Ecotourism Strategy, which is guided by the principles of minimising negative social, cultural and environmental impacts; maximising the involvement in and the equitable distribution of economic benefits to host communities; maximising revenues for re-investment in conservation; educating both visitors and local people as to the importance of conserving natural and cultural resources; and delivering a quality experience for tourists.
Choosing eco-friendly lodges and tours contributes to conservation and community upliftment. Most lodges now run almost entirely on solar power and have robust waste management programmes managed internally. When out in the wilds, the principle of “Leave no trace” should be followed, especially when camping, to preserve the pristine environment.
Packing Essentials for Botswana
What to Bring: Alongside the basics, include items like a power bank, a good pair of binoculars, and a detailed map. For luxury safaris and even for camping, pack smart casual attire for evening dining. Lightweight and light-coloured clothing is the tried and tested style for these areas – long sleeves allow you to cover up from the sun and mosquitoes, and lightweight flowing material keeps you as cool as possible in the hot weather. Light-coloured clothing also seems to be less attractive for any biting bugs.
Everyone ends up at a watering hole for sundowners at some point during their trip – and these opportunities usually afford the best photos. Dressing up and enjoying the sunset with an ice-cold drink is, for some, at least, what these trips are all about. Don’t underestimate it – the memory will stay with you forever, and you’ll be glad you chose something nice to wear!
Savoring Botswana’s Cuisine
A Culinary Journey: Botswana’s diverse food scene, from traditional dishes like Seswaa to gourmet meals at luxury lodges. Trying local cuisine is integral to the travel experience – but don’t expect too much! It is very simple.
However, the food at the lodges and the quality of the meat you can cook yourself when camping is some of the best in the world and rarely disappoint. Did you know that Botswana has some of the tightest rules regarding beef production, and consequently, the flavour of a good steak in Botswana is almost unrivalled? Enjoy it while you are there, as it is rare nowadays to find a steak completely free of any added hormones or unnecessary antibiotics.
Hidden Treasures: Beyond the popular Chobe and Okavango regions, Tsodilo Hills offer unique cultural and historical insights. The ancient rock paintings are incredibly well preserved and a delight for anyone interested.
But Botswana’s location also lets you include much more in your trip. The World Heritage Victoria Falls is just a 45-minute ride from Kasane and well worth a day trip if you are in Kasane. You can also visit the Kazangula Bridge and go into Zambia – as a day trip or simply a sight in itself. Fancy experiencing a bit of Namibia while you are there? Just thirty minutes from the Chobe Park gate, you can cross into Namibia, and if you are in the south of the country, South Africa is on the doorstep.
If you are planning your Botswana trip, it is worth considering whether any other bucket-list countries in the region can all be accessed easily by car or plane.
Navigating Botswana: Tips for Travelers
Communication and Travel Tips: A satellite phone is sometimes recommended in remote areas, but in our experience, it has never been necessary. All lodges will have some form of internet, and the cellphone coverage is generally pretty good. eSIM cards can be bought easily online nowadays, giving you data access in Botswana whenever there is cell reception.
For self-drive tours, ensure your vehicle is well-equipped for the rugged terrain. If you have hired an equipped vehicle from a reputable company, it should have everything you need, including recovery gear with all the camping and cooking equipment.
For GPS mapping, we have found that a Garmin with the Tracks4Africa map set is, without doubt, the best for following bush tracks into remote places. Still, for simply getting from A to B, a smartphone with Google Maps normally does just fine (remember to download some offline maps of the areas you are visiting).
Budgeting for Your Safari
Cost Considerations: Botswana’s safari experience can vary greatly in cost. Luxury lodges offer all-inclusive packages and can have some of the highest price tags in the world. But this is reflected in their style and attention to detail, as well as the unforgettable experiences that they offer.
Self-drive tours require careful planning, and you must consider and budget for everything from park fees to food and fuel. These costs can, and will, quickly mount up for trips not inclusive of activities. Plan boat trips on the Delta in the Okavango, dinner cruises on the Chobe River in Kasane, and village or cultural experiences in the Kalahari. They are all well worth it and add to the overall experience.
Conclusion: Embracing Botswana’s Wilderness
Botswana is a land of contrasts, offering a rich tapestry of experiences. Planning a Safari Holiday in Botswana here means preparing for a lifetime’s adventure, embracing its wild heart and serene soul. With these tips, your journey to Botswana will not just be a holiday but a profound journey into the heart of Africa.