Botswana is well known for having some of the best wilderness and wildlife areas on the African continent. With a full 38 percent of its total land area devoted to national parks, reserves and wildlife management areas – for the most part unfenced, allowing animals to roam wild and free – travel through many parts of the country has the feeling of moving through an immense nature wonderland.
Botswana is a rarity in our overpopulated, over-developed world. Untamed and untameable, it is one of the last great refuges for nature’s magnificent pageantry of life. Experience here the stunning beauty of the world’s largest intact inland Delta – the Okavango. The unimaginable vastness of the world’s second largest game reserve – the Central Kalahari Game Reserve; the isolation and other-worldliness of the Makgadikgadi – uninhabited pans the size of Portugal; and the astoundingly prolific wildlife of the Chobe National Park.
Furthermore, Botswana is the last stronghold for a number of endangered bird and mammal species, including Wild Dog, Cheetah, Brown Hyena, Cape Vulture, Wattled Crane, Kori Bustard, and Pel’s Fishing Owl. This makes a safari experience even more memorable, and at times you will feel simply surrounded by wild animals.
However, the first – and most lasting impressions – will be of vast expanses of uninhabited wilderness stretching from horizon to horizon, the sensation of limitless space, astoundingly rich wildlife and bird viewing, night skies littered with stars and heavenly bodies of an unimaginable brilliance, and stunning sunsets of unearthly beauty.
As well, with more and more cultural tourism options on offer, you will be charmed by the people of Botswana, visiting their villages and experiencing first-hand their rich cultural heritage.
It is largely the culture of the Batswana that has dominated that of other minority groups. This is particularly evident with regard to cattle ownership. Cattle, the traditional Tswana source of wealth and status, are now desired by most, if not all groups of people in Botswana.
Recent years have seen the introduction of western culture in the form of western business, technology, consumer goods, tourism and the media. Life in the urban areas has been most affected by western culture and increasing modernity. In the rural areas many traditions persist and ways of life differ from region to region. Some of the more obvious physical aspects of the different cultures have disappeared (such as traditional clothing, arts and crafts, most ritual ceremonies and some tools and utensils). Others remain important, however, such as cattle ownership, music and dance and the consultation of traditional healers.
Music is the aspect of culture, which has perhaps best survived the onslaught of western influences in Botswana. Both traditional and modern music of numerous ethnic groups from southern Africa and sub-Saharan Africa are heard nearly everywhere you go – in shops, malls, houses, schools, cars, combis, trains, taxis and bars.
Early tribal religions were primarily cults. The supreme being and creator was known as Modimo. Religious rites included the bogwera and bojale (male and female initiation ceremonies) and gofethla pula or rain-making rites. Today, Christianity is the most prevailing belief system in Botswana, with well over 60% of the population. It was brought into Botswana by David Livingstone in the middle 19th century who converted Kgosi Sechele I (Chief of Bakwena) to Christianity. The main denominations are – Roman Catholic, Anglican, Zion, Lutheran and Methodist Christian Church.
First up is the Southern Region, which is how how visitors enter Botswana. It features the Botswana’s capital city of Gaborone, with its museums, nearby diamond mines, government center, and nightlife.
Arguably the most popular and geographically dramatic area of Botswana is the Moremi and Okavango Region. Maun is the main city here and it is the primary point for arrival and departure by air. The Okavango Delta is the world’s largest inland delta and is one of Africa’s most fascinating – and best known – safari areas. A safari in the Okavango Delta’ is one of Africa’s top big game safaris. Day and night game drives, walking safaris and mokoro ride are all available in this lush water-wilderness of papyrus swamps, shallow reed-beds and floodplains, dotted with islands and laced with a network of channels. A patchwork of private reserves offer small, and often, luxury camps with exclusive game-viewing safaris, making this a wonderful place to truly relax and rejeuvenate.
Moremi Game Reserve is a large protected wildlife area of 3,000 sq km (1170 sq mi) that includes approximately 20% of the Okavango Delta. Its wide range of habitats — from seasonal and permanent wetland and reed beds to forest and savannah woodland – supports an astounding range of fauna – from exotic birds, zebras, buffalo, wildebeest and giraffes to hippos and lions.
Most visitors to Botswana include the Chobe Region on their itinerary because of the Chobe River. Chobe National Park has one of the largest game concentrations on the Africa continent, and is best known for its spectacularly large elephant population and close proximity to Victoria Falls. Huge amounts of big game congregate beside the Chobe Riverfront, in the north of the park, as the dry season progresses.
In the Kgalagadi Region, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is an ultimate remote safari destination — and at its best when visited on an intrepid mobile safari in the early months of the year when the beautiful valleys between dunes become lush with vegetation, attracting thousands of springbok and gemsbok. You’ll also find good numbers of ostrich and giraffe, herds of wildebeest, excellent cheetah and the Kalahari’s famous black-maned lions. Less easy to spot are the leopard and brown hyena — common residents of the Central Kalahari. Overall, this is a very arid region — desert-like in the summer, cold in the winter. Ghanzi is the main city for this region. One of the top attractions for visitors is visiting a village of the San bushmen with a guide and observing their unique way of life.
Moreover, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Southern Kalahari, straddles Botswana and South Africa and is the first formally declared Transfrontier Park in Africa – being designed to serve as a model for conservation in the 21st Century.
Nata is the main city in the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans Region. The Magkadigkadi Salt Pans are the largest salt pans in the world, often likened to a moonscape. During the wet season, huge numbers of both greater and lesser flamingos come to the Magkadigkadi to feed and breed in the shallow saline water located on the pans, and the grasslands at the perimeter of the pans support one of the largest migrations of zebras. However, people visit this vast, wild, completely untamable area to experience its seemingly endless stark and mysterious beauty. This area is popular for quad biking and mobile camping safaris. Located only two hours drive from Maun, Nxai Pan is one of the more easily accessible of Botswana’s parks. Yet it still remains relatively untouched and seemingly remote. It contains some spectacular scenery and has some of the northern Kalahari’s best game viewing. It is one of the few places in Africa where you can find springbok and impala grazing side by side.
Botswana’s climate is semi-arid. Though it is hot and dry for much of the year, there is a rainy season, which runs through the summer months. Rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly regional. Often a heavy downpour may occur in one area while 10 or 15 kilometres away there is no rain at all. Showers are often followed by strong sunshine so that a good deal of the rainfall does not penetrate the ground but is lost to evaporation and transpiration.
‘Pula’, one of the most frequently heard words in Botswana, is not only the name of Botswana’s currency, but also the Setswana word for rain. So much of what takes place in Botswana relies on this essential, frequently scarce commodity.
The summer season begins in November and ends in March. It usually brings very high temperatures. However, summer is also the rainy season, and cloud coverage and rain can cool things down considerably, although only usually for a short period of time.
The winter season begins in May and ends in August. This is also the dry season when virtually no rainfall occurs. Winter days are invariably sunny and cool to warm; however, evening and night temperatures can drop below freezing point in some areas, especially in the southwest. The in-between periods – April/early May and September/October – still tend to be dry, but the days are cooler than in summer and the nights are warmer than in winter.
The rainy season is in the summer, with October and April being transitional months. January and February are generally regarded as the peak months. The mean annual rainfall varies from a maximum of over 650mm in the extreme northeast area of the Chobe District to a minimum of less than 250mm in the extreme southwest part of Kgalagadi District (see the map for districts). However, almost all rainfall occurs during the summer months while the winter period accounts for less than 10 percent of the annual rainfall. Generally, rainfall decreases in amount and increases in variability the further west and south you go.
Summer days are hot, especially in the weeks that precede the coming of the cooling rains, and shade temperatures rise to the 38°C mark and higher, reaching a blistering 44°C on rare occasions. Winters are clear-skied and bone-dry, the air seductively warm during the daylight hours but, because there is no cloud cover, cold at night and in the early mornings. Sometimes bitterly so – frost is common and small quantities of water can freeze.
Current Time & Date:
The Botswana currency is the Pula (meaning ‘rain’ in Setswana). It is divided into 100 thebe (meaning ‘shield’ in Setswana). Travellers’ cheques and foreign currency may be changed at banks, bureaux de change, and authorised hotels.
The US dollar, Euros, British Pound and the South African Rand are the most easily convertible currencies.
Automatic teller machines accept foreign visa cards, but are mostly found in larger towns and cities. Cultural sites and community art and craft outlets usually only accept cash.
English is an official language in Botswana. It is taught at schools, and is widely spoken in all urban centres. Even in rural areas, many local villagers (especially younger ones who have received schooling) will be able to converse in English. All guides and general staff in the camps, lodges and hotel have got a good command of English.
Food & Drinks:
Ironically, most visitors to Botswana eat food very similar to what they enjoy in their own country. No doubt this is due to the high standard of international cuisine available in the hotels and restaurants of Gaborone and to the wholesome quality of food served at even the most isolated bush camp.
Yet Botswana does have a cooking style of its own. Admittedly, there are stark regional variations depending on the area of the country in which people live and on the amount of rainfall. To Western palates, some local meals may seem bland and unappetising at first. With its heavy reliance on beans and maize, the local cuisine can be something of an acquired taste.
Aside from beans and maize, however, it should be remembered that Botswana is justly famous for the high quality of its locally reared beef, on which its wealth was based long before the discovery of diamonds. Other popular ingredients in local cooking are chicken, goat and lamb or mutton. And, despite Botswana’s somewhat parched landscape, freshwater fish is a feature of many dishes.
1 January New Year’s Day
March or April Good Friday / Easter Monday
1 May Labour Day
May or June Ascension
1 July Sir Seretse Khama Day
3rd Monday in July Presidents’ Day
30 September Botswana Day
1 October Botswana Day
25 December Christmas Day
26 December Boxing Day
It is essential for visitors to remote areas of Botswana to have a comprehensive medical insurance policy, to provide coverage for the treatment of serious illnesses/accidents, and if required, medical evacuation. Furthermore, personal effects insurance is also advisable.
Check that your insurance policy will be accepted by service providers in Botswana. Ensure that you are treated by licensed medical personnel to enable you to provide your insurance company with appropriate documentation and receipts.
However, reasonably priced medical services are available at government clinics and hospitals throughout the country. Private medical practitioners are available in the cities and major towns, such as Gaborone, Francistown and Maun.
Gaborone Private Hospital is the largest private hospital in Botswana. The hospital requires medical coverage, or cash payment in advance where medical coverage is not available.
Visitors are advised to take the necessary precautions against HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Malaria, including cerebral malaria, is common in northern Botswana, in the Okavango and Chobe areas, particularly during and immediately following the rainy season, from November to April.
As the strains of malaria, and the drugs used to combat them, frequently change, and as certain strains can become drug resistant, it is best to seek medical advice before your departure and take any medication prescribed. Pregnant or very young children are not advised to travel to malarial areas.
Other precautions are: to wear long sleeves, socks, closed shoes, and generally keep the body covered, to sleep with a mosquito net and to use mosquito coils and repellent.
Many European and southern African passport holders do not require a visa to enter Botswana. Please check the most recent guidelines with your local travel agent as these can change.
Sir Seretse Khama International Airport
Maun International Airport
Kasane International Airport