A safari through the wilderness of Botswana, one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, provides the perfect opportunity to see some of Africa’s most spectacular natural treasures.
From the sparkling waters of the Okavango Delta (the largest inland delta in the world) and the dusty plains of the Kalahari Desert (which covers 70 per cent
of the country) to the quenching Limpopo River Basin, Botswana truly is a land of contrasts.
Divided into a number of unfenced national parks and private reserves, Botswana is one of Africa’s most impressive safari destinations: mammals such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, white rhinoceros, hippopotamus, wildebeest, antelopes, wild dogs, monkeys, baboons, jackals, hyenas and meerkats; more than 500 species of birds including flamingos and vultures; and close to 150 types of reptiles ranging from crocodiles, to cobras; all flourish in the delta, desert, grassland and savannah areas, thanks to conservation and protection programs.
The country is also host to the world’s largest elephant population, with numbers estimated at about 120,000. Chobe National Park Chobe, in the northwest region of Botswana, is the country’s most visited national park. It covers 6769km and encompasses habitats that include the highly fertile floodplains, grasslands and thickets bordering the Chobe River, mopane tree woodlands, forests and scrub.
Providing plenty of wildlife-spotting opportunities throughout the year, this park is renowned for being home to a large population of elephants. Tourists have the opportunity to watch these magnificent creatures swim across the Chobe River, pull bark from trees and march their babies through the dry landscape. The river is the best place to be at sunset, when animals of all kinds gather for a ‘sundowner’.
The wildlife is easiest to see during the dry months from April to October as the animals tend to assemble closer to the riverbeds at this time. However, during the ‘green’ season from November to March, the birdlife is more abundant; as such, patient and keen observers will likely be rewarded by the sight of baby elephants, zebras and other safari animals.
The Okavango Delta
The Okavango River cuts through the centre of the Kalahari Desert, creating a unique inland water system that gives life to a huge variety of birds and mammals.
This unique safari destination affords visitors the opportunity to spot wildlife from an ‘amokoro’ (a traditional canoe).
The delta floods each year from May to October and this is the best time to view mammals and birds alike as they congregate on small islands to escape the
floods. As the waters recede and new flora sprouts, the animals scatter in order to feed, making them harder to spot.
Nxai Pan National Park
Nxai Pan offers a different perspective on the Bostwana landscape, encompassing beautiful sand dunes and awe-inspiring salt pans. Baines’ Baobabs, seven huge baobab trees, can be found on an island surrounded by the white, crusty salt of the Kudiakam Pan, just 30km from the park’s entrance.
While this is one of the country’s more easily accessible parks, just 50km from the Nata-Maun Road, wildlife viewing here is seasonal and depends on when (or if, during times of draught) the rains arrive to signal migration.
Mokolodi Game Reserve
Just a short drive from Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, the Mokolodi Game Reserve is the ideal destination for a day trip. Simple accommodation is also available for those wishing to stay the night.
This private reserve, dedicated to conservation education, is often visited by groups of schoolchildren.
It is also unique in catering a ‘Sunday Bush Brunch’ – a one hour game drive followed by a champagne breakfast – and a ‘Bush Braais’ – a game drive followed by a ‘braais’ (barbeque) in a bush setting. In addition, it can provide guided game drives and night drives in open vehicles, giraffe tracking and tours of the reptile sanctuary, which houses injured creatures.
Thanks to a successful breeding and tracking program, the Mokolodi Game Reserve is one of the best places to see the white rhino.
Need to know
The parks and reserves detailed above are just a sample of the fantastic safari options available in Botswana.
Most of the parks can be explored through options including guided four-wheel drive, open-vehicle, canoe and boat, walking and self-drive tours.
Both within and surrounding the parks and reserves are numerous accommodations options. Travellers can choose to ‘rough it’ at a basic tent camp (complete with bush toilet and bucket shower), stay on the move with a mobile camp (featuring comfortable tents, beds, linen and ensuite bathrooms, all set up and moved each day by a team of helpers) or indulge in luxury camps or lodges on private land (picture raised wooden decks offering views of rivers or lagoons, four-poster beds, air conditioning, ensuite bathrooms with hot water, and access to swimming pools, hammocks and private gardens).
Numerous tour companies offer a variety of packages to suit a wide range of tourists, and those seeking adventure, luxury, relaxation or the chance to
experience African wildlife up close will all find an appealing holiday option in Botswana, whether exploring as a family, as part of a small group or as a self-guided individual.
Getting there Botswana’s main airfield, Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, is 15km north of Gaborone and is serviced by Air Botswana, Air France, Air Zimbabwe, South African Airways and British Airways.
However, many tourists use the Maun and Kasane airports as an entry point to the country. A flight from Johannesburg to Maun will take about 13 hours and Air Botswana operates scheduled domestic flights between Gaborone, Francistown, Maun and Kasane. Savute and Linyati have their own airstrips for charter flights, and most camp/lodge or tour operators are able to organise fly-in or drive-in access to national parks and reserves.