One of the largest diamond producing countries in the world, Botswana is not only expansively covered by the Kalahari Desert but also home to the rich diversity of the Okavango Delta. The phenomenal wildlife of the country is a real crowd-puller and its many game reserves are geared for adventure-seekers and nature lovers.
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BOTSWANA QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Gaborone
- Currency: Pula (BWP)
- Area: 600,370 km²
- Population: 2,2540,00 (2018 est.)
- Language: English (official), Setswana (official and national)
- Religion: Christian 70%, others including indigenous beliefs 30%
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BOTSWANA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 May, Labor Day
- 1 July, Sir Seretse Khama Day
- 3rd Monday & Tuesday in July, President’s Day
- 30 September, Botswana Day (Independence Day)
- 26 December, Boxing Day
Also, Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Ascension.
FESTIVALS IN BOTSWANA
- Maitisong Festival is Botswana's largest performing-arts festival. Running since 1987 it is held over seven days in late March or early April
featuring an outdoor program of music, theatre, film and dance, as well as an indoor program at the Maitisong Cultural Centre and the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (MOTH) Hall.
BEST TIME TO VISIT BOTSWANA
Botswana is generally an arid country, with little surface water except in the far north. Avoid the summer as it tends to get very hot and dry. However, during winter things do tend to get a little crowded but it’s definitely worth the effort.
The Okavango Delta, Moremi, and Chobe are Botswana's most popular parks and the best time to visit them is from May to September, during the dry season and winter, resulting in more moderate temperatures. In addition, the Okavango area is flooded from June to October. Wildlife viewing is good year-round, but this can differ for some parks. During summer (the rainy season) it can be much harder to appreciate the wildlife as the landscape can be overgrown and wet.
- June or July to Octover - Warm days and mild nights, but October can be oppressively hot.
- April, May & November - During May nights can be cold, but otherwise it's a lovely, affordable time to visit.
- December to March - Cheaper rates and high availability, except over Christmas/New Year.
BOTSWANA WEATHER SYNOPSIS
Botswana is generally an arid country, with little surface water except in the far north. Warm Winters And Hot Summers
BOTSWANA TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN BOTSWANA
HIKING & CYCLING IN BOTSWANA
Botswana is a big and diverse country that there will always be a suitable hiking route somewhere in the country throughout the year. Just remember that it can get both very hot and very wet at certain times of the year, depending on where you are. In general, game viewing is best from May to November.
BEACH OPTIONS IN BOTSWANA
SURFING IN BOTSWANA
KITESURF IN BOTSWANA
Kitesurfing spot details and weather
HEALTH RISKS IN BOTSWANA
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
BOTSWANA TRAVEL COSTS
Botswana is a notoriously expensive country to travel in, but travelling in Botswana on a budget is not impossible.
There aren’t many backpacker hostels and, like Namibia, the public transport network isn’t great for getting to the places you probably want to go to. Many of the best places to visit in Botswana are quite remote, and remote often equals expensive due to the logistics involved. If you do private or fly-in safaris, staying in high-end lodges, the costs can be crazy.
If you are prepared to take responsibility for planning the trip and travel independently, a self-drive holiday in Botswana is the cheapest way to experience the lifetime dream of an African safari. Your travel style has a big impact on your trip costs. If you hate to cook, your costs will be higher. The costs will also be higher if you like organised tours. If you like to stay in gorgeous lodges, your costs will be way higher.
From a budget perspective, try and go during shoulder season when accommodation and vehicle rental prices are cheaper. Shoulder season in Botswana is from March – May and also November. Don’t expect any deals during high season from June to October!
BOTSWANA TRAVEL TIPS
All public national parks and reserves in Botswana are run by the Department of Wildlife & National Parks. Although there are exceptions (such as the Chobe Riverfront section of Chobe National Park) and it may be possible on rare occasions to get park rangers to bend the rules, no one is allowed into a national park or reserve without an accommodation booking for that park. It is possible to pay park entrance fees at park entrance gates, after a spell in which places had to be reserved and fees paid in advance at DWNP offices in Gaborone, Maun or Kasane. Even so, you should always try to book and pay in advance. The gates for each DWNP park are open from 6am to 6.30pm (1 April to 30 September) and from 5.30am to 7pm (1 October to 31 March). It is vital that all visitors be out of the park, or settled into their campsite, outside of these hours. Driving after dark is strictly forbidden (although it is permitted in private concessions).
GETTING AROUND BOTSWANA
- Buses and combis (minibuses) regularly travel to all major towns and villages throughout Botswana, but are less frequent in sparsely populated areas such as western Botswana and the Kalahari. Public transport to smaller villages is often nonexistent, unless the village is along a major route. Buses are usually comfortable and normally leave at a set time, regardless of whether they’re full. Finding out the departure times for buses is a matter of asking around the bus station, because schedules are not posted anywhere. Combis leave when full, usually from the same station as buses. Tickets for all public buses and combis cannot be bought in advance; they can only be purchased on board.
- The best way to travel around Botswana is to hire a vehicle. With your own car you can avoid public transport and organised tours. Remember, however, that distances are long and roads can be in poor condition. Avoid driving at night as you will find plenty of animals wandering about.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF BOTSWANA
- Safaris - Go on the safari with a luxury camp.
- Mokoro Trips - Glide through the vast unspoiled wilderness of the Okavango Delta.
- Chobe National Park - Get up close and personal with Africa's largest elephant herds.
- Central Kalahari Game Reserve - Look for black-maned lions in the heart of the Kalahari Desert.
- Makgadikgadi Pans National Park - Watch the wildlife gather by the banks of the Boteti River.
- Rock Art - Leave behind the crowds and search for ancient rock art in the soulful and beautiful Tsodilo Hills.
Depending on your perspective, low-key Gaborone (or Gabs to its friends) is either terribly unexciting or one of Africa's more tranquil capital cities. There aren’t that many concrete reasons to come here – it’s a world of government ministries, shopping malls and a seemingly endless urban sprawl – and most travellers can fly to Maun or cross overland elsewhere. Yet, it can be an interesting place to take the pulse of the nation.
Eastern Botswana is the most densely populated corner of the country and it's rich in historical resonance as the heartland of the Batswana (people of Botswana). Most travellers visit here on their way between South Africa and Botswana's north, and if you're in Botswana for a two-week safari, you're unlikely to do more than pass through. But if you've a little more time and are keen to see a different side to the country, Botswana's east does have considerable appeal and is home to the country’s most important rhino sanctuary and the Tuli Block, one of Botswana’s most underrated wildlife destinations. (See map for detail).
MAKGADIKGADI & NXAI PANS
Within striking distance of the water-drowned terrain of the Okavango Delta, Chobe River and Linyanti Marshes lies Makgadikgadi, the largest network of salt pans in the world. Here the country takes on a different hue, forsaking the blues and greens of the delta for the burnished oranges, shimmering whites and golden grasslands of this northern manifestation of the Kalahari Desert. It’s as much an emptiness as a place, a land larger than Switzerland, mesmerising in scope and in beauty. Two protected areas – Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans – preserve large tracts of salt pans, palm islands, grasslands and savannah. Although enclosing a fraction of the pan networks, they provide a focal point for visitors: Nxai Pan has a reputation for cheetah sightings, and Makgadikgadi's west is a wildlife bonanza of wildebeest, zebras and antelope species pursued by lions. Fabulous areas exist outside park boundaries too, with iconic stands of baobab trees and beguiling landscapes. Unlike the salt-encrusted pans at Makgadikgadi, Nxai Pan is a water-less, fossil pan covered in grass with acacia islands. The area comes to life after the summer rains in December, when big herds of migrating zebra and wildebeest, accompanied by other grazers, arrive to feast on the new grasses.
Famed for its massive elephants, and some of the world's largest herds of them, Chobe National Park in Botswana's far north-eastern corner is one of the great wildlife destinations of Africa. It encompasses three iconic wildlife areas that all carry a whiff of safari legend: Chobe Riverfront, which supports the park's largest wildlife concentration; the newly accessible and Okavango-like Linyanti Marshes; and the remote and soulful Savuti, with wildlife to rival anywhere. Whether you’re self-driving and camping under the stars, or flying into your luxury lodge, Chobe can be enjoyed by everyone.
The Unesco World Heritage–listed Tsodilo Hills rise abruptly from a rippled, ocean-like expanse of desert northwest of Maun and west of the Okavango Panhandle. They are threaded with myth, legend and spiritual significance for the San people, who believe this was the site of Creation. More than 4000 instances of ancient rock art and carvings have been discovered at well over 200 sites. The majority of these are attributed to ancestors of today’s San people. The hills can be explored along any of five walking trails.
The parched alter ego of the Okavango Delta, the Kalahari is a primeval landscape, recalling in stone, thorns and brush the earliest memories of the human experience. It's no surprise that the Tswana call this the Kgalagadi: Land of Thirst.
The dry heart of the dry south of a dry continent, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is an awesome place. If remoteness, desert silences and the sound of lions roaring in the night are your thing, this could become one of your favourite places in Africa. Covering 52,800 sq km, it's also one of Africa’s largest protected areas. This is big-sky country, home to black-maned Kalahari lions, a full suite of predators and an utterly wonderful sense of the remote. The park is most easily accessible during the dry season (May to September) when tracks are sandy but easily negotiated by 4WD vehicles. Nights can be bitterly cold at this time and daytime temperatures are relatively mild. During the rainy season (November to March or April), tracks can be muddy and nearly impassable for inexperienced drivers. Watch for grass seeds clogging engines and searing temperatures in October.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was formed after a merger of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. The Botswana side only has very basic campsites and most tourism happens on the South Africa side, which has excellent facilities. The red sand dunes in the inhospitable desert form a magnificent backdrop for wildlife viewing and photography.
Welcome to one of Africa’s most extraordinary places. Viewed from above on a flight from Maun, the Okavango is a watery paradise of islands and oxbow waterways. At ground level, the silhouettes of dead trees in the dry season give the delta a hint of the apocalypse. There is something elemental about the Unesco World Heritage–listed Okavango Delta: the rising and falling of its waters; the daily drama of its wildlife encounters; its soundtrack of roaring lions, saw-throated leopard barks and the crazy whoop of a running hyena; and the mysteries concealed by its papyrus reeds swaying gently in the evening breeze. A stirring counterpoint to Botswana’s Kalahari Desert, the Okavango Delta, is one of the world’s largest inland deltas. Generally, the best time to visit the delta is from July to September or October, when the water levels are high and the weather is dry. Tracks can get extremely muddy and trails are often washed out during and after the rains (November to March). From January to March, the Moremi Game Reserve can be inaccessible, even with a state-of-the-art 4WD. Bear in mind that several lodges close down for part or all of the rainy season, but others revel in the abundant birdlife. Mosquitoes are prevalent, especially in the wet season. Although a few visitors arrive from Chobe National Park and Kasane, Maun is where you'll have the most choice when it comes to organising safaris. Charter flights into the lodges and camps of the delta from Maun are considerably cheaper than those from Kasane.
The Eastern Delta includes the wetlands between the southern boundary of Moremi Game Reserve and the buffalo fence that crosses the Boro and Santandadibe Rivers, north of Matlapaneng. If you’re short of time and/or money, this part of the Okavango Delta remains an affordable and accessible option. From Maun it's easy to arrange a day trip on a mokoro, or a two- or three-night mokoro trip combined with bush camping.
THE MOKORO EXPERIENCE
One of the best (and also cheapest) ways to experience the Okavango Delta is to glide across the waters in a mokoro (plural mekoro), a shallow-draft dugout canoe traditionally hewn from an ebony or sausage-tree log. With encouragement from several international conservation groups, however, the Batswana have now begun to construct more mekoro from fibreglass. The rationale behind this is that ebony and sausage trees take over 100 years to grow while a mokoro only lasts for about five years.
A mokoro may appear precarious at first, but it is amazingly stable and ideally suited to the shallow delta waters. It can accommodate two passengers and limited luggage, and is propelled by a poler who stands at the back of the canoe with a ngashi, a long pole made from the mogonono tree.
The quality of a mokoro trip often depends on the passengers’ enthusiasm, the meshing of personalities and the skill of the poler. Most polers (but not all) speak at least some English and can identify plants, birds and animals, and explain the cultures and myths of the delta inhabitants. Unfortunately, polers are often shy and lack confidence, so you may have to ask a lot of questions to get the information.
How much you enjoy your trip will depend partly on your expectations. If you come in the spirit of immersing yourself in nature and slowing down to the pace of life here on the delta, you won’t leave disappointed. It’s important to stress, however, that you should not expect to see too much wildlife. From the mokoro, you’ll certainly spot plenty of hippos and crocs, and antelope and elephants are frequently sighted during hikes. However, the main attraction of a mokoro trip is the peace and serenity you’ll feel as you glide along the shallow waters of the delta. If, however, your main interest is viewing wildlife, consider spending a night or two in the Moremi Game Reserve.
All polers operating mokoro trips out of Maun are represented by the Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust which sets daily rates for the polers by which all safari operators have to abide. Other costs include a guide and a camping fee if your expedition involves an overnight component.
OKOVANGO DELTA SEASONS
- November - December: Rains begin to fall in the highlands of Angola, in the catchment areas of the Cubango and Cuito Rivers. Down in the delta, waters are receding, despite rains falling in the delta itself and surrounding area. By December, the waters have begun to flow down these two rivers towards Botswana.
- January - February: The waters of the Cubango flow more quickly and near the Okavango River, arriving before the waters of the Cuito. Water levels in the delta remain low.
- March - April: Continuing rainfall (in good years) adds to the growing volume of water that flows southeast through the Okavango Panhandle and begins to enter the delta proper.
- May - June: The flooding of the Okavango Delta begins in earnest, and water levels rise across the delta. Depending on the year and its rains, waters may reach further into the southeast via the Boteti River and Selinda Spillway.
- July - September: The flooding of the delta peaks and the waters reach their southeasternmost limits, a point that can vary considerably from one year to the next.
- October: Having reached their limits some time in September, the waters begin to evaporate and disappear, and water levels recede towards the northwest.
WHAT TO PACK FOR BOTSWANA
WHAT TO EAT IN BOTSWANA
- Seswaa is the national dish of Botswana. This meat dish is made from beef, goat, lamb or chicken and boiled with onion and pepper until soft and tender. Like every good stew in southern Africa, it is cooked low and slow in a three-legged cast iron pot. Once the meat is soft, it is pounded or shredded and served on a bed of a pap.
- Morogo is the ideal option for less-adventurous eaters. It is a nutrient-dense wild spinach; and is often served as a side dish to seswaa.
- Matemekwane is a seasoned dumpling often stuffed with meat and vegetables. They are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside and usually served with hot soup or a dip.
- Dikgobe combines peas and beans with sorghum, maize meal or samp to create a savoury porridge. It can be served as a main meal or a side dish.
LGBTQ IN BOTSWANA
Homosexuality, both gay and lesbian, is illegal in Botswana. Intolerance has increased in the region over the last few years due to the homophobic statements of leaders in neighbouring Namibia and Zimbabwe. Iit is advisable to refrain from any overt displays of affection in public.
WHERE TO STAY IN BOTSWANA
The story of Botswana’s accommodation is a story of extremes. At one end, there are fabulously located campsites for self-drivers (the closest the country comes to budget accommodation outside the main towns). At the other extreme, there are top-end lodges where prices can be eye-wateringly high. In between, you will find some midrange options in the major towns and places such as the Okavango Panhandle, but elsewhere there’s very little for the midrange (and nothing for the noncamping budget) traveller.
While most budget and midrange options tend to have a standard room price, many top-end places change their prices according to season. High season is usually from June to November (and may also apply to Christmas, New Year and Easter, depending on the lodge), low season corresponds to the rains (December to March or April) and the shoulder is a short April and May window. The only exception is the Kalahari, where June to November is generally considered to be low season.
Just about everywhere of interest, including all major national parks, has a campsite. Once the domain of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), many of the campsites are now privately run. All campsites must be booked in advance and they fill up fast in busy periods, such as during South African school holidays. It is very important to remember that you will not be allowed into almost every park run by the DWNP without a reservation for a campsite.
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