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Botswana

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One of the last great wildlife destinations to be found on the continent

Botswana is a veritable African Eden, one of the last great wildlife destinations to be found on the continent. Botswana really has it all.

The Kalahari desert not only boasts the largest unbroken stretch of sand in the world, but also salt pans, ancient baobabs, riverine islands, fossil river valleys, black-maned lions and the original San people.

One of Earth’s last great wildernesses, the vast inland Okavango Delta, subject to seasonal floods of Biblical proportions, has an astonishing abundance and variety of species, both large and small.

Eager to avoid the vagaries of mass tourism, Botswana has consciously kept the country highly exclusive. Scattered around the reserves and concessions are isolated lodges of varying sumptuousness where fortunate guests can appreciate the raw, pristine beauty of vast natural landscapes and marvel at a cornucopia of wildlife encounters and spectacles.

Highlights

What To See

Okavango Delta

The Okavango is one of the world’s largest inland deltas and situated in the middle of the greatest stretch of continuous sand in the world, the Kalahari basin. This grand “oasis” in the middle of the desert supports a rich yet fragile ecosystem. It is a precious resource for a startling variety of species which have adapted to the contrasting conditions in this part of the harsh Kalahari desert where the arid landscape is transformed out of all recognition by the annual arrival of floodwaters originating in Angola.

The Okavango wetland encompasses the large Moremi Game Reserve surrounded by many smaller private concessions, sustainable tourism wildlife management areas carefully administrated to balance conservation with the community’s need for development and jobs. Many of the remote, exclusive lodges in Botswana are situated within the delta’s private concessions, providing an unparalleled wildlife experience while avoiding mass tourism and environmental exploitation.

Flood levels fluctuate dramatically throughout the year, peaking in central Okavango during the dry winter months and dropping to their lowest in late summer, contrariwise to the seasonal rainfall. The landscape, activities and game viewing vary considerably throughout the delta depending on your location, the season and flood levels.

Some areas have large tracts of permanent dry land leading to a greater focus on land-based activities (game drives) and big game viewing. Lodges situated on islands deep in the delta concentrate more on water activities such as mokoro (small canoe) excursions, walking, boating, fishing and birdwatching. Those lodges located on the outer fringes of the delta – referred to as the ‘seasonal’ delta – offer varied experiences at different times of the year: generally water-based during high flood levels and more land-based as the floodwaters recede.

High concentrations of game congregate around the permanent water during the dry season from April to October, especially as the heat increases into the latter months. The heronries become active as migrant birds return to Botswana from September through November, and general birdwatching is also excellent throughout their summer months. The rainy season, from November to April, reinvigorates the landscape with wild flowers, dramatic thundershowers and spectacular sunsets, and the birthing season brings great predator/prey interactions.

Linyanti

The Linyanti region lies to the north-east of the Okavango Delta were the Kwando and Linyanti rivers meet at right angles, forming a triangular swamp. The area’s relative remoteness makes it a favoured safari destination among the cognoscenti. The wildlife is spectacular and particularly famous for its enormous herds of elephant and buffalo which move down to the Linyanti area at the start of the winter months and only move back inland once the summer rains arrive in November.

Linyanti is also one of the best wild dog areas in Africa. The dogs start denning anytime from June and can easily be found for three to four months afterwards as they hunt from their den. An abundance of cat species also frequent this area, and the rich bird life can best be seen between October and January. However, the beautiful carmine bee-eaters are most abundant between July and November when they congregate around their nest holes.

Maun

Situated along the banks of the Thamalakane River in the North-West District of Botswana, Maun serves as the administrative centre for Ngamiland. The name Maun originates from the San language, meaning “the place of reeds”. Maun is a frontier town and is the gateway to the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve, with most tourists entering these destinations through this buzzing town.

Although classified as one of the fastest growing towns in Botswana Maun still retains much of its village feel. The town is not considered scenic and reed and mud hut infrastructures as well as donkey carts and livestock dominate the picture. Despite having numerous hotels, lodges and bed & breakfasts, accommodation options are generally quite basic and more suited to a pre- or post-safari overnight. Maun serves as the administrative headquarters for the safari industry in the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve and surrounding wildlife areas. Maun Airport is one of the busiest airports in southern Africa, with most travellers connecting directly to smaller charter aircraft off international flights.

For self-drivers, Maun is an important stopover for refuelling, stocking up on supplies and securing park permits, and has several mechanics for vehicle maintenance.

Savuti

This famous western corner of Chobe is one of Botswana’s best-known wildlife areas. Savuti covers almost 5,000 km2 and includes the Savuti Marsh, Savuti Channel, Mababe Depression and Magwikhwe Sand Ridge. Each of these diverse geographical features is a result of the tectonic instability of the region.

Savuti was synonymous with lions and hyenas in the days before the Savuti Channel resumed flowing, and the area now hosts an enhanced diversity of other predators and plains game species. Savuti’s pans, waterholes and channel support an exceptionally large population of bull elephants. Game viewing conditions are generally better in Savuti in the dry season (May to October) when grasses are shorter, vegetation is more thinned out and animals are restricted to available water sources. When dry, the Savuti landscape provides for excellent photography with skeletal trees set against the deep blue sky. The area is particularly photogenic when the plains game begins to move towards the woodlands at dusk and clouds of dust are stirred up against the red sunsets.

After the rains arrive in late November, the Savuti area is transformed almost overnight into lush grassland with zebras, wildebeest and buffalo appearing in their thousands. The zebra and wildebeest pass through Savuti on their way south from the Linyanti marshes. The herds remain in Savuti to have their young and feed on the new grasses before moving further on into the Mababe Depression. These same herds then reappear in Savuti later in the season, when they are again passing through on their long migration northwards back to their dry season range along the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers. This zebra-wildebeest migration is one of nature’s great spectacles as well as providing a bounty for predators, which depend upon them to survive: however, the timing of the migration is unpredictable and difficult to catch. The wide-open plains attract cheetah and the various rocky areas around Savuti provide excellent habitat for both leopard and agile klipspringer antelope.

Kasane

Kasane, the main town servicing Chobe and the Linyanti, is almost part of the Chobe National Park as there are no boundary fences separating the village from the park: in fact, game such as elephant and hippo are often spotted in Kasane. For game in the area, visit the large, dead trees along the Sedudu Valley Road which often act as temporary homes for leopards. These aren’t the only enticing trees in Kasane – there is an old baobab tree whose trunk was once a local prison.

Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans are all that remains of a great lake which once covered most of northern Botswana, fed by rivers carrying salts. The most iconic pans, Ntwetwe and Sua, provide vistas of blinding white salt flats reaching far into the horizon where pan sleep-outs are experienced. No vegetation grows on the salty surface of the pans, but the fringes are covered with grasslands. No animals live on the pans: a few desert species and the elusive brown hyena inhabit the fringes. The result is that the salt pans present an unforgettable landscape of incredible sunsets and sunrises and a bewildering lack of perspective as opposed to a game experience. Africa’s famous explorer, Dr David Livingstone, crossed these pans in the 19th century, using two massive baobabs believed to be 3,000 to 4,000 years old as a navigation tool.

All camps on the salt pans are situated on or next to Ntwetwe Pan in the west of the pans complex and offer quad biking on the pans, visits to habituated meerkats, archaeological walks as well as cultural insight into the lives of the San people. More recently horse-riding expeditions have been introduced, providing a unique way to explore the landscape. All activities in this area are subject to favourable conditions – the slightest rainfall can make the pans completely inaccessible. During the rainy season, the main attraction at the camps is the zebra and wildebeest migration passing through during the early months of the year, with other activities during this season being very limited. In years with good rains, the pans can be transformed into a powder blue lake with waters gently lapping the shorelines – a clear indication of the gigantic lake the Makgadikgadi once was. The floods attract flamingos with numbers running into the tens or even hundreds of thousands but the spectacle is fleeting and difficult to catch. Camps located on and next to the pans are Camp Kalahari, Jacks Camp and the seasonal San Camp, operating only during dry season. Accommodations in Gweta also access this part of the pans, running overnight trips to the area.

Makgadikgadi & Nxai Pan

The Makgadikgadi & Nxai Pan region is situated in the Central District of Botswana, south-east of the Okavango Delta, and consists of four distinct areas. Two of these include the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans (the world’s largest) comprising the 6,500 km2 Ntwetwe Pan and the somewhat smaller Sua Pan. To the North lies Nxai Pan National Park, interspersed with sand flats, rocky islands, peninsulas and desert terrain, and the Makgadikgadi National Park to the south-west, overlapping the western edge of Ntwetwe Pan and comprised mostly of extensive grasslands and acacia woodland with the Boteti River on its western boundary providing a crucial water-source for the area’s wildlife.

Moremi Game Reserve

Moremi Game Reserve is a rich and diverse wildlife sanctuary situated in the Okavango Delta. The reserve is unfenced and its boundaries are defined by natural water systems. The vegetation is varied, with dry land complemented by permanent and seasonal swamplands, resulting in an excellent diversity of both mammal and bird life. There is a great network of game drive routes through the reserve and boating can be enjoyed in Xakanaxa and Mboma where the channels are connected to permanent delta waterways.

Moremi is one of the best game reserves in Africa for viewing the endangered wild dog, while Xakanaxa contains a resident herd of several hundred buffalo whose range covers the territories of at least four prides of lion who hunt them. Breeding herds of elephant move frequently between the mopane forests and the fresh waters of the Okavango. Red lechwe are one of the more unusual antelope species commonly found here.

Game viewing in the Moremi Game Reserve is excellent year-round and varies between the seasons. During the dry season (April to October) game is usually concentrated around permanent water sources as seasonal pans dry up. From September to November, migrant birds such as herons and storks return to the area guaranteeing prolific birdwatching which remains excellent throughout the summer months. In the rainy season (November to April) Moremi captivates its visitors with wild flowers, dramatic thundershowers and spectacular sunsets. Most of the herbivores give birth during this period and the new born antelope attract a variety of predators.

Sua Pan

Sua Pan is the easternmost large pan, separated from Ntwetwe Pan by a thin strip of grass. One of the most striking destinations in this area is Kubu Island, a rocky outcrop near the southwestern edge of Sua Pan, accessible only by quad bike expeditions of several days from Camp Kalahari, Jack’s Camp and San Camp, or by self-drivers. This crescent-shaped island is about one kilometre long and, apart from its eerie isolation and breathtaking beauty, Kubu is rich in archaeological and historical remains. Stone Age tools and arrowheads can still be found today along the shore of this tiny island and a circular stone wall and stone cairns suggest that Kubu may have been part of the outer reaches of the Great Zimbabwe Empire that was based at Masvingo in modern-day Zimbabwe.

Khwai Community Area

Looking at a map of Botswana, you might miss Khwai completely if you didn’t know it was there. Wedged between the big-ticket attractions of Chobe National Park to the east and Moremi Game Reserve to the south, Khwai exists as a significant big game destination in its own right.

Lying on the eastern fringes of the Okavango Delta with a large wildlife population and no borders, Khwai is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbours, though in the winter months it can hold its own for the quality of its big game viewing.

Most days are spent exploring the narrow Khwai River which forms the natural boundary with Moremi Game Reserve to the south. The Khwai River is a beacon for wildlife such as leopards stalking lechwe in the long grass; lions swimming from the banks to save their cubs during territorial disputes; and crocodiles competing with wild dogs for a midday meal of impala.

As Khwai lies outside the parks, it offers the freedom and flexibility normally only possible with the heavier price tag of a private concession. Go off-road for closer sightings, take a night drive in search of nocturnal species and (with advance planning) track wildlife on foot.

Khwai is also home to a village community where people live side by side with the resident wildlife. Some camps offer village visits for cultural insights to complement your safari. Particularly pleasing for those not visiting the water camps of the delta, many camps in Khwai offer mokoro (traditional canoe) excursions, cruising the riverbanks rather than the open delta floodplains.

Nata Bird Sanctuary

Botswana’s first community-based conservation project is managed and staffed by residents of four local communities and is a good example of an ecologically responsible project bringing direct financial benefit to local communities. Proceeds from tourism activities in the sanctuary are shared by the four communities for development projects. Covering an area of 250 km2 comprising grasslands and pans, the sanctuary offers easy access to the pans for self-drivers and pleasant camping facilities. In the peak season, birding, and even game viewing, can be good. When there is water in the pans, thousands of flamingos, pelicans, ducks and geese congregate, and the scene is awe-inspiring. An elevated hide provides an unbeatable panorama of the pans. About 3,000 head of cattle belonging to the Nata, Maphosa, Sepako and Manxotae communities were voluntarily moved out of the area for the establishment of the sanctuary. Nata Bird Sanctuary opened its gates to the public in 1993 and in the same year was awarded the Tourism for Tomorrow Award for the southern hemisphere.

Makgadikgadi National Park

The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park includes only a small portion of Ntwetwe Pan, with most of the salt pans themselves being outside the national park. The Park includes diverse habitats such as riverine woodland along the Boteti River, dense scrubland, open grassland and palm trees and salt pans far to the east. The Boteti River, the western boundary of the Makgadikgadi National Park, serves as a drainage system for the Okavango Delta, carrying water through the dry Kalahari to Lake Xau.

The Boteti area in the west of the park is known for hosting large numbers of zebra and wildebeest which begin moving from the salt pans to this area after the rainy season (around April/May) during their annual migration. An estimated 20,000 zebras, 8,000 wildebeest and hundreds of elephants gather along the Boteti in search of water during this time, staying until the rains begin later in the year (October/November) when the zebra and wildebeest move back towards the salt pans. In the early 1900s the riverbed ran dry but in the last few years the Boteti River has started flowing again. The result of this constant water supply is that the migration disperses along the river banks rather than concentrating in large numbers at the waterholes along the riverbed as in drier years.

There are two lodges found in the Boteti area: Leroo la Tau and Meno a Kwena. Both offer game viewing over the Boteti River, as well as game drives in the Makgadikgadi National Park. The Boteti is quite a distance from the salt pans so excursions to the pans are only recommended with an overnight there when staying three or more nights in the area, due to the long distances between the Boteti River and the salt pans. Meerkats in the area are not habituated so cannot be interacted with by tourists, unlike at Ntwetwe Pan.

Best Time To Visit Botswana

Botswana is a predominantly dry and sunny country with a pleasant climate throughout the year. Even during the rainy season months (December to March), rainfall is rarely high enough to prohibit travel and visitors are rewarded with dramatic skies, cheaper prices and beautifully green landscapes.

Most of the country is classified as being either desert or semi-arid and all would be pretty barren were it not for the annual flood waters that inundate the lush Okavango Delta and northern waterways.  The fact that the flood waters come when the wildlife needs this most – during the height of the dry season (July to October) – makes this an even more remarkable event and helps to sustain some of the highest mammal concentrations in Africa.

Counterintuitively, the rainy season months (December to March) are when the flood waters are at their lowest and many animals move away from the wetland areas to find grazing elsewhere.  This is when many animals choose to have their young and when the deserts of the south start to bloom, creating a paradise for birds, herbivores and associate carnivores.

This mix of seasons means that Botswana is truly a year-round destination.  Most people choose the dry season months for their first visit but many old-timers prefer the greenery, dramatic skies and unusual wildlife of the rainy months.

As one would expect, the dry season months (July to October) are the most expensive with December to March usually being the cheapest (but wettest) months to travel.  The transitional months of November, April, May and June tend to have good weather and decent prices but the wildlife can be a little harder to see as there is a lot more cover and the animals are more dispersed.

The best time for birdwatching is from September to May, with the Okavango heronries becoming most active from September through to November when migrant birds return.  Read more in our Travelling to Botswana: where to go when? blog post.

Botswana Travel

Getting There

Flight Time

14 hours

Time Zone

GMT +2

Language

English, Tswana

Population

2.33 million

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Botswana: -19.248922, 24.263306

Your Very Own

Botswana Specialist

Jonathan Morris

Area Specialist

If you have any questions regarding travel to Botswana, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965

On behalf of my wife and myself, I would like to thank all at Reef and Rainforest for arranging so superbly yet another exceptional wildlife experience.  As you are aware our ‘expeditions’ tend to be species led and this year’s brief was to observe and photograph the ‘Three Big Cats of Africa’ in a truly wild setting (i.e. no fences).  Your recommended  destination, Botswana, did not let us down, in fact the whole trip proved an outstanding success in all aspects.

We stayed in three camps (three nights in each) across the Okavango Delta and surrounding area, each provided a different environment which ensured our aims were met. Each camp was run to a very high standard, was extremely comfortable and provided excellent meals. The quality of guiding and tracking in all our camps was of the highest standard. As Botswana manages its natural resources so well all the camps were small (no more than 18 guests) ensuring a very intimate safari experience in pristine wild African habitat.

I am delighted to report our big cat objectives were realised. All observations were lengthy and offered excellent photographic opportunities.  However, unexpectedly, the highlight of our spectacular trip turned out to be sightings of two separate packs of African Painted Dogs. We visited two dens, the first had a very healthy number of adult dogs, approximately fifteen and eighteen pups. The second had seven adult dogs and sixteen pups. At Lebala we had the privilege of spending a prolonged period of time following the pack of dogs as they hunted, an experience we will never forget.

When one also considers the significant mammal and bird species we observed, Botswana is truly a must visit destination for the wildlife enthusiast. Incidentally we also observed three serval and two African wild cats.  We also thoroughly enjoyed our few days at Victoria Falls, possibly the most spectacular waterfall in the world, the hotel in Zimbabwe was excellent. Viewing the falls from the Zambian side and also the helicopter flight are both well worth doing.

This was our third consecutive trip with Reef and Rainforest, and I would be very surprised if there is not a fourth being planned very soon. Thank you all once again.

Mr JW - Ettrickbridge