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Travel to Botswana: adventure on the Okavango

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
Despite being home to some of the most incredible natural beauty, Botswana is a seldom-visited country. Those who do venture there will find that its landscapes remain unspoilt, swapping large touring groups for abundant and intricate ecosystems.

Travel guide

The African miracle

Fully landlocked between Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, Botswana is something of a southern African gem. It may not have any glistening coasts, but the home of the Tswana people is a paradise for agriculture, industry and, of course, incredible ecosystems. You'll find sprawling national parks, safari opportunities and some of Africa's most exclusive lodges.

Lowlands

Far from the high-reaching mountains of some of its neighbours, Botswana's landscape extends out into a huge plateau which runs from the abundant wildlife of the Okavango Delta to the rolling wilderness of the Kalahari Desert which covers around 70 percent of the country. It's true that sand dominates here but every now and again you'll find little pockets of life such as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Chobe National Park, as well as the vast-reaching tentacles of the Okavango Panhandle and its delta.

Into the bush

Nearly 40 percent of Botswana's territory is dedicated to protected animal parks and wildlife reserves. Though at liberty to wander through the landscape, you'll find that the animals here are governed instead by the seasons. The rainy season brings much of the Kalahari to life whilst the dry season drives it back to the precious oasis of the Okavango. As you'd expect, the delta is the country's top safari spot, sheltering the world's largest population of elephants, along with lions, leopards, giraffes, zebras and hippos.

Precious wildlife

One of the finest opportunities to see the country's black and white rhinos is at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. An easy journey from Francistown and Gaborone, the park is also a great stopover for visitors heading to Botswana's northern reserves. Both on the edge of extinction in the nineties, the sanctuary here was set up to protect the country's dwindling population of rhinos, hunted relentlessly by poachers. Now both species are doing well under the watchful eye of the park's patrolling rangers.

Mythical monuments

Aside from the wildlife, you'll find an enchanting spiritualism throughout this African nation. The Tsodilo Hills, thought to have been inhabited for the past 100,000 years, are alive with paintings left over from spiritual rituals performed by ancestors and the remains of a flourishing trade route from Asia. Others chose to explore the long-forgotten passages and tunnels of the Gcwihaba Caves, forming a labyrinth of towering caverns and tiny tunnels to scrabble through.

Our Editorial team's advice

Botswana is an all-year-round destination. The dry season extends from June to October and brings with it the highest number of tourists and, therefore, the highest prices. In November, April and May, you can expect a little rain but not a constant downpour, whilst the rainy season from December to March brings with it plenty of showers and an often grey sky.

You'll find that in terms of accommodation options, Botswana is one of Africa's most luxurious destinations. Though lodges can be expensive - sometimes excessively so - they are entirely based around the comfort of their guests and provide tailored activities to match. The cheaper option is to camp and take a self-drive tour. Though perhaps less comfortable, you are free to plan your own itinerary and can get that much closer to the natural life of the reserve.

If you go on an independent safari in a reserve, it is better to do it in two vehicles and notify the authorities of your itinerary and planned date of return. Fill your vehicle with petrol whenever you can, even if your tank is half-full. Be very careful when driving at night, and watch for animals on the road.

The Botswanan police are very efficient (including in their control of speeding) and always prepared to help you if there are any problems. In return, they ask for respect and politeness - bribes and backhanders are seen as deeply insulting.

pros

  • +All the ingredients for a great African holiday destination.
  • +The country's ecosystem is one of the best preserved on the continent.
  • +Tourist infrastructure is excellent.

cons

  • -The cost for tourists is high.
  • -Can be difficult to access for independent, solo travellers.

Traditions

In Botswana, the handshake is very important. When you shake hands with a native, you should bring your left hand under the right elbow. This same gesture is also used to thank people (when someone hands you an item, for example). Generally, gestures are used more freely than words, so do not be offended if you are not thanked verbally for giving a present.

If you are organising an independent safari, it's good to know that when you arrive in a village, you should go and visit the village chief to ask for permission to camp or for authorisation to take water from the collective well.

Food

Traditional dishes vary in accordance with the regions and the tribes, as well as the produce locally available. However, you could say that much Botswanan cuisine is based on sorghum and maize, often with accompaniments of stewed meat and vegetable sauces, from wild spinach to pumpkin.

Millet and sorghum are often used to make a hearty porridge for breakfast, whilst lunch and dinner follow with dumplings, beans and more. Visitors will find a relatively varied selection of food in Gaborone, but it is the markets which are really worth taking the time to visit, with an extraordinary variety of produce due to the considerable trade with South Africa.

You'll find local beers in the small villages and towns, often brewed from wild berries, fruits or maize. Whilst it's always great to try something new, be warned that some have very high alcohol contents, as home brews tend to have.

Souvenirs

Botswanan craftwork is of very good quality - basketwork, weaving, pottery, sculpture - there is an overwhelming amount of choice, even in the more remote western regions. Look out for magnificent craftwork by the San tribe: leather aprons, jewels, pearls and necklaces.