Botswana is widely considered one of the top wildlife destinations in the world, from its lush Okavango Delta to the otherworldly Makgadikgadi salt pans. Safaris in Botswana offer a sense of wildness that many people feel their day-to-day lives lack. While the wildlife-sighting opportunities are exceptional, the quality of guiding and low-impact, eco-friendly camps also add to the appeal. Here are some things that you can expect when you visit Botswana.
One of the things that sets Botswana apart from other safari destinations is its water-based activities. The Okavango Delta is an inland network of waterways that serve as vital lifelines through northern Botswana. From around March, the delta begins to flood as the rains from the Angolan highlands reach the tributaries. Water levels are highest from May to October. A mokoro is a traditional dug-out canoe that Botswanans use to navigate the delta. Most lodges and camps offer mokoro rides to their guests when the water is high enough. Hop in and let your skilled guide punt you down the waterways using a ngashi (long pole). Pass through tall reeds, peppered with tiny birds and frogs. Keep an eye out for fish eagles and herons, buffalos gathered around the banks and even an elephant cooling off in the shallows. These days for safety reasons, guides tend to stick to channels that are less used by hippos.
Not for nothing is the Okavango Delta known as one of the best safari destinations in Africa. You’re likely to see amazing predator action here, from fierce lions that hunt buffalos to packs of wild dogs and solitary leopards. Botswana is home to the largest elephant population in Africa, so expect to see plenty, especially in the Chobe region. On the expansive Makgadikgadi salt pans, just south of the delta, you might expect a barren wilderness. However, it’s common to see wildebeest and zebra herds, lions, bull elephants, bat-eared foxes, meerkats and brown hyenas.
Space and exclusivity
Botswana is the size of France, but with a population of only 2.3 million. Safari destinations take advantage of all that open, undeveloped space, offering guests a feeling of being truly off-grid. Not only that, but there are restrictions on the type of camps and lodges that can be built. This helps to keep tourism footfall to a minimum. Prices are generally higher than other countries as part of a low-impact, high-cost model that has helped keep Botswana’s safari destinations mostly free of crowds. Few places allow you to experience the ‘sound’ of silence like the Makgadikgadi Pans, and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is one of the most remote in Southern Africa.
It’s not just mammals that you’ll find in vast quantities, but birds, too, especially in the Okavango Delta. The country has a total of nearly 600 birds. These range from common species such as the African fish eagle and the lilac-breasted roller to rare birds such as the Pel’s fishing owl. The best time to see most birds is during the Wet season, from December to March, when the migratory species flock from the northern hemisphere. From September to October, carmine bee-eaters arrive from central Africa in great numbers. Sua Pan, in the Makgadikgadi, is the seasonal home of one of the world’s biggest breeding colonies of flamingos. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a birder, you might be by the time you leave Botswana.
The level of guiding in Botswana is high. Local guides who have been brought up in rural areas of the country have an intimate knowledge of flora and fauna. Added to this is extensive training in various camps and lodges. Most people tend to spend their whole careers guiding. There’s a great deal of experience to be passed on from older guides to those starting out. Your guide may be a Bushman: the first people of Southern Africa, also known as San people. You may be able to learn some of the skills and bushcraft this ancient culture has accumulated over thousands of years.