WHY SHOULD I VISIT BOTSWANA?
The top five reasons why you should visit Botswana:
- Okavango Delta – mokoro the waterways and walk with the wildlife
- Savute and Linyanti – few places are better to view the animals of Africa
- Chobe – the sunsets on the Chobe River are truly memorable
- Makgadikgadi – experience the stillness of these vast salt pans by quad bike
- Central Kalahari Game Reserve – the ultimate in remote safari destinations
Low-density tourism is the keyword for your safari to Botswana. Often, you will only see the other vehicles belonging to the same lodge and nobody else on your safari. If the Okavango Delta is not on your bucket list, your list is incomplete. It is truly remarkable and unique. In addition, Botswana has the Tuli Block, with its horse safaris, the interior areas of the Chobe National Park and its abundant wildlife, and the Kgalagadi, where the Kalahari’s red dunes and iconic Oryx paint one of Africa’s most memorable pictures.
What Is the Best Time of The Year to Visit Botswana?
In short, May to September/October. This is the time of the year that the water has flooded the Okavango Delta and Linyanti areas (see https://q2travel.co.za/understanding-the-okavango-delta-part1/) and the animals move to these areas, as the rest of the country is dry. Large numbers of animals have also moved to the Chobe River for water, and vast herds of buffalo and elephant can be seen. Temperatures are more moderate.
For birding, the best months are November, December, and March, as the migrants have arrived, but these months are not as wet as January and February.
As Botswana has summer rainfall, the country is green from December to March and more beautiful than any other time.
Which Places Should I Include in My Visit?
For safari and nature enthusiasts, the Okavango Delta is a definite. The Linyanti and Savute areas of the Chobe National Park are arguably the best safari options in Botswana. However, the Central Kalahari also offers great safaris. The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans have a special charm, and are also the scene of the second largest migration in the southern hemisphere.
The Chobe area, along the river, offers game viewing by boat and safari vehicles, plus it is renowned for its stunning sunsets. It is, however, rather busy.
Other options are the Tuli Block, the Kalahari areas with their bushmen, and the Kgalagadi with its red dunes
How Long Should I Visit Botswana for?
For a short visit to Botswana (3-5 days), we would suggest four options:
- A combination of the Okavango Delta and Linyanti
- A combination of the Okavango Delta and Chobe
- A combination of the Okavango Delta and Savute
- Two different camps in the Okavango Delta that have different activities
For a longer visit to Botswana, we suggest:
- A combination of the Okavango Delta, Linyanti, and Chobe
- A combination of the Okavango Delta, Makgadikgadi, and Chobe
- A combination of the Okavango Delta, Savute, and Chobe
- A combination of the Central Kalahari, Makgadikgadi, Okavango Delta, and Linyanti
What Is the Weather Like in Botswana?
Botswana has four seasons, with spring (September/October), autumn (April/May), and winter (June to August) being dry periods and summer the rainy season (November to March). Rainfall is erratic and scattered, with one area having a downpour, while a few kilometres away, there is no rain at all. The rain showers often do not last long, and when the sun comes out, it quickly dries up the groundwater, not allowing it to penetrate the ground.
The wettest months are January and February, and the country is green and beautiful. Rainfall in Botswana varies from 650 mm (Chobe district) to 250 mm in the south-west (Kgalagadi)
Summer days are hot, and shade temperatures rise to the late 30s, reaching 44°C on occasion. Winters are clear-skied and dry. The days are warm, but it is cold at night and early mornings, because there is no cloud cover. Humidity in the mornings is almost double that of the afternoons. In summer, the morning humidity ranges between 60% and 80%, and in winter, it ranges between 40% and 70%.
Do I Need a Visa to Travel to Botswana?
All visitors to Botswana require a valid passport with a minimum of six months validity.
Currently, visitors holding the following passports and nationalities do not require a visa for travel to Botswana, and will be granted a 30-day permit on arrival. We do ask you to reconfirm these details:
- All EC (European Community) countries
- USA, UK, South Africa, Scandinavia, Uruguay
- Western Samoa and countries from former Yugoslavia
- Commonwealth countries (except for Ghana, India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Mauritius)
Please consult the Botswana Embassy, as these regulations can change.
Should you require a visa for Botswana, it is highly recommended that these are organised prior to arrival, as most visas cannot be obtained on entry to Botswana.
What Are the Health Requirements for Travelling to Botswana?
Malaria is a risk in Botswana. We suggest that you consult your doctor as to what anti-malaria medication to take, as we strongly recommend that you do so. To minimise the risk of contracting malaria, wear long trousers and cover your arms in the evening, and apply mosquito repellent.
Some vaccines are recommended or required for Botswana. The World Health Organisation recommends the following vaccinations for Botswana: hepatitis A and B, rabies, yellow fever, polio, meningitis, measles, mumps and rubella, Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), chickenpox, and influenza.
How Can I Travel Around in Botswana?
The road network in Botswana is quite poor. Botswana has some good tar roads, but due to the nature of its soil, in most places, when travelling off the tar road, a 4×4 vehicle is essential. The majority of travellers drive or are transferred to their destination in small aircrafts and helicopters. Most of the Okavango Delta camps and some in the Linyanti are only accessible by air. The scheduled flights are available only between the major cities.
GENERAL INFO AND HISTORY
Botswana is a land-locked country in Southern Africa. It is bordered by Namibia (north and west), South Africa (east and south), and Zimbabwe and Zambia (north-east). The Kalahari basin, which encompasses virtually all of Botswana and over half of Namibia, includes the Okavango River Delta and other wetter areas. Once a great inland lake, the Kalahari Basin covered much of the central region of southern Africa.
Thousands of years ago, the sources of the rivers disappeared and the lake dried up, leaving a huge sandy, dry depression that is Botswana’s main geological feature.
The centrepiece of this basin is the Kalahari Desert. This is not a desert in the true sense of the word (the earliest travellers defined it as a “thirstland”’), as the dunes are covered by grass, stunted shrubs, and deciduous trees. Acacia woodlands exist in the wetter north and east.
Botswana is about 581 000 km² in area, about the size of Kenya. It is 1110 km from north to south, and 960 km from east to west at its longest and widest. Botswana has a population of just under 2.4 million inhabitants, with about 80% living in the eastern sections of the country. These areas have more reliable rainfall, and are slightly higher in altitude than the rest of the country. The higher rainfall lends itself to better agricultural potential and more grazing for livestock, and hence, a higher population density.
Botswana is largely flat, with occasional valleys, inselbergs, isolated hills, sand dunes, and a large number of pans. The pans often have dunes on the south-west side. When the pans fill with rainwater, the hard surface layer stops it from being immediately absorbed, so that water remains in the pans for a while. This is of great value to the wildlife, which, besides needing the water, get much-needed nutrients from the grasses that grow in the pans. As Botswana does not have much surface water, these pans are of enormous importance.
The Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta system in the world, is unique and of great significance to the wildlife of Southern Africa. When the rest of the country is in the grip of winter with almost no rain, the Okavango Delta fills up with the floodwaters from the Angolan highlands and gives life, water, and sustenance to hundreds of thousands of animals.
Because the change in altitude from the north-west to the south-east of the Okavango Delta is so slight, the floodwaters from the Okavango River take months to reach the furthest reaches/fingers of the Okavango Delta. This means the dry season is in full swing by the time this water arrives. This ebb and flow results in a unique environment, one that is one of nature’s true wonders. A similar, but smaller, version of these events occurs with the Linyanti and Chobe Rivers.
TOP TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
Chobe National Park Botswana
Chobe National Park and elephants are almost synonymous. The main feature of the Chobe National Park is the Chobe River, which feeds into the Zambezi River. Elephants can be seen swimming in the river, and large herds of buffalo come to its banks to drink. Also of significance is the Savuti Channel that ends in the Savuti Swamps.
The channel has, however, been dry for several years, but the swamps are still teaming with game. The Chobe is home to the Big 5, plus wild dogs and cheetahs, along with huge pods of hippos, crocodiles, kudus, lechwes, and over 450 species of birds.
Okavango Delta Botswana
The Okavango Delta is made up of the Moremi Game Reserve and numerous private concessions. While staying in the Moremi Game Reserve, you are restricted to leaving your camp at or after sunrise, and being back in the camp before sunset. This means no night game drives, and it also does not allow walking and mokoro trips. As the Okavango Delta is a combination of permanent water channels, seasonal channels/flooded areas, and islands, the activities can vary greatly depending on when you travel.
Taken as a whole, the following activities can be experienced: game drives (morning, afternoon, and night), nature/game walks, boating game-viewing safaris, mokoro trips, birding, fishing, and sleep-outs.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the second-largest game reserve in the world, was established in 1961 and it covers 52 800 km². The reserve is mostly flat, with rolling plains and dunes covered with grass and small bushes, with some areas having large trees. Four ancient rivers used to bring water to this thirsty land, but these rivers dried up thousands of years ago, and all that is left as a remnant are the pans. When it rains, these pans hold water for a limited period before the baking sun dries them up yet again.
Wildlife can be seen throughout the year. Springbok, one of the favourite preys of the cheetah and lion, gather in the open areas during the day as a survival technique. Home to the Big 5, as well as cheetahs and wild dogs, it is also home to an astonishing array of wildlife, which is not expected in such a dry environment. Other game includes giraffes, spotted hyenas, brown hyenas, warthogs, honey badgers, yellow mongooses, meerkats, caracals, black-backed jackals, bat-eared foxes, Cape foxes, blue wildebeest, zebras, and elands.
The Makgadikgadi Pans span 16 000 km² and are the largest salt pans in the world. The Makgadikgadi Pans are what is left of Lake Makgadikgadi. One of Africa’s biggest zebra populations take part in an annual migration that criss-crosses these pans.
This shallow pan fills with water from summer rains, attracting a wide array of water birds, including large flocks of flamingos. As the pans dry up, the grasses thrive, and large herds of zebras, springboks, and wildebeest migrate to the area. These are always followed closely by the predators. The Boteti River, which covers the western boundary does not flow throughout the year, but in the dry period, it still has pools of water, which attract waterbuck, bushbuck, and hippos.
In the dry season, the salt pans are dry, deserted, and quiet. There are few moments as special as spending a night on the pans, where virtually the only sound you can hear is your breathing.
The Linyanti and Kwando Rivers, which become the Chobe River, form an inland delta when they flood. The swamps and channels that are formed at this time of the year are reminiscent of the Okavango Delta and, indeed, the vegetation, wildlife, and appearance are very similar. During the dry season, huge numbers of elephants are attracted to the area because of the abundance of water. The game viewing is arguably better than the Okavango Delta.
This area boasts encounters with large herds of buffalo in the dry season, and thousands of zebras gather in the winter before heading south. Sightings of rare and unique wildlife species, such as aardvark, are more common. Wildlife includes the lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, giraffe, hippo, hyena, various antelopes such as eland, roan, lechwe, sable, and various other nocturnal species.
Tsodilo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage, is believed by the Bushmen to be the site of the first creation of man and resting place for the spirits of the dead. Visitors hike the three main hills, using local people as guides.
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GENERAL INFO AND HISTORY
The Hottentot (Khoi) and Bushman (San) were the earliest modern inhabitants of southern Africa. Their way of life dates back to the middle Stone Age period. It is thought that one tribe of people lived in sub-Saharan Africa some 60 000 years ago, probably of Khoisan origin. It is believed that the Bantu-speaking people, an offshoot of the Khoisan people, emerged 10 000 years ago from the equatorial rainforests of Africa. The Bantu-speaking people, over time, developed darker skin and different physical attributes while adapting to the different climatic conditions they lived in.
The Bantu-speaking people moved south into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the northern part of South Africa.
Around AD 1300, three main groups, namely the Bakgalagadi, the Batswana, and the Basotho emerged from the area that was previously known as the Transvaal. These groups, which spoke dialects of the same language and had similar cultural practices, lived in small, loosely knit communities, which were spread widely over large areas of land.
The Bakgalagadi moved west and settled in south-eastern Botswana at Moritsane Hill near Gabane, where raising cattle and hunting took precedence over farming.
The “Toutswe”: Large chiefdoms with settlements on the hilltops began to emerge about 1000 years ago in the area between Sowa Pan and the Tswapong Hills.
The Bakwena: Around AD 1360, the son of the Bakoena king, Kuena, settled in Tebang, now known as Heidelberg. In around AD 1500, the Bakoena tribe split, with a group settling in the Kalahari. Kgabo II and a small group of Bakoena founded the Bakgatla tribe. The Bakgalagadi were driven into the desert in the west (now the Kgalagadi) by the Bakgatla.
The Bangweketse and Bangwato were offshoots of the Bakwena, with the Batawana being a further offshoot of the Bangwato. The Bangweketse occupied the territory adjoining the Bakgalagadi, the Bangwato moved into the north-east, and the Batawana moved into the Okavango Delta.
All this was around the period of the 1790s. In the intervening years up to 1824, the Bangwaketse had gained predominance over the other tribes. They owned large herds of cattle. Other chiefdoms in the area were fairly prosperous but were regularly raided by the Bangwaketse who were militarily superior.
In the period from 1823-1843, people from South Africa invaded. Initially, the Bangwaketse managed to defeat the Bakololo invaders. Over time, the Bakololo managed to subjugate all the major chiefdoms in what is now called Botswana. The Bakololo and amaNdebele raided the cattle of chiefdoms regularly, stealing large numbers from the Batswana.
After 1943, the amaNdebele moved into southern Rhodesia, and the threat to the Batswana lessened. The Batswana chiefdoms were able to rebuild during the 1840s and 1850s with the new-found prosperity that came from trade with the Cape Colony.
The Bakwena, Bangwaketse, Bangwato, and Batawana cooperated with each other, allowing them to control the lucrative ivory trade. This wealth from this trade enabled them to import guns and horses, and to establish control over what is now Botswana by 1880. This resulted in the Bushmen, the Bakalanga, the Bakgalagadi, the Batswapong, and other minorities being subjugated to the Batawana.
In 1884, the Batawana were invaded by the amaNdebele. In a well-thought-out military strategy, the Ndebele were lured into the Okavango Delta, where they were routed. This resulted in the Batawana’s influence being strengthened in the area. Fearing further invasions, in 1885, the Batswana leaders appealed for assistance from the British Government. The result was the proclamation of the Bechuanaland Protectorate.
The Bechuanaland Protectorate remained under direct administration by the British until it gained its independence and became Botswana. Increased nationalism and a growing dissatisfaction with British protection resulted in demands for self-determination. This dissatisfaction was vocalised through the African Advisory Council.
The Republic of Botswana, previously Bechuanaland, gained independence in 1966 after almost eight decades as a British protectorate. Sir Seretse Khama became its first president and was in office from 1966 to 1980. The discovery of diamonds, in 1967, turned around the fortunes of one of the world’s most impoverished nations and paved the way for economic prosperity. Today, Botswana is one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Africa.
Another important part of Botswana’s history revolves around the missionary’s influence. In 1841, Dr. David Livingstone set up a mission station amongst the Bakwena, the base from where Christianity penetrated into the interior of Botswana. This was a gradual process, with tribal chiefs inviting the missionaries to settle amongst them, knowing that the presence of the missionaries encouraged traders from which the chiefs could procure guns. By 1880, every major village of every tribe in Botswana had a resident missionary, and their influence had become a permanent feature of life.
Diamond mining and, increasingly, tourism form the backbone of the economy. Since gaining independence, Botswana has had one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
English is an official language in Botswana, although the local residents speak a range of Bantu languages.
The local currency is the Botswana Pula (BWP), but the US$ is widely accepted in the tourist areas.
With so much to see and do in Botswana, why not contact Q2 Travel to book your next trip?