Places To Visit / Top Tourist Attractions
Chobe National Park Botswana
Chobe National Park in the north-west region of Botswana is renowned for its high density of elephants. On a recent visit, I literally saw hundreds of elephants in just three days. They were swimming across the Chobe River at sunset, prodding their little ones forward on a march through the dry landscape, and casually stripping bark from whatever trees they had not yet destroyed. It is a remarkable national park at any time of year and not surprisingly, Botswana’s most visited park. Besides elephants big and small, Chobe is home to all members of the Big 5, along with huge pods of hippo, crocodiles, kudu, lechwe, wild dogs, as well as over 450 species birds.
The Chobe River offers wonderful opportunities to watch the sunset as hundreds of animals come down to the river banks for their sundowner. Chobe’s proximity to the Victoria Falls and all its available activities is another added bonus. Here’s a brief guide to Chobe National Park, where to stay, what to do, and the best time to visit.
Okavango Delta Botswana
The wildlife is more concentrated on islands at this time, and it’s, therefore, easier to see them. as the flooding recedes, new grass springs up and the wildlife scatters to feed. There are numerous lodges dotted around as well as luxury safari camps, many of them offer walking safaris.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Central Kalahari Game Reserve is an extensive national park in the Kalahari desert of Botswana. Established in 1961 it covers an area of 52,800 square kilometers (20,400 sq mi) (about twice the size of Massachusetts, and 1/11 of Botswana’s total land area) making it the second largest game reserve in the world.
The park contains wildlife such as South African giraffe, bush elephant, white rhino, cape buffalo, spotted hyena, brown hyena, honey badger, meerkat, yellow mongoose, warthog, South African cheetah, caracal, Cape wild dog, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, cape fox, African leopard, Kalahari lion, blue wildebeest, plains zebra, common eland, sable antelope, gemsbok, springbok, steenbok,
impala, greater kudu, aardvark, cape ground squirrel, cape hare, cape porcupine, chacma baboon, red hartebeest and ostrich. The land is mostly flat, and gently undulating covered with bush and grasses covering the sand dunes, and areas of larger trees. Many of the river valleys are fossilized with salt pans.
Four fossilized rivers meander through the reserve including Deception Valley which began to form around 16,000 years ago
The Makgadikgadi Pans span 16 000 km²and are the largest salt pans in the world. Remnants of an ancient lake, the pans are interspersed with sandy desert and occasional vegetation. One of Africa’s biggest zebra populations makes this vista of white sand and salt their home.
Makgadikgadi Pans National Park comprises nutritious grasslands, attracting thousands of animals. It is, however, an area of low rainfall and the Boteti River rarely flows to capacity – but often has everlasting pools that attract waterbuck, bushbuck, and hippos.
When rains fall during the wet season, the pans are filled with water and attract large flocks of flamingos, as well as big herds of zebra, springbok, and wildebeest, followed closely by predators, making for fantastic game viewing.
Along the Linyanti fault line, there are varied woodland habitats and ancient floodplains, making the Linyanti an essential complement to a Botswana itinerary. These landscapes host abundant wildlife including the world’s highest densities of elephants in the dry winter months.
This magnificent area boasts of unparalleled wildlife encounters with large herds of buffalo in the dry season and sightings of rare and unique wildlife species such as aardvark. Large herds of elephants can be viewed at the rivers and waterholes, and thousands of zebra concentrate in the winter before heading south. Other wildlife seen includes lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, giraffe, eland, sable, hippo, hyena and various other nocturnal species.
Tsodilo Hills Botswana
The San Bushmen believe this sacred area is the site of the first creation of man and a resting place for spirits of the dead. Not surprisingly, this is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors can expect to hike the three main hills, using local people as guides. There are a basic campsite and small but informative museum on site.
Botswana is a land-locked country dominated in geographical terms by the Kalahari Desert – a sand-filled basin averaging 1,100 meters above sea level. The country lies between longitudes 20 and 30 degrees east of Greenwich and between the latitudes 18 and 27 degrees approximately south of the Equator.
Botswana is bordered by Zambia and Zimbabwe to the northeast, Namibia to the north and west, and South Africa to the south and southeast. At Kazungula, four countries – Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia – meet at a single point mid-stream in the Zambezi River.
The Chobe River runs along part of its northern boundary; the Nossob River at its southwestern boundary; the Molopo River at its southern boundary; and the Marico, Limpopo and Shashe Rivers at its eastern boundaries. With the exceptions of the Okavango and Chobe areas in the north, the country has little permanent surface water.
The country is situated in the southern African region and about two-thirds of Botswana lies within the Tropics; it is bisected by the Tropic of Capricorn (the imaginary line of latitude which is 23° 30′ south of Equator) just south of the town of Mahalapye. This is the most southern latitude where the sun is directly overhead at noon. This happens on December 22st, the longest day of the year in this hemisphere.
The distance between the extreme north and the extreme south of Botswana is about 1,110 kilometers. It is 960 kilometers across at its widest. The area of Botswana is approximately 581,730 square kilometers and is about the size of France or Kenya. It is approximately 500 km from the nearest coastline, to the southwest.
The eastern hardveld, where 80% of the country’s population lives and where its three largest urban centers are situated, is a wide strip of land running from the north at Ramokgwebane to the south at Ramatlabama. It has a more varied relief and geology with inselbergs (outcrops of resistant rock) and koppies (rocks that have been weathered into blocks) dotting the landscape. The southeastern hardveld also has a slightly higher and more reliable rainfall than the rest of the country (except Bobirwa, which is about dry as Kgalagadi); indeed the natural fertility and agricultural potential of the soils, while still low, are greater than in the Kalahari sandveld.
The Kalahari Desert stretches west of the eastern hardveld, covering 84% of the country. The Kalahari extends far beyond Botswana’s western borders, covering substantial parts of South Africa, Namibia, and Angola.
‘Desert’, however, is a misnomer: its earliest travelers defined it as a ‘thirstland’. Most of the Kalahari (or Kgalagadi, which is its Setswana name) is covered with vegetation including stunted thorn and scrub brush, trees and grasslands. The largely unchanging flat terrain is occasionally interrupted by gently descending valleys, sand dunes, large numbers of pans and, in the extreme northwest, isolated hills, such as Aha, Tsodilo, Koanaka, and Gcwihaba. Many of the pans have dune systems on the southwest side, which vary in size and complexity. The pans fill with water during the rainy season and their hard surface layer ensures that the water remains in the pans and is not immediately absorbed. These pans are of great importance to wildlife, which obtains valuable nutrients from the salts and the grasses of the pans.
In the north-west, the Okavango River flows in from the highlands of Angola and soaks into the sands, forming the 15,000 sq. km network of water channels, lagoons, swamps, and islands. The Okavango is the largest inland delta system in the world, a bit smaller than Isreal or half of Switzerland. The northeastern region of the Kalahari Basin contains the Makgadikgadi Pans – an extensive network of salt pans and ephemeral lakes.
Although Botswana has no mountain ranges to speak of, the almost uniformly flat landscape is punctuated occasionally by low hills, especially along the southeastern boundary and in the far northwest. Botswana’s highest point is 1,491m Otse Mountain near Lobatse, but the three major peaks of the Tsodilo Hills, in the country’s northwestern corner, are more dramatic.
English is an official language in Botswana. It is taught in schools and is widely spoken in all urban centers. Even in rural areas, many local villagers (especially younger ones who have received schooling) will be able to converse in English. All guides and general staff in the camps, lodges, and hotels have got a good command of English.
Botswana’s climate is semi-arid. Though it is hot and dry for much of the year, there is a rainy season, which runs through the summer months. Rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly regional. Often a heavy downpour may occur in one area while 10 or 15 kilometers away there is no rain at all. Showers are often followed by strong sunshine so that a good deal of the rainfall does not penetrate the ground but is lost to evaporation and transpiration.
‘Pula’, one of the most frequently heard words in Botswana, is not only the name of Botswana’s currency but also the Setswana word for rain. So much of what takes place in Botswana relies on this essential, frequently scarce commodity.
Seasons in Botswana
The summer season begins in November and ends in March. It usually brings very high temperatures. However, summer is also the rainy season, and cloud coverage and rain can cool things down considerably, although only usually for a short period of time.
The winter season begins in May and ends in August. This is also the dry season when virtually no rainfall occurs. Winter days are invariably sunny and cool to warm; however, evening and night temperatures can drop below freezing point in some areas, especially in the southwest.
The in-between periods – April/early May and September/October – still tend to be dry, but the days are cooler than in summer and the nights are warmer than in winter.
The rainy season is in the summer, with October and April being transitional months. January and February are generally regarded as the peak months. The mean annual rainfall varies from a maximum of over 650mm in the extreme northeast area of the Chobe District to a minimum of less than 250mm in the extreme southwest part of Kgalagadi District. Almost all rainfall occurs during the summer months while the winter period accounts for less than 10 percent of the annual rainfall. Generally, rainfall decreases in amount and increases in variability the further west and south you go.
Summer days are hot, especially in the weeks that precede the coming of the cooling rains, and shade temperatures rise to the 38°C mark and higher, reaching a blistering 44°C on rare occasions. Winters are clear-skied and bone-dry, the air seductively warm during the daylight hours but, because there is no cloud cover, cold at night and in the early mornings. Sometimes bitterly so – frost is common and small quantities of water can freeze.
In summer during the morning period humidity ranges from 60 to 80% and drops to between 30 and 40% in the afternoon. In winter humidity is considerably less and can vary between 40 and 70% during the morning and fall to between 20 and 30% in the afternoon.
For tourists, the best visiting months are from April through to October – in terms of both weather and game viewing. It is during this period that the wildlife of the great spaces gather around what water there is – the natural waterholes and the borehole-fed dams – and are at their most visible.
Botswana People / Tribes & Their Culture
The history of Botswana is characterized by migrations of peoples into the country from the north and west and particularly from the east and south, as well as internal movements of groups of people. The group which eventually emerged as most numerous, and dominant, were the Batswana. Their pattern of dividing and migrating saw the formation of numerous Tswana tribes, and their eventual occupation of all areas of the country.
The term “Batswana” refers to the ethnic group of people who speak the Setswana language and share the Sotho-Tswana culture, while in its common contemporary usage, it refers to all citizens of the Republic of Botswana, regardless of their ethnic background. The singular is “Motswana”: a citizen of the country. “Tswana” is used as an adjective – for example, “Tswana state” or “Tswana culture”.
The earliest modern inhabitants of southern Africa were the Bushman (San) and the Hottentot (Khoe) peoples. They have lived an almost unchanged lifestyle in the country since the Middle Stone Age.
The physical characteristics of the Khoe and the San are similar. Both tend to have light, almost coppery skin color, slanted, almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones, thin lips and tufted, tightly curled hair. Both speak click languages, though there are major differences between them. Both hunted and collected wild foods and neither grew crops.
Approximately 60,000 years ago, the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa were of one tribe, probably of Khoe/San type. It is believed that the Bantu-speaking people were an offshoot of the Khoe/San tribe. This occurred in the tropical rainforests of equatorial Africa about 10,000 years ago. The Bantu-speaking people gradually developed darker skin pigmentation and different physical attributes because of the different environments they eventually occupied.
The origins of the Tswana tribes
In Botswana, about 1,000 years ago, large chiefdoms began to emerge in the area between Sowa Pan and the Tswapong Hills. Large settlements developed on hilltops. These people are known as the “Toutswe”, after the first of their capitals, which was excavated on Toutswemogala Hill. Soon these communities were eclipsed by the Great Zimbabwe Empire, which spread its domain over much of eastern Botswana.
Around 1300 AD, peoples in present-day Transvaal began to coalesce into the linguistic and political groups they form today. This resulted in the emergence of three main groups: the Bakgalagadi, the Batswana and the Basotho, each of which had smaller divisions. Each group lived in small, loosely knit communities, spread widely over large areas of land. They spoke dialects of the same language and shared many cultural affinities.
Two central features of the history of the Batswana are fission and fusion. Groups of people broke off from their parent tribe and moved to new land, creating a new tribe and absorbing or subjugating the people they found there. This is how a single group of Batswana living in the Magaliesberg Mountains in northern Transvaal evolved into the numerous Tswana tribes, which exist today.
In the 18th century, further movements and split-ups of the Batswana resulted in the Tswana tribes which exist today: Bakhurutshe, Bangwato, Bakwena, Bangwaketse, Bakgatla, Batlhokwa, Barolong, Batlhaping and, much later, the Batawana.
The earlier farming inhabitants of Botswana – the Bakgalagadi – also split into several groups, namely the Bakgwateng, Babolaongwe, Bangologa, Baphaleng, Bashaga and many smaller groups. This then was how the Tswana tribes came to be living in Botswana as they were until about 200 years ago.
The Difaqane wars
The Difaqane wars were a devastating wave of tribal wars that swept across Botswana and much of southern Africa in the early 1800s.
By the early 19th century, populations in southern Africa had expanded to such a point that most fertile lands was occupied. During the 1700s, the slave and ivory trades increased rapidly in southeastern Africa – minor kings were attacking their neighbors and selling their captives to slave traders. Along the Orange River, white bandits began to terrorize people living in the east.
Nguni peoples (Bantu-speaking peoples including the Zulus and Xhosas) began to form themselves into stronger units to resist these pressures. In 1816 King Shaka seized control of the Zulu chiefdom, and, by forcefully incorporating other smaller tribes, rapidly formed a powerful, war-like nation. Conquered peoples, began to move northwestwards in vast numbers (80,000 – 100,000) destroying everything in their path.
Towards the end of the Difaqane wars, tribes slowly began to re-establish themselves. The chiefs, in their efforts to reconstruct, began to exchange ivory and skins for guns with European, Griqua and Rolong traders, who began to infiltrate the African interior at that time.
Missionaries and traders
In the 19th century, numerous missionary societies were formed in Europe and America to send out proselytizers around the world. The London Missionary Society was one of the first to preach amongst the Batswana. It set up a mission station at Kuruman (near present-day Vryburg in South Africa) in 1816. The untiring Robert Moffat headed the station for 50 years.
The famous Dr. David Livingstone arrived in 1841, worked out of Kuruman for about two years, and then married Moffat’s daughter, Mary. Though much more interested in exploration than missionary work, and later much more involved in the abolition of the slave trade, Livingstone set up a mission station at Kolobeng amongst the Bakwena.
From Kuruman, Christianity very gradually spread to the interior. Missionaries settled amongst the people, often at the invitation of the chiefs who wanted guns and knew that the presence of missionaries encouraged the traders. By 1880 every major village of every tribe in Botswana had a resident missionary and their influence had become a permanent feature of life.
The missionaries worked through the chief, recognizing that the chief’s conversion was the key to the rest of the tribe. Chiefs’ responses varied – from Khama’s (of the Bangwato) wholehearted embrace of the faith to Sekgoma Letsholathebe’s (of the Batawana) outright rejection, which he claimed was in defense of his culture.
Growing dissatisfaction with British protection and an increasing nationalism among Batswana found expression though tribal leaders, who exercised considerable power at a local level. From the 1930s, demands for self-determination were increasingly vocalized through the African Advisory Council, which often found itself in conflict with the colonial administration.
After 80 years as a British protectorate, Bechuanaland attained self-government in 1965, becoming the independent Republic of Botswana on September 6, 1966, and maintaining a position of stability and harmony ever since. Sir Seretse Khama was elected the first president and served until his death in 1980.
One of the world’s most impoverished nations at the time of independence, the discovery of commercially exploitable diamonds in 1967 paved the way for economic prosperity, with Botswana becoming a shining example of an African success story.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has been in power since the first democratic elections in 1966 and continues to draw support from a wide range of Botswana’s population. Mr. Ketumile Masire served as Botswana’s second president, taking over from the late Sir Seretse Khama in July 1980 and continuing a tradition of good governance. This eloquent former journalist ruled Botswana for 18 years, during which time it became one of the richest countries in Africa.
Sir Ketumile Masire voluntarily retired from office in 1998 at the age of 72 and was succeeded by his vice president and former finance minister, Mr. Festus Mogae. Headed by President Mogae and Vice-President Ian Khama, son of the country’s founder president, the ruling BDP swept to victory in the democratic election held during October 1999, securing 33 of 40 seats in the nation’s Parliament.
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