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Botswana

Introduction - Holidays in Botswana:

Botswana is dominated by the dry Kalahari Desert thirst land. The landscape ranges from wide, open savannah scrubland and vast salt-pans to the unique inland waterways of the Okavango Delta.

More Info:

General Information

Geography - Environment

History, Culture and Politics

Useful Information

Country Hotspots

General Information

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Much of Botswana is remote and remains accessible to only a small number of visitors, thus making the country an ideal Botswana wilderness safari experience. Travel on safari here is very safe and relatively uncomplicated; the infrastructure is excellent with well-maintained main roads, frequently situated fuel stations and a wide variety of shops.

Botswana is bordered by Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and at the extreme North Eastern tip by Zambia. The country sits on the Great African Plateau and the landscape is mostly flat or gently undulating at an average altitude of 900m. Botswana's underlying rock formations are some of the oldest in the world with the granite gneisses in the east being formed around 3500 million years ago. Deposits of copper and nickel are present as well as small amounts of gold, manganese, iron ore and coal. Also present are the extensive diamond reserves on which the countries' wealth is founded. Most travel to Botswana as it is the ideal destination to experience a remote wildlife safari.

The climate in Botswana is continental tropical with rainfall across the country averaging out at 475mm per annum. Approximately 90% of the country is classed as savannah and the dominant soil type is Kalahari sand.

The Kalahari Desert itself dominates the south and west, although with an average of 250mm rain per annum it is less a true desert and more a savannah grassland. Botswana safaris through the Kalahari can yield extraordinary wildlife sightings and stunning sunsets. The little rain that falls in Botswana arrives in the summer months of October to April, usually as tropical thunderstorms, the cloud generally building in the early afternoon and the rain falling as a steady curtain a few hours later. The importance of water to Botswana and the Okavango Delta is obvious - the local Tswana name of the currency - "Pula" - means rain!

The vegetation across the country varies considerably from acacia dominant savannah in the south and central regions to Mopane, silver leaf and Zimbabwean teak in the north and marula and baobab on the salt pans. The Okavango Delta offers a stark contrast to the Kalahari Desert with lush green swathes of papyrus and towering palm trees, the perfect place for a safari. There are around 200 desert species in Botswana which have been classified as edible and these include plants such as the Tsamma melon and the wild cucumber which store significant amounts of water within their tissues.

These plants sustain a wide variety of animals in the Kalahari Desert area including springbok, hartebeest, gemsbok, eland and many smaller species. The plants are also sought by the San Bushmen who still live in small numbers in the Kalahari Desert area. Safaris in Botswana can be organised to areas where the San still live a relatively traditional lifestyle and visitors can learn a little of this ancient way of life.

Geography - Environment

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Botswana is a land-locked country of 581 730 sq km bordered by Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa and at the extreme North Eastern tip by Zambia. The country sits on the Great African Plateau and the landscape is mostly flat or gently undulating at an average altitude of 900m. Botswana's underlying rock formations are some of the oldest in the world with the granite gneisses in the east being formed around 3500 million years ago. Deposits of copper and nickel are present as well as small amounts of gold, manganese, iron ore and coal. Also present are the extensive diamond reserves on which the countries' wealth is founded.

The climate in Botswana is continental tropical with rainfall across the country averaging out at 475mm per annum. Approximately 90% of the country is classed as savannah and the dominant soil type is Kalahari sand.

The Kalahari Desert itself dominates the south and west, although with an average of 250mm rain per annum it is less a true desert and more a savannah grassland. The little rain that falls in Botswana arrives in the summer months of October to April, usually as tropical thunderstorms, the cloud generally building in the early afternoon and the rain falling as a steady curtain a few hours later. The importance of water to Botswana is obvious - the local Tswana name of the currency - "Pula" - means rain!

The vegetation across the country varies considerably from acacia dominant savannah in the south and central regions to Mopane, silver leaf and Zimbabwean teak in the north and marula and baobab on the salt pans. The Okavango Delta offers a stark contrast to the Kalahari with lush green swathes of papyrus and towering palm trees. There are around 200 desert species in Botswana which have been classified as edible and these include plants such as the Tsamma melon and the wild cucumber which store significant amounts of water within their tissues.

These plants sustain a wide variety of animals in the Kalahari area including springbok, hartebeest, gemsbok, eland and many smaller species. The plants are also sought by the San Bushmen who still live in small numbers in the Kalahari area.

There are two main river systems feeding Botswana, one is the Okavango and the other the Chobe river. The Okavango River starts life as the Kubango where its headwaters are swollen each rainy season in the highlands of Angola. It then flows south eastward through the Caprivi Strip of Namibia and into Botswana where it becomes the Okavango and spreads slowly across the delta area creating a unique wilderness of channels, islands and lagoons in the midst of the dry Kalahari.

The Chobe River also begins life in Angola, as the Kwando River before flowing into the Caprivi Strip and Eastwards across the northern edge of the Chobe National Park to become the Linyanti and then the Chobe before it joins the Zambezi on its way towards Zimbabwe.

History, Culture and Politics

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No accurate records exist of the first ever inhabitants of Botswana, although tool fragments and other evidence of human activity have been uncovered which are thought to be around 27,000 years old. The Basarwa, also known as San Bushmen, were among the first recognised people to inhabit the country although only 40,000 remain today.

The 17th Century brought the Tswana, or Batswana from the South, a Bantu people related to the Sotho of Transvaal and Lesotho. The Tswana now make up over 50% of Botswana's population and the remaining peoples have been heavily absorbed into this culture. This may be one of the main reasons for Botswana's cultural and social stability over the last two centuries.

As well as the San, minority tribes include the 25,000 Mbanderu, cousins of the Namibian Herero tribe who fled Namibia following the German conquest in the 1890's. The striking traditional costume of these people with large flowing skirts and elaborate headdresses is based on that of the 19th century missionary wives.

The largest minority is the Kalanga tribe, related to the Karanga-Rozwi from Zimbabwe, thought to be the constructors of the Great Zimbabwe ruins. Unlike the Tswana who keep many cattle for commercial use, the Kalanga keep them only for social and religious reasons and live in small farming communities.

The Bayei and the Hambukushu were the original inhabitants of the Okavango Delta. Both tribes moved south in the 18th century to escape Lozi tribal oppression in Zambia. The Bayei were the first to migrate. Traditional fishermen, they are responsible for introducing the wooden mokoro, or canoe, which is still seen in some areas of the Delta today. They fished mainly in the shallow water areas and poled their mokoro. They also hunted in large groups for hippo using spears. The Hambukushu moved south a little later and fished mainly in the deeper waters using paddles to manoeuvre their mokoro. They relied more on the soil for sustenance than the Bayei.

Botswana has never been colonised, but it has been heavily influenced by the surrounding countries and by England whose protection was sought in the 1880's. The London Missionary Society (LMS) established a presence in Botswana in the 1820's with Robert Moffat as the main force behind the mission's work. Moffat was the first person to record a written version of the Tswana language, in the Roman alphabet. The LMS maintained a benign and rather paternal role and the Tswana approached the society for advice in the 1870's when the South African Boer population threatened to encroach from the South.

The LMS supported Tswana opposition to the Boers and a delegation of chiefs were granted protection by the British crown in 1883. The protectorate was known as Becuanaland. The initial protectorate was extended northwards in 1885, but in the 1890's Cecil Rhodes began to be interested in gaining control of the area as part of his ambitious British South Africa Society scheme to control the whole of Africa from Cape to Cairo. Chief Khama II led a delegation to London and gained assurance that Becuanaland would receive the continued protection of the British crown. A strip of land to the east of the country, in the Tuli block, was, however, conceded to the BSA Company in order to work on the Cape to Cairo railway.

Complete independence was sought and gained in 1966 and the first president was Sir Seretse Khama who had studied in England and married an English woman named Ruth. He ruled until his death in 1980 when his colleague and co-founder of the Botswana Democratic Party, Dr. Quett Masire took over. Sir Khama's son Ian Khama was elected to the presidency in 2008.

Today, Botswana's population numbers around 2 million with the majority of the population living in the fertile eastern areas near the borders with Zimbabwe and South Africa. Most people live in central villages surrounded by widely spaced cattle posts which the men tend for the majority of their time. Many younger people are drifting towards the two cities and smaller towns in search of employment, unfortunately this is limited and unemployment is a growing concern. Life expectancy is now 58 for men and 57 for women. Setswana is the countries' national language while English is the official language.

The capital city is Gaborone in the South with a population of 165,000. Gaborone has a university, the National Assembly chambers, museum, gallery and international airport. The second city is Francistown near the Zimbabwean border. This is the most industrialised city and was formed around gold prospecting. Industry is now based on textiles, knitwear, plastics and shoes. Maun is the town at the base of the Delta and is the starting point for most of

Botswana safaris. The name means "place of reeds" and the town is rapidly growing from a one street frontier settlement to a bustling centre of tourism. Kasane is the other starting point for delta safaris, and is located in the north, 70km from Victoria Falls. Considerably smaller than Maun it does have a modern and busy airport, and being located on the fertile floodplain of the Chobe River Kasane is the one place in Botswana where limited agriculture occurs.

Useful Information

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  • [?]Health & Malaria

    Botswana is a malaria area and recommended prophylaxis should be taken. Your doctor can advise you on the best type for the area of travel and your personal requirements. However, taking prophylaxis will not guarantee that you will not contract malaria! The best way to avoid malaria is to avoid being bitten by the mosquitoes that carry the parasite. Only the females of one species of mosquito (Anopheles) carry the tiny parasite, and the greatest incidence of malaria is in areas of high population where there are many people for the mosquito to bite and pass the parasite between. As most of Botswana's camps and lodges are in areas with very low populations, there are very few incidences of guests contracting malaria.

    Mosquitoes usually bite between sunset and sunrise, so make sure that you are covered up during this time! Wear loose fitting, long sleeved shirts and trousers, use a good insect repellent and sleep underneath a mosquito net or in a tent/ room sealed with netting. If you do develop flu-like symptoms, or feel at all unwell, during your holiday or after your return home, you must make sure that your doctor knows that you have recently travelled in a malaria area. Malaria is not a serious problem provided people take adequate precautions and seek advice and treatment immediately if they feel unwell.

    Botswana's major private hospitals are of a good standard with clean and safe facilities. However, serious medical cases will be evacuated by air to South Africa where further facilities are available. For this reason you must make sure that comprehensive travel insurance is taken out before you travel, this insurance should cover any medical expenses, air evacuation and repatriation if necessary.

  • [?]Water

    The water is safe to drink all over Botswana. The channels of the Okavango Delta are lined with stands of papyrus which combines with the underlying, sandy soil to act as a perfect natural filter. The water can be drunk straight from the pristine waterways. Plenty of water must be drunk to prevent dehydration. We recommend 2-3 litres minimum, excluding beverages such as tea, coffee, juice and alcohol. Dehydration is responsible for the majority of air evacuations from lodges in the Okavango Delta and can cause very serious problems, it is totally avoidable, so don't let this spoil your holiday!

  • [?]Climate

    Rainy season: Late November to late March. Rainfall does not usually occur every day, and generally takes place in the afternoon with mornings being fairly clear.

    Summer: October to March with a high of 40° C and a low of 18° C.

    Winter: June to September with a high of 20° C and a low of 0° C.

    There is no "best time" to visit Botswana as the different seasons all offer completely different experiences! However, you may like to consider the following when planning your trip:

    Season Summer rainy season (October to March)

    Pros: Quieter tourism period, fantastic migrating birds, lush green landscape, beautiful sunsets and stunning views of electrical storms.

    Cons: Wildlife is more spread out, very warm temperatures, activities may be interrupted by rain.

    Season Winter dry season (June to September)

    Pros: Higher chances of excellent game viewing, cooler, few mosquitoes.

    Cons: Busiest tourism period, cold mornings and evenings, drier environment.

    Our personal preference would be for either March-April or early November as these times are neither too hot nor too cool and the lodges are generally quieter. In March-April the game viewing is usually excellent and in November the migrating bird species are fantastic and the rains have not usually begun.

  • [?]Photography

    Bring plenty of memory cards and a spare camera battery as these items may not be available in some of the more remote areas of Botswana. A good zoom lens (minimum 200 mm) is essential for wildlife photography.

  • [?]Recommended Packing

    Neutral coloured casual clothing (shorts/shirts) for everyday wear, stout shoes (with soles thick enough to protect against thorns and for walking), light waterproof jacket for summer, warm jumper/ fleece for winter, warm long trousers for winter, two sets of good casual clothes for evening dining where appropriate, towel, broad brimmed hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, camera, plenty memory cards & spare battery, binoculars, reliable torch, sleeping bag if camping.

    It is also worth noting that if you are travelling by light aircraft or as part of a guided safari, you should carry no more than 10-15kg of luggage in a soft bag for ease of packing.

  • [?]Currency

    The Botswana currency is one of the most stable in Africa. Each "pula" is divided into 100 units, called thebe. US$ can be easily exchanged throughout the country, as can Euro and pounds sterling. Traveller’s cheques can also be changed in banks and most lodges accept credit cards, mainly Visa or Mastercard, although this should be checked before arrival.

  • [?]Visa Requirements

    Visitors from the European Union and the USA can obtain tourist visas for up to 3 months at the border. Please contact us for details regarding your personal visa requirements.

Country Hotspots

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  • [?]Chobe National Park

    Chobe covers an area of 11,646 km2 and is world renowned for the magnificent array of wildlife contained within its borders. The elephant population alone has been estimated at between 40,000 and 60,000 individuals!

    A wide range of distinctive habitat areas are represented within the National Park providing a fascinating variety of experiences.

    The lush, almost tropical Linyanti swamps are found in the northwest of the Park while the unpredictable, harsh and beautiful Savuti channel and marsh are located in the southwest

    The rich floodplains of the northeast run along the banks of the meandering Chobe River which forms the northern boundary of the Park. The remainder of Chobe is arid and hot, underlain by Kalahari sands.

    The Chobe River originates in the Angolan highlands where it begins life as the Kwando River. Before becoming the Chobe, the water course changes its name twice to the Linyanti and then the Itenge. The vegetation changes dramatically throughout the Park, the compacted clay soils along the river front being dominated by Mopane trees while acacia species appear further inland. The land is much drier and more open than the Okavango area with wide plains and sand ridges.

    The profusion of palatable grass species attracts an impressive variety of herbivores including the ever present elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, massive herds of buffalo, impala, kudu, waterbuck, tsessebe, steenbok and warthog. Chobe is also one of the few places on earth where you will find the rare Puku antelope. Similar in size and colour to the lechwe, they are never far from water and are only found in Chobe and a few areas of Zambia. The Chobe bush-buck is another endemic species.

  • [?]Moremi Game Reserve

    Moremi Game Reserve covers 4,610km2 of the Okavango Delta and was the first wildlife area to be set aside by tribal people rather than colonial powers. Moremi extends east and northwards to join Chobe National Park, ensuring a continuous area of protected land all the way to Kasane.

    Because Moremi reserve and Chobe National park are not fenced, animals are able to follow their own migration routes without interference, and use of the land adjacent to the officially protected areas is also carefully controlled.

  • [?]Tuli Block

    A 350km2 area of land in the south eastern region of Botswana, the Tuli Block was originally ceded to Cecil Rhodes in the 1890's to facilitate the construction of the Cape to Cairo railway. After some time the construction came to a standstill due to the rocky and inhospitable nature of the land, and the railway was built elsewhere.

    Subsequently, the Tuli Block was given to farmers who also discovered that the terrain was unsuitable for cattle or agriculture. In the end the area was dedicated to game conservation and today many visitors enjoy the private game reserves here which offer beautiful scenery of lush woodlands, rocky sandstone outcrops, rivers and gorges.

    The larger reserves include Mashatu (the largest private reserve in Southern Africa) and Tuli Nature Reserve.
  • [?]Kalahari Desert

    The Kalahari Desert covers the entire western and central regions of Botswana and stretches into Namibia and South Africa. With an average annual rainfall of 250mm, it is not a true desert but rather a "thirst-land" with grasses and scrub vegetation prevailing. Despite the lack of surface water, the area supports a great variety of plants, animals and birds and many of these species have developed fascinating adaptations to their harsh environment. Because of its remote and arid nature, the Kalahari is difficult to access and human interference continues to be minimal, the area is therefore extremely important for conservation.

    The best time to visit the Kalahari is between December and April when the rains bring the area to life and the harsh plains are transformed into swathes of lush grassland

    Two distinct conservation areas exist within the Kalahari; the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in central Botswana and the Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park in the south west of the country.

    The Central Kalahari Game Reserve covers a vast area of 52,800km2 (the approximate size of Holland and Belgium combined) and was originally established in order to provide protection for the San bushmen who still live in increasingly small and remote communities within the reserve. The landscape is predominantly sand with dry fossil valleys, dune fields and grassy plains. The Reserve itself is one of the largest in Africa, and the second largest protected area in the world.

    Pans such as Deception Dry Valley, Piper Pans and Sunday Pans fill with water during the rainy season and attract great numbers of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, springbok, eland, cheetah, lion, leopard and wild dog. In addition to these larger species, the area is home to many smaller animals such as spring hare, suricate (meerkat) and bat eared fox.

    The Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park was established in 1999 and incorporates the previous Gemsbok National Park of Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park of South Africa. The Park now covers an area of just under 38,000km2 and is managed as a single ecological unit with the co-operation of both Botswana and South Africa. Rolling grasslands and pastel coloured sand dunes provide the backdrop for a range of species including hartebeest, eland, springbok, gemsbok, leopard, lion, cheetah and the rare brown hyena. The Park is also a haven for thousands of birds, more than fifty raptor species occur here. Infrastructure is extremely basic at present with camping sites being the only form of accommodation.

  • [?]Okavango Delta

    Probably the best known area of Botswana is the Okavango Delta. This area is one of the world's largest inland water systems, a unique oasis of life in the centre of the Kalahari Desert. It stretches over 15,000km2 and supports a staggering variety of animal, plant and bird life. The water is once thought to have reached the sea, but this is no longer the case. After a series of tectonic uplifts and earthquakes running along geological fault lines, the land at the edge of the Delta now lies lower than that of the surrounding area.

    There are two fairly distinct areas of the Delta - the permanent swamp which is inundated with water all year round, and the seasonal swamp which is flooded annually and dries gradually with the onset of summer in October.

    The wildlife in the Delta is rich and varied. Many of the larger herbivores are present and include elephant, buffalo, giraffe, hippo and antelope species as well as numerous smaller animals. The carnivore populations are healthy and widespread including lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, spotted hyena, crocodile and jackal. In addition to the animal populations, the Delta is home to a staggering variety of birds; some 450 species exist within Northern Botswana. The most exciting aspect of encountering this wildlife is that the populations have never been imported or controlled in any way, and the large, protected areas are not fenced. Therefore Botswana is one of the last remaining areas where you are able to witness the complex interactions of a truly natural environment.

    Of the many lodges within the Delta, most are small and intimate. Access to the Delta is generally by light aircraft into one of the many airstrips attached to private safari lodges. Mobile safaris operate out of Maun and Kasane and combine game viewing with nights spent in luxury lodges or private campsites. It is also possible to hire a 4x4 vehicle and drive through Moremi and Chobe stopping at the four municipal campsites, although organised safaris are by far the easiest way to view the area. On many of the private concession areas located in the heart of the Delta, outside the Game Reserve, it is possible to take part in organized walking activities from a lodge base. These are by no means strenuous but usually take around 3-4 hours and are included as part of the activity packages of many lodges. The opportunity to see wildlife at relatively close quarters on foot is one of the most exhilarating parts of any African holiday, and the knowledgeable and experienced guides ensure a thoroughly safe experience!

  • [?]Magadikgadi Pans

    These magnificent, vast salt pans are located in northern central Botswana and cover a total area of over 12,000km2. They are ancient remnants of a vast super lake which used to cover over 60,000km2 and was up to 50m deep in some places. This lake once stretched from the Makgadikgadi system north-westwards and incorporated the Delta as well as the Savuti region of Chobe. Tectonic shifts eventually reduced the flow of water into the area from the northern rivers and caused the lake to dry up. Today evidence of the lake can be seen in the form of smooth, wave shaped boulders and fossil beaches.

    The pan system is made up of several separate pans, the major ones being Ntwetwe, Nxai and Sowa Pans. The Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Park was formed in 1993 by combining the Nxai National Park and the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve

    It now covers an area of 7,500km2 within this system. The Park is unfenced, therefore allowing unhindered migration routes for the many species which are found here.

    Makgadikgadi literally means "vast, open, lifeless land" and although it is far from lifeless, the area is certainly vast and open and is believed to be the largest salt pan of its kind in the world. The landscape is characterised by an endless horizon of flat, salt pan stretching into the distance, surrounded on the extreme fringes by low scrub. When the rains arrive in November or December, the pans are transformed by a vast, shallow layer of water which attracts thousands of water birds, herds of grazing herbivores and many carnivores.

    Undoubtedly the most spectacular of the bird species are the greater and lesser flamingos which congregate on the pans to breed each rainy season. The pans are the second largest breeding site in Africa, and most of the birds migrate from Etosha National Park in Namibia or even from as far as East Africa.

    Nxai Pan differs from Makgadikgadi in that the wide, open plains are covered in lush, sweet grassland interspersed with "islands" of trees. The grasses provide sustenance for a wide range of herbivores including huge herds of zebra as well as wildebeest, red hartebeest, impala, springbok, eland and giraffe. Associated predators such as lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah follow the migration and add their presence to a spectacular wildlife experience. The bird life in this area is equally breath-taking with around 250 species present. Among these species is the 30kg Kori Bustard, the worlds' heaviest flying bird.

    Sowa Pan is located to the east of Makgadikgadi, Sowa being the bushman word for salt. This Pan is also an important site for breeding flamingos, as well as attracting many other species during the winter months such as bee-eaters, kites and eagles. The Nata Sanctuary is a private reserve that was established to protect the bird life of this area and covers 230km2. Kubu (hippo in the Setswana language) Island is located on the western side of Sowa Pan and is a granite outcrop rising 20m above the clay and sand surface. Evidence of wave action from the bygone era of the super lake can be seen on the north-eastern side, and the fossil beaches, stunted baobab trees and mysterious stone walls combine to create an enigmatic atmosphere.

    Another famous landmark in the Makgadikgadi area are the seven "Baines baobabs", named after Thomas Baines who first immortalised them in his painting of 1862. They are positioned on a small rise and create a fascinating interruption to the endless horizon. They have changed very little since Baines' painting and appear strangely timeless. Many of the majestic Baobab trees in the area have the signatures of explorers from past ages carved into their trunks, and act as unwitting archives of Botswana's pioneer history.

  • [?]Tsodilo Hills

    Tsodilo boasts the greatest concentration of San rock paintings in the world. Located in the extreme northwest of Botswana, the site consists of four quartzite hills rising 400m out of the surrounding landscape. Revered by the San people as the resting place of their spirits, there are more than 3,500 paintings covering the rock faces of the hills which are known as "male, female, child and unborn" by the San. Archaeological discoveries from the area have provided evidence of continuous human occupation for the last 80-100,000 years. Most of the paintings depict animals in symbolic hunting designs.

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