Botswana Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Botswana, a landlocked country in southern Africa, is a safari enthusiast’s dream. Known for its pristine wilderness, diverse wildlife, and commitment to conservation, Botswana offers a unique and immersive travel experience. From the teeming wildlife of the Okavango Delta to the vast landscapes of the Kalahari Desert, visitors can witness the untamed beauty of Africa while enjoying a range of activities such as game drives, mokoro (dugout canoe) safaris, and cultural encounters with local communities. Botswana’s commitment to eco-tourism and its emphasis on preserving its natural heritage make it a top destination for those seeking an authentic and sustainable African adventure.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Botswana as a tourist depends on your interests and what you want to experience during your trip, as the country experiences distinct seasons. Here are the two primary travel seasons in Botswana:

  1. Dry Season (May to October): This is the peak tourist season and is considered the best time to visit Botswana. During these months, the weather is dry and pleasant, and wildlife congregates around water sources, making it an excellent time for game viewing. The famous Okavango Delta is at its peak water levels, and animal sightings are abundant. It’s also the best time for birdwatching.
    • May to August: These months are the cooler, drier winter season in Botswana. The days are warm and sunny, but nights and early mornings can be quite chilly, especially in the desert areas.
    • September and October: Late winter and early spring are still excellent for wildlife viewing. Temperatures start to rise, and the landscape begins to dry out, making it easier to spot animals. This period is ideal for travelers who prefer warmer weather.
  2. Green Season (November to April): The green season is the wetter time of the year in Botswana, with occasional heavy rainfall. While this season is less popular with tourists, it has its own unique attractions:
    • November and December: The first rains bring lush green landscapes, newborn wildlife, and migratory birds. It’s a less crowded and more affordable time to visit.
    • January to March: This is the peak of the rainy season, and many parts of Botswana can become impassable due to flooded roads and muddy tracks. However, the Kalahari and parts of the Okavango Delta are still accessible, and you can enjoy reduced prices and fewer tourists.
    • April: The rains start to subside, and the landscape becomes greener. April is a transitional month as the country moves from the green season to the dry season. It’s a good time for birdwatching and lower prices.

Your choice of the best time to visit Botswana largely depends on your preferences. If you’re a wildlife enthusiast and want to witness abundant wildlife, consider the dry season. For a more budget-friendly experience and to enjoy the lush landscapes of the green season, the wetter months may be more appealing. Keep in mind that popular destinations and accommodations can get booked up well in advance during the dry season, so plan accordingly.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Botswana as a tourist can be an adventure in itself, given the country’s diverse landscapes and wildlife. Here are the best ways to get around Botswana:

  1. Scheduled Flights:
    • Botswana has a well-developed network of scheduled flights that connect major cities and safari destinations. Several charter and regional airlines operate these routes.
    • Scheduled flights are the fastest and most convenient way to reach remote safari lodges and camps, particularly in the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari Desert.
  2. Road Travel:
    • Self-driving or guided road trips are popular in Botswana. The road network is relatively good, with well-maintained highways and gravel roads, making it accessible by car.
    • For self-driving, renting a 4×4 vehicle is recommended, especially if you plan to explore the more remote areas.
    • Guided tours with experienced drivers/guides are an excellent way to explore the country’s wildlife and landscapes while having local knowledge and support.
  3. Boat and Canoe Safaris:
    • The Okavango Delta is renowned for its mokoro (dugout canoe) safaris. These provide a unique opportunity to explore the waterways and wilderness while spotting wildlife from a different perspective.
  4. Walking Safaris:
    • Walking safaris are a fantastic way to experience Botswana’s pristine wilderness up close. Professional guides lead these safaris, providing insights into the flora, fauna, and local culture.
  5. Bush Flights and Helicopter Tours:
    • Some operators offer bush flights and helicopter tours, which allow you to enjoy aerial views of Botswana’s stunning landscapes and wildlife.
  6. Public Transportation:
    • While not the most popular option for tourists, you can use public transportation like buses and shared minivans to get between major towns and cities.
    • Keep in mind that these options may not be as comfortable or convenient as other forms of transportation.
  7. River Cruises:
    • If you’re interested in exploring the Chobe River, consider taking a river cruise. This is an ideal way to see a wide variety of wildlife along the riverbanks.
  8. Guided Safari Tours:
    • Many tourists opt for guided safari tours organized by reputable tour operators. These tours often include transportation, lodging, meals, and guided game drives, making the experience hassle-free.

Remember that Botswana’s national parks and game reserves are often quite remote. It’s essential to plan your transportation carefully, book accommodations in advance (especially during peak tourist seasons), and ensure you have a well-thought-out itinerary to make the most of your trip while prioritizing safety and conservation efforts.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of Botswana is English. English is widely spoken and understood throughout the country, making it relatively easy for tourists to communicate. However, Botswana also has several indigenous languages, with Setswana (Tswana) being the national language and one of the most widely spoken.

Here are a few Setswana phrases that can be helpful for tourists:

  1. Hello – Dumela (singular) / Dumelang (plural)
  2. Good morning – Dumela metsotso (morning greeting)
  3. Good afternoon – Dumela rra/ntate (male) / Mma/nkgono (female) (afternoon greeting)
  4. Good evening – Dumela mang (evening greeting)
  5. Thank you – Kea leboga
  6. Yes – Ee
  7. No – Nnyaa
  8. Please – Tshepo
  9. Excuse me – Ke kopa thuso
  10. How much is this? – Ke eng go tsamaiso?
  11. Where is…? – Kae…?
  12. I don’t understand – Ga ke itse

Learning a few basic phrases in Setswana can go a long way in showing respect for the local culture and can enhance your travel experience in Botswana. The people of Botswana are generally friendly and appreciative of tourists who make an effort to communicate in the local language.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Botswana offers a range of accommodation options to suit different preferences and budgets. The type of lodging you choose will depend on your travel style, the regions you plan to visit, and the kind of experience you want to have. Here are some popular choices for where to stay in Botswana as a tourist:

  1. Luxury Safari Lodges and Camps: Botswana is renowned for its high-end safari lodges and camps that offer an all-inclusive and luxurious experience. These accommodations often provide exquisite game drives, guided safaris, fine dining, and comfortable, well-appointed rooms. Examples include Mombo Camp in Moremi Game Reserve and Chief’s Camp in the Okavango Delta.
  2. Mid-Range Lodges and Tented Camps: There are many mid-range lodges and tented camps that provide quality accommodations, guided activities, and delicious meals at a more affordable price point. These are scattered throughout the national parks and reserves.
  3. Guesthouses and Small Inns: In towns and cities like Maun, Kasane, and Gaborone, you can find guesthouses and small inns that offer comfortable, affordable stays with a more local and personal touch.
  4. Self-Catering Lodges and Cottages: Some accommodations offer self-catering options, allowing you to prepare your meals. These can be a budget-friendly choice, and you’ll often find them in areas like Kasane and Gaborone.
  5. Campsites and Mobile Camping Safaris: Botswana’s national parks and reserves have campsites where you can set up your own tents. Additionally, mobile camping safaris provide a rustic, immersive experience in the heart of the wilderness.
  6. Lodge-Hopping Safaris: Some tour operators offer “lodge-hopping” safaris, where you can stay at a variety of lodges and camps during your trip to experience different ecosystems and wildlife.
  7. Hotels in Major Cities: In larger cities like Gaborone, Maun, and Francistown, you’ll find a selection of hotels, ranging from budget to upscale, catering to business and leisure travelers.
  8. Houseboats: When visiting the Chobe River or Okavango Delta, you can opt for houseboat accommodations. These allow you to explore the waterways and wildlife at a leisurely pace.
  9. Eco-Lodges and Community-Based Tourism: Some eco-lodges and community-based tourism initiatives offer unique and sustainable experiences. These accommodations often focus on conservation and cultural interaction.
  10. Mobile Tented Safaris: These mobile camps travel to different locations, providing a flexible and authentic safari experience.

It’s essential to book accommodations in advance, especially during the peak tourist season (dry season). In remote areas, such as the Okavango Delta and Kalahari Desert, many accommodations are accessible only by charter flights. Whether you choose a luxury lodge, a budget-friendly guesthouse, or a wilderness campsite, you’ll find that Botswana offers a wide range of options to suit your travel preferences and budget.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Botswana’s cuisine is simple yet flavorful, with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. As a tourist, here are some must-try foods in Botswana:

  1. Seswaa: One of Botswana’s most famous dishes, Seswaa is a traditional meat stew made from beef or goat. The meat is slow-cooked, shredded, and then served with a thick maize porridge called “sadza” or “pap.”
  2. Morogo: Morogo refers to various leafy green vegetables, often including spinach, pumpkin leaves, or cowpeas. They are cooked with onions and tomatoes and make a tasty side dish.
  3. Mopane Worms: While it may be a bit of an acquired taste, these large edible caterpillars are a local delicacy. They are usually dried, fried, or stewed and can be found in local markets.
  4. Pap (or Sadza): This is a staple food in Botswana. Pap is a porridge made from maize meal and served as an accompaniment to meat or vegetables. It’s often similar to South African “pap.”
  5. Bogobe: A fermented porridge made from sorghum, millet, or maize. It’s a traditional breakfast dish served with milk or meat.
  6. Dikgobe: A dish of beans and samp (dried corn kernels), often flavored with spices and tomatoes. It’s a hearty, filling meal.
  7. Chotlho: A traditional beef stew that’s slow-cooked and seasoned with spices. It’s often enjoyed with pap.
  8. Phane: This is a unique dish made from the wings of the flying ant. The ants are cooked, dried, and then rehydrated before being cooked into a stew.
  9. Potjiekos: While this dish has its origins in South Africa, it’s popular in Botswana as well. Potjiekos is a slow-cooked stew made with various ingredients, such as meat, vegetables, and spices.
  10. Magwinya: These are deep-fried dough balls, similar to South African “vetkoek.” They are a popular street food and often served with various fillings like mince, jam, or cheese.
  11. Seswaa Meat Pie: A fusion of traditional Seswaa with a pastry crust, these savory pies offer a modern twist on a classic dish.
  12. Boerewors: This South African-style sausage is popular in Botswana. It’s made from a mixture of meats, such as beef and pork, and is often seasoned with spices.
  13. Pumpkin Pap: A variation of traditional pap, pumpkin pap includes mashed pumpkin for added flavor and nutrition.
  14. Mabele: This is a traditional porridge made from sorghum. It’s a nutritious and filling dish, often served with milk.
  15. Botswana Beef: Botswana is known for its high-quality beef, and you’ll find various beef dishes throughout the country. Try a beef steak or skewers for a taste of the local meat.

When dining in Botswana, be sure to explore the local markets and street food stalls to savor the authentic flavors of the country. Botswana’s cuisine offers a glimpse into the traditional and cultural aspects of the nation’s culinary heritage.

What to See? 🔍

Botswana is known for its breathtaking natural beauty and diverse wildlife, making it a top destination for safari and outdoor enthusiasts. Here are some must-see places in Botswana that every tourist should consider:

  1. Okavango Delta: This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the world’s largest inland deltas. It’s a paradise for wildlife and birdwatching, and offers opportunities for mokoro (dugout canoe) safaris and game drives.
  2. Chobe National Park: Renowned for its massive elephant herds, Chobe National Park is one of Africa’s premier wildlife destinations. Take a boat safari along the Chobe River for up-close encounters with diverse wildlife.
  3. Moremi Game Reserve: Located within the Okavango Delta, Moremi offers exceptional game viewing, including the Big Five. It’s a pristine wilderness area with diverse ecosystems.
  4. Central Kalahari Game Reserve: The largest game reserve in Botswana, this remote park is known for its unique desert landscapes, including vast salt pans and rolling sand dunes.
  5. Makgadikgadi Pans: Explore the vast salt pans, including the Sowa Pan and Nwetwe Pan, which host a range of wildlife and provide stunning landscapes.
  6. Tsodilo Hills: Known as the “Mountains of the Gods,” these hills have thousands of rock paintings that are over 100,000 years old. They are of great cultural and archaeological significance.
  7. Nxai Pan National Park: This park features salt pans, grasslands, and baobab trees and is known for its impressive wildlife migration during the rainy season.
  8. Tuli Block: This region is home to diverse wildlife, including lions, leopards, and cheetahs. The landscape includes unique sandstone formations and the Limpopo River.
  9. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: This transboundary park spans Botswana and South Africa, offering outstanding desert landscapes and exceptional wildlife viewing, including predators and ungulates.
  10. Linyanti Wildlife Reserve: Known for its large elephant population and predator sightings, this private reserve offers exclusive safari experiences.
  11. Gaborone: The capital city provides a glimpse into urban life in Botswana, with modern amenities, museums, and cultural attractions like the Three Chiefs Monument.
  12. Kasane: A gateway to Chobe National Park, Kasane is located near the confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi rivers. It’s a prime spot for river safaris and exploring the Chobe region.
  13. Savuti Marsh: Part of Chobe National Park, Savuti is a unique area with its own ecological dynamics and renowned for its predator activity.
  14. Okavango Panhandle: The northern part of the Okavango Delta offers opportunities for fishing, boating, and birdwatching.
  15. Nata Bird Sanctuary: This sanctuary is a haven for bird enthusiasts, hosting a variety of migratory birds and waterfowl.
  16. Makgadikgadi National Park: Home to the incredible Ntwetwe Pan, where you can experience the vastness and beauty of the salt pans.
  17. Khwai Community Area: A community-run concession bordering Moremi Game Reserve, it’s known for its wildlife-rich environment and a great place for game drives.
  18. Mokolodi Nature Reserve: Located near Gaborone, this reserve offers opportunities to see wildlife, including white rhinos and giraffes, in a smaller, easily accessible setting.

Botswana’s natural wonders and wildlife are among the best in Africa, providing an incredible travel experience for nature lovers and safari enthusiasts. Whether you’re exploring the lush waterways of the Okavango Delta or the arid landscapes of the Kalahari Desert, you’ll find captivating beauty and extraordinary wildlife throughout the country.

What to Do? 📸

Botswana offers a wide range of activities and experiences for tourists who want to make the most of their visit. Here are some must-do things in Botswana:

  1. Safari Adventures: Embark on game drives and safaris to witness Botswana’s incredible wildlife, including elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, and a variety of antelope species. Popular safari destinations include Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve, and the Okavango Delta.
  2. Mokoro Safari: Experience a traditional dugout canoe safari in the Okavango Delta. Glide silently through the waterways, allowing for up-close wildlife encounters and a unique perspective of the landscape.
  3. Birdwatching: Botswana is a birdwatcher’s paradise with over 590 bird species. Visit the Chobe River, Moremi Game Reserve, and the Okavango Delta for exceptional birding opportunities.
  4. Bush Walks: Join guided walking safaris to explore the wilderness on foot, gaining a deeper understanding of the ecosystem and tracking wildlife.
  5. Hot Air Balloon Safaris: Soar above the Okavango Delta in a hot air balloon to witness the stunning landscapes and wildlife from a different perspective.
  6. Stargazing: Botswana’s vast and unspoiled landscapes make it an ideal destination for stargazing. Many lodges offer astronomy experiences, particularly in the Kalahari Desert.
  7. Visit Local Communities: Engage with local communities and learn about their cultures and traditions. You can participate in village tours, meet tribal leaders, and support community-based tourism initiatives.
  8. Explore Unique Landscapes: Discover the stark beauty of the Makgadikgadi Pans, the desert terrain of the Central Kalahari, and the red dunes of the Kalahari Desert.
  9. River Cruises: Enjoy a boat cruise along the Chobe River, where you can observe elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and numerous bird species.
  10. Horseback Safaris: Experience a safari on horseback, allowing for a quieter and more intimate connection with the environment.
  11. Cultural Encounters: Attend traditional dance performances and interact with local communities to gain insights into the rich cultural heritage of Botswana.
  12. Rhino Tracking: Some areas in Botswana, like the Moremi Game Reserve, offer the opportunity to track endangered black and white rhinos with experienced guides.
  13. Adventure Activities: For thrill-seekers, Botswana offers activities like quad biking, sandboarding in the Kalahari Desert, and zip-lining in Maun.
  14. Visit Kasane: This gateway to Chobe National Park offers a vibrant atmosphere with local markets, shops, and restaurants.
  15. Conservation Tours: Explore the conservation efforts in Botswana, including visits to wildlife orphanages and research centers.
  16. Kubu Island: Discover the surreal landscapes of Kubu Island, known for its giant baobabs and ancient rock formations.
  17. Visit the Okavango Delta Outskirts: Explore the drier areas around the Okavango Delta for wildlife and beautiful landscapes.
  18. Boat Tours in the Okavango Delta: Take boat tours to explore the lagoons, channels, and islands of the delta, observing wildlife and birdlife.
  19. Panhandle Fishing: If you enjoy fishing, the Okavango Delta’s panhandle region offers excellent opportunities for tiger fishing and catching bream.
  20. Enjoy Sundowners: Sip on a sundowner (a cocktail enjoyed at sunset) while taking in the breathtaking views of the African landscape.

Botswana offers a wide range of activities, ensuring that every traveler can find experiences tailored to their interests, whether it’s wildlife viewing, cultural immersion, adventure, or relaxation in the heart of Africa’s unspoiled wilderness.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Culture:

  1. Respect Local Customs: Botswana has a rich cultural heritage, and it’s essential to show respect for local customs and traditions. Greetings are important, so a friendly “Dumela” (hello) goes a long way.
  2. Dress Code: While Botswana is relatively liberal in terms of dress code, modesty is appreciated, especially in rural areas. When visiting villages or churches, it’s best to cover your shoulders and knees. Bikinis and revealing clothing are appropriate at pool areas and lodges but not in public.
  3. Language: English is the official language, but Setswana (Tswana) is widely spoken. Learning a few basic Setswana phrases can be a sign of respect and enhance your interactions with locals.
  4. Local Interactions: Botswana is known for its warm and friendly people. Engage with local communities, ask for permission before taking photos of individuals, and respect the privacy and traditions of local tribes.
  5. Conservation: Botswana takes its conservation efforts seriously. Follow the “leave no trace” principle and adhere to the rules set by national parks and reserves to protect the environment and wildlife.
  6. Cultural Experiences: Participate in cultural tours, dances, and storytelling sessions offered by local communities to gain a deeper understanding of Botswana’s heritage.

Safety:

  1. Health Precautions: Ensure your routine vaccinations are up to date and consult a healthcare professional for guidance on any additional vaccinations. Take necessary precautions against malaria, especially in northern regions.
  2. Travel Insurance: It’s essential to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and evacuations.
  3. Wildlife Safety: While on safari, follow your guide’s instructions and maintain a safe distance from wildlife. Keep windows and doors locked while in safari vehicles.
  4. Water Quality: In some rural areas, water quality may be a concern. Stick to bottled water and avoid consuming tap water or ice made from tap water.
  5. Road Safety: Botswana has well-maintained roads, but be cautious when driving, especially at night. Watch for wildlife on the roads in rural areas.
  6. Weather Conditions: Botswana experiences extreme weather conditions, from arid deserts to wetlands. Be prepared for changing weather and pack accordingly, especially during the rainy season.
  7. Emergency Contacts: Familiarize yourself with local emergency numbers, including the nearest embassy or consulate, in case of emergencies.
  8. Travel Advisory: Check for travel advisories from your government before your trip, as situations can change.
  9. Currency and Payment: The currency is the Pula (BWP). Credit cards are widely accepted in urban areas, but it’s a good idea to carry some cash in smaller towns and rural areas.
  10. Cultural Sensitivity: Be mindful of the complex history and cultural diversity in Botswana. While it’s acceptable to ask about the country’s history, some topics may still be emotionally charged. Approach such discussions with empathy and respect.

Botswana is generally a safe and welcoming destination for travelers. By respecting local culture and taking safety precautions, you can have a rewarding and memorable travel experience while enjoying the country’s stunning landscapes and wildlife.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to Botswana promises an unforgettable journey into the heart of Africa’s unspoiled wilderness. From its world-renowned safari destinations to the warm embrace of its vibrant cultures, Botswana offers a unique and enriching experience for travelers. Whether you’re marveling at the incredible diversity of wildlife, exploring the striking landscapes, or immersing yourself in the welcoming local communities, Botswana invites you to discover the untamed beauty of the African continent while upholding a strong commitment to conservation and sustainable tourism. Your adventure in Botswana is sure to leave you with lasting memories of this remarkable land.