Botswana Travel Guide
One of Africa’s understated success stories, where a land with seamingly little achieves quite a bit, and seldom goes backwards, Botswana gets far less press and has less natural attractions than its neighbours but offers a rewarding and comfortable Africa experience. The Okavango Delta is the biggest tourist attraction here and is a great experience. Botswana is one of Africa’s most popular safari destinations and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see all the big animals here.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: The stunning Okavango Delta, hippos lolling around in the Chobe River, ancient rock painting at Tsodilo Hills, lions and leopards and more in one of Botswana’s game reserves, playful baboons, game walks, hot-air balloon rides, relaxed Maun and the immense Makgadikgadi Pan.
What’s Not: Uncomfortable heat and humidity, upset stomachs and other health risks, hassle from souvenir sellers, unconventional drivers, angry buffalo and hippos, and stubborn officials.
When to Go
The period from May to September is a popular time to visit Botswana, with dry and cooler weather than at other times of the year. Average temperatures are around 77ºF (25ºC), but as a rule of thumb: it’s Africa, it’s hot.
The summer between October and April is very hot and with the combined effect of the rains it can be humid and uncomfortable. The most pleasant climates in Botswana tend to be in the northern and eastern areas.
During the winter, you may be lucky enough to have some cool evenings and mornings, which will be a welcome relief when traveling through Africa. Daytimes are generally warm and sunny.
Getting There & Away
Transport is pretty good here, with the major international airports in Gabarone and Maun receiving plenty of international flights, although these tend to be from neighboring countries. There’s a car ferry across the Zambezi River to Zambia, although this is not the most common route for tourists. There’s a train to Zimbabwe and to the South African border, and roads here are of a relatively good standard, with decent tarmac roads to South Africa and Zimbabwe, and if you’ve come from a country farther north, you’ll notice the improvement. Getting around the country is generally pretty straightforward, but watch out for erratic driving.
Health & Safety
There are less health risks in Botswana than in a lot of other countries in the region, but this is still Africa and diseases like typhoid are present here, not to mention malaria-spreading mosquitoes are always looking for some fresh tourists to feed off. Tap water is officially safe to drink, but for the sake of a short trip, stick to the bottled stuff. In reality, the sun and heat cause the most problems for tourists and you will find out pretty quickly that it’s very hot; drink lots (of water that is) and use sun screen. Hippos may look like big, fat lazy beasts, but testing that theory is not recommended. Being polite to officials usually helps keep the wheels oiled too.
Food & Hospitality
Botswana has the full range of options here, all depending on your budget. On the most exclusive safaris, you’ll find stunning camps and lodges with some fantastic food laid out, usually to suit tourists’ tastes. In the evening, you could be harping back to colonial splendor with a G&T in an open air lounge. Traditional food focuses on the main staples - sorghum and maize, with beef and goat being the most common meats. Watch out for the local delicacy - Serobe, unless of course you enjoy feasting on goat intestines. The standard of hotels here is generally higher than in many other countries in Africa, but if you want a cheap and smelly dive, you can still find one.
A week to 10 days is a good length of time to visit Botswana, but depending on where else in the region you visit, you could easily extend your time.
Three days to explore the fabulous Okavango Delta.
Two to three days on safari in Chobe National Park.
A day to explore Maun.
One or two days to see Makgadikgadi Pans, once a great lake that has been dry for 2,000 years.
Two days to discover the Moremi wildlife reserve.
Okavango Delta: the world’s largest inland delta is home to a remarkable array of wildlife, and this is truly one of Africa’s gems.
Chobe National Park: a trip on the river here to see hippos and crocodiles is an unforgettable and slightly nerve-racking experience.
Maun: the fifth-largest town in the country is officially a village, where you might be in a shopping centre while a tribesman’s selling cattle outside.
Makgadikgadi Pans: dried up salt pans may not have obvious appeal, but after the rains, the flamingos and pelicans here are an impressive sight.
Moremi wildlife reserve: in the winter, you’re sure to see elephants, lions and leopards, but watch out for the crocodiles on the riverbanks … oh, and the charging buffalos.
Safari: the most obvious reason for visiting Botswana is the wildlife, and the chance to see animals you usually only see in zoos.
Take a mokoro: floating along the Okavango Delta in a dugout canoe is a great feeling, but make sure your guide is experienced; this is not the place to get lost.
Going for a game walk: if you like a bit of danger, then walking in a national park is a real adrenalin rush, especially when you get close to some wild animals.
Seeing the country from above: taking a helicopter over the Okavango is a memorable experience, with great photo opportunities. Hot-air balloons are also popular in parts of the country.
Fishing: even those people who find fishing boring have been known to enjoy the sport in Botswana’s rivers and waterways.
Festivals & Events
Botswana is an obvious festivals hotspot, and there are actually a few interesting events here, which isn’t to say you should plan your whole trip around them.
March/April: Botswana’s biggest arts festival, Maitisong Festival takes place over nine days and is a mix of established stars, aspiring stars and those that won’t make it anywhere fast.
August: the Maun Carnival is one of the biggest events in the Maun social calendar, and has some colorful floats and entertainment as well as the odd bizarre character.
August: the Kuru Traditional Music and Dance Festival is exactly as it sounds and is pretty fun, should you be hanging around Ghanzi in western Botswana.