Despite Botswana’s wealth in natural life, one of the things that you will not see on safari in Botswana is a Royal Bengal Tiger. Tigers are not found in the wild in Africa – Africa is the domain for big cats such as lion, leopard and cheetah. So you can imagine my surprise when a few years ago, whilst taking a ‘bush stop’ behind a tree in Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve, I was told by a rather panic-stricken (and confused) friend that there was a ‘tiger’ behind me! I gingerly turned to see what he was looking at. Clearly it wasn’t going to be a tiger, but it didn’t take much to realise what my friend may have confused a tiger with! About forty yards from where I stood, a lioness sat peacefully under a bush watching us. She had obviously been asleep in the grass and didn’t seem at all perturbed by our presence. I retreated slowly to the vehicle, where I thanked my friend for his expert spotting skills before passing him a book on African mammals. It was one of many memorable experiences I have had on several self-drive adventures in Africa. A few days later we stopped for drinks only to have a leopard emerge out of the grass not twenty yards from us, and that same evening a hyaena managed to grab one of our pre-cooked meat dinners from an open cooler box while I poured myself a gin and tonic! All these experiences may seem rather comical, but the reality of wild Africa is that the wildlife is ever-present, whether seen or unseen.
The bush is always alive, from the smallest termites to the huge old bull elephants, and the true beauty of Africa is the ability to immerse yourself in a pristine environment that is, mercifully, largely free of human influence, and soak up the pureness of your surroundings. Seeing the fascinating and sometimes awesome wildlife is very much the main reason to visit Africa, but once there you cannot fail to be blown away by the beauty of the landscapes, the friendliness of the local people when you encounter them and the serene atmosphere of the bush. The memories and feelings evoked last for ever.
Some places in Africa are better suited than others to have this experience, and Botswana is certainly one of them. From the lesser visited Tuli Block, Central Kalahari and Makgadikgadi Pans to the more famous Chobe National Park and Okavango Delta, Botswana offers a purist and romantic safari experience.
The ‘tiger’ episode occurred whilst on a fairly adventurous self-drive safari. We carried everything we needed with us, and camped in designated camp sites in the various Game Reserves and National Parks. This is a highly rewarding way to see Botswana, but is only suitable for those with a hearty appetite for adventure and some previous experience of the African bush. For those seeking the adventure without having the experience to ‘go it alone’, it is possible to undertake similar camping safaris, either privately or as part of a small group led by an experienced guide and safari crew.
At the other end of the scale, super-luxury is also available. Although Botswana offers predominantly ‘tented’ accommodation, the so-called safari ‘tent’ has evolved hugely to include polished wooden floors, sturdy wooden frames with thatch roofs, full-size double doors, large private balconies and luxurious en suite tiled bathrooms including outdoor showers. Many camps have swimming pools and the food served up is nothing short of amazing. On top of this, you are catered for by friendly and well-trained staff.
For those who require an element of comfort (a comfortable bed and en suite plumbed facilities!), but do not need five-star accommodation, there are many more traditional camps to choose from. Provided you take good advice from someone who has spent time at the various different camps, you can pick the camps that suit your requirements best.
Botswana also offers the widest range of safari activities available in Africa. The standard activity is the game-drive, usually conducted in an ‘open’ vehicle in the early mornings and late afternoons, timed to coincide with the cooler times of day when wildlife is generally most active. However, a safari in Botswana can also involve night game drives (with a spotlight looking for nocturnal species), canoeing safaris, boat cruises, mekoro excursions (local dug-out canoes), walking safaris, horse-riding safaris, elephant-back safaris, helicopter safaris, cycle safaris and quad-biking – the water-based safaris and horse-riding possibilities are particularly good and operate in highly exclusive wildlife regions.
Cultural experiences allow opportunities to visit local communities or enjoy bush walks with the local San people.
A Botswana safari also offers an opportunity to spot and incredibly diverse range of animals. All the major predators (cheetah, leopard, lion, hyaena – no tigers though!) are commonly found across the northern areas of the country, and Botswana is especially known as one of the great strongholds for the Africa wild dog.
Botswana is also the ‘land of the giants’ being home to vast populations of elephant. The Chobe, Linyanti, Savuti and Tuli regions are especially productive for viewing the species.
The numerous waterways (the Chobe, Kwando and Linyanti Rivers, the Selinda Spillway, Savuti Channel and the extensive wetlands of the wonderful Okavango Delta) are teeming with hippo and crocs, the rare reed-bed dwelling sitatunga antelope, and vast lechwe herds, whilst also being a haven for birdlife. Along the waters’ edge, Cape buffalo (often in their hundreds), waterbuck, impala, bushbuck, warthog, tsessebe, giraffe, zebra, baboon and vervet monkey can be seen.
The woodland regions harbour some more specialist sightings, such as greater kudu, sable and roan antelope, whilst the Kalahari Desert regions are home to species such as oryx, eland, meerkat, brown hyaena and ostrich.
Night drives offer the chance to seek out those species active after dark including genet, civet, porcupine, bush baby (galago), honey badger, white-tailed mongoose, aardwolf, aardvark, wild cat, serval and if you are really lucky, a caracal!
And finally, the last decade has seen a huge conservation effort to re-introduce white rhino to northern Botswana.
In short, Botswana pretty much has it all!
Botswana is also known for its ‘exclusivity’, and rightly so. The National Parks and Game Reserves are of course open to the general public and you can expect to see other vehicles/tourists when travelling through (the Chobe riverfront near Kasane is the only area where the congestion of tourists is a concern). However, there are many safari areas which are operated as private concessions, leased to safari operators by the Botswana Government. In these concessions, which mostly cover surround the Okavango Delta and Linyanti regions, there are very strict limits on visitor numbers and here your will encounter very few other tourists (and usually only those staying in the same camp as you).
The fact that you have to share its natural wealth and wilderness with so few others is one of the true advantages of a Botswana safari.
Botswana can be visited year round but the best time for game-viewing is during the dry season months from May to early November. The rains fall from November to March.
It can be very hot during the day from late September through to March (especially in October during the build up to the rains) and can get very cold at night from May to August.
The Okavango Delta floods from April to July and the water levels do not usually recede significantly until October. To see the Okavango in full flood is a stunningly beautiful sight!
Botswana is usually accessed via Johannesburg (South Africa) or from Victoria Falls/ Livingstone (Zimbabwe/ Zambia). Both Maun (for access to the Okavango and Kalahari regions) and Kasane (next to Chobe and also not far from Victoria Falls) have international airports.
Whilst Botswana can ‘stand alone’ as an amazing safari destination, the country is often combined with other destinations.
- Botswana can very easily be combined with a visit to the spectacular Victoria Falls (Zambia or Zimbabwe), where several river lodges and hotels offer a relaxing and interesting beginning or end to your safari. As well as seeing the falls themselves, there are a multitude of activities on offer, ranging from helicopter and microlight flights over the falls to game drives, Zambezi boat cruises and cultural excursions (to name but a few).
- Botswana can be combined with sight-seeing and relaxing in neighbouring South Africa, and in particular Cape Town and the Cape Winelands. Air Botswana offer several direct flights a week between Maun to Cape Town.
- Botswana can be combined with a variety of beach destinations. The principal options include Mauritius, The Seychelles and Mozambique, though the coast of South Africa and the East African Islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia can also be considered.
- Botswana can be combined with a visit to Namibia, where it is possible to contrast the lush paradise of the Okavango Delta with the harsh and rugged landscapes of the Namib Desert and Skeleton Coast.
Here at Safari Consultants we tailor-make all our holidays and we can therefore design itineraries to suit very specific interests and requirements. We love Botswana not only because of all the factors mentioned above, but also because it presents a challenge – the nuances of Botswana take many years to understand! The landscape and river systems change not just with the seasons but also from year to year.
If you would like further information on the different safari regions of Botswana, please visit our Botswana Regions page.
If you would like to discuss a trip to Botswana please contact us by phone on +44 (0) 1787 888590 or email us via our Contact Us page. We look forward to hearing from you!