Public transport in Botswana is geared towards the needs of the local populace and is confined to main roads between major population centres. Although cheap and reliable, it is of little use to the traveller as most of Botswana’s tourist attractions lie off the beaten track.
Combis, recognisable by their blue number plates, circulate according to set routes around major towns; ie Gaborone, Kasane, Ghanzi, Molepolole, Mahalapye, Palapye, Francistown, Selebi-Phikwe, Lobatse and Kanye. They are very frequent, inexpensive and generally reliable. However, they aren’t terribly safe (most drive too fast), especially on long journeys, and they only serve the major towns. They can also be crowded.
Licensed taxis are also recognisable by their blue number plates. They rarely bother hanging around the airports at Gaborone, Francistown, Kasane and Maun, so the only reliable transport from the airport is usually a courtesy bus operated by a top-end hotel or lodge. These are free for guests, but anyone else can normally negotiate a fare with the bus driver. Taxis are always available to the airports, however.
It is not normal for taxis to cruise the streets for fares – even in Gaborone. If you need one, telephone a taxi company to arrange a pick-up or go to a taxi stand (usually near the bus or train stations). Some taxi companies include Speedy Cabs and Final Bravo Cabs. Fares for taxis are negotiable, but fares for occasional shared taxis are fixed. Taxis can be chartered – about P300 to P400 per day, although this is negotiable depending on how far you want to go.
Buses and combis regularly travel to all major towns and villages throughout Botswana but are less frequent in sparsely populated areas such as western Botswana and the Kalahari. Public transport to smaller villages is often nonexistent, unless the village is along a major route.
The extent and frequency of buses and combis also depends on the quantity and quality of roads; for example, there is no public transport along the direct route between Maun and Kasane (ie through Chobe National Park), and services elsewhere can be suspended if roads are flooded. Also, bear in mind that there are very few long-distance services, so most people travelling between Gaborone and Kasane or Maun, for example, will need a connection in Francistown.
Buses are usually comfortable, and normally leave at a set time regardless of whether they’re full or not. Finding out the departure times for buses is a matter of asking around the bus station, because schedules are not posted anywhere. Combis leave when full, usually from the same station as the buses. Tickets for all public buses and combis cannot be bought in advance; they can only be purchased on board.