Blessed with some of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth, Botswana is one of the great safari destinations in Africa.
The Okavango Delta – there's nowhere quite like it on earth. This is a place where wild creatures roam and rule, where big cats and much bigger elephants walk free in one of the world's last great wildernesses. The delta is a byword for abundance – for animal numbers, for the variety of species, for the birdlife, for floods of Biblical proportions. And it is also a place of singular and unparalleled beauty where safari possibilities can seem as endless as the waters themselves.
Stark Desert Beauty
The Kalahari Desert, the largest unbroken stretch of sand on the planet, is not your ordinary desert. From the salt pans of Makgadikgadi, the baobabs of Nxai Pans, and the spare magnificence of Kubu Island in the north, to the wonderful wildlife of Kgalagadi in the south, this is a desert of exceptional variety. Throw in the fossil river valleys, swaying golden grasses, black-maned lions and the echoes of the indigenous San people in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and there are few more beautiful deserts on Earth.
Botswana didn't just turn its back on mass tourism. It ushered in an era of utterly exclusive safari experiences, the likes of which are seen no where else. These are sumptuous lodges and remote tented camps, especially in the Okavango Delta and surrounds that are sometimes contemporary in style, and at other times problematically awash in colonial nostalgia. And they will provide you a front-row seat for wildlife spectacles that you may just have all to yourself.
Africa's Best Camping
You can experience Botswana by renting your very own 4WD vehicle that doubles as an ingenious camping home away from home. This is about experiencing wild Africa at your own pace, travelling from one campsite to the next, where you may lie awake at night listening to lions roar their bone-trembling roar, or hippos, elephants, or the chilling saw-like grunt of a leopard. Build a campfire, gaze at the stars and feel at one with this gloriously beautiful country.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Botswana.
The largest island in the Okavango Delta, Chief’s Island (70km long and 15km wide) is so named because it was once the sole hunting preserve of the local chief. Raised above the water level by tectonic activity, it’s here that so much of the delta’s wildlife retreats as water levels rise. As such, the island is home to what could be the richest concentration of wildlife in Botswana. It's the Okavango Delta as you always imagined it.
Chobe National Park is one of Africa's great wildlife destinations. Famed for its massive elephants and enormous elephant population, Chobe, which encompasses nearly 11,000 sq km, is itself the size of a small country and an important epicentre of Botswana’s safari industry. The park encompasses three iconic wildlife areas that all carry a whiff of safari legend: Savuti, Chobe Riverfront and the Okavango-like Linyanti Marshes. Chobe has everything from campgrounds for self-drivers to luxury, fly-in lodges and tented camps.
This 2578-sq-km park is one of the most accessible places to experience the salt pans that are a Kalahari speciality, although it's more about smaller pans surrounded by grasslands and scrubby vegetation than the vast, salty wastes that you find further south. Wildlife is a highlight here, with elephants, giraffes and jackals pretty much guaranteed, and good chances to see lions and cheetahs as well.
With the rhinos all but disappeared from Botswana, Serowe's residents banded together in the early 1990s to establish the 43-sq-km Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Today the sanctuary protects 30 white and four black rhinos – the sanctuary was not originally set up for black rhinos but when one wandered across the border from Zimbabwe it was the start of a beautiful relationship. Some rhinos have been released into the wild, especially in the Okavango Delta, joining imports from Botswana’s regional neighbours.
This 3900-sq-km park, the southern section of the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans National Park, extends from the Boteti River in the west to the Ntwetwe Pan in the east. The return of water to the Boteti River in recent years has drawn plenty of wildlife, particularly in the dry season from May to October, when the river, even at low levels, is the only source of permanent water in the reserve. There are three main campsites, and three entry gates.
One of the most fascinating paintings is the zebra painting on a small outcrop north of Female Hill. This stylised equine figure is now used as the logo of Botswana National Museum and Monuments. It lies beyond the main trails.
About 11km south of Green's Baobab is the turn-off to the far more impressive Chapman’s Baobab, which, until it crashed to the ground suddenly on 7 January 2016, had a circumference of 25m and roots that extended 1km out into the surrounding area. It was historically used as a navigation beacon and may also have been used as an early post office by passing explorers, traders and travellers, many of whom left inscriptions on its trunk.
This fabulous art project provides opportunities for local artists (14 at last count) to create and sell paintings and other artwork; it’s worth spending an hour or two leafing through the various folios of artworks. Some of the artists here are well known around the world and their works hang in some of the world's most prestigious art spaces, including the Smithsonian Institute. It’s well signposted along D’kar’s only road, close to the turn-off to the Ghanzi–Maun highway.
The rocky monoliths that rise up from the Savuti sand provide more than welcome aesthetic relief amid the flat-as-flat plains. The outcrops’ caves, rocky clefts and sometime-dense undergrowth also represent ideal habitat for leopards. The southernmost of these monoliths (the first you come to if you’re driving from Maun or Moremi Game Reserve) is known as Leopard Rock and sightings of the most elusive of Africa’s big cats are reasonably common here. A 1.6km-long sandy track encircles the rock.