You won't find many opportunities to test your haggling skills in Botswana – it's not really the done thing, other than with street souvenir sellers in Gabs, Maun or Kasane.
Dangers & Annoyances
Botswana is modern and developed, and most things work. You can safely drink the tap water in the towns and cities, and you do not need protection against cholera or yellow fever.
HIV/AIDS is a serious issue but, unless you fail to take common-sense precautions, there should be no undue risk. In fact, the greatest danger to the traveller is posed by wildlife and the risks of driving in the bush.
Crime is rarely a problem in Botswana, and doesn't usually extend beyond occasional pickpocketing and theft from parked cars. Gaborone is one of Africa's safer cities, but it still pays to take a taxi after dark.
Police & Military
Although police and veterinary roadblocks, bureaucracy and bored officials may be tiresome, they’re mostly harmless. Careful scrutiny is rare, but you may have to unpack your luggage for closer inspection at a border or veterinary checkpoint.
The Botswana Defence Force (BDF), on the other hand, takes its duties seriously and is best not crossed. The most sensitive base, which is operated jointly with the US government, lies in a remote area off the Lobatse road, southwest of Gaborone. Don’t stumble upon it accidentally! Also avoid State House, the official residence of the president in Gaborone, especially after dark. It’s located near the government enclave, where there’s not much else going on in the evening, so anyone caught ‘hanging around’ is viewed suspiciously.
Although vehicle traffic is light on most roads outside of the major towns and cities, the most significant concern for most travellers is road safety. Botswana has one of the highest accident rates per capita in the world, and drunk and reckless driving are common, especially at month’s end (wage day). Cattle, goats, sheep, donkeys and even elephants are deadly hazards on the road, especially at dusk and after dark when visibility is poor. Never drive at night unless you absolutely have to.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information for travellers.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (www.voyage.gc.ca)
- French Ministère des Affaires Étrangères et Européennes (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs)
- Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri (www.viaggiaresicuri.mae.aci.it)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov)
There is no uniformly accepted discount-card scheme in Botswana, but a residence permit entitles you to claim favourable residents’ rates at hotels. Hostel cards are of little use, but student cards score a discount (usually around 15%) on some buses. Seniors over 60, with proof of age, also receive a discount on some buses and airfares.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
Botswana does not use area codes.
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering Botswana is usually straightforward provided you are carrying a valid passport. Visas are available on arrival for most nationalities and are issued in no time. If you’re crossing into the country overland and in your own (or rented) vehicle, expect to endure (sometimes quite cursory, sometimes strict) searches for fresh meat, fresh fruit and dairy products, most of which will be confiscated if found. For vehicles rented in South Africa, Namibia or other regional countries, you will need to show a letter from the owner that you have permission to drive the car into Botswana, in addition to all other registration documents.
Since May 2017 all visitors must pay a US$30 Tourism Development Levy (TDL) upon arrival, which will help fund conservation. At all border crossings you must also pay P120 (a combination of road levy and third-party insurance) if you’re driving your own vehicle. Hassles from officialdom are rare.
For a moderately useful list of the government’s entry requirements, see www.botswanatourism.co.bw/entryFormalities.php. The Tracks4Africa Botswana map has opening hours for all border crossings.
Most items from elsewhere in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) – Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland – may be imported duty free. You may be asked to declare new laptops and cameras, but this is very rarely enforced.
Visitors may bring into Botswana the following amounts of duty-free items: up to 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 2L of wine or 1L of beer or spirits; and 50mL of perfume or 250mL of eau de cologne.
The most rigorous searches at customs posts are for fresh meat products – don’t buy succulent steaks in South Africa for your camping barbecue and expect them to be allowed in.
There is no restriction on currency, though you may need to declare any pula or foreign currency you have on you when entering or leaving the country. This depends on the border crossing and who is on duty.
All visitors entering Botswana must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months. Also, allow a few empty pages for stamp-happy immigration officials, especially if you plan on crossing over to Zimbabwe and/or Zambia to Victoria Falls.
Visitors to Botswana are issued a visa on arrival, valid for 30 days.
Most visitors can obtain tourist visas at the international airports and borders (and the nearest police stations in lieu of an immigration official at remote border crossings). Visas on arrival are valid for 30 days – and possibly up to 90 days if requested at the time of entry – and are available for free to passport holders from most Commonwealth countries (but not Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), all EU countries, the USA and countries in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), ie South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland.
If you hold a passport from any other country, apply for a 30-day tourist visa at an overseas Botswanan embassy or consulate. Where there is no Botswanan representation, try going to a British embassy or consulate.
Tourists are allowed to stay in Botswana for a maximum of 90 days every 12 months, so a 30-day visa may be extended twice. Visas can be extended for free at immigration offices in Gaborone, Francistown, Maun and Kasane. Whether you’re required to show an onward ticket and/or sufficient funds at this time depends on the official(s).
Anyone travelling to Botswana from an area infected with yellow fever needs proof of vaccination before they can enter the country.
Although there are a lot of rules of social etiquette within Batswana culture, foreigners are not expected to know or abide by most of them. Of course, you should maintain common sense – wearing shorts and T-shirts to church, for example, won’t endear you to anyone. In general, you should always err on the side of modesty when interacting with locals. For instance, despite the way people dance at the club, Batswana traditional culture frowns on excessive public displays of affection between couples, married or not. Even public hand-holding is pretty rare. With that said, Batswana, who are used to riding in cramped combis (minibuses) and growing up in rural villages, may not have the same sense of personal space you possess, and might think nothing of resting a hand on your leg on a crowded bus.
Greetings are an important formality in Botswana and should not be overlooked. You tend to get better answers to your questions if you greet people with a friendly ‘Dumela’, followed by a ‘rra’ (for men) and ‘mma’ (for women). It is also important to emphasise that a two-hand handshake (ie your left hand on your elbow while you shake) is preferable to a Western-style handshake. Putting your left hand on your elbow is also important when money is changing hands.
Because the national culture is so defined by hierarchy, it is not common for children to question or talk back to parents, or for underlings to contradict overlings. This shouldn’t affect most visitors to the country, but it may explain why lodge or other employees are so deferential towards their bosses and sometimes unwilling to offer an opinion that may contradict their superiors.
Homosexuality, both gay and lesbian, is illegal in Botswana. Article 164 of Botswana's Penal Code prescribes a maximum seven-year prison term for 'carnal knowledge…against the order of nature'. While arrests are rare, Botswana's High Court ruled on a case involving two gay men in July 2003. The court found that ‘the time has not yet arrived to decriminalise homosexual practices even between consenting adult males in private’.
Intolerance has increased in the region over the last few years due to the homophobic statements of leaders in neighbouring Namibia and Zimbabwe. When asked in 2011 about a plan to distribute condoms to prisoners engaged in same-sex sexual activity, the deputy speaker of the Botswana National Assembly, Pono Moatlhodi, suggested that were he to have the power, he would have homosexuals killed.
And yet the situation is more nuanced than it may first appear. Botswana's employment laws forbid workplace discrimination or dismissal on the basis of a person's sexual orientation, while Botswana's former president, Festus Mogae, told the BBC in 2011 that prejudice against gays and lesbians was harming the country's fight against HIV/AIDS. He also said that he had, while in office, directed police to neither harass nor arrest gays and lesbians. Gay and lesbian people with whom we spoke in Botswana suggested that the situation, at least in Gaborone, is relatively relaxed and that they were able live quite openly as gays and lesbians.
Even so, given the sensitivity of the subject and the strongly held views of many Batswana, it is advisable to refrain from any overt displays of affection in public.
In 1998 a group of lesbians, gays and bisexuals established the advocacy and support group LeGaBiBo. The first thing it did was to publish a human-rights charter under the auspices of Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, and it has since run safe-sex workshops to highlight the risks of HIV/AIDS. Ditshwanelo continues to advocate and lobby for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
The government registrar twice refused to register LeGaBiBo, on the grounds that the group was engaged in illegal activities and posed a threat to order in Botswana society. The decision mattered because without such registration, it would be extremely difficult for LeGaBiBo to raise money. In 2013 members of LeGaBiBo sued the Botswana government and, a year later, won the case before the High Court, which ruled that LeGaBiBo must be registered. The government appealed and in 2016 the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of LeGaBiBo on the basis that any refusal to register the group was unconstitutional.
- Afriboyz (www.afriboyz.com/Homosexuality-in-Africa.html) Links to gay topics in an African context.
- African Horizons (www.africanhorizons.com) Gay-friendly tour operator that offers trips to Southern Africa, including Botswana.
- David Tours (www.davidtravel.com) Can arrange seven- and 12-day trips to northern Botswana, all with a gay focus.
- Global Gayz (www.globalgayz.com/africa/botswana) Links to gay issues in Botswana and other African countries.
- Via Origins A LGBT-friendly safari operator who is also a good one-stop shop for information on Maun and wider Botswana activities.
Two words: get some! A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a very sensible precaution. Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Medical cover is the most vital element of any policy, but make sure you check the small print.
Some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities’, which can even include motorcycling and trekking. If such activities are on your agenda you’ll need a fully comprehensive policy, which may be more expensive. Using a locally acquired motorcycle licence may not be valid under your policy.
You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals direct rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation.
Some policies ask you to call back (reverse charges) to a centre in your home country, where an immediate assessment of your problem is made.
Check that the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.
Checking insurance quotes…
Cyber cafes Common in large and medium-sized towns; connection speeds fluctuate wildly.
Post offices Some post offices, including in Kasane, have a few internet-enabled PCs.
Wireless Reasonably common in midrange and top-end hotels in towns, but very rarely available in safari lodges.
All drugs are illegal in Botswana, penalties are stiff and prisons are deeply unpleasant. So don’t think about bringing anything over the borders or buying it while you’re here.
If you get caught for speeding, it's far better to pay the fine on the spot rather than ask to contest it later in court. While you may be able to negotiate a discount by the side of the road, taking it to court is generally far more hassle than it's worth.
Police, military and veterinary officials are generally polite and on their best behaviour. In your dealings with officialdom, you should always make every effort to be patient and polite in return.
The best paper map of Botswana is the Botswana (1:1,000,000) map published by Tracks4Africa (www.tracks4africa.co.za). Updated every couple of years using detailed traveller feedback, the map is printed on tear-free, waterproof paper and includes distances and estimated travel times. Used in conjunction with Tracks4Africa's unrivalled GPS maps, it’s far and away the best mapping product on the market. Even so, be aware that, particularly in the Okavango Delta, last year’s trails may this year be underwater, depending on water levels, so these maps should never be a substitute for expert local knowledge.
If for some reason you are unable to get hold of the Tracks4Africa map, the only other maps that we recommend are those published by Shell Oil Botswana and Veronica Roodt. The Shell Tourist Map of Botswana (1:1,750,000) is available at major bookshops in Botswana and South Africa.
Probably of more interest are Shell’s zoomed-in maps (with varying scales) of the various reserves and other popular areas. These include numerous GPS coordinates for important landmarks and the tracks are superimposed onto satellite images of the area in question. Some are a little out of date, but they’re still excellent. Titles include Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
- Newspapers Government-owned Daily News, Botswana Advertiser (Gaborone and eastern Botswana), Ngami Times (a regional Maun weekly).
- Radio Yarona (106.6FM) and GABZFM (96.2FM) broadcast around Gaborone, while RB2 (103FM) is the commercial network of Radio Botswana. With a shortwave radio, you can easily pick up the BBC World Service and international services from Europe.
- TV Botswana TV (BTV) broadcasts news (in Setswana) and sports (in English and Setswana), and an array of US sitcoms. Government-run South African stations are also available. Most top-end hotels also offer satellite TV.
There are ATMs in major towns. Credit cards are accepted in most top-end hotels, but lodges and tour operators require advance payment by bank transfer. Otherwise, bring US dollars in cash.
Credit cards can be used in ATMs displaying the appropriate sign, or to obtain cash advances over the counter in many banks – Visa and MasterCard are among the most widely recognised. Transaction fees can be prohibitive and usually apply per transaction rather than by the amount you’re withdrawing – take out as much as you can each time. Check also with your bank before leaving home to see if some banks have agreements with your home bank that work out cheaper than others.
You’ll find ATMs at all the main bank branches throughout Botswana, including in Gaborone, Maun, Francistown and Kasane, and this is undoubtedly the simplest (and safest) way to handle your money while travelling.
The unit of currency is the Botswanan pula (P). Pula means ‘blessings’ or ‘rain’, the latter of which is as precious as money in this largely desert country. Notes come in denominations of P10, P20, P50 and P100, and coins (thebe, or ‘shield’) are in denominations of 5t, 10t, 25t, 50t, P1, P2 and P5.
Most common foreign currencies can be exchanged, but not every branch of every bank will do so. Therefore it’s best to stick to US dollars, euros, UK pounds and South African rand, which are all easy to change.
Foreign currency, typically US dollars, is also accepted by a number of midrange and top-end hotels, lodges and tour operators. South African rand can also be used on Botswanan combis (minibuses) and buses going to/from South Africa, and to pay for Botswanan vehicle taxes at South Africa–Botswana borders.
Most banks and foreign-exchange offices won’t touch Zambian kwacha and (sometimes) Namibian dollars; in border areas you can sometimes pay at some businesses with the latter. To make sure you don’t get caught out, buy/sell these currencies at or near the respective borders.
There are five commercial banks in the country with branches in all the main towns and major villages. Although you will get less favourable rates at a bureau de change, they are a convenient option if the lines at the banks are particularly long.
There is no black market in Botswana. Anyone offering to exchange money on the street is doing so illegally and is probably setting you up for a scam, the exception being the guys who change pula for South African rand in front of South Africa–bound minibuses – locals use their services, so they can be trusted.
For current exchange rates, log on to www.xe.com.
Changing Money at the Border
A word of warning: if you’re changing money at or near border crossings and not doing so through the banks, be aware that local businesses (sometimes bureaux de change, sometimes just shops with a sideline in currencies so that arriving travellers can pay their customs duties) usually have abysmal rates. Change the minimum that you’re likely to need and change the rest at a bank or bureau de change in the nearest large town.
Credit & Debit Cards
All major credit cards, especially Visa and MasterCard, but also American Express and Diners Club, are widely accepted in most shops, restaurants and hotels (but only in some petrol stations).
Major branches of Barclays Bank and Standard Chartered Bank also deal with cash advances over the counter and don’t charge commissions for Visa and MasterCard. Almost every town has at least one branch of Barclays and/or Standard Chartered that offers foreign-exchange facilities, but not all have the authority or technology for cash advances.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
While tipping isn’t obligatory, the government’s official policy of promoting upmarket tourism has raised expectations in many hotels and restaurants. A service charge may be added as a matter of course, in which case there’s no need to leave a tip. If there is no service charge and the service has been good, leave around 10%.
It is also a good idea to tip the men who watch your car in public car parks and the attendants at service stations who wash your windscreens. A tip of around P10 is appropriate.
Guides and drivers of safari vehicles will also expect a tip, especially if you’ve spent a number of days under their care.
Most safari companies suggest the following as a rule of thumb:
- guides/drivers – US$10 per person per day
- mokoro trackers and polers – US$5 each per person per day
- camp or lodge staff – US$10 per guest per day (usually placed in a communal box)
- transfer drivers and porters – US$3
Travellers cheques can be cashed at most banks and exchange offices. American Express (Amex), Thomas Cook and Visa are the most widely accepted brands. Banks charge anywhere between 2% and 3% commission to change the cheques; Barclays usually offers the most efficient service and charges 2.5% commission for most brands.
As a general rule, it is preferable to buy travellers cheques in US dollars, euros or UK pounds. Get most of the cheques in largish denominations to save on per-cheque commissions.
You must take your passport with you when cashing cheques.
The whole country practically closes down on Sunday.
Banks 8.30am–3.30pm Monday to Friday, 8.15am–10.45am Saturday
National parks 6am–6.30pm April to September, 5.30am–7pm October to March
Post offices 9am–5pm Monday to Friday, 9am–noon Saturday, or 7.30am–noon and 2pm–4.30pm Monday to Friday, 7.30am–12.30pm Saturday
Restaurants 11am–11pm Monday to Saturday; some also open the same hours on Sunday
While many Batswana enjoy being photographed, others do not. The main point is that you should always ask permission and respect the wishes of the person in question. You should also avoid taking pictures of bridges, dams, airports, military equipment, government buildings and anything that could be considered strategic.
Digital memory cards, CDs and the like can be purchased in Gaborone in large malls such as Game City. They’re a bit harder to find in Maun and Kasane, but it’s possible.
Botswana Post (www.botspost.co.bw) is generally reliable, although it can be slow, so allow at least two weeks for delivery to or from any overseas address.
To send parcels, go to the parcel office at the Central Post Office, fill out the customs forms and pay the duties (if required). Parcels may be plastered with all the sticky tape you like, but they must also be tied up with string and sealing wax, so bring matches to seal knots with the red wax provided.
During official public holidays, all banks, government offices and major businesses are closed. However, hotels, restaurants, bars, smaller shops, petrol stations, museums and national parks and reserves stay open, while border crossings and public transport continue operating as normal. Government offices, banks and some businesses also take the day off after New Year’s Day, President’s Day, Botswana/Independence Day and Boxing Day.
New Year’s Day 1 January
Easter Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday (March/April)
Labour Day 1 May
Ascension Day May/June, 40 days after Easter Sunday
Sir Seretse Khama Day 1 July
President’s Day Third Friday in July
Botswana/Independence Day 30 September
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
Smoking is banned in all enclosed public places in Botswana.
Taxes & Refunds
Throughout the country, quoted prices and tariffs almost always include all local taxes.
There is no system of sales-tax refunds for tourists who purchase items in Botswana.
The operator of Botswana’s fixed-line telephone service is Botswana Telecom (BTC; www.btc.bw). Local and domestic calls at peak times start at P40 per minute and rise according to the distance. When deciding when to call, remember that prices drop by up to one-third for local and domestic calls, and 20% for international calls, from 8pm to 7am Monday to Friday, 1pm to midnight Saturday and all day Sunday. These discounts don’t apply if you use the operator.
There are no internal area codes in Botswana. The country code for Botswana is 267 and the international access code is 00.
Local SIM cards can be used in Australian and European phones. Wide swathes of the country are not covered by the mobile network.
Botswana has two main mobile-phone networks, Mascom Wireless (www.mascom.bw) and Orange Botswana (www.orange.co.bw), of which Mascom is the largest provider. All providers have dealers in most large and medium-sized towns, where you can buy phones, SIM cards and top up your credit. Government-run Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (www.btc.bw) runs the beMobile network, but its future was uncertain at the time of writing.
The coverage map for the two main providers is improving with each passing year, but when deciding whether to get a local SIM card, remember that there’s simply no mobile coverage across large parts of the country (including much of the Kalahari and Okavango Delta). That said, the main highway system is generally covered.
Most Botswana mobile numbers begin with 71, 72 or 73.
Telephone booths can be used for local, domestic and international calls, and can be found in and outside all BTC offices, outside all post offices and around all shopping centres and malls. Blue booths (with the English and Setswana words ‘coin’ and madi) take coins, and the green booths (with the words ‘card’ and karata) use phonecards.
Phonecards can be bought at BTC offices, post offices and some small grocery shops. Local and long-distance telephone calls can also be made from private telephone agencies, often called ‘phone shops’.
Botswana is two hours ahead of GMT/UTC, so when it’s noon in Botswana, it’s 10am in London, 5am in New York, 2am in Los Angeles and 8pm in Sydney (not taking into account daylight-saving time in these countries). There is no daylight-saving time in Botswana.
Public toilets are nonexistent in Botswana. In towns, you're far better off ducking into the nearest hotel or restaurant. Out in the bush, check carefully for hidden wildlife before going behind that tree…
Apart from in rural villages, toilets are all of the Western, sit-down, flush variety.
The Department of Tourism, rebranded in the public sphere as Botswana Tourism (www.botswanatourism.co.bw), has an excellent website and a growing portfolio of tourist offices around the country. These tourist offices don’t always have their finger on the pulse, but they can be an extremely useful source of brochures from local hotels, tour operators and other tourist services.
For information on national parks, you’re better off contacting the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
Another useful resource is the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa, which promotes tourism throughout Southern Africa, including Botswana.
There are tourist offices in the following places:
Travel with Children
Botswana can be a challenging destination for families travelling with children. That’s primarily because the distances here can be epic and long days in the vehicle on bumpy trails will test the patience of most kids. It’s also worth remembering that many upmarket lodges and safari companies won’t accept children under a certain age (sometimes seven, more often 12), and those that do will probably require you to book separate game drives.
On the other hand, if you can keep the kids entertained on the long drives (bring lots of activity books, CDs and games), camping out in the wilds can be a wonderful family experience. It may require eternal vigilance – almost no private or public campsite in the country has enough fencing to keep animals out and children in, and there are the additional hazards of campfires, mosquitoes, snakes and biting/stinging insects. But long distances and these basic rules of camping life aside, a self-driving camping safari is something your kids will remember forever.
The best piece of advice we can give to get the most out of Botswana’s abundant attractions is to not be too ambitious. Instead of trying to cover the whole country, concentrate on really getting to know just one or two places over the course of a week or 10 days, thereby cutting travel times. Wildlife densities are at their highest in the north, especially in the Okavango Delta, Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park. As a result, you shouldn’t need to spend too long in the car before tracking down elephants or lions.
There are lodges and safari operators that do offer family packages that can be worth checking out. Some offer specialist children’s guides and imaginative activity programs, which might include things like making paper from elephant dung! One of the better ones is Young Explorers offered by Great Plains Conservation (http://greatplainsconservation.com/young-explorers), an outstanding three-day program for children. From the Wilderness Safaris portfolio, Seba Camp is considered particularly good for families.
Most lodges and tented camps also have swimming pools, which provide a fine reward for long hours spent in the car.
Although the following activities are rarely aimed at a young audience, older kids will get a kick out of quad biking in the Makgadikgadi Pans, horse-riding safaris, mokoro trips in the reedy waters of the delta or even scenic flights high above the delta. Fishing in the Okavango Panhandle might also appeal.
Unless you’re planning to be in Botswana for the long haul, we advise you to bring everything with you that you think you’ll need. For invaluable general advice on taking the family abroad, see Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
- Babysitting Many lodges make a point of saying they are not babysitting agencies (in other words, your kids are your responsibility), and such agencies are otherwise extremely rare.
- Car seats These may be available from car-rental firms, but you’d be better off bringing your own; there are no car seats in safari vehicles.
- Changing facilities Almost unheard of.
- Cots Rarely available in hotels or lodges.
- Health A check-up with your doctor back home is a good idea before setting out for Botswana, but this is a comparatively safe country and medical facilities are good.
- High chairs Almost nonexistent in restaurants.
- Mosquito repellent Check with your doctor before setting out, as some mosquito repellents with high levels of DEET may be unsuitable for young children. Some lodges have mosquito nets; if you’re camping, consider bringing your own.
- Nappies and baby food These are available from supermarkets in larger towns, but they may not be the brands you’re used to and you don’t want to find yourself in trouble if you’re in town on a Sunday or public holiday.
- National park entry fees Free for children under eight and half-price for those aged from eight to 17 years of age.
Travellers with children should be aware of recent changes regarding the documents you must carry with you while travelling through the region. The law requires that all parents arriving, transiting and departing South Africa, Namibia and Botswana must produce an unabridged birth certificate for their children, and the birth certificate must state the names of both parents. Families not in possession of these documents will be refused travel.
If one parent is travelling alone with their children, the travelling parent must carry with them an affidavit from the other (ie nontravelling) parent who is listed on the birth certificate granting their consent for the travel to take place in their absence. Where this is not possible, either a court order granting full parental responsibilities and rights, or a death certificate of the other parent, must be produced.
We have travelled across the borders of all three countries with our children on numerous occasions and although we were not always asked for these documents, we were asked for each of them at least once. Travel without them at your peril.
People with limited mobility will have a difficult time travelling around Botswana – although there are many disabled people living in the country, facilities are very few and much of the country can be an obstacle course. Along streets and footpaths, kerbs and uneven surfaces will often present problems for wheelchair users, and only a very few upmarket hotels/lodges and restaurants have installed ramps and railings. Also, getting to and around any of the major lodges or camps in the national wildlife parks will be extremely difficult, given their remote and wild locations.
Make sure to choose the areas you visit carefully, and clearly explain your requirements to the lodge and/or safari operator when making your original enquiry. The swampy environs of the Okavango Delta will be particularly challenging for people who have special needs, although the lodges in the Kalahari and the Makgadikgadi Pans are relatively accessible, providing you are travelling with an able-bodied companion. It is also worth bearing in mind that almost any destination in Botswana will require a long trip in a 4WD and/or a small plane.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
There are very few volunteering opportunities in Botswana. The community and conservation projects that exist are usually small, focused grassroots projects that simply aren’t set up for drop-in volunteers. Another factor is that Botswana is a pretty well-organised, wealthy country and the need for volunteer projects simply doesn’t exist, with the exception of NGOs working with HIV/AIDS sufferers.
Specific volunteering opportunities within Botswana at the time of writing:
- Frontier Conservation Expeditions (www.frontier.ac.uk) Teaching and wildlife conservation.
- Project Trust (www.projecttrust.org.uk) School teaching near Maun.
The following international organisations are good places to start gathering information on volunteering, although they won’t necessarily always have projects on the go in Botswana.
- Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service (http://ccivs.org)
- Earthwatch (www.earthwatch.org)
- Idealist (www.idealist.org)
- International Volunteer Programs Association (www.volunteerinternational.org)
- Peace Corps (www.peacecorps.gov)
- Step Together Volunteering (www.step-together.org.uk)
- Worldwide Experience (www.worldwideexperience.com)
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
In general, travelling around Botswana poses no particular difficulties for women travellers. For the most part, men are polite and respectful, and women can often meet and communicate with local men without their intentions necessarily being misconstrued. However, unaccompanied women should be cautious in nightclubs or bars, as generally most instances of hassle tend to be the advances of men who have had one too many drinks.
The threat of sexual assault isn’t any greater in Botswana than in Europe, but women should still avoid walking alone in city parks and backstreets, especially at night. Don’t hitch alone or at night and, if you can, find a companion for trips through sparsely populated areas. Use common sense and things should go well.
Dress modestly. Short sleeves are fine, and baggy shorts and loose T-shirts are acceptable where foreigners are common, but in villages and rural areas try to cover up as much as possible.
There are few opportunities for getting work in Botswana and those that do exist – such as working in a lodge or hotel, or as a tour guide – must be arranged through a company well in advance of your visit to the country.