The story of Botswana’s accommodation is a story of extremes. At one end, there are fabulously located campsites for self-drivers (the closest the country comes to budget accommodation outside the main towns). At the other extreme, there are top-end lodges where prices can be eye-wateringly high. In between, you will find some midrange options in the major towns and places such as the Okavango Panhandle, but elsewhere there’s very little for the midrange (and nothing for the noncamping budget) traveller.

Bed Levy & Government Tax

Note that all hotels, lodges, campsites and other forms of accommodation are required by the government to charge a P10 bed levy per person per night. This levy is rarely, if ever, included in quoted accommodation rates.

In addition to the levy, a 12% government tax is levied on hotels and lodges (but not all campsites) and, unlike the levy, is usually included in prices.

Seasons

While most budget and midrange options tend to have a standard room price, many top-end places change their prices according to season. High season is usually from June to November (and may also apply to Christmas, New Year and Easter, depending on the lodge), low season corresponds to the rains (December to March or April) and the shoulder is a short April and May window. The only exception is the Kalahari, where June to November is generally considered to be low season.

Accommodation Types

Camping

Just about every place of interest, including all major national parks, has a campsite. Once the domain of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), many of the campsites are now privately run.

The change in ownership has seen prices rise considerably. In some cases, the companies in question have upgraded the ablutions blocks to have hot and cold showers and flush toilets, and they generally make sure the sites are in good nick. Others do little to maintain their sites, offer cold bucket showers and pit toilets and run inefficient booking systems. All campsites have braai (barbecue) pits.

All campsites must be booked in advance and they fill up fast in busy periods, such as during South African school holidays. It is very important to remember that you will not be allowed into almost every park run by the DWNP without a reservation for a campsite.

Camping areas are usually small, often with only two or three places to pitch a tent and/or park a vehicle.

Outside of the parks and reserves, some hotels and lodges also provide camping areas. Most private and hotel/lodge campsites have sit-down toilets, showers (often hot), braai pits and washing areas. One definite attraction is that campers can use the hotel bars and restaurants and splash around the hotel swimming pool for free.

Other places where camping is possible include the Tsodilo Hills and Khama Rhino Sanctuary.

Elsewhere, camping in the wild is permitted outside national parks, reserves, private land and away from government freehold areas. If you want to camp near a village, obtain permission from the village leader or police station and enquire about a suitable site.

Campgrounds

Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Campsite

Khumaga

Operator

SKL (http://sklcamps.com)

Price per adult/child

P240/120 (US$50/25)

Nxai Pans

Campsite

South Camp

Operator

Xomae (www.xomaesites.com)

Price per adult/child

P300/150

Campsite

Baines Baobab

Operator

Xomae (www.xomaesites.com)

Price per adult/child

P400/200

Chobe Riverfront

Campsite

Ihaha

Operator

Kwalate (for bookings email kwalatesafari@gmail.com)

Price per adult/child

P260/130 (US$40/20)

Savuti

Campsite

Savuti Camp

Operator

SKL (http://sklcamps.com)

Price per adult/child

P240/120 (US$50/25)

Linyanti

Campsite

Linyanti Camp

Operator

SKL (http://sklcamps.com)

Price per adult/child

P240/120 (US$50/25)

Moremi Game Reserve

Campsite

Xakanaxa

Operator

Kwalate (for bookings email kwalatesafari@gmail.com)

Price per adult/child

P260/130 (US$40/20)

Campsite

Khwai

Operator

SKL (http://sklcamps.com)

Price per adult/child

P240/120 (US$50/25)

Campsite

Third Bridge

Operator

Xomae (www.xomaesites.com)

Price per adult/child

P400/200

Campsite

South Gate

Operator

Kwalate (for bookings email kwalatesafari@gmail.com)

Price per adult/child

P260/130 (US$40/20)

Kubu Island

Campsite

Kubu Island

Operator

Gaing-O-Community Trust (www.kubuisland.com)

Price per adult/child

P150/75

Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Campsite

Kori, Deception Valley, Leopard Pan, Phokoje Pan, Xade, Bape and Xaka

Operator

DWNP (for bookings email dwnp@gov.bw or phone Gaborone office 318 0774)

Price per adult/child

P200/100

Campsite

Passarge Valley, Piper Pan, Motopi, Lekhubu, Leatihau and Sunday Pan

Operator

Big Foot Tours (www.bigfoottours.co.bw)

Price per adult/child

P200/100

Khutse Game Reserve

Campsite

All sites

Operator

Big Foot Tours (www.bigfoottours.co.bw)

Price per adult/child

P200/100

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Campsite

All sites

Operator

DWNP (for bookings email dwnp@gov.bw or phone Gaborone office 318 0774)

Price per adult/child

P30/15

Hotels

Every major town has at least one hotel, and the larger towns and tourist areas, such as Gaborone, Maun, Francistown and Kasane, offer several in different price ranges. In general, midrange and top-end travellers are well looked after, but budget travellers will struggle to find anything as cheap as the budget accommodation in Namibia (the really cheap places in Botswana often double as brothels). There’s a relatively high demand for hotel rooms in Gaborone, in particular from business travellers, so it pays to book ahead here and also elsewhere in the high season.

The range of hotel accommodation available includes rondavels, which are detached rooms or cottages with a private bathroom; B&B-type places, often with a shared bathroom (mostly in Gaborone); motel-style units with a private bathroom and, sometimes, cooking facilities, usually along the highways of eastern Botswana; and luxury hotels in major towns.

Lodges

Botswana’s claim to being Africa’s most exclusive destination is built around its luxury lodges (sometimes called ‘camps’). You’ll find them where there are decent concentrations of wildlife, most notably in Chobe National Park, the Tuli Block, Moremi Game Reserve, all over the Okavango Delta and, to a lesser extent, the parks and reserves of the Kalahari. It’s impossible to generalise about them, other than to say that most pride themselves on their isolation, exclusivity, luxury and impeccable service. Most feature permanent or semipermanent luxury tents, a communal dining area overlooking a water hole or other important geographical feature, and a swimming pool.

For many visitors, they’re once-in-a-lifetime places with accommodation rates to match – some start at around US$1000/1500 per person per night in the low/high season, but many cost considerably more than that. Usually included in these rates are all meals, some drinks and most wildlife drives and other activities. Most places are only accessible by 4WD transfer or air; the latter will cost an extra US$150 to US$200 per leg.

24 Hours in a Safari Camp

All of the fly-in, luxury lodges and safari camps in the Okavango Delta and elsewhere follow a remarkably similar formula when it comes to your daily program.

Wake-up This usually takes place at 6am, but can be as early as 5.30am or as late as 6.30am. You can, of course, ask for a lie-in, but unless you have a private game drive organised (and paid for), this will most often mean missing the morning activity. Sometimes a staff member will bring you tea, coffee or juice, though more often it's a firm but discreet 'good morning!' from outside your tent or room. Once they hear a response and know you're awake, they'll leave.

Breakfast This happens around half an hour after your wake-up call.

Morning activity Whether it's a game drive, nature walk or a mokoro (dugout canoe) trip, this usually begins around 7am, though a 6.30am departure is generally preferable to make the most of the morning's best light.

Brunch/lunch Unless your activity involves being out all day (in which case, you'll have lunch somewhere out on the trail), you'll most often return to camp around 10.30am or 11am. You'll be given time to return to your room and freshen up before brunch or lunch is served, usually around half an hour after your return to camp (11.30am is the most common time).

Relax After brunch/lunch you're free to return to your room or tent for a siesta, go for a swim in the swimming pool, or hang out in the bar – this is free time and how you spend it is usually up to you.

High tea This old, colonial-era institution is alive and well. At around 3.30pm or 4pm, guests are served afternoon tea, which in some lodges can be quite lavish and large, and more simple in others. It usually involves coffee and tea, while you may be offered something a little stronger.

Afternoon activity At around 4pm or 4.30pm, you'll head out on a game drive, boat activity or nature walk. Guides will usually make sure that you are somewhere special for that perfect safari sunset experience – the sundowner. At the better camps, they will ask you for your sundowner drink of choice before setting out from camp. Drinks are often accompanied by nibbles.

Dinner Returning to camp after sunset, you'll again be given time to return to your room or tent if you wish. In almost every safari camp or lodge, you must be accompanied by a staff member as you go to and from your tents after dark, due to the dangers of wandering wildlife. Dinner is usually served around 7pm and is sometimes accompanied by some form of entertainment, such as a dance performance or a predinner nature lecture.

What Not to Expect from Your Luxury Lodge

The experience of staying in a remote safari lodge invariably involves high levels of service and comfort, but there are some things that, it may surprise you to learn, your rather large nightly rate does not necessarily entitle you to (although there is considerable variety in what's on offer):

  • 24-hour electricity Some camps have it, some don't.
  • In-room electricity Some have power points in your room or tent, others have an area where you can charge your phone, laptop or camera batteries in the main communal area. In some camps, candlelight and gas lanterns provide the only lights in your tent.
  • Wi-fi Very few lodges have wi-fi, even in communal areas. Although most will have some way of communicating with the outside world in case of emergency, these are not generally available to guests. Check with the company in question when making your booking.
  • Private game drives In most lodges you'll be partnered with other guests with whom you will share a boat or game-drive vehicle. If you want a private vehicle and guide, you must usually pay extra. On most occasions, the shared nature causes few problems, but it may be less than ideal if you have a particular interest (eg birdwatching) or desire to spend longer out on the trail or watching that pride of lions sleep under a tree.