Botswana is one of Africa’s most notable safari destinations and countries, peaceful, a true democracy, a conservation haven, extraordinary scenery, remote and pristine. I lived and worked there for over 20 years, and dearly love the country.
A Safari visit to Botswana is so much more than simply the idea of bouncing about in a 4x4 vehicle, there are others ways to explore- for example on foot or on horseback. Certainly there are excellent national parks and game reserves, UNESCO World Heritage sites and private reserves that offer a variety of safaris, but there is so much more to the country.
So what are the places and attractions that make Botswana a fantastic safari destination?
We should start with the Okavango Delta, because it is the most well-known, a water wilderness incorporating flooded desert that bursts into life. The Delta has thousands of palm filled islands, all started initially by ant hills, papyrus belts, and reedbeds with hidden islands in the centre.
This holds the most amazing wildlife - the shy sitatunga, and waterlilies in whites and pale blues during the day and as they wrap up for the evening the yellow lotus lilies emerge to look after the evenings.
Tsodilo is the second UNESCO site in Botswana, a sacred site with four hills covered in over 4000 San rock art paintings. Having survived many thousands of years, there is evidence of human settlement here for around 100 000 years.
I cannot tell or explain just how spiritual and incredible these hills and the atmosphere around here is. One simply has to visit. There is a peaceful presence here, one can ‘feel’ it clearly, the local guides will honestly tell you stories of the hills, of people’s experiences when living and visiting here, Tsodilo is a national monument for good reason.
One of the lesser visited yet the largest park in the country is the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, right in the middle of the country. Unlike its better known northern parks, in the Kalahari one can see desert dwelling wildlife like ground squirrels, meerkats, brown hyena, springbok and the grant model of the antelope world – the oryx.
I first visited this park 30 years ago when I few in with the pilot and two other friends into a remote airstrip and we spent the night camping under the stars, knowing that we were the only people in the entire park measuring 32,800 square kilometres. These days there are only two small permanent safari camps, so things haven’t changed much!
The salt pans of the Makgadikgadi is a favourite place which I go back to each year. Vast, wild, you can hear your own heart beat, there is no sound when in the middle of the pans. The only other life here is the cladoceran crustacean which is present in the salt marshes. When the rainy season comes, the marshes are visited by thousands of flamingos to feast on the crustaceans.
Chobe – the land of elephants, and my home for 16 years. I love elephants, even though I had a constant conflict between wanting to keep a garden and succumbing to the inevitable! “Well OK, you have the lawn, and yes help yourself to the flowers, I was (reluctantly) just growing them for you anyway’’.
Chobe is where one sees huge herds - elephants and buffalo, and large pods of hippo that sunbathe in the heat of the day. It is a huge park with predators and antelope and worth a visit to its Savuti area too.
What brings Botswana the headlines these days is its conservation and preservation work. Admired by many, Botswana has staunchly remained true to its tourism model that high cost, low volume means low impact.
Environmental impact is kept in check and there are strict guidelines and laws in place for safari camps and lodges. There is no commercial hunting allowed in the country, and there are dedicated researchers here too, such as Dr Mike Chase (few know more about elephants) and Dr Tico McNutt, one of the world’s leading authorities on wild dog
The diverse Moremi Game Reserve covers half of the Okavango Delta and its water wilderness, but also the much drier mopane woodlands. It is this reserve that is one of the best places to see leopard and wild dog and huge herds of buffalo.
Safaris are not only about driving along in a 4x4, there are also walking safaris – you learn so much more, you feel an experience so much more, your senses are suddenly tested and put into check. Not only can you stretch, get out and walk off the calories from all the lovely food you have eaten, walking safaris are less obtrusive, less harmful and more rewarding by far.
Talking of other ways to explore – for experienced horse riders, there are several dedicated riding camps. There is nothing quite like riding with elephants and buffalo alongside, they generally ignore you, though the giraffe are somewhat quizzical about these shorter relatives.
On the subject of moving, a mobile safari is something I always recommend – luxury camps are set up just for you and your family, you have your own guide and the crew do all the chores. This is the Botswana version of Glamping....
The Tuli – this is one part of Botswana that more often than not is visited from the South Africa side of the border rather than combining it with the rest of Botswana. In topography it’s different too. I remember the first time in visited here and couldn’t believe there were actually hills and rocks – lots of them.
That may sound strange but then the rest of the country is flat and covered in sand with few stones. Mashatu lodge and their tented camp is one of the best places to stay – they also have a sunken wildlife-viewing hide which provides the most exceptional photographic opportunities.
And lastly, Botswana is also home to one very special and well-known lady – Mma Precious Ramotswa – the heroine of ‘’‘The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency’’ novels and internationally acclaimed film by Anthony Minghella, CBE.
Why not visit the country, and perhaps Gaborone and surrounds, to see the inspiration for Alexander McCall Smith’s novels about this quietly formidable and clever woman who gently solved many mysteries in her own delightful Motswana way?
Tuli image courtesy of Shem Compion and Mashatu Lodge
Tsodilo image courtesy of Brad Bestelink
Riding image and elephant in Okavango images courtesy of Belmond Safaris and Okavango Horse Safaris
Walking image courtesy of Motswiri Camp