Botswana is the jewel of Southern Africa, with its diverse ecosystems, its extraordinary wildlife viewing opportunities and its friendly nature, there are many reasons to visit Botswana. It has been very hard to keep the reasons down to 10, but here are my top 10 reasons to visit Botswana.
1. The Okavango Delta
The Okavango is a myriad of meandering papyrus filled waterways and palm-fringed islands where herds of elephants come to drink. There is nowhere on earth that comes remotely similar to this wonderful ecosystem, so much so that it became the 1000th site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2014.
The best way to explore the delta is by dugout canoe, locally called a mekoro, where you are gently propelled through this magical wonderland by your own knowledgeable guide. As the water ripples past you and the hippos chomp through the undergrowth, let time slowdown in this serene environment. This is the ultimate laid back approach to wildlife spotting whilst having an opportunity of seeing this unique environment from a different perspective. Often you have the privilege two walk on some of the islands and go where few have been, feel like an explorer. Relax and let the world float by.
2. Chobe National Park and its Elephants
It is the most accessible and frequently visited of Botswana’s big game country and is famous for its large herds of elephants, often reaching 100,000. During the dry winter months of May through to September enormous numbers of these pachyderms converge upon the river to drink, bathe and play. You are practically guaranteed elephant sightings here and may even get trapped whilst waiting for large herds of these lumbering giants to cross the dirt road ahead. Totally unforgettable, even in elephant terms.
And not only is it famous for its huge herds of elephant, but also its buffalo as well as the associated predators such as large prides of lion that have learnt to hunt them. There are also numerous antelope and other plains game as well as vast pods of hippos wallowing in the shallows of the River Chobe. On top this the birdlife is spectacular, so make sure you have your binoculars with you.
3. Exclusivity and Luxury
And the exclusivity attracts guests that request luxury on their unique holiday to Botswana. Many of the lodges are spectacular but in a stylish and simplistic way. The lodges beautifully blend into the ecosystem in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. It is all about being at one with nature, having a minimal impact on the environment and yet seeing it in style and with the luxury that guests expect from exclusive lodges.
4. Excellent guides
Quite a few lodges have both a guide and a tracker on each vehicle, which may seem rather excessive but once you’ve been on a game drive with them you can appreciate how it works. The guide is there to give guests fascinating background and information about the area, the wildlife, the birdlife, all the way down to the minuscule flora and fauna that we seem to pass by whereas the tracker is solely there to keep an eye-out for footprints and other signs to determine location of those more elusive animals such as lion, wild dog, hyena, civet or whatever else that you are interested in seeing. The tracker will give directions to the guide as to which way to go for what from what information they have gained from simply looking at the ground.
A unique experience is waiting for you on a safari in Botswana.
5. Rare Wildlife Sightings
Botswana is the ultimate wildlife destination; it is a blend of unique habitats, incredible wildlife viewing opportunities and inspiring accommodation. However, quite often guests have something in particular that they really want to see, and more often than not, they are those elusive, rare species.
Moremi Game Reserve and adjoining private land concessions in the Okavango provide the perfect environment in which to see endangered wild dogs in their natural habitat – this is often an ask from guests, which I can totally understand. Botswana also has a number of other rare species which can be seen on safari including the black-maned Kalahari lion, sitatunga, puku and red lechwe antelope, brown hyena, the African skimmer and aardvark.
For seeing wild dog then Lagoon Camp in the Linyanti region in Northern Botswana is an excellent choice where as to see puku the best place is Puku Flats (very aptly named), just west of Chobe Game Lodge and east of Serondella camp site. If you are after the black-maned Kalahari lion then stay nowhere else but Kalahari Plains and for a good chance of seeing an African skimmer in the Okavango Delta and along the Chobe River, large river systems and lakes which have sparse vegetation on its sandbars and islands.
6. Peace and Tranquility
Admittedly, there are other noises to get used to, but the wonderful thing is that practically everything is natural; the occasional rumbling of elephants as they walk past your lodge, the chirping of cicadas to lull you to sleep at nights, the painful cry of the fish eagle from miles away, the melodious honking of hippo or the occasional plop of a fish as it goes about its everyday life. And although these sounds are harmonious and beautiful, they are not constant, which allows you to appreciate the peace and tranquility of the African bush.
Botswana is full of these places, away from the trappings of modern technology, giving you the opportunity to restore your soul. Bliss.
7. A Genuine Commitment to Conservation
Botswana has a genuine commitment to conservation of environment, wildlife and cultural heritage making it a leader in eco-tourism. Over 38% of the land is protected for wildlife and nature conservation, which is an extraordinary feat and bodes well for the future of the country with such a clear vision.
The Botswana Government recognises the economic importance or ensuring game reserves remain protected and local communities benefit through conservation and good tourism practices. Tourism is a growing sector due these to conservation practices and the knowledge that as a tourist you can assist with these conservation programs is also an attractive bonus to anyone’s holiday.
8. Zebra migration
This little known zebra migration is the world’s second-largest zebra and wildebeest migration after the Serengeti. And it is just as spectacular.
In November, at the beginning of the rainy season, up to 25,000 zebra start their migration through the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks in search of water and lush grazing grounds. The pans are normally harsh and dry environments but the first rains bring an incredible transformation of rich grasses which are critical for these migrating animals. And with the rain comes a plethora of young which are adapted to being on the move. A zebra foal can be found running along beside its mother within an hour of it being born and even more cleverly its body is the same height as its mothers so it can be shielded from opportunistic predators. And there are numerous predators that stalk this migration including lions, leopards, hyena and cheetah, waiting to pick off weakened animals and unsuspecting young.
Not many people have heard about this migration, it seems to be an exceptionally well kept secret. Best place to see this is to stay at camps in the vicinity, such as Meno A Kwena, or use a mobile safari operator.
This migration is incredible and the surrounding scenery makes an inspiring backdrop for any budding photographer or simply for memories.
9. Diversity of Safaris
There is never a dull moment on safari and the great thing about being on safari in Botswana is that there are so many different ways you can do this. Of course there are the expected game drives in customised 4×4 vehicles, which are of course well thought out and professionally organised, but then there are also boat safaris which is a similar setup but with a completely different experience as you meander through the waterways as opposed to trundling through the African bush. You can also explore Okavango in depth by going on a mekoro excursion where you get to see wildlife from a very low perspective! You can even go on a quad biking safari onto the salt pans and sleep out under the stars!
And then you can explore the African bush on foot on guided bush walks with knowledgeable guides and also with the Bushman. The different environments that you can walk in range from bushland savanna to the wide expanse of the salt pans. Guided Bushman walks in the Kalahari region are often a highlight for many visitors to Botswana. Bushman walks focus on the smaller and more delicate side of the environment such as local flora, the Bushman culture and the unique uses for everything you see. The walks draw attention to the landscape and provides a brilliant overall perspective of a traditional lifestyle in Botswana.
But why bother walking when you can see game from horseback? There are a number of horseback safari operators and lodges that specialize in this, such as Raw Botswana, although you do need to be an experienced rider due to the nature of unpredictable wildlife. The great thing about being on horseback is that the wildlife accepts you as you are part of another four-legged animal. Incredible.
10. House boats
A Chobe River Safari has to be one of the laziest game viewing experiences in Africa. Watch hippos and crocodiles jostling for a riverside spots and elephant swimming with their trunks held high as snorkels, simply from your bedroom. Birdlife is bountiful; pied kingfishers suspended over the water, fish eagles calling plaintively and herons pirouetting through the water. Witness these spectacular sightings by boat and watch the world drift by.
Staying on a houseboat enables you to do this 24 hours, should you choose to do so. A houseboat stay is highly recommended, especially after all the hard work of early morning and sundowner safaris! Instead, whilst on a houseboat, you are permanently on safari, which is a bit of a novelty in itself. Lounge on luxurious decking overlooking the water and watch vast pods of hippo as you float by or alternatively take out the smaller boats to get up close and personal with the wildlife and see Chobe from a different perspective.
Again, Botswana has excelled in luxury in the most wonderful of places whether you were simply sitting in the plunge pool on the deck, sipping your gin and tonic from your private boat or enjoying the peace and tranquility of fishing, this is an excellent end to any visit to Botswana. And at night, drift off to sleep to the melodious chirp of frogs and the gentle rocking of your boat, pure relaxation.
The Chobe River supports a diversity and concentration of wildlife unparalleled anywhere else in the country, so why not see it from your own floating lodge?
Image credits: Jenny Bowen