Top 5 Things to Do in Botswana
Featured destinations: Botswana, Chobe National Park
Published 11 April 2016
Diamonds, cattle and wildlife: Botswana knows what it’s good at. Using these assets wisely, the country has developed into a beacon of African economic, social and political stability since gaining its independence in the mid-1960s. The economic wealth that diamonds have created for the country, coupled with it being situated in one of the most sparsely populated regions on the planet, has meant that Botswana has succeeded admirably in protecting its wildlife and wilderness areas. With just under 40% of the country set aside either as national park, game reserve or wildlife management area, this is a vast land of wide-open, semi-arid desert where huge skies blanket a rich diversity of landscapes and a plethora of wildlife experiences.
From the shimmering floodplains of the Okavango Delta to the flat, moonlike landscape of the Kalahari Salt Pans, Botswana can keep you entertained for weeks.
Here are our top 5 ways to experience what Botswana has to offer:
Camp under canvas in the Okavango Delta
In the far north, the waters of the Okavango River spill into Botswana from the highlands of Angola, never to reach the sea but instead fanning out and creating the Okavango Delta. The ocean’s loss is Botswana’s gain though, and before the floodwaters evaporate away under the blazing African sun they deposit rich, life-giving silt and help to replenish one of the world’s last pristine wilderness areas. Wildlife abounds here and one of the best ways to experience it is on a mobile safari. This is camping at its finest: a fully catered safari led by an expert guide spending a few nights in one area before the whole camp is packed up and moved on to the next. Sleeping under canvas is an experience like no other, there are no fences here and being at ground level with just a mesh window separating you from any nocturnal visitors is an exhilarating experience. Fly between campsites in a light aircraft, or take things a little slower by vehicle; both offer contrasting but spectacular perspectives of the Okavango Delta, which was designated the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.
Walk with elephants
In the southeast of the Okavango Delta live Jabu, Thembe and Marula, three semi-habituated orphaned elephants. Accompanied by their surrogate human parents, Doug and Sandi Groves, it’s possible to spend a fascinating morning walking with the trio as they go about their daily business. Far from anything contrived and circus-like, the chance to spend some time with these massive creatures and to learn about them from people who clearly care so much for their welfare is not to be missed. If one elephant interaction isn’t enough for you, consider a visit to the ultra-luxurious Abu Camp too. Here there is the chance to not only walk with the elephants but to sleep out under the stars on a specially designed deck, overlooking the elephant enclosure below where the family are put to bed at night.
Take a boat ride on the Chobe River
As the international boundary between Namibia and Botswana, the Chobe River has been the scene of some serious conflict in the past. Thankfully though, today the only disputes taking place here are over where is the best place to stop for a drink and to watch the sunset. Taking a boat ride on the Chobe River is the very best way to see game during a visit here.
It’s not unheard of to see in excess of a thousand elephants coming down to drink along its banks in the height of the dry season. Similarly, healthy herds of buffalo, prowling lion, packs of excited wild dog and rare antelope such as sable can also be seen as the temperatures cool in the late afternoon and animals emerge from the bush, almost as if on cue, and begin to move to the water’s edge.
Explore Tsodilo Hills
Another World Heritage Site, Tsodilo Hills confounds those who say that Botswana is only a wildlife destination. Well off the beaten track and with over 4,500 rock paintings, some dating back nearly 25,000 years, these hills have been sacred to the local San tribe for millennia. Four main hills make up the Tsodilo site and of these Male Hill is the largest and widely accepted as the highest point in Botswana. Female Hill is where the majority of the cave paintings can be seen while the smaller Child Hill and another outcrop, so small it hasn’t ever even been given a name, complete the family. A visit to the Tsodilo Hills accompanied by a local guide opens up a fascinating and altogether different aspect of Botswana which few visitors to the country take the time to explore.
Quad Bike across the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans
If the Okavango Delta is an oasis of life in the heart of the arid Kalahari Desert then it would be easy to view the salt pans of the Makgadikgadi as its counter point. Sparse, vast and flat these dry plains of white nothingness are just as beautiful for their scale and emptiness as the Delta is for its intricate landscapes. The feeling of freedom and isolation is what attracts visitors to the pans and there is no better way to experience this than by quad bike, aiming at an impossibly far off horizon so extensive that you can see the curvature of the Earth.
Led by an experienced guide, you’ll head for Kubu Island, a rare outcrop which rises from the landscape. This is where you’ll set up camp and begin exploring the local area. Beads and tools used by traders and Bushmen passing through the area hundreds and even thousands of years ago can still be found all around. If the scale of the pans and the evidence of generations of previous visitors to this site isn’t awe inspiring enough for you then just wait until the sun goes down and the night begins. Sleeping under a sky full of stars your guide will point out all of the visible constellations and planets and the feeling of total isolation is truly complete.
If you fancy heading for Botswana, check out Round the World Experts' Southern African Predators Journey, which includes a stay in Chobe National Park.