Botswana is one of Africa’s last great wildernesses. The preservation of ancient migration routes – free from fences and farmland – has created a significant wildlife haven, and created space for one of Africa’s greatest wildlife spectacles: over 130,000 elephants, more than anywhere else in the world. The sheer quantity of wildlife here increases the chance of spotting once-in-a-lifetime scenes, including lions paddling across rivers or hunting thundering herds of Cape buffalo. Bring your zoom lens – and a sense of adventure.
NOURISHED BY THE IMMENSE LIFELINE THAT IS THE OKAVANGO DELTA, ELEPHANT HERDS CAN NUMBER INTO THE HUNDREDS, ROAMING ACROSS THE DESERT, SWIMMING THROUGH RIVERS, SWARMING OVER ROADS.
But it’s worth tearing yourself away to spend some of your Botswana holiday discovering its culture. The San are the Kalahari’s original inhabitants – and bushwalks reveal how this forbidding land has served as their pharmacy and pantry for millennia, but also how – while Botswana’s wildlife flourishes – its first people’s traditional, sustainable lifestyle may be withering. Find out more in our Botswana travel guide.
You don’t need to splash out on a top lodge to capture the essence of Botswana. Spending the night in a tent in the remote wilderness, listening to the wildlife, is an extraordinarily special Botswana holiday experience. Budget camps can be just 1km from the luxury lodges – so you can enjoy the same wildlife and landscapes for a fraction of the price.
Wheelchair accessible safaris
Whether you rely on a wheelchair at all times or have mobility issues, you can still take a safari in Botswana if you’re flexible. Rangers can lift you in and out of vehicles, and there’s a growing number of wheelchair-accessible accommodations available.
Botswana has well-established holiday routes, yet areas that are excluded from that, such as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Nxai Pan and Kgalagadi, are rarely travelled but equally as stunning. They offer genuine wilderness experiences, with the chance to find yourself 50km away from any other humans.
Sacred Tsodilo Hills
This rocky outcrop has always been a spiritual place for the San, and its aura can still be felt by modern visitors. The rock, jutting dramatically out of the sands of the Kalahari, contains around 4,000 figurative and geometric paintings, but its remote location to the west of the Okavango Delta means few intrepid travellers ever enjoy this ancient art gallery.
Okavango Delta by canoe
Get a hippo’s-eye-view of the Okavango Delta. Glide through the channels in a traditional mokoro dugout canoe with a local guide, sitting just inches above the surface, and metres from Botswana’s greatest wildlife scenes – including swimming elephants, basking crocodiles and hippos. The boats are poled silently through the reeds, creating a minimal disturbance and allowing the sounds of nature to take over.
Bush walks with the San
Walking with the Kalahari’s original inhabitants during your Botswana holiday will change your perception of this seemingly inhospitable landscape. They can drink water from tubers, light a fire in minutes, and call on centuries-old knowledge to track prey for days through the desert.
World’s largest elephants
Botswana’s vast transfrontier parks and lack of fences mean that epic elephant migration routes remain open. This is the best place in Africa to see huge herds of Kalahari elephants – the largest in the world – migrating, drinking, eating and even swimming during their 200-mile journey across northern Botswana.
Moremi Game Reserve
The only national protected area within the Delta, Moremi was created by local Batawana people to protect its wildlife for the future. Moremi’s floodplains, islands, grasslands and forests support an extraordinary variety of wildlife, including buffalo-hunting lions, elusive leopards, and many resident and migratory birds. Tightly controlled tourism means you are far more likely to encounter animals than other tourists.
Super luxury lodges
A stay in a super luxury lodge will make you feel like royalty while on holiday in Botswana. However, being surrounded by gold taps, Persian rugs and popping champagne corks will distance you from your real surroundings – the African wilderness. Impressive as these desert ‘palaces’ may be, it’s a real shame to miss out on connecting with Botswana’s nature – and its people.
Disrespectful San tours
Good cultural tourism during your Botswana holiday encourages interaction and the preservation of traditions and brings employment to marginalised communities. However, sometimes the San are forced to behave in ways they are not comfortable with, either to reinforce exotic, ‘primitive’ stereotypes for tourists, or simply through being treated disrespectfully, with tourists entering their homes without permission. Pick your tour carefully.
Botswana’s strict access controls do not apply outside of its conservation areas, meaning that towns bordering the national parks, such as Kasane on the eastern edge of Chobe, are packed with hotels and you will find yourself on a conveyor belt of safari vehicles if you travel here on your holiday to Botswana.
Imported “local” crafts
Maun’s downtown craft centre has some gorgeous souvenirs, but many are imported from across Africa. Take the time to visit one of the out-of-town workshops where you can see your textiles, baskets and ceramics being made, and support local craftspeople at the same time.
FOOD, SHOPPING & PEOPLE
Eating & drinking
Botswana’s speciality is beef. Try it salted and slow-cooked in a three-legged pot, as a dish known as seswaa.
Don’t get seswaa confused with serobe – this meat dish includes intestines, organs and even trotters!
Vegetarians will enjoy sampling the exotic water lilies of the Okavango Delta, harvested by local women.
Traditional khadi beer is brewed using native plants – it tastes similar to apple cider, but be prepared for a pounding hangover.
People & language
Up to 80 per cent of Botswana’s population is Tswana, but half of Africa’s San people also live here. Other groups include Bantu-speaking tribes and those of European descent.
Say “No problems!” to a Tswana: “Go siame!”
Greet them !Kung-Ekoka San (with a click): “!Gao”
Ask how is a Kalanga: “Mashwa tjini?”
Gifts & shopping
Treat yourself to a necklace made of ostrich shell beads – a traditional adornment of the San.
Woven baskets and bowls are Botswana’s speciality. Try and buy from local markets or directly from communities to ensure your souvenir has not been imported and is supporting local artisans.
All those elephants mean a lot of waste and the resourceful Batswana turn the dung into (non-smelly!) paper. Buy a journal or notecards, and support local craftspeople and elephant conservation during your Botswana holiday.
How can I visit Botswana?
To enter Botswana you’ll need to show proof that you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19. If you’re not fully vaccinated you may be required to undergo vaccination or COVID-19 (PCR) testing at your port of entry.
Do I need a visa to travel to Botswana?
U.S. citizens are permitted to stay up to 90 days total within a 12-month period without a visa. The total stay permitted for each visit is recorded on the entry stamp by Botswana immigration officials and may be less than 90 days.
Is travelling in Botswana expensive?
Botswana is one of the most expensive destinations to visit in Africa, but it’s on every safari-goer’s bucket list for a reason: its vast swathes of untamed wilderness, fence-free national parks and wealth of wildlife.
Do I need a passport to go to Botswana?
IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR TRAVELLERS TO BOTSWANA.
All visitors to Botswana must be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least 6 months, with the exception of those with outgoing travel documents and sufficient funds for the duration of their stay.
How much does it cost to enter Botswana?
What is the Botswana e-Visa, and how do I apply for it? The Botswana government charges $30 for a visa to enter Botswana. However, travellers who don’t need a visa and wonder how much the Botswana Visa Fee is will be delighted to know that there is no charge for citizens whose countries are on the visa-free list.