Introduction to Botswana Safaris:
For safari enthusiasts Botswana, the land of the delta in the desert, needs no introduction. With more land set aside for wildlife, as a proportion of the total area of the country, than any other in Africa, Botswana does the luxury fly-in safari better than just about any other country in Southern Africa. From the rich waterways of the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world, to the desolate Kalahari and the primeval sandstone and Baobab country in the Northern Tuli region, Botswana will be the highlight in the travels of any wildlife enthusiast.
Botswana is a land-locked nation situated more or less in the center of Southern Africa, sharing a western and northern border with Namibia, a southern border with South Africa, and an eastern border with Zimbabwe. In the north there’s also a small gap where Namibia’s Caprivi Strip meets Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, which gives Botswana and Zambia a small shared border of a few hundred meters.
Botswana is if anything a flat country. It’s slightly smaller than the State of Texas, and in terms of altitude ranges between 900 and 1300 meters above sea level on average, with the highest points in the country not even reaching the 1 500 m (4 921ft) above sea level mark. Much of the country (70%) is made up of the Kalahari, a large sand basin covering much of south western Africa. Botswana is driest in the south-west, where it borders South Africa and Namibia, and wettest in the Chobe / Linyanti region in the north east. Being landlocked the climate is relatively stable, and is generally characterized by hot summers, when conditions favour the formation of convection thunderstorms, and mild, dry winters.
Historically the country was, like most Southern African countries, first occupied by nomadic San peoples, an ancient lineage of hunter gatherers who lived off the land. The San were subsequently joined by the Khoi, a slightly more advanced group of early pastoralists originating further north in Africa. After the Khoi came the Bantu speaking people who gradually migrated down into Southern Africa from north of the equator and who would eventually become the black tribes we know today. Eventually European traders and hunters arrived, followed by missionaries, and Botswana was declared a British Protectorate in 1885, known then as Bechuanaland. Independence was granted in 1966 and since then the country has moved from being one of the poorest to one of the richest nations in Africa, thanks to a stable Government, relatively small population, tourism, agriculture and mineral wealth.
The capital city of Gabarone is situated in the south-east of the country, and as such is not really a gateway to the main safari areas. Maun, a small town on the edge of the delta, serves as the main gateway to the numerous safari lodges of the Okavango region, while Kasane in the far north-east is the access point to the Chobe region. Air charter is the most efficient mode of transport, with most visitors flying in to Maun from Johannesburg and then getting a charter flight to their chosen lodge. The Tuli Safari Area in the south-eastern corner of the country is however easily accessible by road from South Africa. See more under Birding and Wildlife.
Summer: September to April
- Botswana falls under a summer rainfall climatic regime, with most rain falling between October and May. Most rain falls during afternoon / evening convection thunderstorms.
- The country is generally dry, except for the north and north-east.
- In general it is warm to very hot in summer.
Winter: May to August
- Winters are generally mild, though it can get cold to very cold overnight and in the early morning, especially in the Kalahari, where sub-zero temperatures are not unheard of.
- Minimal chances of rain.
With approximately 580 recorded bird species, and no true endemics, Botswana is not the richest country in Southern Africa in pure birding terms. The habitat is basically limited to Kalahari Sandveld and Arid Savanna, though the Okavango Delta and the major rivers of the north offer some additional elements. Botswana does however offer excellent general Southern African savanna birding, as well as good places to see sought-after species such as Pel’s Fishing Owl, Yellow-throated and Burchell’s Sandgrouse, African Pygmy Goose and White-backed Night Heron. Despite the relatively low species count, the Okavango region in particular offers incredible numbers of birds, especially at certain times of the year such as the arrival of the floodwaters from Angola and the annual ‘barbel run’ (Sharptooth Catfish spawning season). Furthermore, viewing conditions can be outstanding, and Botswana, while perhaps not being the destination of choice for the world lister, is definitely of interest to the general birder, the bird photographer and the general nature enthusiast. Read more under ‘Botswana Birding‘…
In terms of pure, unadulterated African wildlife, Botswana is very hard to beat. With roughly 17% of the country formally protected and large areas of sparsely populated areas where wildlife still roams free, Botswana still has good numbers of game species, including some of the continent’s largest Elephant, Wild Dog and Lion populations. The safari experience has been refined here, with some of the best safari lodges in Africa to be found in the premier wildlife regions of Botswana. Unfortunately, with the remoteness and exclusivity of the camps, and the Government’s ‘fewer tourists paying more’ philosophy (which is designed to protect the natural environment), Botswana is not a cheap safari destination by any means (though most lodges offer a significantly discounted rate during the wet season). For those who can afford it though, a Botswana safari will no doubt be the highlight of a lifetime. Read more under ‘Botswana Wildlife‘…