Into the Wild on a Botswana Safari
To embark on a Botswana safari is to venture far off the beaten track into the untamed heart of Africa, where the landscapes are never-ending and the big game encounters are truly wild.
A land of breathtaking contrasts, Botswana’s natural wonders range from the vast salt pans of the Makgadikgadi, with its granite outcrops and twisted baobabs, to the sandy plains of the Kalahari and the lush oasis of the Okavango Delta. Vast elephant herds splash and spray in the cool waters of the Chobe River and an annual migration of zebra meanders through the Linyanti and Savute. The rock paintings of the San Bushmen survive untouched in the Tsodilo Hills, while their way of life continues undisturbed in the remote Kalahari.
Nowhere else on the planet can you float between reeded channels in a dugout canoe while around you antelope splash through crystal clear water. Yet Botswana also offers excellent land-based game viewing. The Chobe National Park is home to the world’s largest herds of elephant and offers regular sightings of predators, and rare and endangered animals. There is something for everyone in Botswana - photographers will seek out the star beauty of the Kalahari Desert and birdwatchers will flock to the Moremi Game Reserve.
What to expect on safari in Botswana
With its remote wildlife areas and vast stretches of sparsely populated land, a Botswana safari tour is a very different experience than a safari elsewhere in Africa. Whether in the wide expanses of the Kalahari Desert and the Makgadikgadi Pans or among a network of channels and lagoons in the Okavango Delta Botswana, the scenery is distinctive. The pace of safari is gentler, with time spent slowing down and enjoying the smaller details. Wildlife sightings may not be as frequent as on a South African safari or in East Africa but they are more exclusive, most often only shared with those on your safari vehicle.
Botswana is an exclusive safari destination and tourism is strictly regulated. As a result, prices may appear higher than elsewhere in Africa, but the experience is unfailingly of a high quality, most often in very remote and untouched parts of the country. The most beautiful destinations in Botswana can only be reached by light aircraft, which also influences the cost of your safari, although it adds to the experience.
Camps and lodges in the Okavango Delta are generally situated on private concessions. This means that guests are able to participate in a wider range of activities, including game drives, nature walks, boating excursions or trips in traditional canoes known as mokoro. In areas where lodges can be easily accessed by land game drives can continue after dark, providing a glimpse of the nocturnal activities of Botswana’s wildlife.
Lodges in the more remote areas of Botswana do not have electricity and rely on generator power for lighting and refrigeration. Generators may often be switched off at night, which means that air conditioning may not function during this time. Should you have any medical requirements that call for a 24-hour electricity supply, most lodges will be able to oblige, with the exception of some tented camps or mobile operations.
Why choose Botswana?
With 17% of all land in Botswana protected as national reserves, the country boasts and incredible wealth of wildlife and provides the opportunity to explore some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on the continents. Botswana is truly a land of breathtaking contrasts, from the sandy plains of the Kalahari Desert to the lush oasis of the Okavango Delta. It is possible to combine these areas into one visit, getting a spectacular overview of different scenery and attractions.
The famed Okavango Delta offers the rare phenomenon of a delta in the heart of the desert, creating a lush and vibrant oasis in the midst of the Kalahari. Botswana’s largest conservation area, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve consists of 54 600 km² (21 100 square miles) of exceptional wildlife land. The banks of the Chobe River are home to some of Africa’s largest elephant herds, while an annual migration of zebra takes place in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and the Savute region of Chobe National Park. The Moremi Game Reserve boasts unsurpassed numbers of wildlife, while birding enthusiasts can marvel at hundreds of bird species found throughout the country, including some rare endemics.
A variety of different adventures is available, from the more common game drives to mokoro excursions and even canoeing safaris in the beautiful Selinda area. Walking safaris are popular in Linyanti, while quad biking expeditions explore the Makgadikgadi Pans. Cultural adventures offer a glimpse of the traditional Bushman way and horse riding safaris explore the desert in the Kalahari.
While Botswana may not be easy to reach directly from the USA or Europe, it is ideally positioned to combine with a number of other exceptional African destinations. A Botswana safari can be the perfect ending to tours of South Africa, while it is also easy to combine with a journey through Namibia or even a visit to the spectacular Victoria Falls in neighbouring Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Who is it for?
While Botswana safaris are definitely not for anyone who is looking for the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan living, with a thriving night life and all the modern conveniences, the destination has something to offer just about everyone else.
Wildlife viewing in Botswana can be exceptional, with a number of famed wilderness areas to choose from. However, this may not be the ideal safari destination for anyone who wants to tick off a number of sightings in quick succession. Game viewing in the Delta is an experience completely unlike that on the open plains of East Africa or in the dense bush of South Africa. Remote and wild, the spectacular landscape shelters its inhabitants, so tracking an animal becomes a delicate adventure that relies on the expert skills of your guide and tracker. Once you find your quarry, it is there for you to enjoy for as long as you want, often with not a single other vehicle to taint the moment for you.
Secluded enough for a sense of splendid isolation, yet filled with breathtaking accommodation, spectacular landscapes and thrilling experiences, Botswana is also an ideal destination for honeymooners or guests of a romantic breakaway. During the winter months, when the floodwaters in the Okavango Delta are high and life acquires a more leisurely pace this becomes the ideal place for anyone looking for utter relaxation. Morning adventures begin later, leaving plenty of time to wake up slowly and watch the day dawn over a cup of steaming coffee. Gentle mokoro rides are accompanied only by the splish-splash of water dripping and the trilling of birds.
For those in search of more action and adventure, there are quad biking or horse riding safaris, canoeing safaris and walking trails through the wilderness. Mobile tented camps like &Beyond Chobe Under Canvas or &Beyond Savute Under Canvas offer an authentic taste of bush life stripped to the very basics. Here guests can experience the sounds of the Botswana night from behind a thin wall of canvas, be woken by birdsong and fall asleep with the shadows of the campfire lighting up their tent walls.
A fantasy playground for young and old, Botswana will enthral the entire family with an endless range of things to do, each more thrilling than the other.
Fishing and frogging expeditions explore the clear Delta channels, there’s the tantalising challenge of learning how to steer the traditional dugout mokoro with just a long wooden pole and nature walks on the reeded islands discover birds and animal tracks. Quad bike adventures in the Makgadikgadi Pans and authentic encounters with the Bushmen of the Kalahari will keep teenagers entertained, while nobody can resist the attentions of the area’s famous and friendly meerkats.
Where to go on safari in Botswana
The largest inland delta in the world, the Okavango Delta is the most unexpected wonder – water present in a desert. The broad Okavango River sinks into the dry sands of the Kalahari Desert, creating a lush and waterlogged oasis with crystal clear lagoons and channels, reeded islands and fertile floodplains. Dubbed “the river that never finds the sea”, this magical oasis spreads over more than 15 500 km² (almost 6 000 square miles) and yet is so fragile that, if it were denied water for even a decade, it would revert to a semi-desert.
This breathtaking environment constantly adapts and changes with the ebb and flow of the floodwaters that seasonally inundate large portions of the Delta. Although dry for two thirds of the year, during the winter months the rising floodwaters create a maze of marshes, small wooded islands and shallow lagoons. Water lilies and other aquatic plants flourish in the shallow water, while water birds inhabit the banks of papyrus. As relatively little water can be found elsewhere during this time, the wildlife is drawn to the clear waters of the Delta.
On the edges of the Delta, where land blurs with water, breeding herds of elephant splash gently through shallow channels, the long necks of a family of giraffe materialise slowly out of the Delta skyline and graceful sitatunga antelope hide in the reeds. It is a place where you can wonder at the antics of wild dog in the morning and cast a line for tiger fish in the afternoon, wake in the dappled shade of a forest and enjoy dinner beneath the boughs of a massive baobab at full moon.
At the heart of the Delta lies a secluded network of waterways and islands where life slows down even further. Beautiful little reed frogs cling to the water grasses and a variety of incredible bird species make their appearance, from jewelled kingfishers and bee-eaters to ponderous herons and cranes and solemn-looking owls. Red lechwe scamper through the shallows and wild cat, serval and pangolin can be spotted at night, when the moon reflects off the backs of a family of hippo coming out of the water to graze, turning them into slabs of shining silver.
Learn more about Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is home to a large number of species, including some that are specially adapted to the semi-aquatic lifestyle, like the elegant red lechwe and shy sitatunga antelope. Lion prides, cheetah, leopard and African wild dog may be encountered, while hippo reside in deeper channels and lagoons. Honey badgers are observed during daylight hours. Roan and sable antelope favour taller grass in open woodlands and families of dwarf and banded mongoose occupy large termite mounds.
Graceful giraffe, with their impossibly long necks, and herds of zebra can be encountered on the floodplains. Lion, as well as other predators, can also be found in the area, particularly in the drier areas. Although predominantly nocturnal and difficult to spot, leopard occur in the dense forest are the water’s edge. The sparkling channels teem with a variety of fish, while hundreds of bird species, frogs and insects inhabit the reeded banks.
Chobe National Park
A wildlife enthusiast’s dream, Chobe National Park is one of the top wilderness reserves in the world. The Chobe River is an oasis in a dry region and, with water being a lifeline to many species, game is abundant here. The largest concentration of elephant in Africa occupies this park and, in the mid to late afternoon, herd after herd comes down to the Chobe banks, some small in number and other counting in the hundreds. Each takes its turn to drink the precious water, swim in the cool river or just jostle for position. Inland from the river is a semi-arid habitat, while around the oasis vegetation is abundant.
Herds of sable antelope, mostly seen in the dry regions, can be spotted coming down to drink, only to disappear back into the drier areas. The puku is an indigenous and endangered antelope that can only be seen along the Chobe River banks and in pockets in the Linyanti swamps. Roan antelope are also seen, along with giraffe, kudu, bushbuck, waterbuck, zebra, wildebeest, warthog, lion, leopard and the occasional African wild dog. Large herds of buffalo are found along the Chobe riverfront and grazing on the islands, crossing from one to the other or back to the mainland.
An African fish eagle is perched on what seems like every tree. Male fish eagles fly above the waters, crying out for a mate. Wire tailed swallows hunt and swoop above the river waters while darters dry themselves on dead logs at the water’s edge. Kingfishers sit silently in wait for their next opportunity to strike upon their prey and the colourful, endangered African skimmers skim the waterline of the river.
Learn more about Chobe National Park.
A remote and wild corner of Chobe National Park, Savute stretches from the park’s northern boundaries to the Linyanti River. The area's main feature is the mysterious Savute Channel, which flows and dries up seemingly unrelated to the rainfall. Dry and arid for almost 30 years, animals in the area were sustained by artificial waterholes. With the Savute Channel flowing again in recent years, the region has undergone a startling transformation, reverting to its natural lush and marshy state. Large numbers of wildlife have been attracted to this rejuvenated wilderness haven.
Sizable numbers of elephant bulls are invariably present. During the dry years, when prey was hard to find, many of Savute's lion became notorious for hunting elephant. With the recent transformation of the region, prey has become more abundant and the large lion prides have split up into smaller family groups, allowing a greater variety of predators to flourish in the area. Savute is also a famous battleground for lion and spotted hyena. With grazing now plentiful, the area is also popular with zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, giraffe, tsessebe and kudu.
The birds of Savute are an attraction all by themselves. The largest flying birds, kori bustards prey on snakes and rodents found amongst the grass. Other birding attractions include the endangered ground hornbill, which can be seen meandering through the grasslands. Raptors are ever-present, including the bateleur eagle. Pin tailed whydahs glide across the grass in awkward swoops. Korhans give out their mating cries while flipping themselves into the air to attract attention from a potential mate.
During the rainy season, Savute hosts an annual zebra migration, which peaks in January and February, when the zebra congregate to graze on the sweet grasses brought on by the rains.
Learn more about Savute.
Moremi Game Reserve
Covering approximately a third of the eastern portion of the Okavango Delta, the Moremi Game Reserve combines permanent waterways with drier areas, creating a reserve filled with unexpected contrasts and diverse wildlife. Although it is not one of the country’s largest reserves, its tall mopane woodlands and spreading floodplains fringed with majestic palms make it one of Africa’s most scenic wildlife areas. Dense riverine forests are home to shy leopard and deep lagoons are inhabited by hippo, while the semi-aquatic red lechwe and sitatunga antelope can be seen wading the shallows.
Buffalo, giraffe, lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and jackal can all be spotted on the floodplains and among the drier areas. A birdwatcher’s paradise, the rich and diverse habitat of the reserve is home to a surprising diversity of birds, with almost 500 species, from water birds to forest dwellers. However, the reserve is most famous for its African wild dog, boasting a high concentration of these rarely seen animals, with their fascinating social structure.
The elusive sable and roan antelope may be spotted venturing out of the mopane scrub to drink at selected watering holes. The beauty of these shy species, with the sable’s sweeping horns, jet black coat and bold white markings, and the roan’s larger stature and grey coat, are guaranteed to make any encounter a memorable one.
Learn more about Moremi Game Reserve.
The largest salt pans in the world, the Makgadikgadi Pans are a breathtaking sight - a vast sea of white that was once the centre of a huge lake that evaporated more than 2 000 years ago. This panorama of white sand and salt supports one of Africa's largest zebra populations. When the rains fall during the wet season, the pans fill with water and attract large numbers of zebra, springbok and wildebeest, followed closely by predators, making for fantastic game viewing. Spectacular breeding colonies of flamingos can also be seen.
Shimmering miles of white are made up of surreal landscapes where flocks of swallows soar in ragged formation and elephant tracks appear seemingly out of nowhere blend into a sense of endless space. In the midst of this nothingness lies Kubu Island, a granite outcrop walled with companies of baobab reaching stubby branches towards the sky.
In this extraordinary and almost lunar landscape guests can stand on the spot where the mighty Zambezi River once flowed into a gigantic lake that covered these pans, leaving behind a beach full of smooth pebbles. At the world’s biggest breeding site of greater flamingos unusual mud nests wait for their inhabitants’ annual return.
Learn more about Makgadikgadi Pans.
A safari from a different perspective, this 3-night guided canoe journey explores the north-eastern fringes of the Okavango Delta and moves into the pristine Selinda Reserve. The ultimate in carefree exploration, the canoes carry everything necessary for a comfortable camp, stopping wherever the fancy takes you to spend the night in a fly camp. Feast on fresh meals eaten around a blazing campfire and slip into peaceful slumber beneath a bright blanket of stars.
Enjoy languid days on the water, stopping to watch wildlife coming down to drink as you glide serenely downstream, or hopping out for a quick exploration whenever an interesting animal or plant catches the guide’s eagle eye. Please note that guests paddle their own canoes, so a reasonable amount of fitness is required. Due to water levels, this safari is only available between August and October.
Learn more about Selinda Game Reserve.
The Linyanti Wildlife Management Area is a hidden gem tucked away in the north-eastern corner of Chobe National Park. A long channel known as the Selinda Spillway links the Linyanti to the Okavango Delta and provides an opportunity for exceptional canoeing safaris.
Due to its remoteness, the Linyanti is a beautiful, unspoiled region of waterways and lagoons, riverine forests, huge trees and palm tree islands. It is renowned as one of the best game viewing areas in the region, supporting a great diversity of wildlife, with large herds of elephant, buffalo and zebra.
How to get there and how long to stay
There are relatively few international flights directly into Botswana and it is often easier to fly into Johannesburg in neighbouring South Africa and catch a connecting flight in to Maun, which is the gateway to Botswana’s premier wildlife areas. From here, a network of international scheduled charter flights will take you to your safari destination. Unlike private charters, these small planes carry a number of passengers headed for a specific region and may touch down at a number of bush airstrips along the way.
Because of the among of effort involved in getting to Botswana and the number of destinations worth visiting, it is recommended that visitors set aside ten days to two weeks for their Botswana safari.
When should I go?
In the spectacular Delta the rising floodwater reach their peak in April or May. While the rest of Botswana lies in the grip of the dusty, dry season during winter, which last from June to August, the Okavango is a mass of shimmering lagoons and channels. The floodwaters start to recede in September or October. During the summer months from November to March, the warm days usher in photogenic afternoon thundershowers. This is also birthing season, when newly born antelope are trying out their wobbly legs and baby birds are venturing out of their nests.
Chobe National Park
In the Chobe National Park the dry winter brings even more wildlife to the banks of the Chobe River as water sources dry up elsewhere. From November to March summer brings the rainy season, during which wildflowers burst into bloom, babies are born and the exquisite carmine bee-eaters start nesting in the islands on the Chobe River.
In Savute, May brings increased sightings of African wild dog as the females begin to den. September to October is the driest season, when flocks of birds congregate around the artificial watering holes. As the rains begin in November, large breeding herds of elephant move into the wide open Savute Marsh. During the summer months of November and December thousands of zebra migrate through Savute in search of grazing.
What should I bring with me on my Botswana Safari?
As a general guide, comfortable and casual clothing that you can wash and wear is recommended while on safari. Muted colours are best for game viewing. Game drives are generally conducted in the early morning and the late afternoon, which can be cold, especially in winter. The temperature often warms up during the day, so it is best to dress in layers.
The most practical items to pack for your Botswana safari are:
- Clothes in khaki, green, beige and neutral colours
- Long-sleeved shirts that offer protection from the sun and mosquitoes
- Shorts or a light skirt
- Jeans or safari trousers for evenings and cooler days
- Jackets and sweaters for early morning and late afternoon game drives
- A lightweight waterproof jacket in case of rain
- Swim and beachwear
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, insect repellent, moisturiser and lip salve
- Binoculars and camera equipment
The luggage allowance on small flights is usually limited to a maximum of 20 kg (44 lbs), which includes hand luggage, so please bear this in mind when packing. Most lodges and camps provide a same-day laundry service for your clothes.
Where to stay
You will find a wide range of accommodation in Botswana, from simple mobile camps to luxury lodges. &Beyond has lodges throughout the Okavango Delta, as well as in Chobe and Savute.
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How much does it cost?
You can expect to pay anywhere between USD 5 000 and 11 000 for a ten-day Botswana safari, depending on the level of luxury that you would like to experience and the areas where you would like to travel.
Begin your journey
&Beyond can put together tailormade Botswana safari tours that include internal flights, transport, accommodation and guided tours anywhere in Botswana. Enquire now for more information.