Botswana has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Thanks to a resurgence in diamond mining, business opportunities have multiplied in Botswana, and these changes, along with progress in tourism and technology, have brought better education, improved health facilities, and a higher standard of living. A visit to Botswana is a visit to a thriving and rapidly developing corner of the world.
Botswana is known for its excellent safari adventures at reasonable prices and its friendly people. Be prepared to experience a serious African adventure when you’re traveling to Botswana.
1. St. Claire Lion Park: Lions are the main attraction, but there is much more to see at this park, a little less than nine miles from Gaborone. It is a relaxing spot for getaways and picnics, and among its attractions are a children’s playground, a restaurant and bar, horse trails, vulture viewing, game viewing, and camping grounds. The bar and restaurant are closed on Mondays, but the park is open every day.
2. The National Museum and Art Gallery: Central Gaborone is home to the National Museum and Art Gallery, which houses artwork by local and regional craftsmen, encapsulating the history of the Batswana people. The museum contains seven separate galleries.
3. Manyana Rock Paintings: These Stone Age artifacts are in the village of Manyana, about 22 miles (35.5 kilometers) from Gaborone, at the base of the Kolobeng Hill. Have a guide point out the paintings to you if you have trouble identifying them. Some historians believe this area was a ritual site for the San people.
4. The Chobe National Park: The second-largest national park in Botswana, Chobe is home to one of the most concentrated areas of game in Africa. There are four distinct ecosystems within the park: the Serondela, which has dense forests and grassy plains, the Savuti Marsh area, the Linyanti Swamps, and a dry area that connects them all. The park is probably the most famous for its elephants, though. Their number could represent the largest surviving elephant population; it’s estimated to be about 120,000.
5. Tsodilo Hills: Out of the flat, barren landscape of the western Kalahari rise the cliffs of the four Tsodilo Hills. The three largest are known as “The Male,” “The Female,” and “The Child” (you can guess which one is the biggest). Much local folklore surrounds the hills, and archaeological research suggests that the area has been inhabited for at least 100,000 years. We suggest hiring a guide to take you around this historic site.
6. Moremi Game Reserve: In the eastern section of the Okavango Delta, this game reserve is often described as the most beautiful one on the continent. The area is chock-full of flora and fauna, with wooded areas, forests, lagoons, and floodplains, as well as wild birds, buffalo, lions, leopards, and hyenas. Don’t be fooled by the dogs wearing collars, however: these are not domesticated animals. The population of wild dogs has dwindled so much that researchers have tagged them for an ongoing project.
7. Central Kalahari Game Reserve: This reserve is the largest not only in Botswana but in the world. Only recently opened to the public, this remote wilderness has been left completely pristine, lacking the traffic that other game reserves experience. Hire a bushman to take you through the rough country.
8. Gemsbok National Park: A continuation of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa, this “gem” is host to many native animals, like zebras, buffalo, lions, wild dogs, cheetahs, and leopards. We love it because the animals can roam freely between the two parks.
9. Okavango Delta: If you’re craving a stop near water, visit this large river delta, which is typically traversed by small boats and dugout canoes. While the delta is home to large numbers of game species, it also features birds, plant life, and tranquil beauty.
10. Helicopters and Hot-Air Balloons: Charter a plane or a helicopter from Maun for a spectacular ride over the Okavango Delta. Not exciting enough for you? Try a hot-air balloon ride for amazing pictures.
For tourists visiting Botswana on safari, the best months are April through October. During this dry season, animals gather along natural water holes formed during the previous rainy season, making it easier to see a wide variety of animals at once. These winter days are dry, sunny, and warm, but when the sun goes down it can become chilly if not freezing. Visitors should be prepared for both extremes.
Botswana’s summer lasts from November to March, and the country experiences extremely high temperatures. The heat is tempered by rain, especially in the middle of and near the end of summer.
Visas: If you’re traveling from America or most current or former British Commonwealth countries, and if you’re planning to stay for 90 days or fewer, you do not need a visa to enter Botswana.
Transportation: Most travelers fly into Botswana’s Gaborone International Airport. The country’s local domestic carrier, Air Botswana, operates scheduled domestic flights from Gaboroneto several destinations, including Francistown, Maun, and Kasane. Maun’s airport is one of the busiest in South Africa, as it handles many charter flights directed toward tourists.
Make sure to have on hand a number for a taxi service when you land. You also might be able to hail a cab at the airport, but it’s safer to call for a taxi. Check to see whether your hotel offers shuttle service by minibus to and from the airport. You can also rent a car at the airport (driving is done on the left).
Botswana Railways operates one of Africa’s only air-conditioned passenger rail services. The accommodations vary from comfortable private sleepers for overnight hauls to economy-class seats for daily commuters. All coach-class compartments come with air-conditioning, running water, and rest rooms. Food is also available for purchase, and most trains run on or close to schedule.
Most taxis carry up to five passengers at a time; if you don’t want to share, you might have to pay an additional fee. Make sure that you’re riding in a licensed vehicle: look for license-number plates with blue backgrounds.
Many larger towns have minibuses, also known as combis. They travel continually along specified routes and at some point during their circular journeys will pass through shopping centers and bus stations. Be sure to wave down a minibus that is heading in the direction you would like to take, and ask the driver to stop when you get to your destination. You can even take a minibus from Gaborone to South Africa.
If you are going to be out in the wilderness you’d do well to hire a four-wheel-drive vehicle and driver. A guide has expertise enough to navigate rugged terrain. If you would like to drive yourself around the towns and cities, be sure to have a valid international driver’s license.
Mobile Phones: We recommend taking or buying a SIM card–enabled phone. Mobile reception can be spotty outside of the major cities.
Before you travel to Botswana, check to make sure that your immunizations are in order, including shots for tetanus, hepatitis A, typhoid, and the H1N1 virus. Check the Center for Disease Control’s travel website for all recommended immunizations. The threat of malaria is high: in addition to taking anti-malarial drugs before, during, and after your trip, try to wear protective clothing and insect repellent; use mosquito netting when sleeping, and, when it’s possible, stay inside with a running air conditioner or electric fan.
The U.S. Department of State’s consular website has a great deal of information about safety and security in Botswana. It can’t be repeated often enough: be sensible when you travel. Be alert and aware of your surroundings.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, wherein scores are based on each country’s quality of government. Before traveling to Botswana or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
The people of sub-Saharan Africa have inhabited the area that is now Botswana for more than 60,000 years. It is likely that the first societies stemmed from one tribe, made up of the San and Khoe peoples. About a thousand years ago, large chiefdoms began to form in the areas near the Tswapong Hills. The people making up those settlements became known as the Toutswe, after one of their capitals was excavated on Toutswemogala Hill.
In the early 1800s, a wave of tribal wars broke out and swept across much of southern Africa. Around this period, traders from Europe and other areas had begun to penetrate the area, and chiefs began trading ivory and animal skins for guns and ammunition in order to rebuild and protect their tribes. In 1816, Robert Moffat set up a mission station for the London Missionary Society, over which he presided for 50 years. The legendary Dr. David Livingstone worked out of this station for a few years and eventually married Moffat’s daughter, Mary. The country was eventually named Bechuanaland and was a British protectorate for 80 years. In 1965 self-governance began, and in 1966 the country officially became known as the independent Republic of Botswana.
Diamond mining started up in Botswana in around 1976 and has played a major part in the country’s recent history and economic growth. It accounts for nearly one-third of Botswana’s gross domestic product and 70 percent of its export earnings. Debswana, a company formed by South Africa’s DeBeers company and Botswana’s government, is the largest of the mining operations in Botswana.
1. There are nine districts and five town councils in the Republic of Botswana: the Central, Ghanzi, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southern, Kweneng, Kgalagadi, and Kgatleng districts and the town councils of Francistown, Gaborone, Jwaneng, Lobatse, and Selebi-Pikwe. Botswana is located in the heart of Africa and surrounded by Zambia and Zimbabwe to the northeast, Namibia to the north and west, and South Africa to the south and southeast. All these countries meet at a single point, midstream, in the Zambezi River.
2. The Kalahari Desert dominates much of Botswana’s landscape. It stretches west of the eastern rocky hill ranges and covers 84 percent of the country. The capital of Botswana is Gaborone, a modern, rapidly expanding city. It lies in a valley in the eastern corner of the country about nine miles from the South African border.
3. Botswana’s unit of currency is the pula (abbreviated as P). Most major credit cards, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Diners Club, are widely accepted. Most hotels and lodges accept foreign currency or traveler’s checks, and ATMs are on hand throughout the country at many shopping malls and large hotels.
4. The official name of the country is the Republic of Botswana. The name “Botswana” is derived from the term Batswana, which refers to the ethnic group of people who all speak the Setswana language and share the Sotho-Tswana culture. The word Botswana is now commonly used to refer to any citizen of the country, regardless of his or her ethnic background. A Motswana is a single citizen of the country. Tswana is an adjective that refers specifically to the group of Bantu-speaking citizens that resides in Botswana.
5. The national language of Botswana is Setswana. English is spoken widely in urban areas and is used in most business transactions. You will be able to travel without much knowledge of Setswana, but we recommend learning a few key phrases just in case you find yourself in a bind.