Without query Botswana’s two large drawcards are its wildlife and its area. It has a wealth of sights, every of which pack a hefty punch, which makes it tough to know which to incorporate in case you are tight on time. Here’s our information to the nation’s foremost sights that will help you in your means. Words by James Gifford. Picture credit score Gaston Piccinetti, Shutterstock
n 13 years of residing in Botswana, I nonetheless discover myself amazed on the variety of wildlife and landscapes the nation presents, with out having misplaced the sense of wilderness that enticed early explorers centuries in the past. It is inconceivable to see it multi functional journey, so be selective. Budgeting for a minimum of three nights at every camp will guarantee you aren’t speeding from one place to the subsequent. Don’t be fooled into considering essentially the most well-known locations are essentially one of the best – usually it’s the surprising moments that may lie lengthy in your reminiscence. Imagine watching hundreds of striped legs thunder throughout the Makgadikgadi’s emerald plains, for instance, because the solar dips beneath an idyllic palm tree-lined horizon with out a single car in sight…
Chobe National Park
Unusually, the nation’s most-visited nationwide park is finest appreciated from the water. The broad Chobe River is known for its swimming elephants, which usually cross to feed on the luxurious islands, typically amassing in herds of 100 or extra. However, the remarkably relaxed hippos, colossal crocodiles and omnipresent fish eagles might be virtually as entertaining. As you watch troops of baboons frolic, or a herd of kudu method to drink, hold an eye fixed out for the resident lion delight or a furtive leopard coming right down to the water’s edge. For predator followers recreation drives are a greater guess, however the restricted street community in what’s Botswana’s busiest park can get congested.
Most lodges do recreation drives within the morning and boat cruises within the afternoon, so one choice to keep away from the crowds is to do the alternative. Alternatively, if I’m going on the river within the afternoon my choice is to go away early or, if on land, do a full-day recreation drive with packed lunch, each of which guarantee we get to marvel at Chobe’s fascinating fauna in relative peace. Peak game-viewing is on the peak of the dry season in September and October when, as the one water supply round, the river attracts animals from far and huge. After the rains, the panorama is much more engaging, however the wildlife disperses and, extremely, it’s possible you’ll not see a single elephant.
Famous for its predators, immortalised in National Geographic’s Savage Kingdom collection, there may be extra to Savute than the massive cats and canines for which it’s justly famend. I spent two years photographing right here whereas the ephemeral channel step by step dried up in 2015. It has not flowed since, as soon as once more concentrating the wildlife round a handful of pumped waterholes within the dry season. Here you may watch warthogs and jackals scampering round, attempting to sneak by a forest of elephant legs to grab a drink, whereas tawny eagles patiently look forward to flocks of quelea and doves to succumb to their thirst.
The uncommon panorama contains a chain of volcanic hills, whose caves and crevices are value scrutinising for leopards. After the rains, the treeless expanse referred to as the marsh comes alive with flocks of carmine bee-eaters and raptors, swooping down to grab grasshoppers among the many lush grasses. At the identical time of 12 months, Savute performs host to a whole lot of migrating zebra whose distinctive brays echo throughout the marsh. Savute’s solely draw back is that its location inside Chobe National Park guidelines out evening drives.
Botswana’s iconic World Heritage Site is a mecca for wildlife year-round, courtesy of the fortuitous timing of an annual flood which replenishes channels and swells rivers simply when pure rain-filled pans are drying out. Consequently, considerably counter-intuitively, as a result of the Okavango is fed by rivers originating in Angola, the Delta is at its wettest in the midst of the dry season – round June – a number of months after the rains have completed. At this time, you may count on your recreation drives to contain daring, bonnet-high water-crossings. Or for a extra sedate expertise, drift noiselessly in a mokoro (dugout canoe) whilst you watch pink lechwe run by lagoons spraying a cascade of shimmering water of their wake.
Ebb & Flow
How is the Okavango Delta created and the way does that have an effect on the wildlife?
As early as October rain clouds deposit their load over the Angolan highlands, greater than 1000km away. Over the subsequent few months the ensuing water slowly flows into Namibia and on to Botswana.
Forests and supply lakes
In Angola, miombo forests unfold throughout the headwaters of 4 rivers. The forests play a vital position in filtering the rainwater into peat-based supply lakes. These can maintain ten occasions extra water than a traditional wetland, guaranteeing a continuing circulation into the rivers.
The Cubango River delivers the primary pulses of the annual flood between January and March. A second peak happens between April and May when water, predominately from the Cuito River, is slowly launched into the Delta.
The Delta receives a median of 9.four cubic kilometres of water every year.
Panhandle and swamps
The Panhandle marks the start of the Delta. Here, the amount, velocity and peak of the circulation are at their biggest, with water ranges fluctuating by as much as two metres. Permanent swamps, protecting round 6000 sq km, prolong from the bottom of the Panhandle. From right here the floodwaters create seasonal swamps (May-September), the expanse of which differ enormously from 12 months to 12 months (from 4000 to 8000 sq km), relying on the quantity of rainfall.
The water right here is mostly lower than half-a-metre deep, resulting in the formation of momentary islands – some not more than a molehill, others massive and closely vegetated.
To the desert
In July/August, the flood reaches the seasonal Thamalakane River, the Delta’s foremost outlet. The water then pushes into the Boteti River and the Kalahari, ending at Lake Xau within the Makgadikgadi Pans – although this solely occurs in years of heavy rainfall and even then it’s short-lived, rapidly draining and evaporating.
The bulk of the Okavango is split into huge personal concessions, every of which usually entertains not more than three lodges. These provide the last word in exclusivity and isolation, to not point out a number of the continent’s finest recreation viewing. Most have a most of 10 rooms, entry is simply potential by mild plane and you’re unlikely to see a car from one other camp. This comes at a worth and the price of a number of the uber-luxurious lodges may deter all however the exceptionally well-heeled.
As the animals are free to wander all through (there aren’t any fences between concessions), there may be infinite selection. Stick to conventional recreation drives or go for a safari by foot, boat, mokoro, hot-air balloon and even horseback – all are potential relying upon the camp and the encompassing habitat. Since these concessions aren’t in a nationwide park, evening drives are potential and you too can drive off-road, which supplies you further flexibility.
Given the overwhelming alternative, I like to recommend you guide with an agent who has particular data of the person camps.
Khwai Community Area
With a powerful density of predators, wholesome elephant inhabitants and a everlasting river inhabited by hippos, crocodiles and quite a few waterfowl, this community-run concession hardly ever disappoints. I’ve had a few of my finest sightings right here, from swimming lions to looking leopards and a very ferocious battle between a tenacious pack of untamed canines and an unlucky lone noticed hyena.
With campsites for impartial travellers and cellular safari operators, and a clutch of lodges catering for the total spectrum of budgets, the one unfavorable is that accessibility is sort of too simple, so it could actually typically really feel fairly busy throughout peak season. I favor the shoulder seasons (April-May or November-early December). Although it’s possible you’ll encounter the occasional bathe, you’ll not solely keep away from the crowds, but in addition profit from decrease costs.
Moremi Game Reserve
As southern Africa’s first wildlife reserve to be put aside and run by the area people, Moremi has a heritage that matches its wildlife credentials. This is the one Big Five nationwide park in Botswana, though rhino are seldom seen. Sightings are typically finest within the dry season, however Moremi’s actual attraction is its variety – from thousand-strong buffalo herds to flocks of fishing storks, you by no means know what’s across the subsequent nook.
I notably benefit from the surroundings: verdant floodplains and saturated marshland interspersed with mopane woodland. Dead tree island is hauntingly lovely.
Covering one third of the Delta, there isn’t a scarcity of area and an intensive street community ensures it’s simple to flee different autos. Mobile operators and impartial travellers can select from a choice of campsites, whereas a handful of fly-in lodges cater for much less budget-conscious vacationers. Although evening drives aren’t permitted, a ship station presents respite for vehicle-weary travellers.
The northern Delta, referred to as the panhandle, will not be famend for giant recreation however it’s a paradise for birders and anglers, in addition to anybody in search of a break from the pre-dawn get up calls on the safari circuit. This is an opportunity to understand the finer particulars of the Delta, and maybe catch a uncommon sighting of a sitatunga or Pel’s fishing owl. Lodge actions revolve round boats or guided walks, or alternatively, drift downstream on a houseboat for just a few days.
Fisherfolk ought to time their go to with the barbel run – occurring round September to October – when receding floodwaters power baitfish into the primary river channels, attracting a number of barbel (catfish), tigerfish, bream and a plethora of birds.
A 12 months within the Delta
The peak of the wet season sees scores of migrant fowl species and vibrant backdrops.
Heavy rains stimulate lush vegetation; birds are in abundance.
Rains nonetheless heavy; most summer time avian guests go away.
Rains abate; the flood peaks within the Panhandle; nights grow to be cooler.
First wave of the flood reaches the central Delta, coinciding with impala rutting season; breeding elephant herds transfer north.
Wild canines begin to den; vegetation takes on a impartial winter colouring.
Flood peaks in central Delta inflicting some wildlife to grow to be stranded on islands – a good time for recreation viewing.
Thinning vegetation aids recreation viewing.
Wild canines go away dens with their pups, nesting carmine bee-eaters arrive in north Delta; leopards lurk in bushes ready for impala to feed on fallen sausage tree flowers.
The hottest month, as much as 40C; quickly evaporating water concentrates wildlife round remaining water sources.
Periodic thunderstorms; first summer time migrant birds arrive; birthing season for plains recreation.
First rains begin to fill pure pans, bush is reworked into lush inexperienced canvas; foals, calves and lambs abound.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
With its comparative lack of autos and timeless sense of uncooked wilderness, the Central Kalahari most likely ranks as my favorite park in Botswana. Everything right here is super-sized: from the reserve itself (the second largest in Africa), to the spectacular Kalahari black-maned lions, and the unending, cavernous skies. Watch in amazement as springbok pronk a number of metres above the silky grasses like Mariinsky ballet dancers in an effort to discourage the canniest of hunters. In the night, the lilting refrain of barking geckos – one among Africa’s most quintessential soundtracks – will perpetually remind you of nights within the Kalahari.
The finest time to go to is round April, after the rains, when the luxurious valleys appeal to massive herds of springbok and gemsbok, attractive lion, leopard and cheetah. This is one of the best place within the nation to see the latter, however I’m equally enamoured by the indefatigable honey badgers, perpetually digging for edible treasure, and the undeniably cute bat-eared foxes that litter the pans.
Linyanti, Kwando and Selinda
These sprawling, neighbouring concessions are finest visited throughout the dry season, when wildlife congregates across the everlasting Kwando and Linyanti rivers – the precursors to the Chobe. In Selinda, the first water supply is the expansive Zibadianja lagoon, along with the Selinda Spillway, which flows solely in occasions of excessive flood. Game-viewing all through might be on a par with a number of the finest within the Okavango, with good populations of lion, leopard, wild canine and, to a lesser extent, cheetah, in addition to all the standard herbivores. Although a small part of Linyanti is accessible to self-drivers, the concessions are predominantly the area of luxurious fly-in lodges.
Often bypassed, this little gem of a park has the potential to punch above its weight. In the dry season, when the motion revolves round a single pumped waterhole, wildlife viewing could be a little unpredictable. But on a great day you may discover springbok, oryx or giraffe operating the gauntlet previous a resident lion delight, solely to then have to barter a gaggle of belligerent elephant bulls earlier than they’ll lastly quench their thirst.
In the inexperienced season, springbok and gemsbok numbers swell and the pans are awash with herds of migrating zebras and wildebeest. This is the optimum time to go to, when along with the desert stalwarts you might have an inexpensive probability of seeing cheetah and even leopard. To this present day, my leopard sighting right here from over a decade in the past nonetheless ranks as one among my most memorable. With only one lodge and a handful of campsites, there isn’t a hazard of overcrowding.
Located round 45 minutes from the first game-viewing space, Baines’ baobabs is a cluster of seven colossal, magnificently gnarled bushes, perched on the sting of a blinding white salt pan. If you’re staying at one of many close by campsites, come right here within the late afternoon to marvel because the majestic giants flip crimson within the setting solar.
Makgadikgadi National Park
My first 12 months in Botswana was spent on the sting of the Makgadikgadi salt pans, whose surreal, stark magnificence nonetheless takes my breath away. Devoid of vegetation, the pristine pans might be explored by single or multi-day quad bike expeditions, which enterprise so far as Kubu Island – a granite outcrop rising like a legendary fortress. Despite the obvious lack of life, the pans are an essential breeding web site for hundreds of better flamingos.
The neighbouring nationwide park is known for huge herds of zebras, which clamber down steep, dusty cliffs to drink from the Boteti river within the west of the park within the dry season. After the rains, they migrate east, filling the picturesque grasslands, attracting lions and cheetah in tow. Here you may additionally spot a shy brown hyena or a clan of meerkats, a number of of which have been habituated. The restricted variety of lodges and campsites ensures the park by no means feels busy, particularly within the east, the place it could actually typically really feel like you might have the entire place to your self.
Northern Tuli Game Reserve
Located removed from the nation’s different nationwide parks, this amalgamation of personal reserves is effectively well worth the effort of getting right here and is more and more fashionable with self-drivers crossing over from South Africa.
Scenically beautiful, the panorama is in contrast to wherever else within the nation. Ancient riverbeds and rolling valleys meld into riverine woodland dominated by gigantic nyala bushes, whereas towering kopjes and basalt cliffs create a dramatic backdrop.
Wildlife sightings are equally spectacular, notably of lion, leopard and cheetah. In addition to its wholesome elephant inhabitants, Tuli is a good place to identify eland and klipspringer, two of the least frequent antelope species.
Although there aren’t any public campsites, a number of lodges cater for a wide range of budgets, providing horseback, strolling and cycle safaris in addition to recreation drives, whereas the ground-level hides will excite even the reluctant photographer.
Khama Rhino Sanctuary
A conveniently positioned stopover within the east of the nation with a variety of lodging, this sanctuary was created to guard and assist breed Botswana’s rhino inhabitants. Although the animals are free to roam, it’s the closest you’re going to get to a assured sighting.
Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park
With its sandy roads and restricted amenities, Botswana’s aspect of the Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park is a draw for the adventurous traveller, with one vacationer lodge and amenities for self-sufficient campers. Resident wildlife contains all of the desert specialists, together with black-maned lions. But the actual attraction lies in its rugged terrain and the sense of wilderness and isolation.
Oteng Othusitse (OT), information at TaShebube, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a magical place of pink sand dunes, a panorama occurring perpetually, star-crammed evening skies, black-maned lions, cheetah, leopards, brown hyena and bat-eared fox in addition to small mammals just like the Cape fox, aardwolf, African wild cat, floor squirrel and mischievous meerkats. Of the 80 raptor species recorded in southern Africa, 52 have been seen right here. And let’s not neglect the desert orchestra – rodents and lizards similar to whistling rats and barking geckos, which hold the desert awake at evening with their chirping and whistling sounds. It is a reminiscence you’ll at all times carry with you; your coronary heart will perpetually be within the desert.
In a rustic devoid of contours, the 4 Tsodilo hills loom as massive as a variety of mountains. Ranging from a brief, leisurely hike to a full-day expedition, all are climbable with an area information, relying in your health degree. Not solely do the peaks provide stupendous views over the encompassing panorama, they’re a cultural treasure trove, containing over 4000 particular person bushman rock work, relationship again so far as 800 AD. Other proof of human habitation extends again 100,000 years and the non secular significance of Tsodilo continues to be appreciated by the ancestors of these early settlers, who act as guides as we speak.
A favorite vacation spot of the previous president, these distant, seldom-visited caves will reward decided travellers with some spectacular stalagmite and stalactite formations. Bring a torch and you’ll want to rent a information to make sure you don’t get misplaced.
Willem Barnard , Penduka Safaris
Botswana has been blessed with a secure authorities since Independence, which has led to a constructive surroundings for tourism. Although there are challenges, Botswana retains large undeveloped areas the place wildlife roams freely. Some components of northern Botswana have grow to be extremely popular, nevertheless many areas nonetheless exist the place yow will discover solitude and the actual spirit of years passed by. Thanks to my father, I’ve at all times beloved the Kalahari essentially the most, however it’s nonetheless onerous for me, having grown up on safari and after 33 years of guiding, to advise a first-time customer. Some individuals merely wish to see their first giraffe, elephant or lion, whereas I’ve seen them a whole lot of occasions over. But definitely Moremi will at all times impress; additionally Savuti with all its harshness and abundance of recreation.
Maun secrets and techniques
Our insider ideas when you’re passing by Maun
Make a basket
At Quality Baskets you may discover ways to make one of many nation’s most well-known exports in a half-day basket weaving workshop, or just select one of many huge vary of designs to take residence with you.
Soak up a sundowner
Okavango River Lodge and The Bridge are favorite sundowner spots, combining a relaxed atmosphere and engaging setting with hearty meals and a good selection of drinks.
Take a mokoro journey
If you aren’t travelling into the Delta, then a single or multi-day mokoro tour gives you a style of the Okavango, and it’s possible you’ll even see an elephant. Access to the mokoro station is both by boat or car, relying on water ranges.
This compact, centrally-located museum is finest visited when displaying a particular exhibition, throughout which it shows native artworks, sculpture and images.
Okavango Music Festival
Held close to a distant village round 20km from Maun in August every year, this three-day competition boasts a number of worldwide bands and an array of different leisure. Tickets should be bought prematurely.
Movie evening at Motsana Centre
Most Thursdays, Maun’s revolutionary ‘cinema’ exhibits an ever-changing choice of latest DVD releases on a giant display, which you’ll get pleasure from from the consolation of cushion-filled armchairs and comfortable sofas.
This characteristic first appeared in version 87 of Travel Africa journal. To purchase this situation, please click on right here, or to subscribe and obtain future printed copies of the journal, please click on right here.
For additional data, please contact our companions utilizing the hyperlinks beneath:
Africa Explorer www.africa-explorer.co.uk
Africa Wild Lodges www.africawildlodges.com
Atkinson Photo Safaris www.grantatkinson.com
Chobe Savanna Lodge www.desertdelta.com
Desert & Delta Safaris www.desertdelta.com
Great Plains Conservation www.greatplainsconservation.com
James Gifford Photography www.jamesgifford.co.uk
Kangara Adventure Safaris www.kangarasafaris.com
Ker & Downey Botswana www.kerdowneybotswana.com
Letaka Safaris www.letakasafaris.com
Machaba Safaris www.machabasafaris.com
Machaba Blue Safari www.machabasafaris.com
Muchenje Safari Lodge www.muchenje.com
Natural Selection www.naturalselection.journey
Part of Africa www.partofafrica.com
Pulse Africa www.pulseafrica.com
Rhino Africa www.rhinoafrica.com
Safari Bookings www.safaribookings.com
Safari Consultants www.safari-consultants.com
Ta Shebube www.tashebube.com
Tuli Safari Lodge www.tulilodge.com
Wildlife Worldwide www.wildlifeworldwide.com