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Ultimate guide to travelling Botswana

 

Self-drive travel through Botswana is a real adventure and planning a trip to our beautiful neighbour can be daunting. Our ultimate guide to Botswana is here to help. Whether you want to camp in the unfenced wilds, follow elephant herds across the Chobe or hitch a ride in a mokoro and also explore the Okavango Delta, we can help you get there. Plan your best-ever Botswana trip.

 

Ed’s note: some of these stories were published a year or two ago, so make sure to check the details before you hit the road!

 

Plan your ultimate trip to Botswana

 

1. See the best of Botswana in just 10 days

 

The Main Attraction Of Savuti Is The Abundance Of Game And Predators To Be Seen. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

The Main Attraction Of Savuti Is The Abundance Of Game And Predators To Be Seen. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

 

 

2. How to book campsites at Botswana’s national parks

 

Campsite Number Ten Had The Best View Of The Chobe River At Ihaha. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

Campsite Number Ten Had The Best View Of The Chobe River At Ihaha. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

 

It can be tricky to book public campsites in Botswana’s national parks and reserves. Some campsites are run by private operators, some by the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), and some parks have a combination of both so that a single visit requires some juggling between the two to get the bookings you want. If you’re planning a trip to any of Botswana’s national parks, this is what you need to know.

 

3. A first-timer’s guide to the Kgalagadi

 

A Gemsbok Stands Majestically On A Calcrete Ridge At Sunset In The Kgalagadi. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

A Gemsbok Stands Majestically On A Calcrete Ridge At Sunset In The Kgalagadi. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

 

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, straddling the border between South Africa and Botswana, is a semi-desert of red dunes as well as star-crammed skies where African animals run wild and visitors get a wilderness ‘fix’ that’s Prozac for the soul. Once Kalahari sand gets into your shoes, legend says, you’ll be drawn back again and again.

 

4. A first-timer’s guide to Maun

 

The View From Old Bridge Backpackers Is Quite Impressive. Photo By Tyson Jopson

The View From Old Bridge Backpackers Is Quite Impressive. Photo By Tyson Jopson

 

Maun is nobody’s final destination in Botswana, right? Yet the locals adore it. This is why it’s worth a longer visit.

 

5. How to visit Vic Falls on a budget

 

The Mighty Mosi Oa Tunya At Sunrise. Photo By Tyson Jopson

The Mighty Mosi Oa Tunya At Sunrise. Photo By Tyson Jopson

 

Yes, we know it’s not in Botswana, but Vic Falls is a short drive away from Kasane in the north and it’s worth a day trip to see this magical spectacle. Victoria Falls is arguably the biggest tourist attraction in Africa, which means that a visit always comes with a side of commercialism. We went looking for how to visit Victoria Falls on a budget – that is, avoiding the overseas prices – and discovered that it’s still possible to find a unique experience there.

 

Top 6 things do in Botswana

 

1. Skydive over the Makgadigadi Pans

 

Sunrise Greets The Three Planes Who Together Ferried 428 Jumpers. Photo By Teagan Cunniffe

Sunrise Greets The Three Planes Who Together Ferried 428 Jumpers. Photo By Teagan Cunniffe

 

This area is famous for its flocks of flamingos, which migrate during the rainy months in their tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands. Our photo editor, Teagan Cunniffe, got the chance to see this incredible expanse from the sky on a tandem jump with Graham Field of SkyDiversity, whose wake is littered with legendary antics.

 

2. Go tiger fishing

 

This Spot Is In The Heart Of Tiger Territory And You Can Only Get Here By Boat - An Incredible Okavango Delta Island. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

This Spot Is In The Heart Of Tiger Territory And You Can Only Get Here By Boat – An Incredible Okavango Delta Island. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

 

Down the spine of the Okavango Panhandle there are some prime tiger fishing spots. Some say, to catch a ‘real’ tiger you’ve got to leave South Africa and head north, where river tigers are leaner and meaner than their dam-adapted cousins down here in South Africa.

 

3. Do a photo safari on the river

 

Hippos Lurk In The River. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

Hippos Lurk In The River. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

 

The best way to experience the wildlife of Chobe National Park is by boat, but some boats are better than others. Especially if those boats are equipped with lekker zoom lenses as well as a knowledgeable guide.

 

4. Fly over the Okavango Delta

 

The Beautiful Okavango Delta As Seen From The Sky. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

The Beautiful Okavango Delta As Seen From The Sky. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

 

Did you know that the Okavango Delta is visible from space? Yep. This huge green mass is one of Africa’s greatest wilderness areas. Sightings of enormous herds of elephant, slow-grazing giraffe, leaping lechwe, crowds of kudu as well as hippo wallowing in muddy river pockets are yours for the taking when you book a flight over the delta.

 

5. See hoards of elephants in the Chobe National Park

 

Elephants Are A Common Sight In The Chobe National Park. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

Elephants Are A Common Sight In The Chobe National Park. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

 

Throughout this region, wild animals roam freely. They wander to neighbouring Namibia and then up to Angola, Zambia and across to Zimbabwe. No fences. That’s the big charm about Botswana. Botswana has the highest elephant population in Africa – at times you’ll see more of them than you will impala.

 

6. Listen to the roar of black-maned lion

 

Two Brothers At Xade Waterhole In Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana. Photo By Ian White

Two Brothers At Xade Waterhole In Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana. Photo By Ian White

 

Dusk at Kaa Gate is prime time for lions, drawn to its waterhole for a pre-prowl drink. As night falls, the lions get active, roaring their presence to friend and foe alike. Kaa’s unfenced stands are usually used for late arrivals and pitching camp in the lion-filled blackness can be nerve-wracking.

 

The 5 best self-drive 4X4 routes in Botswana

 

1. Kubu to Kukonje Island

 

Camping On Kukonje Is Free And There Are No Formal Stands Or Any Facilities. Photo By Chris Davies

Camping On Kukonje Is Free And There Are No Formal Stands Or Any Facilities. Photo By Chris Davies

 

On the eastern rim of Botswana’s Sua Pan, Kukonje Island lies half forgotten at the end of a treacherous trail. 4X4 enthusiasts steer their wagons in hoards visiting much-loved Kubu Island, but just 40 kilometres west, undeveloped Kukonje – with its equally towering baobabs – is often overlooked. Why? That daunting trail might have something to do with it.

 

2. Baines Baobabs to the Ntwetwe Pan

 

Baine's Baobabs. A Clump Of Iconic Trees With Excellent Campsites Dotted Across The Salt Pan In Nxai Pan National Park. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

Baine’s Baobabs. A Clump Of Iconic Trees With Excellent Campsites Dotted Across The Salt Pan In Nxai Pan National Park. Photo By Melanie Van Zyl

 

An unusual route across the pans to see Botswana’s best baobabs. These remote trees sit on the fringe of the world’s largest network of salt pans and historically used as stopovers by traders, hunters and missionaries.

 

3. Maun to Khwai’s Magotho campsite

 

Along With Great Diving, There's Also A Good Chance Of Spotting Antelope, Elephants, Hippos And Even Cats At Khwai Development Trust. Photo By Tyson Jopson

Along With Great Diving, There’s Also A Good Chance Of Spotting Antelope, Elephants, Hippos And Even Cats At Khwai Development Trust. Photo By Tyson Jopson

 

Wedged between Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park is an 180000-hectare community concession known as the Khwai Development Trust. Most visitors to the two heavyweight parks on either side don’t know it’s there and those who do mainly use its transit road to get from one to the other. But here, hidden along the northern banks of the Khwai River, is a network of sandy 4X4 tracks not to be missed.

 

4. Maun to Gcwihaba Caves

 

Inside The Gcwihaba Caves. Photo By Tyson Jopson

Inside The Gcwihaba Caves. Photo By Tyson Jopson

 

In western Botswana, beneath the dry Kalahari landscape, is Gcwihaba Caves – an underground network of exceptional beauty and unusual assembly. From the floors of its gigantic chambers, stalagmites rise up between colossal flowstones, eerie frozen waterfalls and intricate time-forged formations. Exploring them is a challenge for the brave. The caverns are heavy with stale air, thousands of bats hang from the ceilings, and small spiders scurry between translucent webs on spongy gauno-filled floors. We found the best route to get there.

 

5. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: Mabuasehube 4X4 trail

 

The Campsite At Mosome Pan. Photo By Chris Davies

The Campsite At Mosome Pan. Photo By Chris Davies

 

The Botswanan side of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is quiet and easy going, with only the most common sense of rules and plenty of time to sit and think and take in the views. You could do a Johannesburg-to-Kgalagadi round trip in less than five days, but it wouldn’t be much fun. Spend any extra time you have on the Botswanan side and you’ll have the place practically to yourself. It’s light on facilities and you’ll be hundreds of miles from a flush loo. Luckily, that’s what a fully kitted 4X4 vehicle is made for.

 

Need to know

 

South Africans don’t need a visa, but you’ll need your passport. If you’re driving, you need all vehicle papers and cash to pay for road tax at the border (about R220).

 

Vet fences. Botswana has vet control fences, including foot-and-mouth stations and travellers must disinfect shoes and car wheels before continuing. Vet fence checks can be anything from a smile and a wave to a full inspection. Fresh red meat and citrus are the major concerns and may be confiscated.

 

Stock up with enough firewood in cities like Maun as there is none for sale in the parks.

 

Do not drive at night as warthog, cattle, goats and elephants roam the roads. Go during winter as many roads in summer become inaccessible due to mud, and water crossings are too high to safely navigate.

 

Pula is the name of the currency in Botswana (it also means ‘rain’ in Tswana). Credit cards are widely accepted; but facilities are unreliable in remote areas. ATM’s run out of cash so carry enough for emergencies. Rands are often accepted near the SA border but further north it’s pula or, on the Zim border, US dollars. P1 = R1,20.

Ultimate guide to travelling Botswana

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ABOUT AMANDA SAMPAIO

Amanda Sampaio

A bit about me: I am Rhodesian born, grew up in Zululand, South Africa. Post matriculation, I studied a 3 year Travel & Tourism National Diploma; I then spent 7.5 years (during the mid-90’s) working in various operational roles for SAA at the old Durban Airport; My husband, son & I then moved to the UK and lived in south-west London (Worcester Park) for 10.5 years – I worked for 3.5 years in Local Government (at Epsom & Ewell Borough Council) and then for 7 years for QANTAS as part of the Cabin Crew Ground Management Team based at Heathrow and later with Qantas Corporate Sales based in their London Hammersmith office. My family and I have been back in South Africa for almost 3 years now (having missed too much of our family, SA sunshine and braai’s) and during our time back, we are also delighted to have welcomed our 17 month old baby girl into our family! Travel is definitely my passion and is in my ‘blood’ as I am firmly back in the travel seat with my current role within Sales and Marketing at iGo Travel and look after this for our newly launched brand ‘iGO Africa’.