You don’t need to splash out on a top lodge to capture the essence of Botswana. Spending the night in a tent in the remote wilderness, listening to the wildlife, is an extraordinarily special Botswana holiday experience. Budget camps can be just 1km from the luxury lodges – so you can enjoy the same wildlife and landscapes for a fraction of the price.
Once an island in the middle of a vast lake, Kubu – meaning ‘hippopotamus’ – is now a crescent-shaped rock surrounded by a bleached white salt pan. The island is a sacred spot for local communities, but its magic can be sensed by all: huge, twisted baobabs crown the outcrop, while dry stone walls and cairns hint at its ancient inhabitants.
Botswana has well-established holiday routes, yet areas that are excluded from that, such as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Nxai Pan and Kgalagadi, are rarely travelled but equally as stunning. They offer genuine wilderness experiences, with the chance to find yourself 50km away from any other humans.
This rocky outcrop has always been a spiritual place for the San, and its aura can still be felt by modern visitors. The rock, jutting dramatically out of the sands of the Kalahari, contains around 4,000 figurative and geometric paintings, but its remote location to the west of the Okavango Delta means few intrepid travellers ever enjoy this ancient art gallery.
Get a hippo’s-eye-view of the Okavango Delta. Glide through the channels in a traditional mokoro dugout canoe with a local guide, sitting just inches above the surface, and metres from Botswana’s greatest wildlife scenes – including swimming elephants, basking crocodiles and hippos. The boats are poled silently through the reeds, creating minimal disturbance and allowing the sounds of nature to take over.
Walking with the Kalahari’s original inhabitants during your Botswana holiday will change your perception of this seemingly inhospitable landscape. They can drink water from tubers, light a fire in minutes, and call on centuries-old knowledge to track prey for days through the desert.
Botswana’s vast transfrontier parks and lack of fences mean that epic elephant migration routes remain open. This is the best place in Africa to see huge herds of Kalahari elephants – the largest in the world – migrating, drinking, eating and even swimming during their 200-mile journey across northern Botswana.
The only national protected area within the Delta, Moremi was created by local Batawana people to protect its wildlife for the future. Moremi’s floodplains, islands, grasslands and forests support an extraordinary variety of wildlife, including buffalo-hunting lions, elusive leopards, and many resident and migratory birds. Tightly controlled tourism means you are far more likely to encounter animals than other tourists.
A stay in a super luxury lodge will make you feel like royalty while on holiday in Botswana. However, being surrounded by gold taps, Persian rugs and popping champagne corks will distance you from your real surroundings - the African wilderness. Impressive as these desert “palaces” may be, it’s a real shame to miss out on connecting with Botswana’s nature – and its people.
Good cultural tourism during your Botswana holiday encourages interaction and the preservation of traditions, and brings employment to marginalised communities. However, sometimes the San are forced to behave in ways they are not comfortable with, either to reinforce exotic, “primitive” stereotypes for tourists, or simply through being treated disrespectfully, with tourists entering their homes without permission. Pick your tour carefully.
Botswana’s strict access controls do not apply outside of its conservation areas, meaning that towns bordering the national parks, such as Kasane on the eastern edge of Chobe, are packed with hotels and you will find yourself on a conveyor belt of safari vehicles if you travel here on your holiday to Botswana.
Maun’s downtown craft centre has some gorgeous souvenirs - but many are imported from across Africa. Take the time to visit one of the out of town workshops where you can see your textiles, baskets and ceramics being made - and support local craftspeople at the same time.