Botswana travel guide

Botswana travel guide


2 minute summary

Botswana is one of Africa’s last great wildernesses. The preservation of ancient migration routes – free from fences and farmland – have created a significant wildlife haven, and created space for one of Africa’s greatest wildlife spectacles: over 100,000 elephants, more than anywhere else in the world.

Nourished by the immense lifeline that is the Okavango Delta, elephant herds can number into the hundreds, roaming across the desert, swimming through rivers, swarming over roads.


The sheer quantity of wildlife here increases the chance of spotting once-in-a-lifetime scenes, including lions paddling across rivers or hunting thundering herds of Cape buffalo. Bring your zoom lens – and a sense of adventure. But it’s worth tearing yourself away to spend some of your Botswana holiday discovering its culture. The San are the Kalahari’s original inhabitants – and bushwalks reveal how this forbidding land has served as their pharmacy and pantry for millennia, but also how – while Botswana’s wildlife flourishes – its first people’s traditional, sustainable lifestyle may be withering.
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What we rate & what we don't


Our best & worst of Botswana

Underrated

Wilderness camping Sacred Kubu Island Lesser-known parks Sacred Tsodilo Hills

Wilderness camping

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.

Sacred Kubu Island

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.

Lesser-known parks

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.

Sacred Tsodilo Hills

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.

Rated

Okavango Delta by canoe San bush walks World’s largest elephants Moremi Game Reserve

Okavango Delta by canoe

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.

San bush walks

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.

World’s largest elephants

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.

Moremi Game Reserve

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.

Overrated

Super luxury lodges Disrespectful San tours Overcrowded Kasane Imported “local” crafts

Super luxury lodges

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.

Disrespectful San tours

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.

Overcrowded Kasane

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.

Imported “local” crafts

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.

Food, shopping & people


Travel like a local with our Botswana travel guide

Eating & drinking in Botswana


Botswana’s speciality is beef - try it salted and slow cooked in a three-legged pot. This dish is known as seswaa..
Don’t get seswaa confused with serobe - this meat dish includes intestines, organs and even trotters!
Vegetarians will enjoy sampling the exotic water lilies of the Okavango Delta, harvested by local women.
Traditional khadi beer is brewed using native plants - it tastes similar to apple cider, but be prepared for a pounding hangover.


Botswana’s currency is the Pula - which translates as ‘rain’; proof of the value placed on water in this desert country.

People & language


Up to 80 percent of Botswana’s population is Tswana, but half of Africa’s San people also live here. Other groups include Bantu-speaking tribes and those of European descent.
Say “No problems!” to a Tswana: "Go siame!"
Greet the !Kung-Ekoka San (with a click): "!Gao"
Ask how is a Kalanga: "Mashwa tjini?"

Gifts & shopping


Treat yourself to a necklace made of ostrich shell beads - a traditional adornment of the San.
Woven baskets and bowls are Botswana speciality. Try and buy from local markets or directly from communities to ensure your souvenir has not been imported and is supporting local artisans.
All those elephants mean a lot of waste… and the resourceful Batswana turn the dung into (non-smelly!) paper. Buy a journal or notecards, and support local craftspeople and elephant conservation during your Botswana holiday.

Fast facts




The people of Botswana are collectively called Batswana. One person from Botswana is a Motswana.

How much does it cost?


Litre of petrol: 70p
Half a litre of St Louis beer: 70p
Plate of seswaa: £1.10
Homemade ginger beer: 40p
Steak in a restaurant: £3.80
Photo credits: [Lesser known game reserves: Chris Eason] [Sacred Tsodilo Hills: Malcolm Macgregor] [San Bush Walks: Sunway Safaris] [World's largest elephant: Malcolm Macgregor] [Moremi Game Reserve: Alessandro] [Disrespectful San tours: Stephen Corry/Survival International] [Overcrowded Kasane: Robert Montgomery]
Written by Vicki Brown
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