Botswana is a landlocked country situated in Southern Africa. It is bordered by Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Botswana has a land surface of 581,730 square km and is comparable to the size of France or Texas. Approximately two-thirds of the country lies within the Tropics.
The Kalahari Desert covers 84% of Botswana, comprising a vast and nearly level, sand filled basin characterised by scrub, tree and grass savanna, dotted with pans. “Kalahari” is derived from the Tswana word Kgala meaning “great thirst” – hence the Desert has vast areas covered by red sand without any permanent water. The Kalahari Desert is the largest sand basin in the world stretching 2,500kms from the northern regions of South Africa through to Namibia/Angola and ending in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) is the largest game reserve in the world (52,800 sq km’s) and for many years was closed to the public, hence it is now known as being one of Africa’s last true wilderness areas.
Other geographical regions include the Okavango Delta in the northwest, which is part of the Kalahari Basin – a vast network of rivers, lagoons, channels, swamps and islands. Here also lies the Tuli which is dominated by hills, kopjes and boulders with an average elevation of 1,000 metres.
Botswana has hot summers during the months of December through to March, and a cool, dry winter during the months of June, July and August. December and January are the hottest months, with average temperatures rising to 40˚ Celsius. Winter temperatures are moderate during the day, but cold at night, and can drop to below freezing. Rains are erratic, unpredictable and highly regional, which correspond with the summer months. Therefore most of the country is without perennial surface water – hence affected by periodic droughts.
History & Background
Formerly known as Bechuanaland, Botswana was a British colony until 1966.The population of Botswana is 1.85 million and growing at a rate of 2.4% per annum (2006 statistics). Approximately 75% of the population live in the eastern part of the country, and settlement is heavily populated towards the four main urban areas; Gaborone – the capital with a population of approximately 250,000, Francistown, Selebi-Phikwe and Lobatse.
Whilst Batswana are the largest ethnic group, the country has a diversity of peoples speaking their own languages and practicing their unique cultures. The oldest ethnic group is the San, who are the original inhabitants of Botswana, followed by the Khoi-Khoi (Hottentots) and the Bantu groups.
The time of independence in 1966 also heralded the discovery of diamonds and the commencement of diamond mining in 1971. The country is dominated by cattle farming and mining, with diamonds remaining as the mainstay of the economy, and is the major source of government revenue.
Since its independence in 1966, the country’s Constitution has literally remained intact since it was written and adopted at that time. The constitution also provides for the establishment of the Ntlo ya Dikgosi (House of Chiefs). This comprises of chiefs and traditional leaders who advise the National Assembly on issues of land tenure, customary law and chieftainship.
Botswana is heralded as shining example of good governance promoting a multi party democracy where freedom of speech, association, religion and press are all strongly upheld. It is one of the most stable and peaceful countries on the African continent.
Safari Attractions in Botswana
With the exception of the oasis of the Okavango Delta in the north of the country - reputedly one of the most beautiful places in the world, Botswana is known as a hot and dry country, making its Safaris a firm favourite with tourists. Largely off-the-beaten track, Botswana offers a haven of wildlife - particularly elephants which can be seen on safari in any one of the many National Parks.
The Okavango Delta, often called the ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’ is probably the most famous area of Botswana. The delta is a large wetland surrounded by the Kalahari Desert. Millions of years ago as a result of tectonic activity and faulting, the flow of the river was interrupted causing it to backup and form what is now known as the Botswana Delta. This created a unique system of waterways which now supports a vast array of animal and plant life that would otherwise have been a dry Kalahari savannah.
The Okavango Delta presents a unique ecosystem with countless islands that emerge from its waterways. The Okavango Delta’s floods are fed from the Angolan rainfall, which start in October and finish in April. The floods cross the border between Namibia and Botswana in December and only reach the bottom end of the delta (Maun) sometime in July. This flow of water takes almost nine months from the source to the bottom. The slow meandering pace of the flood is due to lack in drop of elevation. Finally the Delta’s water ends in the Kalahari – via the Botetle River, with over 95% of the water eventually evaporating.
This environment has a large numbers of animals that would otherwise be rare, such as red lechwe, crocodile, wild dogs, sitatunga, buffalo, elephant, and wattled crane. The water supports many kinds of fish and the more common mammals and bird life. As such the Okavango Delta is an exceptional area, conservationists have taken a great interest in the preservation of the Botswana Delta.
The best time for safari game viewing in the Okavango Delta is between May and October, when the animals gather along the flooded areas. The most impressive month to visit is in August, when the champagne-coloured water is at its deepest.
The best time to visit for birding and vegetation is during the rainy season between November and April when most of the young are born. It is during this season when the migrant bird populations are returning, and the vegetation is lush and green. Botswana Safaris are highly recommended for these wildlife seasons hence the safaris book up very fast in these months.
In the Okavango Delta the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana and its surrounding area is often the focal point for many Botswana safaris. Moremi covers almost a third of the entire Botswana Okavango Delta - a diverse habitat where the desert and water meet, comprising of forests, floodplains, lagoons, indigenous forests and pans. It contains the full spectrum of game and bird life found in the Okavango and it is the primary Botswana safari attraction in the Delta.
Chobe National Park is the second largest national park in Botswana and covers 10,566 square kilometres. Chobe National Park boasts one of the largest concentrations of game found on the African continent making it the country’s finest destination for game viewing, particularly on the Chobe riverfront and in the Savuti marsh area. This area is known to have the largest elephant herds and large numbers of predators can also be seen. One of the biggest draw cards to this region is the annual zebra migration.
The Botswana Chobe National Park boasts an elephant population, which has steadily increased over the last century, and is currently estimated at around 120,000. The Chobe elephants are migratory, making seasonal movements of up to 200 kilometers. The elephants move in the rainy season from the Chobe and Linyanti to the pans in the southeast of the park.
In addition to the elephants, other types of wildlife can be seen, particularly in the dry winter months. This is when great concentrations of elephant, zebra, buffalo, impala, giraffe, and others gather along the river to drink. The Chobe National Park is a major safari destination for game viewing of every kind, making it an incredible Botswana safari destination not to be missed.
The Kalahari is untamed Africa - the second largest reserve in the world. It is an incredible expanse of semi-desert covering more than three quarters of Botswana. The Kalahari basin was once a great lake that dried out and filled up with sand, debris and fossils, occupying 80% of Botswana’s land surface. Having been in existence 60 million years, right from when Africa first became a continent, the Kalahari in Botswana today is largely bush, trees and grasses, clutching rather unsteadily on arid soil. This translates into a vast, virtually untouched, wilderness on a grand scale, with a landscape stretching as far as the eye can see – therefore ranking it high as a sought after Botswana safari destination. Right in the middle of Botswana, lays huge tracts of white salt – the saltpans of Botswana – one of the country’s wonders that lie overseen by ancient baobab trees.
The Kalahari attracts many tourists annually from near and far – making this a popular Botswana Safari destination. In its entirety the Kalahari – clumsily derived from the Tswana word “Kgalagadi” meaning “the great thirst” - is one of the world’s greatest deserts and a fantastic holiday destination. A safari in the Kalahari promises huge herds of animals that still follow migration paths of old. The Kalahari’s only permanent river is the Okavango.
The Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana are described as a desolate expanse of beauty and consists of a series of the three largest saltpans in the world; the Ntwetwe, Sowa and Nxai Pans, each covered by a layer of glistening salt - a highlight of any Botswana Safari.
The Nxai Pan is actually a National Park and the area consists of a series of fossil pans which were originally ancient salt lakes. Providing shade for the animals in these fossil pans are grass and Acacia trees. These Nxai Salt pans were formed approximately 10,000 and 15,000 years ago when the area used to be a large lake which was formed by the Okavango Delta, Zambezi River and Chobe River. Over the years this area experienced tectonic plate movements and the directions of the rivers changed, creating the Nxai Pan National Park.
The Makgadikgadi Pans are a less frequented holiday safari destination in Botswana due to its atmosphere of intense solitude and remoteness, however during the rainy season from January - April it makes for a hauntingly beautiful vacation. The transformation during the rainy season is remarkable as the pans come to life with frantically feeding water birds and great herds of game. With the rain, arrive the herds of zebra, wildebeest and other antelope making their way north to the Nxai Pan, followed closely by the migration of predators, such as cheetah, lion and hyena. Therefore the Makgadikgadi Pans form part of the route on one of Africa's last remaining migrations.
As the game moves northwards, the pans are transformed into an oasis comprising of a vast array of water birds such as flamingo, duck, geese, pelican, and a variety of crane, that peck up the surfacing fish and shrimp. Sowa in particular is an expansive breeding ground for flamingos. Here they are sighted in their thousands – to see this while on a Botswana Safari is truly a wondrous sight!
Towards the south-western end of Sowa is Kubu Island – another Botswana holiday highlight - famous for its huge baobab trees that punctuate the landscape.
The Makgadikgadi Pans are an attractive Botswana Safari vacation option for those seeking something a little unusual and for bird lovers in particular. A variety of safari tours and accommodation options are available.
The Tuli Block Reserve in Botswana comprises of a series of privately owned reserves that stretch for 350 kilometers on the south-western border of Botswana. This area allows game to roam freely without restriction along the entire stretch of land, integrating the Mashatu and Tuli Nature Reserves.
This region is one of the most accessible parts of Botswana from South Africa, making it an ideal Botswana Safari and holiday destination, providing the visitor a varied African Safari experience.
Tuli derives its name from a river in Zimbabwe and has a rather interesting history because of its strategic position on the South African border. It was originally intended to form part of Cecil John Rhodes' great railway from Cape to Cairo, but due to the rocky terrain the idea was soon abandoned.
The wildlife seems to favor the northern reserves that make up the Tuli Block in Botswana. These include kudu, wildebeest, zebra and giraffe, to predators such as leopard, cheetah, hyena and jackal. The rare black-maned lion is a main attraction to this area and the largest elephant population on private land resides in the Tuli Nature Reserves. Birdlife is plentiful with some 350 species having been recorded such as boulder chat, shrikes, kingfishers and raptors to name but a few. The hot and humid summer months are probably the best time for your Botswana Safari in the Tuli Block, whilst the wettest times are between November and December.
The Tswapong and Lepokde Hills were once home to the San people and the rock paintings are prolific in the area. Solomon's Wall, the remains of an ancient dyke, is also worth a visit especially its massive dolerite outcrops. This makes this area a historic and interesting place for a Botswana Safari.
The Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana is situated in the Tuli block. It is a combination of savannah, forest, open plains and sandstone areas. The name ‘Mashatu’ is derived from the glorious Mashatu Trees scattered all over the terrain – which can be seen on your Botswana Safari.
The Mashatu Game Reserve is home to the elephant, giraffe, lion, Baobab tree, ostrich, eland and the kori bustard to name but a few. It is filled with an abundance of wildlife including refuge for the largest population of elephants found on privately owned land – a population measuring around 900 elephants. These Elephants roam freely around this area as they are allowed to grow in numbers in a safe environment. There are plenty other animals that can be seen in the Botswana Mashatu Game Reserve, such as zebra, warthogs, bat-eared fox and leopard … and 366 different species of birds!
This area has become an ideal Botswana Safari destination as one can see a large variety of animals, bird-life and flora….
We also have other Botswana Attractions that you might want to visit on your Botswana Safari. Please contact us for further details.