Botswana is a land-locked country dominated in geographical terms by the Kalahari Desert – a sand-filled basin averaging 1,100 metres above sea level. The country lies between longitudes 20 and 30 degrees east of Greenwich and between the latitudes 18 and 27 degrees approximately south of the Equator.
Botswana is bordered by Zambia and Zimbabwe to the northeast, Namibia to the north and west, and South Africa to the south and southeast. At Kazungula, four countries – Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia – meet at a single point mid-stream in the Zambezi River.
The Chobe River runs along part of its northern boundary; the Nossob River at its south-western boundary; the Molopo River at its southern boundary; and the Marico, Limpopo and Shashe Rivers at its eastern boundaries. With the exceptions of the Okavango and Chobe areas in the north, the country has little permanent surface water.
The country is situated in the southern African region and about two-thirds of Botswana lies within the Tropics; it is bisected by the Tropic of Capricorn (the imaginary line of latitude which is 23° 30′ south of Equator) just south of the town of Mahalapye. This is the most southern latitude where the sun is directly overhead at noon. This happens on December 22st, the longest day of the year in this hemisphere.
The distance between the extreme north and the extreme south of Botswana is about 1,110 kilometres. It is 960 kilometres across at its widest. The area of Botswana is approximately 581,730 square kilometres and is about the size of France or Kenya. It is approximately 500 km from the nearest coastline, to the southwest.
The eastern hardveld, where 80% of the country’s population lives and where its three largest urban centres are situated, is a wide strip of land running from the north at Ramokgwebane to the south at Ramatlabama. It has a more varied relief and geology with inselbergs (outcrops of resistant rock) and koppies (rocks that have been weathered into blocks) dotting the landscape. The south eastern hardveld also has a slightly higher and more reliable rainfall than the rest of the country (except Bobirwa, which is about dry as Kgalagadi); indeed the natural fertility and agricultural potential of the soils, while still low, are greater than in the Kalahari sandveld.
The Kalahari Desert stretches west of the eastern hardveld, covering 84% of the country. The Kalahari extends far beyond Botswana’s western borders, covering substantial parts of South Africa, Namibia and Angola.
‘Desert‘, however, is a misnomer: its earliest travellers defined it as a ‘thirstland‘. Most of the Kalahari (or Kgalagadi, which is its Setswana name) is covered with vegetation including stunted thorn and scrub bush, trees and grasslands. The largely unchanging flat terrain is occasionally interrupted by gently descending valleys, sand dunes, large numbers of pans and, in the extreme northwest, isolated hills, such as Aha, Tsodilo, Koanaka and Gcwihaba. Many of the pans have dune systems on the southwest side, which vary in size and complexity. The pans fill with water during the rainy season and their hard surface layer ensures that the water remains in the pans and is not immediately absorbed. These pans are of great importance to wildlife, which obtain valuable nutrients from the salts and the grasses of the pans.
In the north-west, the Okavango River flows in from the highlands of Angola and soaks into the sands, forming the 15,000 sq. km network of water channels, lagoons, swamps and islands. The Okavango is the largest inland delta system in the world a bit smaller than Isreal or half of Switzerland. The north-eastern region of the Kalahari Basin contains the Makgadikgadi Pans – an extensive network of salt pans and ephemeral lakes.
Although Botswana has no mountain ranges to speak of, the almost uniformly flat landscape is punctuated occasionally by low hills, especially along the south-eastern boundary and in the far northwest. Botswana’s highest point is 1,491m Otse Mountain near Lobatse, but the three major peaks of the Tsodilo Hills, in the country’s north-western corner, are more dramatic.
BOTSWANA AT A GLANCE
582,000 sq. km
1.6 million (1999)
Summer: 19-33°C, Winter: 5-23°C
Official language: English
Setswana is the national language.
GMT + 2 Hours
Business Hours Private sector
Monday – Friday: 8:00am – 5:00pm
Government offices: Monday – Friday: 7:30am – 4:30pm
Saturday: Government offices are closed but the commercial sector opens in the morning until 1:00pm.
Public Holidays 1 January (New Year’s Day)
2 January (Public Holiday)
13 April (Good Friday)
14 April (Public Holiday)
16 April (Easter Monday)
1 May (Labour Day)
24 May (Ascension Day)
1 July (Sir Seretse Khama Day)
16 July (President Day)
17 July (Public Holiday)
30 September (Botswana Day)
1 October (Public Holiday)
25 December (Christmas Day)
Best Time to Visit
The months between April and November, when large numbers of animals migrate towards the waterways of the Okavango Delta, is best time to go.
November and December – the calving months – are an excellent time to witness nature’s own timetable of regeneration. The rainy season, from January to March, sees the migration of large numbers of game into the summer grazing areas, while the delta comes alive with sounds of hundreds of bird species.
In March and April thousands of zebras and other animals migrate towards the Savuti area of Chobe National Park.
Summers (particularly from December through to February) can become exceptionally hot, and rain may make some roads muddy and impassable.
During the rainy summer season, animals in many game areas disperse, while in the dry winter season they congregate around water sources, making for good game viewing. This does not mean, however, that game viewing is impossible during the summer season.
Self-Drive and Camping
Embarking on a camping trip into the bush requires a good deal of planning and preparation. You will be going to remote areas, accessible only by four-wheel drive, where water, petrol, or food, may not be available. You will often be driving on rough roads and under conditions which are very different from those you may be used to.
Camping gear – Tent, sleeping bag, extra blankets and jackets (in winter), camp-beds (if you find them more comfortable than sleeping on sand), axe, shovel, cooker, water bottles, pots, non-breakable dishes and cups, torches, matches, tin-opener, knife, batteries, bulbs for torches (a good supply), candles, gas lamp (gives lots of light), folding tables and chairs, a large cold-box, masking tape, cello tape, safety-pins, sewing kit, penknife, first-aid kit, buckets and basins, Thermos flask, mosquito coil and insect repellent, toilet paper and basic tools.
Keep your maps and your bird and animal identification books to hand, as well as torches, toilet paper and camera. You will want all of these items within easy reach. Pack everything evenly, so as not to weigh down one side of the vehicle more than the other. Balance is important on sand roads where ruts may cause the vehicle to swerve around.
All necessary food for your camping trip can be acquired from major towns and villages. Make sure that you bring more than you think you will use. Fresh produce or meat will last three to four days in a good-quality cold-box in summer, and a week or more in winter. Tinned food is most practical, supplemented with fresh vegetables and fruits. Use plastic rather than glass containers.
If you have time, prepare two to four one-pot meals before departing. You will be grateful for having only to heat and serve a meal after long hours of driving.
If however you are travelling to Kutse Game Reserve, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi Pans or other dry remote areas, carry at least 100 litres. In the Tuli, Okavango and Chobe areas, water is readily available. However, it is best to carry between 50 and 100 litres of drinking water with you. Remember to keep some water at hand in the car to avoid having to get out while on game drives.
In the eastern part of the country and along the main roads, petrol is always available. However, in the remote areas, petrol stations sometimes run out of supplies, and there are no petrol stations in or at the entrance to the parks and reserves.
It is worthwhile taking the following precautions: estimate distances to be travelled, add on extra for four-wheel drive usage and extra for driving in the sand; add on extra again for game drives, and the possibility of getting lost – over-estimate, rather than under-estimate.
Carry at least 100 to 150 litres of petrol in long-range tanks, if you have them, or in jerry cans (never use plastic containers). If you do not have a long-range tank, use a funnel or hand-pump to put petrol into the tank. Mouth siphoning petrol through a hosepipe can be highly dangerous.
Spare car parts
If you are going for a drive with 4WD, it is wise to take with you: two spare tyres, spark plugs, jump leads, tow rope and cable, a few litres of oil, insulated wire, electrician’s tape, lamp, fire extinguisher, wheel spanner and a complete tool-kit.
Botswana offers the traveller a choice of accommodation options from top class hotels, luxury lodges and safari camps, to budget guesthouses and camping grounds. The major tourist areas have a choice of private lodges, safari camps, and public camping sites.
A variety of cuisines are served in hotels and restaurants from local favourites and game meat, to continental and Asian dishes. There are also plenty of fast food outlets and small restaurants/takeaways offering local dishes.
Botswana’s Moremi Wildlife Reserve lies in the centre of the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world. Named after the chief of the Batawana tribe who declared the reserve in 1963, it consists of permanently swamped areas, seasonally swamped areas and dry land, and covers an area of 3000 km2.
The reserve encompasses a wide range of habitats – from wetland, floodplain and reed beds to forest and savannah woodland. The fauna inhabiting the park is abundant and equally diverse, ranging from exotic birds, zebras, buffalo, wildebeest and giraffes to hippos and lions; the only large African mammals not found here are rhino. Boats take visitors to various lagoons, such as Xakanaxa, Gcobega and Gcodikwe, to view game and birdlife.
Lodges around Moremi Game Reserve have a variety of activities and facilities. Most of the lodges have game drives, mokoro rides, and game walks.
Chobe National Park offers one of the most concentrated wildlife experiences in Southern Africa. The Chobe River forms the border with Namibia and forms the northern boundry of the National Park. The river meanders through flood plains which offer good grazing to the herbivores through the year. Starting out as a proclaimed non-hunting area it was eventually enlarged and gained national park status in 1967. It has slowly increased in size to 10 000 square km, as the farming on the edges gives way to conservation.
Chobe is famous for its large herds of elephant. During the dry season, in the late afternoons, herd after herd of elephants emerge from the Mopane woodland and make their way to the water to quench their thirst. An afternoon spent watching these magnificent creatures is a wonderful experience. During the wet season some of these herds migrate almost 200 km towards the pans in the southern park.
The herds of impala, letchwe, sable antelope and buffalo that live along the river attract large carnivores, and regular sightings of lion, leopard and hyena occur. An afternoon spent on one of the game viewing cruises gets you close to the herds of elephant, the birdlife, hippos and crocodiles. The colours of river, elephants in the golden light of the late afternoon creates fantastic photographic opportunities.
The Linyanti River in the north west is a seldom visited part of the park. The river floods along a fault creating a swamp. During the dry season it offers exciting concentrated game viewing.
Lodges in the area range from opulent to comfortable family accommodation. All offering a wide range of activities including game drives and the fantastic afternoon river cruise.
Alternatively for the adventurous, a mobile camping safari or self drive safari through the parks is a life experience. Drive your own four wheel drive or tag along with the security of our professional guides.
The Savuti region forms part of the Chobe National Park. Located on the eastern side of the Okavango Delta and south of Chobe River. The famous Savuti channel stretches south from the Chobe River through to the Mababe depression. For long periods of time the channel is dry and the only water in Savuti is from seasonal rainfall.
The concentration of wildlife and birdlife not to mention the open plains surrounded by the dry camel thorn trees on the Savuti marsh are a wildlife photographers dream. Savuti is famous for its big game and particularly it’s predators. Lion and the Spotted Hyena live in constant battle for survival. Other commonly sighted species are zebra, elephant giraffe, kudu and buffalo. If you are lucky, you might see cheetah or wild dog.
Birdlife includes Abdems Stork, Carmine beeaters, Kori Bustards, and secretary birds. Regularly a variety of raptors are also regularly spotted.
Lodges in Savuti have a variety of activities and facilities. Most of the lodges have game drives, and game walks. For those that want a little more activity, they offer a range of mobile luxury or participation safaris that explore the Savuti area.
Okavango Delta and Panhandle
One of the largest Inland water systems in the world, the Okavango Delta covers an approximate area of 16 000 square km of the Kalahari. The Kavango River rises in the Angola’s highlands and flows though Namibia before flooding onto the soft sands of the Kalahari creating the inland delta.
The flood waters of Angola take approximately 3 months to reach the borders of Botswana and may only reach the southern end of the Delta in June. This creates a unique source of water in this region during the dry season. As the surrounding game reserves are drying out the Okavango’s waters are rising attracting wildlife which remains in the area from May to October.
One of the best experiences in the Okavango Delta is to be poled along the reed lined channels in a Mokoro (dug out canoe). Sit back and relax as the water gurgles tranquilly under the mokoro while your skilled poler points out the fauna and flora. The Okavango offers fantastic wildlife and birdlife. Red lechwe, wild dog, buffalo, elephant, wattled crane, and kingfishers are often seen.
Lodges in the Okavango offer a wide range of accommodation and activities. Poling on mokoros, game walks and game drives get you closer to the wildlife. A cool drink as the sun sets over the Okavango will create memories that last a lifetime.
Central Kalahari and Khutse
Central Kalahari covers a massive area of 58 000 square km about the size of Switzerland and Denmark. Sand dunes and shrubs in the north and Mopane woodlands in the south compliment the open grassy plains of the central reserve. Ancient riverbeds cross this harsh and beautiful landscape.
The Central Kalahari was made famous by Mark and Delia Owens and the story of their research on large predators in the park makes fascinating reading in “Cry of the Kalahari”.
Wonderful lodges are located around the reserve and these all offer game drives, game walks and a wide range of luxuries.
Wildlife in the reserve includes wild dog, brown hyena, lion cheetah, leopard, blue wildebeest, gemsbok, kudu and red hartebeest. Best game viewing is between December and April when the game congregates at the pans and valleys.
Birdlife includes vultures, raptors, and grassland bird species.
Khutse is a 2500 square km Game Reserve that lies on the southern boundry of the Central Kalahari. It was proclaimed in 1971 from Tribal land of the Bakwena people. The landscape is primarily undulating Kalahari bush savannah with very little surface water in the park.
A system of natural pans fill during the rainy season attracting herbivores to graze on the grass lands. These in turn attract the predator’s lion, hyena, leopard and cheetah. As the season evolves the pans dry up leaving behind important mineral deposits and salt licks for the herbivores.
Waterholes have been set up to encourage wildlife to remain in the reserve throughout the year.
Wide range of birdlife including Ostrich, Kori Bustard, various korhans, large gatherings of vultures and other raptors.
Vast flat shimmering salt pans provide the incredible back drop to the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve. These pans provide much needed minerals in the form of salt licks for the herbivores in the area.
In years with good rainfall the pans can fill with water from mid November and can hold the water till the following April. This water attracts flocks of flamingos and pelicans, and can trigger massive migrations of Zebra and Wildebeest.
During the dry season the pans hard surface offers a totally different experience. In certain conditions it is possible to drive (a 4×4) on the pans and visit the islands of Baobab trees that grow on the edges of the pan. The endless skies and endless horizons create a surreal experience.
Nxai Pan and Baines Baobabs
Nxai Pan National Park covers 2500 square km situated between Maun and Nata about 40 km north of the main road. The Nxai Pan National Park was proclaimed in 1970 and later extended to its present size including Baines Baobabs.
One of the few National Parks in Botswana where the rainy season adds to the attraction. Once the rains start elephant, zebra and gemsbok migrate to the area. The springbok and zebra drop their young at this time, attracting predators. A rich area full of wildlife activity. The small waterhole situated close to the gate offers permanent water to the variety of wildlife found in this park.
Baines Baobabs, made famous by the explorer / painter Thomas Baine in the last century. These seven enormous Baobab trees are clustered on a small rise next to a dry pan. The pan usually fills with water after the rainy season which lasts from December through to April.
The Baines Baobabs have been incorporated into the Nxai Pan National Park to protect the trees for future generations.
This area is best explored on one of our mobile camping safaris or our tag along tours. Wildlife viewing and fantastic photographic opportunities.
The quartzite cliffs of Tsodilo rise out of the Kalahari on the western side of the Okavango Delta. A marked feature in the otherwise flat landscapes of Botswana. Tsodilo is divided into four hills, the “male”, the “female”, and the “child” and a further off unnamed knoll. The bushman believe that the unnamed knoll was the “males” first wife only to be discarded when the “male” found the taller “female” hill.
The bushman believe that there is great spiritual importance in these hills. They have lived in the area for thousands of years and believe that the hills are a resting place for the deceased spirits and that the caves on the female hill are sacred. Legend goes that the first spirit knelt here to pray after the world was created and that the impressions made by the knees are still visible today. It is also believed that these spirits will bring misfortune to any that hunt or kill close to the hills.
Studies have shown that the area has been inhabited for approximately 100 000 years, and paintings adorn the rocks on the northern side of the female hill. What makes it more remarkable is that the paintings of Tsodilo are separated by almost 250 km from the nearest known sites. These paintings differ in style and content from other known sites, with many isolated figures and geometric patterns. Tsodilo is a world heritage site.
The Tsodilo hills are best visited on one of our mobile camping safaris or from one of the lodges on the edge of the Okavango delta. It is well worth spending the night camping under the starts in this spiritual area.
A shallow lake that is fed by water from the Okavango River. The Okavango River loses most of its flow in the sands of the delta, and only during periods of heavy rain in Angola will the water reach the lake. When water reaches the lake it attracts huge flocks of quail that number in the millions.
Antelope and ostrich will be found in the area. The lake is best explored by four wheel drive from Maun.
The Tuli block is a narrow strip of land that lies along the south eastern border of Botswana. Consisting mainly of private owned game reserves and concessions. A historically interesting area as it formed a buffer to the encroaching boer farmers from South Africa. Cecil Johan Rhodes identified it as a perfect route to Rhodesia to further his dream of building a railroad from the Cape to Cairo.
The rocky rugged landscape proved to be of little use to commercial farmers and soon the potential as a natural conservation area was realized.
An area of outstanding natural beauty, abundant wildlife and birdlife and a rich archaeological heritage. With over 300 species of birds recorded in the area Tuli is a true birdwatchers destination. Mashatu has the largest elephant population on private land.
Lodges in the Tuli area offer a wide range of activities including game drives, horseback riding, game viewing from mountain bike trails, game walks and bird watching.