A model working democracy since its independence in 1966, Botswana is one of Africa's true success stories. Long associated with the San Bushmen, this France-sized country was settled by Iron Age African farmers - the predecessors of today's Tswana - but was subsequently colonised by the British. Once something of a colonial backwater, Botswana's peaceful transition to freedom was led by Sir Seretse Khama - a highly revered figure in the country - and the discovery of enormous diamond fields quickly transformed the country.
Lying landlocked at the dry heart of the Southern African subcontinent, Botswana has used its limited resources wisely, and for thirty years it enjoyed the highest average economic growth rate in the world. The wealth derived from Botswana's three major industries of cattle, diamonds and tourism has resulted in country-wide infrastructure and - by continental standards - a high standard of living.
With a population of barely over two million, Botswana has a mostly homogenous culture with strong religious beliefs. Most people are Christian and Tswana-speaking (English is widely spoken), though many San Bushmen still follow their traditional way of life in the Kalahari. Most of the population however lives in the more urbanised south-east, especially in the ever-expanding capital city of Gaborone, leaving much of the country completely wild and uninhabited.
Virtually synonymous with the Kalahari Desert, much of Botswana is flat and dry, covered in thorny acacia trees and home to enormous salt pans and rolling grasslands. Rainfall is highest in northern Botswana where vast open woodlands dominate the environment and several globally important wetland habitats - the Okavango Delta, the Linyanti Swamps and the Chobe River - support huge numbers of animals.
With over 17% of its land surface turned over to conservation and a ban on virtually all hunting effective from 2013, Botswana is a haven for wildlife and several of its protected areas - the Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta and the Moremi Game Reserve in particular - rank among Africa's best game viewing destinations. Botswana's Kalahari parks are some of the wildest and least developed in the region but offer excellent opportunities for game viewing, especially in early summer when several local zebra migrations occur.
Botswana's wildlife highlights include Africa's greatest concentrations of elephant, fantastic bird watching, abundant predators and the continent's largest population of African wild dog. Botswana's lions are particularly notorious for their size and their ability to prey on large animals such as hippo, buffalo and even young elephants.
At a Glance