Botswana is undoubtedly one of the most incredible wilderness areas on earth. The south and east consist of the jaw-dropping Kalahari Desert and lunar-like pans at Nxai and Makgadikgadi. The north and west, on the other hand, comprise the dazzling water worlds of the Okavango Delta and Chobe River ecosystem.
This diversity in terrain lends itself to an array of activities to suit virtually anyone with an interest in the outdoors. Whether it’s your first trip to Botswana or your tenth, there is always something exciting to experience in one of Africa’s friendliest countries.
You’ll finally understand why a group of zebra are known as a ‘dazzle’: thousands of these gorgeous creatures make their way from the rainy season Nxai and Makgadikgadi Pans to pass the dry winter near the water sources of the Boteti River and Delta. Read more about the world’s longest land migration here.
2. The San Bushmen
Synonymous with the Kalahari, the San conquered this challenging land long ago, honing their survival skills over generations. Today you can learn about everything from medicinal plants to folklore about how the eland got its long horns or how the world came into being.
For some idea of how the San once lived, spend the in a ‘Bushman hut’ at Deception Valley Lodge.
3. Spectacular game viewing
As Safari Experts, we go on a LOT of game drives. Botswana never fails to enthrall. The guides are passionate, the animals relaxed (poaching is well managed and hunting banned, meaning the game isn’t skittish and don’t fear humans). This is paradise: above, Go2Africa staffer Ashley watches as a baby elephant leaves the waterhole while below, Shandre and Liesel track lions with their guide.
WHERE TO DO IT It’s almost as easy as throwing a dart at the map of Botswana and heading there. On a more serious note, if you want to narrow down the list, head to Chobe for massive herds of buffalo and elephant, and Moremi Game Reserve for predators.
4. Power boating on the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is the world’s biggest inland delta and the hundreds of channels through its dense reeds make for excellent power boating. Your guide will cut the engines when approaching water-adapted wildlife like sitatunga antelope, hippo, crocodiles and elephants but power boating allows you to go further away from your lodge and see more remote areas of the Delta.
Go2Africans Maija, Shandre and Liesel (above) loved arriving to hot coffee and snacks during their power-boat excursion – lodges in Botswana are famous for little ‘extras’ like this.
5. Mekoro rides
Historically the way to paddle around the Okavango, traditional mekoro (plural) were made from hollowed-out sausage treetrunks. Nowadays, lighter, faster and more environmentally friendly fibreglass canoes are used at almost all lodges. A ride in a mokoro (singular) is one of the most serene experiences you will ever have: you are poled along quietly and your guide will point out beautiful lilies, tiny painted reed frogs and goliath herons. Don’t worry about hippos: the poler taps the side of the mokoro gently to warn them humans are on the way!
FOR SERIOUS KAYAKERS If you love being on the water, consider a canoe safari like this one that wends its way over five days through the Selinda Spillway and Linyanti Channel.
6. Enjoy magnificent views
Whether it’s the Savute marsh, the Chobe floodplain or the Delta, Botswana delivers views in spades. Fairly flat through most of the country, the sky seems higher and bluer here, the clouds more intense and the sunshine more life-giving. Bring your wide-angle lens to make the most of Botswana’s amazing vistas.
READ MORE A former guide and talented photographer explains how amateurs can photograph Africa’s diverse landscapes.
7. Go birding
Many clients claim that they’re ‘not into birds’. After one safari to Botswana and its 550 species, they’re singing a different tune. Go in summer (November to March) when the migrants come in and join the residents for a place that’s chockful of ‘ticks’: pied kingfishers; oxpeckers; black egrets (who hunt fish by luring them into the darkness made by covering the water with their feathers); African fish eagles; giant eagle owls (often found, oddly, sitting on the ground); beautifil carmine bee-eathers; ground hornbills (the inspiration for Zazou from The Lion King); jewel-like malachite kingfishers and the hardest to photograph of all, flighty lilac-breasted rollers.
READ MORE How to photograph birds on your safari if you’re not a professional birder or photographer!
8. See huge crocodiles and massive hippos
Lots of water means lots of grass. And lots of grass means lots of hippos that wallow in the shallows all day and emerge at night to munch their way through acres of soft grazing. Hippos have set routes and paths from the water to ‘their’ grass known as ‘hippo highways’ – they’re extremely territorial and will defend their space with impunity.
But lots of grass also means lots of antelope. And where there are bucks, zebra and other creatures coming to drink you will find some of Africa’s biggest crocodiles. Able to not move for hours at a time, they lull their prey into a false sense of security before attacking with lightning speed. A tip for photographers: crocs give no indication when they’re about to move and have an uncanny knack of doing something exciting at the exact moment you’re changing a lens or having a sip of water. They'll keep you on your toes.
9. Predator sightings
Moremi Game Reserve is renowned for its frequent leopard sightings. This, remarkably, is the only officially protected part of the Okavango Delta, which as a whole is a World Heritage Site.
The lions of the Marsh Pride in the Savute are among the biggest in Africa: years of strenuous hunting in deep water and thick marshland has built them into exceptionally powerful hunters known to take down elephants. But even when they’re not hunting (which happens late at night when you’re likely tucked up in bed), lions are still interesting: here a male marks and inspects the borders of his territory, warning competitors to stay away.
Of course, if you’re really lucky you might even spot lion cubs and leopards learning to take on the big world. Lions are the most social of all the cats and it’s easy to lose yourself in their playful interaction.
WHERE TO GO For a total splurge, check in at Little Mombo while Xigera has one of the best facilities in the Delta: a bridge that is also a sand trap to pick up the spoor of overnight ‘visitors’ to camp. Leopard tracks are occasionally found in the sand.
10. Track the Big 5
The Big 5 – rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo – are the must-see for every first-time safari goer. There’s a very good chance you’ll see all of them in Botswana, especially in Moremi and the Delta. Rhino, sadly, are under the most threat but an innovative programme called Rhinos Without Borders that we support is helping move these magnificent creatures, who’ve survived for millennia, to live another day by moving them from poaching hotspots in South Africa to safety in Botswana.
11. Walk with elephants
Elephant-back safaris are slowly being phased out across Africa but many herds of habituated elephants remain. Often, they consist of abandoned orphans, those found injured and nursed back to health, and others saved from culls. Gentle activities like walking with habituated elephants help fund their care. Here Emma makes an unforgettable new friend.
READ MORE We take ethical animal encounters very seriously – please read our expert guide to humane animal encounters before you choose what to do.
12. See unusual wildlife
The Big 5 deserve their reputation as Africa’s heavyweights but what about smaller, lesser spotted game? Thanks to successul conservation initiatives, wild dogs are back from the brink of extinction and Moremi has several breeding packs of these remarkable canids.
Heading to Chobe, look out for large groups of shaggy waterbuck. Very pretty antelope, they have large white rings on their rumps – it’s considered impolite to make wisecracks comparing them to toilet seats!
The Delta is the best place to see two fairly rare antelope: the leaping red lechwe and the very shy sitatunga. Spotting a sitatunga is actually harder than finding a leopard!
Another hard-to-find and shy species is the African wild cat. Bigger than domesticated cats but with the same unmissable features, African wild cats are fast runners. They like open grassland – you may get lucky in Savute or Linyanti.
Another fairly rare antelope is the beautiful sable, the male’s half-moon horns and glossy blackish coat being the giveaway. Head to Chobe, especially in the mid-year dry season when game doesn’t move too far from remaning water sources. Sables are often confused with roan antelope, which are also elusive and have white muzzles but much straighter horns.
One of the most stylish looking of Africa’s antelopes, oryx are more suited to semi-desert areas like the Kalahari. The more ‘rings’ a male’s horns have, the older he is.
13. Hang out with meerkats
Although they’re cute and cuddly, meerkats are fearless suricates with an amazing social structure and lookout system. Because they’re so fearless, they very soon become habituated to humans and, in fact, begin using us as convenient lookout posts! Head to the Kalahari – meerkats like drier, sandy conditions for burrowing.
14. Horse riding
Horseriding safaris are among the most exclusive activities in Botswana and are recommended for experienced riders only. Your horse will be habituated to game and you can enjoy cantering through pristine floodplains searching for sitatunga, lechwe and the horse's equine cousin, plains zebra. Less experienced riders needn’t despair: many lodges offer gentle outrides for beginners. Go2Africa Safari Expert Natasha’s young daughter got the thrill of a lifetime when a giraffe casually strode into view!
15. Hot-air ballooning
The beauty of ballooning is that you get a true sense of how large the Okavango is. It’s one thing to fly over it in a light aircraft; it’s quite another to float serenely above its ox-bow lakes, counting the hippos, elephants and buffaloes below…
WHERE TO DO IT It’s an early wake-up call at Vumbura Plains but so worth it!
16. ATVs on the pans
In Africa, ATVs are known as quad bikes and the pans are the perfect place for them: flat, smooth places where you can cover good distances at good speeds to get to places of interest. Wrap up against the sun and get your motor running.
17. Go stargazing
Night-time in Botswana puts on its own spectacle: a dizzying array of stars and the awe-inspiring Milky Way really shine here thanks to no light or air pollution.
WHERE TO DO IT Frankly, anywhere out of the cities like Maun and Kasane should give you great stargazing but for reliable cosmic splendour, consider the Kalahari for one very good reason – there are unlikely to be clouds! (but wrap up warm; the desert is surprisingly cold at night).
18. Go overlanding
‘Overlanding’ is a popular way of seeing Africa’s highlights on a budget. You all pile onto a massive truck and slowly drive from campsite to campsite, taking in the most popular spots along the way. You won’t see the most remote parts of the Delta, for example, but overlanding is a good option for seeing places like Chobe without the frills (if you don’t mind your share of cooking and cleaning, and sleeping in a dome tent with shared ablutions). Go2African Emma gets to know her fellow overlanders, who come from all over the world.
19. Sunset cruising on the Chobe River
Situated up north in Chobe National Park, the Chobe River is often where safaris to Botswana end. And what a finale: the Chobe puts on a reliable show. The classic way to end your day is with a sunset cruise where you can spot fish eagles, crocs, hippos, myriad birds and even water monitors from the boat. But the absolute showstopper is always the crossing of elephant families from one bank to another.
Crossing patiently, the leader feels for submerged rocks and logs, tests how deep the water is and essentially chooses the safest route. The babies, as always, are in the middle of the group, often paddling with their little legs when it gets too deep. It’s a humbling sight and one of the loveliest in all the country.
20. Measure yourself against a baobab
Local Tswana folklore calls the baobab, ‘the tree God make in anger’. Apparently, he grew frustrated with the baobab and tossed it out of heaven where it fell to earth, landing clumsily with its ‘roots’ in the air. Baobabs are extraordinary: their massive trunks hold a lot of moisture and elephants regularly mangle the bark with their tusks to get to it. And yet, the baobabs survive these pachydermic attacks.
WHERE TO GO Although they occur throughout Botswana, ‘Baobab Alley’ in Savute is an unusual ‘forest’ of these trees – Go2African Angela quickly realised that they’re not easy to climb!
21. Yoga in the desert
Safaris are infamously all about eating when you’re not game watching but more and more camps are now offering active options. Yoga is a great way to slow down and allow yourself the mental presence to really connect with your tranquil surroundings.
WHERE TO GO Salute the sun at Jack’s Camp where a special pavilion has been built overlooking the pan.
22. Mobile camping
Mobile camping is a great way to get back to basics and see much of the country. Every two nights or so you will move to a new tented camp – a classic itinerary takes in the Delta, Moremi, Savute and Chobe. You ‘give up’ air conditioning, Wi-Fi and a swimming pool but gain an incredible proximity to nature that is hard to beat. It’s not unusual to have elephants, honey badgers, ground squirrels and even the occasional spotted hyena or leopard near camp.
23. Green Season
It’s indicative of how important rain is to the country that its currency is named the ‘pula’, which means 'rain' the the Tswana language. Rain means life and Botswana has one of the most 'life-giving' rainy seasons anywhere: from about November to April, the land turns green, birds fill the sky and baby animals are everywhere.
HOW TO DO IT Chat to your African Safari Expert about why it pays (often literally – rates are much lower at this time of year) to travel to Botswana in the low season.
READ MORE Here is our expert guide on travelling to Botswana in the Green Season.
24. Toast another great day in Botswana…
After another great day in one of Southern Africa’s greatest wildernesses, sit back with local St Louis beer and say, ‘Sharpu!’ – cheers to Botswana!
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NON-SUPPLIED PHOTOS BY Emma Hill & Angela Aschmann