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Botswana

Botswana is not only one of Africa’s most stable and safe democracies, but is also one the world’s most sought-after safari and wilderness destinations. The unique Okavango Delta, the game-rich Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park, the legendary Kalahari Desert and the dramatic Makgadikgadi Pans are magnets for visitors from all over the world.

Expect friendly people, superb standards of hospitality, excellent infrastructure, a firm currency (the pula), and magnificent natural beauty. Botswana’s population is just over two million and its capital is Gaborone. Botswana has two main languages: English and Setswana.

The Okavango Delta, a uniquely beautiful World Heritage Site, is formed where the Okavango River descends from the Angolan highlands and fans out into a network of water lily-studded lagoons, papyrus-fringed channels and crystal-clear tranquil backwaters. Usually accessed from Maun Airport, it’s one of the last true wilderness areas on Earth. During seasonal flooding, the delta swells to three times its normal size, attracting animals from miles around and creating a spectacular concentration of wildlife.

As a skilled boatman poles your mokoro (traditional canoe) through the narrow waterways lined by tall ancient trees, where in summer flocks of dazzling carmine bee-eaters swoop and glide along the banks, watch out for crocodiles sunning themselves on sandy banks, elephants coming to drink, over 450 species of birds, snorting hippos, and maybe a glimpse of the elusive aquatic sitatunga antelope or the rare ginger-coloured Pel’s fishing-owl. This is a water wonderland like no other.

A Pel’s fishing-owl.

A Pel’s fishing-owl.

(Image: Francesco Veronesi)

Created where the Okavango River meets the Kalahari Desert, the Moremi Game Reserve – the first of its kind to be created in Southern Africa by African people on their own tribal land – is less well known and has far fewer visitors than Chobe National Park. Expect a pristine wilderness of lagoons, forests, rivers, open grasslands and islands teeming with game from the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino) to cheetah, wild dog, hippo and many more.

The main drawcards of Chobe National Park in north-east Botswana are the huge herds of elephants and buffalo that are followed by attendant predators, and the Chobe River itself, jam-packed with hippos, crocodiles and hundreds of birds. A cruise along its tree-lined banks as a glorious African sunset gilds the herds of elephant, buffalo and other game coming to drink is an unforgettable experience.

When you visit the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, at 52 800km2 one of the largest conservation areas in the world, you’ll discover big sky country where the legendary Kalahari black-maned lions and stately desert oryx roam the vast plains, ancient riverbeds and salt pans.

The main wildlife concentrations are found in the north of the reserve, where you can stay at a luxury lodge (don’t miss a fascinating desert walk with traditional San hunters); or, if you’re adventurous and completely self-reliant, you can traverse the entire reserve – an exhilarating journey of at least two days of 4x4 wilderness travelling. Undeveloped campsites are available for overnight stops. Regardless of how intrepid or well stocked you are, however, you should only travel in groups of two or more vehicles.

Although the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and Nxai Pan National Park comprise an area of about 6 500km2, they are largely uninhabited by humans. Once an ancient lake, today Makgadikgadi is one of the largest salt pans in the world. A breeding ground for aquatic birds such as flamingos, its waterholes provide wonderful game viewing. Because of their combined importance for wildlife migrations, these national parks were established concurrently to protect the entire ecosystem.

Four-wheel drive is recommended and several lodges and campsites cater for the fully equipped self-drive visitor. Visit the pans during both the dry and the wet season, in order to see them at their starkest, and then witness their transformation to lush grasslands when the dramatic migration of plains game takes place.

The Okavango Delta.

The Okavango Delta.