Botswana: Africa’s best-kept secret
As one of Africa’s last unpopulated wildernesses, Botswana holidays are an absolute must for wildlife lovers. With 38% of Botswana’s land given over to national parks, this landlocked country is home to some of the greatest and most varied wildlife in the world, from big mammals and game to birdlife.
Our Botswana expert, Emma, recently returned from a research trip to Botswana that saw her travel from the biologically diverse Chobe National Park to the lush Okavango Delta and the remote Kalahari Game Reserve. In this blog post, Emma shares the standout moments from her trip, as well as her top Botswana travel tips…
Chobe National Park
I started my trip at Chobe National Park – and as the first national park to be established in Botswana in 1967, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s the most biologically diverse park in all of Botswana, and the amount of wildlife here is astonishing: think vast herds of elephant, buffalo and zebra roaming freely, and lions sunning themselves underneath trees. Activities here include game drives and trips to the meeting points of the four countries – however, in Chobe, boat trips are the definitive game viewing experience. They allow you to see wildlife from a completely different perspective, whether you’re looking back on the banks of the river or witnessing elephants snorkel along beside you as they cool off in the water in the dry season, it’s an unforgettable experience.
A highlight for me was a boat trip along the channels where we headed out with a specialist guide for a unique opportunity to photograph pied kingfishers, whilst keeping an eye out for other wildlife too. Don’t forget that the trips and activities available here are seasonal, so you’ll need to plan your visit accordingly: the dry season is best for wildlife sightings, whereas, in the wet ‘green’ season, the elephants are on the move. There are baby animals and vibrant birdlife around during this time, making for absolutely incredible photo opportunities.
If you have time, it’s also well worth a visit to nearby Savute. Bordering the Linyanti Wetlands on the western edge of Chobe, it’s home to some of Botswana’s most outstanding wildlife. It’s a documentary maker’s dream – in fact, most wildlife documentaries in Botswana are filmed here, which shows just how incredible the wildlife spotting opportunities are.
For the next part of my trip, I headed to the Okavango Delta, one of the world’s largest deltas and a dynamic ecosystem in its own right. With networks of channels and lagoons fringed with papyrus and dotted with charming islands, it’s pristine and serene – and offers excellent year-round wildlife viewing. In fact, the delicate ecosystem here means there’s everything from flora and fauna to birds and marine life, as well as large animals such as elephant, hippo, giraffe and rhinoceros. It’s also the predator capital of Africa, too.
There are plenty of activities on offer here, including game drives, night drives, boat cruises, canoeing through crystal clear waters on traditional mokoro canoes made from sausage tree (often made from fibreglass these days) and walking safaris. You can even sleep on a sky bed on a platform underneath the stars – an experience which I would definitely recommend! Another relatively new activity available in some high-end lodges is the chance to go out on a hot air balloon ride early in the morning and enjoy a champagne breakfast when you return – absolutely unforgettable and a fantastic chance to see the Delta from a new perspective.
If hot air balloons aren’t for you, you can do as I did and plonk yourself down on a lookout deck over a floodplain back at your lodge and witness the animals come and go. I saw an elephant venture so close to the lodge that it had its head inside the main area and was stealing spring onions from the herb box! On another occasion, whilst setting up for sundowners and listening to the sounds of hippos calling, a pack of 11 wild dogs appeared 20 feet away. We jumped in our vehicle and followed them, which resulted in an amazing and completely private sighting as they taught their youngsters to hunt.
If you’re after a bit more action from your Botswana holiday, mobile camping is becoming more popular for an authentic safari experience and the chance to develop really intense safari knowledge. With mobile safaris, you can be much more flexible and each day is tailored to you. However, if you choose to view the Delta, though, the best thing about this region is that the wildlife is so relaxed. Because the area is home to a number of private concessions rather than a national park, there are fewer rigid regulations, fewer people and more activities on offer; it’s a completely unique experience. In addition, the lodges are really community driven – in fact, most of the staff have grown up in villages next door, so have fantastic insider knowledge.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
For the final leg of my trip, I headed to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. One of the largest game reserves in the world, it’s the size of Denmark and covers 50,000km2 of wild, remote and pristine land in southern-central Botswana. Here, you’ll find spotted hyena, black-maned lion, aardvark and desert-adapted elephants, alongside other game species.
Whilst the wet season is best for wildlife, there are still plenty of activities on offer in the dry season too. Originally home to the San people, I had the chance to meet two San bushmen, including a village elder, and was granted access to their homes and the chance to learn their skills, the medicines they use and how they live for a fascinating insight into traditional life. On the way back to the lodge, we were lucky enough to spot and park up nearby a pride of lions. We stayed completely still as they edged towards us before sitting right beside the wheel – a real heart-in-mouth moment!
Back at the lodge that night, there was sensational campfire stargazing, and on a game drive the next morning we saw the same lions acting very territorial having made a kill. Also on our drive, our guide mimicked the call of a predator bird, the Pel’s Fishing Owl, which made all the birds fly out of the trees to try and mob it for an incredibly unique and awe-inspiring viewing opportunity. This is an example of the difference between the Botswana experience as opposed to ordinary game drives – with Botswana holidays, everything is elevated to the next level.
My top tips
- Pack layers – heading out on activities in the early mornings means it can be very cold, but you’ll need lighter clothes for when the sun comes up.
- Consider a camera workshop – either as part of the itinerary or before you go to get the most of the wildlife photography opportunities
- Add on time in Cape Town or Victoria Falls to relax after your busy safari days
- Download a bird guide app on your phone before you go – it acts as a checklist too
- A lightweight scarf acts as an extra layer, a protector for your camera on your lap, and instant cover if you are in the sun during the game drive
Whether you want to visit in the dry or wet season, if you’re looking for some of the finest wildlife in the world, Botswana might just be your dream destination. Our team are experts on Botswana holidays and can advise on everything from the best lodges to stay in, to the most exciting activities on offer so you can craft your perfect trip. Ready to start your Botswana adventure? Contact our team today for a quote.