Botswana 101

How does Botswana compare to South Africa?

Bots fans will tell you that South Africa is really a large zoo compared to the true wilderness and isolation of Botswana. You pay mightily for the privilege of being in one of Botswana's private concessions (camps generally run between $700 and $2,500 a night per person, depending on the camp and the season), but you will very rarely see other vehicles. A typical concession of 100,000 acres has no more than 16 guest beds. And the camps, even though they are all relatively new—tourism didn’t really take off here until the 1980s—are based on an old-fashioned model so they are high-touch and magically merge a respect for nature with great design. In most lodges guests sit down to breakfast, lunch and dinner together and meet and mingle over meals. The most luxurious camps, like Abu and Mombo, have gotten rid of this and offer individual dining and even such modern amenities as wifi. Funnily on my most recent trip, a number of the repeat guests that I met had opted to do more of the classic camps than the luxury ones because they missed the camaraderie of the simpler camps. Bottom line: the camps are not as flashy or resort-like as the most luxurious in South Africa, but the wide-open wilderness and down-home coziness cannot be beat. 

How does Botswana compare to East Africa? With some of the most unspoiled wilderness in the world, Botswana is a paradise for nature lovers. Whether you are fascinated by landscapes and ecosystems or specific species, the region offers some of the world’s best wildlife viewing. Visitors can mix up how they explore the wilderness with game drives, walking safaris and boating activities. You can visit with Aboriginal people, which makes for a fascinating cultural exchange, as their survival skills and understanding of climate and animals are amazing. However, you will not see the quintessential wide-open plains of the Serengeti nor will you see the Great Migration, which takes place only in East Africa. On your first day in East Africa, you may easily see all of the Big Five, whereas in Botswana, you may never see a rhino—though you can feed and walk with elephants. East Africa tends to appeal to people going on their first safari, whereas Botswana attracts those who have already been on safari and are ready to go deeper. Tanzania delivers a great intro, but Botswana wows the committed ones.

What is the ideal itinerary? Of course, it depends whether you are planning your first or your fifth safari and who is in your group. Are you a couple or a multi-generational family? Are you interested in fishing or birding, bonding with elephants or walking with bushmen? Do you have enough time to include visits to neighboring countries like Zimbabwe or Zambia to see Victoria Falls or Namibia to visit the sand dunes of Sossusvlei or the Skeleton Coast? The best itinerary matches your group dynamics and interests to the right camps in an order that deepens your appreciation and understanding for the country's variety of wilderness. To do so, you will have to move around by small plane (C280 or Caravan) and be limited in your luggage allowance, but you will be rewarded with daily knock-your-socks-off vistas and viewings. Contact one of our Africa specialists to discuss the best plan for you.

What makes a Botswana worth the high price tag? The luxury of space, exclusivity and the feeling of time travel. When you are looking at a lion, you are usually in the only vehicle around. And the 16,000-square-mile delta system has not a single power line, telephone pole or fence or tar road. It could be 2000 B.C. Carl Jung believed that the smells of Africa, particularly that of smoke from an acacia fire, trigger deep race memories. Man, after all, evolved in the Rift Valley in conditions similar to those in the Okavango.

Know Before You Go Before departing on safari, Indagare members receive extensive planning documents, including packing and reading lists, tipping advice and pre-departure checklists. Among the essential things to know before traveling to Botswana are:

  • Passports and Visas: Passports are required by all foreign visitors and must be
valid for 6 months after the intended length of stay. If you are traveling through South Africa, be sure you have at least two consecutive/side by side blank pages. Our recommendation is 3 pages, or even 4 if you are travelling through more than one country on your journey. If a child is traveling with only one parent to Botswana, he/she must have a notarized letter from the other parent allowing their visit.
  • Medical: The CDC recommends travelers to Botswana planning to spend a lot of time outdoors consider taking a malaria prophylaxis drug. This is a decision for you and your physician based on your travel plans and medical history, including allergies.
  • Luggage: Light aircraft has a strict luggage allowance of 15kg (33 lbs) per person including hand luggage, depending on your destination. Exceptions are not generally made as these rules apply for reasons of weight restrictions for safety. No hard suitcases will be allowed. Soft-sided duffle bags are the best choice.
  • Communications: Telecommunications in the urban areas are easily accessible, but most safari lodges and camps are located in very remote areas and generally do not have telephones or internet.
  • Transportation: To reach remote camps, you must travel by light aircraft (generally either Cessna Caravans or C280s), which carry six to 12 passengers. Scheduled charters may make multiple stops between camps, but it is possible to reserve private direct charters. At camp, you will spend many hours in open 4x4 vehicles on bumpy roads. Vehicles carry at most six to nine guests. Unless a private vehicle and guide has been booked in advance, expect to be sharing your vehicle with other camp guests. Private vehicles and activities may be secured at an additional cost, and must be booked prior to travel.
When Should I Go?

The best time to visit Botswana is usually in the drier, cooler months from April through November. The grasses are short and brown and trees are leafless so animals are easier to spot. The Okavango Delta is flooded so the game is plentiful; and the desert areas are cooler.There are advantages to visiting virtually all year round as long as you are in the right area. The summer months from October to March are hotter and wetter, but contain such highlights as the zebra migration and concentrations of predators in some areas. Most Botswana regulars prefer the desert in winter because the lunar landscape is at its most beautiful and you can focus on the smaller desert creatures. Some guides love Botswana safaris in the shoulder seasons, despite the heat, because they are more likely to see bigger game then. Rates are generally considerably cheaper too. The wet months are also the best time for seeing migratory birds and babies. “We don’t have wet season, but a damp season,” explains one long-time guide. “Our total rainfall is a foot of rain a year that starts in early December when we tend to have two or three hot days and then an Old Testament storm for half an hour. Because of this you will get rain but also spectacular skies, short green grass and baby animals. Our high season is driven by demand not quality of experience.” Fishing is not allowed between January and March but is great in the winter and particularly in September and October, but it can be exceedingly hot. Bottom line: Winter is ideal but it is possible to create fabulous itineraries for wildlife viewing at all times of the year by carefully selecting camps in the right regions at the right times for rich wildlife. However, the months of September and October in the delta can be so hot that they are called the “suicide months” by some.

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