If you are looking for a wild Africa experience, Botswana is calling your name. Roughly the size of France, Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Africa and an excellent destination when it comes to game viewing. Nearly 40% of the land is used for conservation, delivering some of the best unspoilt game reserves in Africa. The ideal time to view wildlife is between May and September. Ideally one should combine Chobe Game Reserve, the wild areas of Savuti/Linyanti and the Okavango Delta/Moremi together with the Victoria Falls (Zambia and Zimbabwe side).
The Okavango Delta
One of the world’s largest inland deltas, the source of the Okavango Delta flood lies in the extremely wet highlands of Angola. This seasonal flooding happens once a year and it takes months for the flow of water the reach the Okavango where it fans out into north-western Botswana in a maze of papyrus-lined channels, secret waterways, natural lagoons and deep pools where hippos and crocodiles hide.
One of the most exciting activities in the Delta is a traditional mokoro (dug-out canoe) ride where a skilled poler will stand at the rear of the boat guiding you through the maze of channels and lagoons. Birdwatching from these boats is a highlight; your guide will be on full alert for any hippos or crocodiles in the way. One can also enjoy a microlight flight over the Delta or river rafting in the Okavango River.
Moremi Game Reserve
The Moremi Game Reserve covers much of the eastern side of the Okavango Delta and combines permanent water with drier areas – making for some startling, and unexpected contrasts. Prominent geographical features of the reserve are Chiefs Island and the Moremi Tongue (a peninsula with a triangular shape in the eastern part of Moremi). Only about 30% of the reserve is mainland, with the bulk being within the Okavango Delta itself. In this surprisingly diverse reserve consisting of mopane woodland, acacia forests, floodplains and lagoons, one can experience excellent game viewing and birdwatching by 4×4 as well as on the lagoons by boat. Some of the wildlife that roam these areas include Buffalo, Lion, Leopard, Hyena and Giraffe. Exploring the 4×4 tracks in Moremi Game Reserve is great fun, though it is only recommended for experienced 4×4 drivers or the very adventurous!
Located on the north-eastern edge of the Okavango Delta, the vast Khwai Concession belongs to the local villagers. Previously a hunting concession, the area is now actively managed by the local community as a conservation area offering fantastic eco-tourism activities. The Khwai River, floodplains, sweeping grasslands and Mopani forests attract a high concentration wildlife such as migrating herds of Elephant, the rare Roan and Sable Antelope and stable populations of predators like Lion, Spotted Hyena, Leopard and African Wild Dogs.
Chobe National Park
The remarkable Chobe National Park in northwest Botswana is the country’s oldest National Park and best known for its huge concentration of elephants. Not only does it support the largest surviving elephant population in the world, but is also home to a very large diversity of wildlife that varies greatly from area to area. This makes game viewing extraordinarily exciting.
Guided game drives on open 4×4 vehicles in Chobe National Park deliver great sightings and one may spot rare species such as African Wild Dog and Brown Hyena as well as Zebra, Elephant, Wildebeest, Lion and Leopard. The birdlife in particular is phenomenal. A Chobe River Boat cruise is a great way to get close to Hippopotamus and Crocodile and observe animals drink from the riverbank like herds of Buffalo, Impala and Elephant.
Savuti & Linyanti Game Reserves
Bordering Chobe National Park to the east and the Delta to the west, Savuti is famous for its predators especially its resident lions and spotted hyena populations. The Savuti Marsh area is covered with extensive savannahs and rolling grasslands, which makes wildlife particularly dynamic in this section of the park.
North of Savuti is Linyanti, a stunning unspoiled area of palm tree islands, waterways and lagoons, and riverine forests. The birdlife is astounding and game viewing is excellent in both the wet and dry season. Large concentrations of Lion, Leopard, Wild Dog, Roan and Sable Antelopes, Hippopotamus and enormous herds of Elephant all live here. With the Okavango Delta part of the reserve, visitors can go on a game drive in the morning and in the afternoon enjoy a boat ride on the channels to watch birds such as eagles, herons and egrets soar overhead.
The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in the Kalahari basin are the world’s largest salt pan landscape and consist of many pans, the largest of which are Sua, Nwetwe and Nxai Pans. A visit here is all about the landscape and a sense of space than about the wildlife. The pans themselves are salty desert with little plantlife, fringes of the pan are salt marshes and further out these are circled by grassland and then shrubby savanna.
Baobabs are the most iconic trees in this area, having survived due to their ability to efficiently retain water. These beautiful trees are scattered around various parts of the pans and also appear on the well-known Kubu Island, an isolated ‘’rock island’’ in the salt flat of Sua pan featuring prehistoric artefacts and stone ruins.
Very little wildlife can exist here during the harsh dry season of strong hot winds and only salt water, but after rains the pan becomes an important habitat for migrating animals including wildebeest, zebra and large predators that prey on them.
The wet season also brings migratory birds such as ducks, geese and White Pelicans. The pan is home to the only breeding population of Greater Flamingos in southern Africa.
Kgalagadi & Kalahari
Derived from the Tswana word Kgala, meaning “the great thirst”, the Kalahari has vast areas covered by red sand without any permanent surface water. Drainage is by dry valleys, seasonally inundated pans, and large salt pans such as the Makgadikgadi Pan and Namibia’s Etosha Pan. The only permanent river, the Okavango, flows into a delta in the northwest, forming marshes that are rich in wildlife. Ancient dry riverbeds – called omuramba – traverse the Central Northern reaches of the Kalahari and provide standing pools of water during the rainy season. This is a major attraction to all sorts of wild animals from Elephant to Giraffe, and for predators such as Lion, Leopard and Cheetah.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) is an extensive national park in the Kalahari Desert. The land is mostly flat and gently undulating with bush and grasses covering the sand dunes. Many of the river valleys are fossilized with salt pans. Four fossilized rivers meander through the reserve including Deception Valley which began to form around 16,000 years ago. During the rainy season, this is regarded as one of the best game viewing areas in Africa.
The Bushmen, or San, have inhabited this land for thousands of years and are the last Bushmen to largely depend on hunting in Africa. Since the mid-1990s the Botswana government has tried to force them out of their ancestral homelands in the Kalahari Desert in the name of conservation. Being traditional hunter-gathers, the Bushmen won a historic legal battle in 2006 when Botswana’s high court ruled they had been illegally removed and should be allowed to return. On a guided tour, travellers can learn about the Bushmen’s culture and rock paintings and learn the secrets of survival in the Kalahari Desert.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana and comprises two adjoining national parks. Approximately three-quarters of the park lie in Botswana and one-quarter in South Africa.
The terrain consists of red sand dunes, sparse vegetation, occasional trees, and the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auto rivers. The rivers are said to flow only about once per century! However, water flows underground and provides life for grass and camelthorn trees growing in the river beds. The rivers may flow briefly after large thunderstorms, a cause for celebration among the wildlife, who will flock to the river beds and slake their eternal thirst.
The Park has abundant, varied wildlife. It is home to large predators such as black-maned Kalahari Lions, Cheetah, Leopard and Hyena. Migratory herds of large herbivores such as Blue Wildebeest, Springbok, Eland, and Red Hartebeest also live and move seasonally within the park, providing sustenance for the predators. More than 200 species of bird can be found in the park. Raptors and vultures are abundant. The weather in the Kalahari can reach extremes. January is midsummer in southern Africa and the daytime temperatures are often in excess of 40 °C (104 °F). Winter nights can be quite cold with temperatures below freezing.