Sparsely populated by a proud people, Botswana is a destination that calls to the adventurous nature-loving spirit, be it for a fly-in safari that takes you deep into the Okavango Delta, a sunset cruise on the Chobe River or into the remote desert plains of the Kalahari.
The Okavango Delta, A place of concentrated magic
The Okavango Delta should be on every safari enthusiast’s wish list and when you get there, you’ll know exactly why. A unique oasis regarded as one of Africa’s best safari destinations, this important inland wetland is a place of concentrated magic.
A highlight here is having your guide manoeuvre you through reed-lined waterways in the traditional Mokoro or dugout canoe. It’s the quiet that will strike you most, and the close proximity to any game that comes down to the water to drink. There are also game drives from some camps and bush walks to be enjoyed, but this is peace personified.
In the area, the Moremi Game Reserve attracts the self-drive visitors to explore its waterways and islands, the most popular being Chief’s Island and the forested Mopane Tongue peninsula, with numerous lodges and camps to choose from. This is the first reserve in Africa to be established by local residents. The reserve was proclaimed in 1963 and remains the only officially protected area of the Okavango Delta.
Boasting one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in Africa, this is paradise for game viewing and bird watching, with both black and white rhino recently reintroduced, reinstating its status as a ‘Big Five’ reserve. Pools, pans, grasslands, plains and mopane forests offer wonderful trails for exploration, both guided or independent.
Chobe Game Reserve, Where elephants roam
Chobe National Park in Botswana is home to the largest elephant population in the world and 200 000 elephants are said to roam in along the river that marks the place where four countries meet; Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and a tiny strip of Namibia. It’s a special place. Also known for its large herds of Cape buffalo, lions, antelopes, hippos and migrating zebras.
The morning and sunset Chobe Boat Cruise on the river in the flat-bottomed boats offer a special experience that will have you game viewing and bird watching from the water. The skipper navigates between the long grass to point out crocodiles baking in the sun, pods of hippo curiously coming up for a closer look, and shy game peering out tentatively from behind the trees in the reserve as they approach for an evening drink.
In the dry season, elephants come down to the water’s edge by the hundreds, often seen holding each other’s tails with their trunks as they cross the river onto the lush islands to graze. This is a distinctly Chobe sight to behold.
“On the mokoro it is the quiet that strikes you most, and the close proximity to game that comes down to the water to drink. This is peace personified.”
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Where the wild ones are
If you don’t have a 4×4, find a friend or family member who does and head to the Mabuasehube Game Reserve in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Here in the south of the country, you’re guaranteed big skies, open pans and solitude. The recommendation here is to drive the rugged and rather wild road that traverses the park, and settle yourself at one of the camping sites that offers an A-frame shelter for shade, a shower with borehole water fresh from the ground, and a long-drop loo.
Days are spent relaxing in camp chairs, reading, playing cards and watching the active lives of the resident ground squirrel. Always keeping an eye out for the game which may come by. You may even be lucky enough to have a lion come to drink water from the makeshift shower at night. Don’t be fooled though, they’re not there to make friends, and a useful tip is to keep the car doors unlocked at all times just in case he draws near and you need a safe shelter.
Nights turn black and headlamps light the way as you gather around a campfire to prepare dinner and sip on the mandatory gin and tonic, with ice if your vehicle’s well equipped with fridge and freezer. You cannot get closer to nature than this. Booking is essential and will need to be made in advance as the camps are very popular. A park ranger may drive through to check on you, but mostly you’re on your own, so take all the provisions you need, and your vehicle.
Best time of year to visit
The rainy season falls from November to March and promises dramatic thundershowers that cool down the hot days. May to October is the most popular time of year to visit with the grass lower for good game viewing and the water levels highest in the Delta. February is referred to by some as the “mad month”, with temperatures soaring into the 40s and little relief on offer, except of course for a cool shower or dip in the pool at your lodge.
Did you know?
Botswana is the world’s largest producer of diamonds and the trade has transformed the country into a middle-income nation. The country’s other valuable commodity is their commitment to conservation and wildlife with clear laws of protection, a strong anti-hunting stance and dedication to tourism which serves as an important source of income.
4×4 Self-Drive Safari Adventures
There can be few more dramatic experiences than driving through pristine wilderness. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and, experience in driving in difficult conditions is a necessity!
For this adventure, you will need a fully equipped 4×4 stocked with water, food, fuel and supplies to see you through any situation. You can hire a 4×4 vehicle that comes with everything you need for your journey. Petrol stations can be found in the main towns but not in the bush. You will have to calculate your petrol requirements well in advance and stock up, as the use of air-con and engaging lower gears will eat into your reserves.
It’s important to note that off-road driving is prohibited in national parks in order to keep wilderness areas in pristine condition and to protect the wildlife from harm. For more information self-drive safari specialists, Drive Botswana, will meet all your personal requirements: www.drivebotswana.com.
** Pics as per print article which appeared in the onRoute Magazine.
** See more of my freelancing work here.