The friendly hospitality of Botswana is renowned and, together with high-quality safari lodges and some of the most spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities on the African continent, this peaceful country is often considered the crème de la crème of African safari holiday destinations.
The abundant wildlife and warm welcome of a Botswana safari will make your Africa holiday dreams come true, with a diverse array of ecosystems and wildlife, from the shimmering salty expanses of the Makgadikgadi Pans to the lush Okavango Delta and the game-rich Chobe National Park. And don’t forget the vast Kalahari, one of the world’s great wilderness areas.
Discover Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park in northern Botswana boasts one of the largest concentrations of game in Africa and that was apparent even as I drove into the park from Kasane! The main challenge with driving in this part of Botswana was whether to drive over that foot-high pile of elephant dung or to swerve around it!
Sitting outside my tent in the Savuti campground I could see a large elephant and hippo grazing in the lush floodplains on the opposite bank of the river.
A cheeky warthog seemed right at home in the campground…
And the sunset was magnificently African, although not quite my best sunset in Africa!
A Chobe game drive on your Botswana safari
An hour into an early morning safari game drive (simple to organise upon arrival at any of the hotels or accommodations in Savuti) I had been wondering where Chobe National Park’s estimated 50,000 elephants were hiding when at last a big group was spotted. The family was in the water and we all piled out of the truck and peered through the trees down the bank to take photographs.
These are Kalahari elephants, the largest in the world and watching them reach up to effortlessly strip branches from large trees I could understand the concern at their damaging precious woodland in Chobe National Park. There were a number of youngsters and they seemed oblivious to us for a long time. Then they carefully moved the babies to the rear of the group.
This was a most rewarding game drive and watching buck impala clashing, hippos gnawing at each other and storks stepping lightly and fishing at the edge of the river were only highlights.
Another huge group of elephants crossed the dirt road ahead of us, at least 30 or 40 of them, moving towards the water.
On the way back near the entrance to the park a group of baby jackals scampered like lightning into the trees, left by their mother to learn to fend for themselves.
Chobe evening riverboat cruise
A riverboat cruise along the Serondela, or Chobe National Park waterfront is an amazing way to see wildlife on your Botswana safari holiday. The boat got very close to groups of hippos grunting and groaning and made the acquaintance of an ornery hippo who climbed out of the water to avoid the boat and the cameras.
There were more hippos grazing on the island in the Chobe River (which is disputed territory between Namibia and Botswana), a crocodile glaring from the bank and a magnificent Fish Eagle.
Finally, a herd of elephants were down on a wide river beach, kicking up the ground and throwing the mud over themselves. Then it came on to rain – a real squall had suddenly arrived. The elephants huddled together but continued to enjoy themselves in the water.
I spent the cruise back shivering and trying to keep my camera dry up my shirt but it was worth it because there is something so incredible about seeing African wildlife in its natural habitat!
The incredible Okavango Delta
Crossing the bare heartland of Botswana – the Makgadigadi and the Nxai salt pans – the road passes through white-encrusted clay where life clings to existence until the arrival of the wet season. Concrete-coloured termite mounds line the road like waymarkers, some up to three metres high.
To explore the Okavango Delta, the town of Maun is an ideal jumping off point. Approaching Maun across a corner of the Kalahari, an armada of flat-bottomed clouds sailed beneath a sheet of blue, each towered and turreted like a city. The trees were dry black skeletons against the white sandy earth. A few ostriches flapped their wings lazily. Zebra and wildebeest stood close to the tarmac. It was hard to imagine that from this landscape I would be launched into Botswana’s gloriously lush Okavango Delta.
Here the green fronds of the umbrella palms were stiff with dryness and rattled like spears against each other. Flame trees still flowered defiantly. The rains were late and the trees only just coming into new leaf.
Taking a trip by mokoro is the best way to get a water-level view of the incredible eco-system that is the Okavango Delta. These canoes used to be made from hollowed out trees. In order to save the trees they are now made from fibreglass, including the ones we use in camp. They slip smoothly through the waterways between the reed beds.
This is where the Okavango River spreads out in fan-like fingers across the sandy Kalahari wilderness and a mind boggling 11 cubic kilometres (11,000,000,000,000 litres) of water is delivered into the delta each year. This inland wetland is home to a rich variety of African wildlife.
Travelling by canoe through a narrow path in a sea of whispering reeds and grasses has to be one of the most tranquil things you can do in the world. Studded with exquisite water lilies it is like one endless Monet’s Garden at Giverny.
There is nothing to do but listen to the reeds and watch the water spiders skittering away from the prow and the brilliantly coloured dragonflies careering through the tunnel of reeds in a neverending dogfight.
A flock of flossy white cattle egrets stepped lightly across the weeds looking for food. They lift their yellow beaks and float away on the warm breeze. Red-winged African Jacana birds took their place and we also spotted an elephant, a herd of Burchells zebra and a Sun Eagle from the mokoro.
In the afternoon camp was set up on an island and my poler – Beati – led the group on a walking Botswana safari out across islands and swamps to see fish eagles perched in dead trees and elephants drinking from a lagoon.
Then it was back to camp for dinner. I was captured by African sunsets on my Botswana holidays. The clouds that lose the sun turn from uplit pink to dusky blue in seconds. Bands of pink-orange cirrus cloud streaked with blue. Is there a name for that colour that is pinkish-orange or orangeish-pink that intensifies as the memory of the sun fades, somehow becoming both brighter and deeper?
Beati built up a big campfire and we discovered why once we had retired for the night to our tents. The noise of wildlife passing through the surrounding bush was deafening – elephants coming to the water to drink and (thankfully distant) lions roaring.
The next morning we embarked on another walking safari and while examining a magnificent elephant skull, the guide spotted a lion print in the sand and we saw her in the distance. We tracked her a little way (fortunately Beati had his pocket knife on him) but she was moving fast, on the hunt.
We walked across sandveld and savannah and through bushland and saw a herd of Tssebe, a troop of baboons, impala and giraffe. The animals here are very wary of people and move quickly away.
That evening, after a lightning show that built up for hours (watched through the door of my tent), the rains that central Botswana had been waiting for finally arrived and the downpour was impressive.
In the morning it was time to return on the mokoros through the Delta to the starting point. I would miss the sound of leaves tingling against the tent walls and watching the rising moon against a delicate pink skyline from my bed.
An Okavango Delta scenic flight in Botswana
Many locations for Botswana safari holidays are only accessible by light aircraft and the thrill of seeing this amazing landscape and its wild inhabitants from a ‘bird’s eye’ perspective is unforgettable. After experiencing the Okavango Delta from water level, take to the air to get a true impression of its vastness and diversity. An Okavango Delta scenic flight from Maun is a popular way to experience this incredible eco-system in a different way from the mokoro boat tour. But is it worth the expense?
Leaving the ‘thirstlands’ of Maun township to fly over sandveld and savannah; which gradually increases in lushness as our tiny Okavango Delta scenic flight aircraft approaches the inner delta.
The mosaic colours and textures of this mighty river delta are revealed, cut through by channels and lagoons. The striding giraffes, groaning hippos and secretive big cats of the inner delta can be clearly seen. Watch a mighty Fish Eagle take flight from a lone dead tree and herds of water buffalo move slowly across the plain.
From the water level in a boat you feel insignificant, peering through the sighing reeds. The only way to get an idea of its vastness and diversity is from the air.
A black lagoon rimmed with a random pattern of water lily leaves; a sea of waving reeds; the dark river winding with its twists of white sand.
I was surprised that you get such a good view of the wildlife from a scenic flight. A vast herd of buffalo, congregating or spread out wandering as they choose. Solitary bull elephants and giraffe striding across a plain or standing still and considering. A large family of elephants taking their evening bath at a lagoon. The fat backs of two pinkish grey hippos in a dark lake. Delicate herds of impala.
My stomach was not too happy with being required to be in four places at once in the tiny plane, which carries only four passengers. But I woman-fully resisted the urge to use the sick bag and kept my eyes on the view.
Photographs have to be taken through the slightly less than clear windows of the plane but I wasn’t unhappy with the results.
It was easy to organise an Okavango Delta scenic flight from Maun airport – there are flight and tour companies in the terminal building. I had to wait a day to get on a flight so if you’re pressed for time maybe book ahead.
Experience the best of Botswana holidays
There is no doubt that Botswana is rich in wildlife and scenery but it also has a wide range of experiences, from simple camping to ultra-luxurious safari lodges and tented accommodation.
When it comes time for your Botswana safari, go with an experienced ranger, and venture onto the open desert plains or the wilderness of the Moremi Wildlife Reserve or Chobe National Park. You’ll experience the thrill of seeing large herds of elephants and buffalo passing nearby, as well as serval, zebra, meerkats and African wild dogs. Tracking lions and leopard through savannah and forest will be an experience that lasts a lifetime.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you visited Botswana? What was your favourite part of the trip?