The Rolls-Royce of safari destinations, Botswana rewards the steep price of admission with exclusivity, and a wildlife spectacle that requires frequent pinches to one’s arm
Botswana is blessed with a geological oddity that has resulted in one of the greatest wildlife events in the world – the annual flood of the Okavango Delta. This combines with the starkness of the Makgadikgadi Pans, the dry scrub of the Kalahari Desert and the life and death struggle of the big game of Chobe National Park, to make a Botswana safari one of the most well-rounded African experiences one can have.
In keeping Botswana’s philosophy of low-volume tourism, the lodges and camps are small and high end. Most are accessible only by air, which allows you to appreciate the scale and splendour of the variegated land below. You are never insulated from the bush, however, and opportunities to get up close and personal on foot or in a dugout mokoro abound.
Planning your safari…
The Best Time to Visit Botswana
May to August are cool and dry, with short grass that makes for clear lines of sight through the bush. This is when the Okavango is at its highest flood – good for game viewing.
September and October, are hot and dry, causing wildlife to congregate around water sources – good for game viewing.
November to April is warm and wet. This rainy period makes it difficult to get around, and many camps close. It is, however, the best time for the 25,000-strong Zebra migration in the Makgadikgadi, and it is the best time to see game here and in the Central Kalahari.
The Okavango Delta is a result of the rains that fall in the mountains of Angola in January and February. The resultant flow east is unimpeded, and spreads out into the hot, dry Kalahari, where it evaporates without ever reaching the sea. The water level in the Okavango reaches its maximum in July and August, which just happens to be the dry season in Botswana. This makes for a unique gathering of wildlife, and a diversity of plants and animals that makes the Delta a global treasure. A gorgeous selection of small, isolated camps and lodges pay homage to the Okavango and bring you right into the heart of the experience.
Juxtaposed against the waterworld of the Delta, the Kalahari’s mix of scrub, salt pans and dry riverbeds hosts a plethora of desert-adapted wildlife. Even measured against the vast expanses of southern Africa’s wilderness areas, the Kalahari is huge, and contains three parks and reserves, just one of which (The Central Kalahari Game Reserve) is 20,000 square miles in area – almost the size of Norway. This therefore is one of Africa’s “reservoirs” for many key endangered species that require huge range, most notably lion, African wild dog and cheetah.
Carrying less vegetation than the Kalahari proper, the salt pans of the Makgadikgadi are the remains of a huge inland sea that dried up in prehistoric times. The surrounding area is fed by the Boteti and Nata Rivers, with the result in the dry season of a concentration of desert-adapted wildlife along the water courses. In the wet season, the desert turns lush and green, and one of Africa’s great migrations takes place, with thousands of wildebeest and zebra pouring onto the plains in search of fresh pasture.
Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park is home to a surfeit of mega-herbivores, and an abundance of predators. Here, though, it is taken to another level. Savuti’s lions were made famous in Ultimate Enemies for having developed the skill to take down elephants, which number over 60,000 in the park. The marshes and savannah of Savuti, the riverbank and floodplains of the Chobe Riverfront and the riverine forest, open woodland and floodplains of Linyati to the north west make for an extremely diverse collection of habitats. The result is varied and absorbing game viewing almost every time you look for it.