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Botswana

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Travel Guide Africa Botswana

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Introduction

Legadima stares back

Legadima stares back

© All Rights Reserved Blakei

In 1966, Botswana achieved full independence from Britain. The following year, the newborn nation discovered that it was home to three diamond mines. Botswana's fortunes rose as the British kicked their royal selves. Though a slump in the diamond industry in 1999 set Botswana back, the country can do little complaining about its first few decades as a nation. It is blessed with one of Africa's best economies.

An excellent economy has given Botswana the luxury to build its tourism industry in a way that is sustainable for the environment. For the budget traveller, this means you're going to have to look hard for places to stay, though it's not impossible. Botswana's done a good job of marketing its wildlife safaris - some of Africa's best - to rich folk. The untamed wildlife which roam Botswana's Kalahari desert, Okavango Delta and numerous national parks are a drawcard attraction all by themselves.

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Brief History

In the 19th century, hostilities broke out between Tswana inhabitants of Botswana and Ndebele tribes who were making incursions into the territory from the northeast. Tensions also escalated with the Boer settlers from the Transvaal to the east. After appeals by the Batswana leaders Khama III, Bathoen and Sebele for assistance, the British Government put "Bechuanaland" under its protection on 31 March 1885. The northern territory remained under direct administration as the Bechuanaland Protectorate and is modern-day Botswana, while the southern territory became part of the Cape Colony and is now part of the North West Province of South Africa. The majority of Setswana-speaking people today live in South Africa.
When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 out of the main British colonies in the region, the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Basutoland (now Lesotho) and Swaziland (the "High Commission Territories") were not included, but provision was made for their later incorporation. The election of the Nationalist government in 1948, which instituted apartheid, and South Africa's withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 1961, ended any prospect of incorporation of the territories into South Africa.
In June 1964, Britain accepted proposals for a democratic self-government in Botswana. The seat of government was moved in 1965 from Mafikeng in South Africa, to the newly established Gaborone, which sits near its border. The 1965 constitution led to the first general elections and to independence on 30 September 1966. Seretse Khama, a leader in the independence movement and the legitimate claimant to the Ngwato chiefship, was elected as the first president, re-elected twice.
The presidency passed to the sitting vice president, Quett Masire, who was elected in his own right in 1984 and re-elected in 1989 and 1994. Masire retired from office in 1998. The presidency passed to the sitting vice president, Festus Mogae, who was elected in his own right in 1999 and re-elected in 2004. The presidency passed in 2008 to Ian Khama (son of the first president), who resigned his position as leader of the Botswana Defence Force to take up this civilian role.

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Geography

At 581,730 km2 Botswana is the world's 48th-largest country. It is comparable in size to Madagascar, and is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Texas or the Canadian province of Manitoba. It lies between latitudes 17° and 27°S, and longitudes 20° and 30°E. It borders South Africa to the south, Namibia to the west and north (Caprivi Strip) and Zimbabwe to the east. Although it is popular to say that Botswana shares a quadruple border with Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia, this is not the case. The four countries don't convert into exactly one point. Instead, Zambia and Botswana do share a tiny border in the middle of the Zambezi River. The country is predominantly flat, tending toward gently rolling tableland. Botswana is dominated by the Kalahari Desert, which covers up to 70% of its land surface. The Okavango Delta, one of the world's largest inland deltas, is in the northwest. The Makgadikgadi Pan, a large salt pan, lies in the north. The Limpopo River Basin, the major landform of all of southern Africa, lies partly in Botswana, with the basins of its tributaries, the Notwane, Bonwapitse, Mahalapswe, Lotsane, Motloutse and the Shashe, located in the eastern part of the country. The Notwane provides water to the capital through the Gaborone Dam. The Chobe River lies to the north, providing a boundary between Botswana and Namibia, in the Caprivi Region. The Chobe River meets with the Zambezi River at a place called Kazungula (meaning a small sausage tree, a point where Sebitwane and his Makololo tribe crossed the Zambezi into Zambia).

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Regions

Botswana is divided into nine districts:

  • Central
  • Ghanzi
  • Kgalagadi
  • Kgatleng
  • Kweneng
  • North-East
  • North-West
  • South-East
  • Southern

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

Botswana is one of the best countries in the world to experience a classic safari. It doesn't come cheap however, as the government keeps prices relatively high and reaching some of the best safari spots requires renting a high clearance 4wd vehicle or in some cases even flying in.

Okavango Delta

Okovango from the air

Okovango from the air

© All Rights Reserved baluba

The Okavango Delta is the world's biggest inland delta and is located in the northwest of the country. The Okavango river does not have an outlet into the sea and instead it ends in the middle of the Kalahari desert where it floods an area as big as 15,000 square kilometres. The flooding starts in the north at the end of the year (December) and hits the south about 5 or 6 months later in May. The area is best reached from the gateway of Maun and to reach the furthest parts you will have to fly in and spend some nights in a lodge, or in some cases camping is possible. Either way, it requires a plane trip. You will be rewarded though as the area is teeming with wildlife and a trip in a dug out canoe, a mokoro, is one of the highlights to this magnificent area. Crocodiles and hippos roam the waters and elephants, zebras and giraffes are here in huge numbers. Like most other places in Botswana, it is best visited from April or May until October/November when it is usually dry and warm and navigating the waters is still possible because only towards the end things are starting to dry up a bit.

Moremi Game Reserve

Adult Male Lion - Moremi

Adult Male Lion - Moremi

© All Rights Reserved Blakei

The Moremi Game Reserve is a beautiful park covering some 1,800 square kilometres in the northeast corner of the Okavango Delta, but is a reserve in itself. It consists of permanently swamped areas, seasonally swamped areas and dry land and does not only offers water activities such as boat trips but also top game-viewing and incredible scenery. Lion, hippos, buffalos and elephants are abundant and you will see many birds on top of that.

Chobe National Park

Chobe National Park is located in the northeast of the country, between the Okavango Delta/Moremi Game Reserve and the main gateway to Chobe, Kasane. The park is well over 10,000 square kilometers big and is best known fur huge flocks of elephants which roam the area and come to drink water out of the Chobe river during the afternoon. There are also large herds of buffalos near the edge of the river, as well as hippos, lechwes, kudus, impalas and roan antilopes. Although from Kasane it is possibel to reach the park and the first part of the park by normal vehicle, if you want to travel further and cross the Chobe National Park towards Maun, this will mean you have to travel by well equiped 4wd. As a consequence, many people visit the park from lodges in or near Kasane, and some parts get very crowded, mainly during the high season.

Chobe Hippo, close up

Chobe Hippo, close up

© All Rights Reserved Nat and Ev

Central Kalahari Game Reserve

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve, as the name suggests, is located right in the centre of both the Kalahari desert as well as Botswana and is much less visited compared to its northern neighbours. If you want to visit this parks, you need to be highly self sufficient with well equipped 4wd vehicles, including GPS. It is best to travel with at least 2 cars in case something happens. Adventurous travellers will be rewarded with vast empty desert and savannah landscapes and although the wildlife is more scattered out, the sights of a black maned huge male lion is something never to forget. The north of the park is best in general for game viewing.

Khutse Game Reserve

The Khutse Game Reserve is a 2,500 square kilometre big game reserve located just south of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and consists of dry savannah land in the center of the Kalahari desert and has shallow pans, which, when filled with water, attract hundreds of bird species as well as an abundance of springbok, ostrich, giraffe, gemsbok (oryx), lion, leopard and the rare brown hyena, amongst others. Camping facilities are basic and you should bring your own supplies like spare fuel, food and water, as well as tents.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is actually made up of two national parks, one of which is located across the border in South Africa (former Kalahari Gemsbok NP), which is also the most easy part to visit, with good gravel roads and several rest camps. The Botswana part however is bigger (about three quarters), much more basic, but as a result less visitors go here. It was actually the first of a number of ‘peace parks’ planned to cross national boundaries and re-open ancient animal migration routes and others are planned at the border areas of South Africa with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Many antelope species like gemsbok and springbok occur here and as result many predators are to be found as well like cheetah and the famous black-maned Kalahari lion, brown hyenas and jackals. It can be reached by a paved road from Gaborone to Tsabong, after which a 4-wheel-drive vehicle is necessary. You will need to self sufficient and take a tent and all supplies, including water and fuel.

Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans

The Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans are a 2,500 square kilometre big park, located only 37 kilometres north of the main Francistown to Maun road and is vast area which used to be shallow salt lakes. Nowadays, only shallow islands of palm trees and baobabs every now and then break the flatness of the landscape. It is mainly grassland, teeming with wildlife like zebra and wildebeasts.

Mokolodi Nature Reserve

Mokolodi Nature Reserve is located very close to the capital of Botswana, Gaborone, and although it is not as impressive or big like many other parks, offers a great experience if you don't have the time or money to go further into the country. Visitors can go on guided game walks and see elephants, cheetahs, leopards and various species of antelope and even some rare white rhinos roam the area.

Khama Rhino sanctuary

Rhino at Khama Sanctuary Botswana

Rhino at Khama Sanctuary Botswana

© All Rights Reserved jacquiedro

The Khama Rhino sanctuary is the best place in Botswana to sea the rare and endangered white rhinos and even a few black rhino are introduced here. It is a small park suitable for normal cars and located in between Gaborone and Francistown, not far from the main road. It doesn't give same feeling of other parks, because it is small and heavily fenced but if you want to see rhinos, this is the best place to go.

The Tuli Block

The Tuli Block is an area of private game reserves covering about 120,000 hectares in the far southeastern corner of the country along the borders with South Africa and Zimbabwe. It is different to many other parts of the country, with rugged and beautiful countryside and known because of its birdwatching potential and its large herds of elephants. Also, some other activities are available in the main rest camps at the Mashatu and Tuli game reserves, like horse riding safaris and mountain bike tours. Tuli Game Reserve also has one of a few wild dog packs in Botswana, only introduced in 2007.

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Weather

Botswana has a semi arid climate with a warm and dry season from April/May to October/November. The rainy season lasts from December to March when high temperatures and humidity make travelling around a bit harder but not impossible. Some roads may be impassable after heavy downpours though and travelling by 4wd is necessary. Temperatures frequently hit 40º C during the day in October and November, when the first late afternoon thunderstorms occur. From May onwards temperatures are still nice and warm and usually it is dry. Frost at night is possible during the months of June to August, but is not common and mainly occurs in the central parts of Botswana, for example in the Kalahari desert.

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Getting There

By Plane

Air Botswana is the national airline of Botswana and is based at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (GBE), 15 km north of the capital city Gaborone. International destinations with Air Botswana include Cape Town, Harare, Johannesburg and Windhoek. Sout African Express flies to and from Cape Town and Johannesburg as well.

By Train

Since 2006, there is a thrice a week train between Francistown in Botswana and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. The train leaves Francistown on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays around 9am and arrives approximately 6 hours later in Bulawayo. In the other direction, the train leaves Bulawayo at 9.30am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, taking 5 and a half hours.

By Car

Well maintained roads lead into Botswana from Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. From the latter there are several crossings possible, both near the capital Gaborone as a little further east at Martin's Drift where you can travel further north towards the main Gaborone to Francistown tarred road. From Zimbabwe the main crossings are at the Plumtree border between Bulawayo (Zim) and Francistown, and from Kasane in the north to Victoria Falls.

Crossings from Namibia are possible in the west (Buitenpos border) at the main tarred road between Windhoek and Ganzi. In the north there are crossings between the Caprivi strip, for example close to Kasane.

By Bus

Regular buses and minibuses connect Botswana with neighbouring countries along the roads mentioned above. There are daily connections between Gaborone and Johannesburg in South Africa, Bulawayo and Harare in Zimbabwe and several weekly buses go all the way to Lusaka in Zambia as well.

Between Gaborone and Johannesburg minibuses leave when full and take around 6 hours. There are also daily minibuses between Palapye and Johannesburg via the Martin's Drift border crossing, taking about 8 hours. Between Lobatse, minibuses travel to and from Mafikeng in South Africa, taking about 1,5 hours.

Minibuses travel directly between Francistown and Bulawayo which takes about 3 hours including border formalities. Buses travel between Livingston in Zambia and Windhoek in Namibia, travelling through Botswana (Kasane) and also there are chartered minibuses from Maun to Windhoek once a week. Between Kasane and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, minibuses ply the route and most of these transfers can be arranged by both upmarket lodges as well as hostels.

By Boat

If you want to avoid travelling through Zimbabwe, you can take a direct service from Botswana to Zambia by taking the
Kazungula ferry over the Zambezi River. This crossing is not far from Kasane and onward travel towards Livingstone (for the Victoria Falls) is possible.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Air Botswana has domestic flights between Gaborone, Kasane, Maun and Francistown. Fares are expensive.

There are a number of charter airlines that offer return trips by plane when visiting lodges, especially in the Okavango Delta. These include Delta Air, Moremi Air Services, Sefofane and Kalahari Air Services.

By Train

There is only one line, operated by Botswana Railway, which runs daily between Francistown, Gaborone and Lobatse.

By Car

Botswana is a popular country to get around by car and many people rent 4wd vehicles in Botswana or in neighbouring countries. Daily rates are significantly lower in South Africa and you can drive your car into most neighbouring countries, including Botswana. It usually just means paying a small fee. Driving in Botswana is on the left and the main roads from Gaborone north to Kasane and across the Kalahari to Namibia are tarred. Many other roads are gravel roads or even just sand tracks, and these can become impassable after heavy rains, even with a 4wd.

If you want to explore the central Kalahari, the southwestern corner of Botswana and go to major parks like Chobe and Moremi, you really need a 4wd vehicle and on some route you need to be self sufficient as well, so bring camping gear, enough fuel and drinking water and food. Also watch out on the road as both stock and wildlife can cross and accidents are not unheard of, especially with inexperienced foreign drivers.

Gaborone, Francistown, Kasane and Maun all have car rental agencies and your national driver's licence is enough, although an international driving permit is recommended as well.

By Bus

There aren't that many useful bus services in Botswana but the main routes include Gaborone to Francistown, and from Francistown to Nata and Maun. Most buses run every day. There are also minibuses that travel the same route and leave when full. Still, getting around by car or even hitchhiking is a much better option and relatively safe here.

By Boat

You are most likely to be on some kind of boat in the Okavango Delta and on the Zambezi River, but usually as part of a tour or other kind of package trip. There are no useful public passenger ferries.

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Red Tape

The following nationals do not need visas to visit Botswana:

Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malawi, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United States, Uganda, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

People are allowed to stay for 90 days within a twelve month period.
All other nationals need a visa to visit Botswana.

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Money

See also Money Matters

Pula (BWP; symbol P) = 100 thebe.
Notes in denominations of P100, 50, 20 and 10.
Coins in denominations of P5, 2 and 1, and 50, 25, 10 and 5 thebe.

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Language

English is the official language.

Setswana is the national language. Kalanga and Sekgalagadi are locally spoken.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Botswana. There is one exception though: you need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Botswana) where that disease is widely prevalent.

Still, it's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Botswana. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Malaria is prevalent in the country, but mainly during the warm and wet season and particularly in the northern half of the country. The south is generally considered malaria free. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. Also note that Southern Africa and thus Botswana as well has a high percentage of people with AIDS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

Botswana is one of the safest countries in Africa and one of the wealthiest and most stable as well. Even in downtown Gaborone you will hardly have any problems, but to be sure take a taxi at night. Your biggest concern will probably things like the extreme heat in some months in the desert, possible malaria in the north during the rainy season and animals itself. But basically that's about it!

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to Botswana is 267. To make an international call from Botswana, the code is 00.

Post

BotswanaPost is the national postal service of Botswana. It is operating more than 100 post offices and 70 agencies throughout the country and is fairly reliable, albeit not overly fast. All post has to go overland through Gaborone first and international mail by plane might go via Johannesburg, so count on several weeks for your postcard or letter to be delivered to places in Europe or North America. You can use them for parcels as well, though faster and more expensive services are available by companies like TNT, UPS or DHL.

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Quick Facts

Botswana flag

Map of Botswana

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Capital
Gaborone
Government
Parliamentary Republic
Nationality
Motswana (singular), Batswana (plural)
Population
1,590,000
Languages
English, Tswana
Religions
Christianity, Badimo
Currency
Botswana Pula (BWP)
Calling Code
+267
Time Zone
UTC+2

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