For us at Tribù, there is no place like Botswana. This landlocked, sparsely populated country in Southern Africa–with just over two million people in an area slightly smaller than the size of Texas–is particularly special, and anyone who has spent a given amount of time there would likely agree.
Undeniably, many travelers come to this part of the world eager to see animals, and there’s definitely no shortage of them in Botswana. But it’s the experiences surrounding the diversification of wildlife found here and the drastic changes in landscape that make Botswana unlike any other destination.
Botswana goes beyond one’s idea of a traditional safari and combines experiences that you’d rarely find together. Travelers can delve into corners of the country by helicopter or plane for aerial and photographic views of the channels of the Okavango Delta, slowly creep up on a herd of elephants crossing the Chobe River by boat, or sit by a campfire under the stars in the middle of the Makgadikgadi Pans. In one trip, you can explore deserts, waterways, and expansive savanna, and each provides a richness and diversity of species.
Low Density of Tourism
Botswana is comparatively a lesser-known African destination, but not because it's lacking. With flights connecting through South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, visitors have at least one layover when traveling from the United States, but oftentimes 2 or more. Additionally, most lodges and camps are so remote once you've made it into the country that they’re only accessible by smaller planes. Botswana is an exclusive destination. The level of seclusion is rare, where in certain parts of the country it’s not uncommon to be the only safari vehicle surrounding, say, a pride of lions. And that’s the attraction, too, that parts of Botswana are so unscathed with human impact that the experience feels that much more memorable. To actually view wildlife existing in their natural habitat, safe and unbothered, is remarkable.
The model of low-volume and high cost ecotourism isn’t by accident either. Country officials, in an effort to equally benefit both local communities and wildlife, believe strongly on the low impact model to preserve and sustain. Due to policies and an added focus on low density tourism, there’s minimal impact on the environment. Botswana has been strict with conservation policies and wildlife tourism where over a third of the country is dedicated to conservation with national parks and reserves, and this allows animals to roam and migrate naturally.
Also, many camps are zero footprint, meaning that they leave no trace behind and allow guests to be immersed in their surroundings without being invasive. Many operators such as Great Plains Conservation have innovation initiatives that fund education programs and community development projects to help conserve and expand natural habitats. They also invest in solar power in their camps and aim to offset carbon emissions by having sustainable technologies and systems in place. Every traveler at one of their camps is directly helping these initiatives.
Diversity of Ecosystems
Let’s break down the regions to give you some insight into how wildly different the landscapes are:
Makgadikgadi Pans & Nxai Pans
One of the largest salt pans in the world is located in northeastern Botswana. Surrounded by the Kalahari Desert, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans is made up of two pans: the Sua and the Ntwetwe. What was formerly a superlake, Lake Makgadikgadi, that slowly evaporated tens of thousands of years ago leaving behind salty-white remains, the Makgadikgadi Pans are an unforgettable addition to a trip to Botswana.
The zebra migration across the pans coincides with green season where approximately 25,000 arrive in the southwest corner. Dry season, though, is the most magical time on the pans because its dryness allows you to explore with no sinking (I mean that literally) restrictions. You can enjoy a dinner and campfire out on the pans, sleep under the stars (there are no bugs, clouds, or light pollution!), and take quad bikes out into vast flatness during the day. In this area, you can make friends with meerkats–they’ll even climb on you if you’re still–and Kubu Island, a national monument and sacred site for indigenous people that’s an elevated, granite “island” littered with pebbles and fossils surrounded by the salt flats and home to hundreds of gigantic baobab trees.
Within the Makgadikgadi Pans you’ll find the iconic Jack’s Camp that recently underwent a rebuild, but has kept its legendary old-world glamor. Styled after a 1940’s safari camp, Jack’s Camp is elegant and spacious, and is home to unique art and ancient artifacts that have been curated by the Bousfield family for decades.
Likely the most widely recognized area by nature and wildlife enthusiasts in Botswana is in the northwest corner. Consisting of marshlands and seasonally flooded plains, the Okavango Delta is a unique water system that fans out to create channels and lagoons, and is one of very few deltas that without an outlet to the sea. The water comes from the joining of the Cubango and Cuito rivers from Angola and drains into the Kalahari basin. Spreading over 16,000 square kilometers and giving life to a huge variety of birds and animals, visitors have the unique opportunity to view wildlife by land or water, in a safari vehicle, speed/fishing boat, or in a traditional canoe or mokoro, that is propelled by pushing a pole from the stern of the boat. Some lodges and camps are strictly water-based, so we suggest a combination of camps that offer activities on both land and water. The best time to visit is May-October during peak flood season where the Delta comes alive with giraffes, zebras, elephants, spotted hyena, and Nile crocodiles.
The Okavango Delta comprises of protected land, where about 40% of the property makes up the Moremi Game Reserve and the remainder is managed by community trusts and private tourism companies. Moremi Game Reserve is on the eastern side of the Okavango and provides some of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world. In the most idyllic of settings, an afternoon safari followed by a sundowner (a beverage at sunset) as the surroundings become glowy shades of orange and gold is something you’ll daydream about the rest of your life.
Even further northwest is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tsodilo Hills. Known as the “Louvre of the Desert”, Tsodilo Hills has the largest concentration of rock art in the world with over 4,500 paintings going back 100,000 years. The red paintings have been associated with the San Bushman, and the white with Bantu peoples, and are culturally significant through oral traditions and rituals.
Photo of Khwai Leadwood, African Bush Camps
Chobe National Park, Linyanti and Selinda Reserves
Set along the Chobe River, this national park resides near the town of Kasane in the northwest corner of the country. Kasane borders three countries: Zimbabwe, Zambia, and a slice of Namibia, and many cross the Botswana border to see the iconic Victoria Falls. Chobe National Park is referred to as “The Land of the Gentle Giants”, having the highest single concentration of elephants in the world. With an estimated 130,000 in Botswana, Chobe is home to 100,000 of them! Large herds frequent the water to drink and play, so it’s common to see an unimaginable number of them in one area or crossing the river. Offering both game drives and river cruises, visitors (and especially photographers!) are able to view wildlife from all angles. Chobe National Park, although visited frequently due to its accessibility, is nothing short of spectacular.
Along the Linyanti River is a seasonal camp with an intimate atmosphere, Linyanti Expeditions. Each of the six tents has a gazebo extension with additional beds to give the experience of sleeping under the stars while being in a mesh-enclosed area. In this region is also the Chobe Game Lodge, an elegant five-star lodge where you can immerse yourself in both land and water experiences and come back to relax on your large terrace overlooking the Chobe River.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The vast open terrain of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (or the CKGR) is the second largest reserve in the world covering 52,000 square kilometers and the most remote in Southern Africa. This reserve is located smack dab in the center of Botswana. Within the sprawling grasslands lives wildebeest, springbok, cheetah, wild dog, black-maned lion, and buffalo, just to name a few. January through April is known to be the best to visit the CKGR.
This area is native to the San Bushmen, an ancient hunter-gatherer, nomadic people that are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, if not the world. They’ve lived in this area for 150,000 years and have extensive knowledge of plant and animal life, and a rich history. Their history and traditions are not to be overlooked when visiting the area.
On the northern boundary of the CKGR is a private conservancy, Dinaka, that is a year-round destination and host to one of the most unique bio-diversities in Southern Africa. A camp that’s ideal for children and families, the tents are raised up on decks to view a permanent waterhole and there’s also an underground photographic bunker to view wildlife at eye level.
Wedged on the eastern side of Botswana bordering Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Tuli Block once was an area of private farms that later evolved into a wildlife sanctuary consisting of the Mashatu Game Reserve and the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. Here, the Shashe and the Limpopo Rivers meet and are surrounded by forests, savannah, and baobab trees. Much of it is under private ownership, so lodge guests can go on night game drives and also guided walking safaris and horseback riding safaris. You can expect to see animals year-round such as antelope, elephant, leopard, and cheetah. This area is also a hot spot for bird watchers with over 350 recorded species.
Set among euphorbia succulents, Mashatu Euphorbia Villas is a new eco five-star camp within Mashatu Game Reserve. Drawing inspiration from the shape of the Mopane Pond, each one of eight luxury villas is a unique shape and built with conservation consciousness: solar-heated plunge pools, solar air-conditioning, and a state-of-the-art recycling facility.
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