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Botswana is an African success story. Transformed since independence into one of the world's fastest growing economies, the country also houses Africa's oldest continuous democracy. However, tourists venture to this expanse of Southern Africa for one reason: the great outdoors.
Synonymous with Botswana is the Okavango Delta, carrying life-giving flood waters from the Angolan highlands down countless waterways and lagoons. The abundance and variety of wildlife to be found in this oasis is astonishing. Chobe National Park has the world's largest herds of Elephant, and Moremi Game Reserve is renowned for having some of the densest populations of wildlife on earth. The delta is all the more breathtaking for being on the edge of the barren Kalahari Desert.
The Kalahari is home to the largest unbroken stretch of sand on the planet. These great dunes give way to the remarkable salt plains of the Makgadikgadi and Nxai pans, and the 3,000-year-old baobab trees on Kubu Island. On the southern edge of the Kalahari lies the characteristic red dunes and sparse scrub of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. 'Place of thirst' in the local tongue, the rains are said to fall here just once a century. However, the park is home to iconic predators and huge herds of Springbok, Gemsbok, Wildebeest and Eland. The enormous Central Kalahari National Park is ruled by black-maned lions, and still witness to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the indigenous San people.
All the wildlife and wilderness leaves little foothold for people in this sparsely populated country. Gaborone, the capital, houses around ten percent of the total population and is fast-growing, with blossoming attractions of its own. Botswana promises the ultimate safari adventure, and visitors can be sure of the trip of a lifetime.
Visitors can choose to experience Botswana's incredible wildlife and scenery in many ways, from self-drive four-wheel-drive journeys to chartered five-star safari packages.
Maun is the country's main tourist hub and gateway to the Okavango Delta. A popular way to explore is a guided journey in a (dugout canoe). Visitors can stay in tented camps in Moremi Game Reserve, enjoying some of the world's densest concentrations of wildlife, or take a four-by-four trip through Chobe National Park, encountering predators at Savuti, and large herds of Elephant at the Linyanti marshes. The delta is also world-renowned for its freshwater fishing safaris, October being the best time to visit. Just south of Moremi and Chobe lies the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park where visitors can overnight at Boteti River before exploring the astonishing scenery of the salt flats.
Botswana's north east corner houses the border town of Kasane, the meeting point with Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Head across the border to see Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. A scenic flight over the falls is an unforgettable experience. North west is home to the Tsodilo Hills, a spectacular example of ancient rock art and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
For those seeking some peace and quiet, the vast expanse of the Kalahari Desert awaits. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is one of the largest reserves in Africa, roughly the size of Denmark. Here, visitors can encounter iconic black-maned lions, camp in Deception Valley to see the rare brown hyena, and go for guided walks with the indigenous San hunter-gatherers. Right in the south, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park is home to huge red sand dunes and large migratory herds. Visitors will encounter few other tourists down here in the raw heart of Africa.
This 300-hectare reserve is just nine miles (15km) from Gaborone and contains examples of most of the local flora as well as an impressive collection of indigenous animals such as the white rhino, mountain reedbuck, various antelope, zebra, giraffe, hyena, and warthog. The reserve was created by a non-profit organisation for the purposes of conservation and education, and was established in 1994. It offers thatched self-catering chalets for those wishing to spend a night or two, and game drives and guided walks with experienced rangers.
Moremi, about 37 miles (60km) from Maun, is a 1,160 square mile (3,000 sq km) reserve in the middle of the Okavango Delta, in one of the world's most pristine wilderness areas. Accessible by air or road from Maun, self-driving is recommended for experienced four-wheel-drive enthusiasts in the dry months. Alternatively visitors can join safari packages from the reserve's luxury lodges. A wonderful way to see the delights of the Delta is on a mokoro (a dug-out canoe), which is poled through the waterways by experienced guides. Stay in unfenced camps and experience nature at its purest in the heart of Africa.
The second largest game park in Botswana, Chobe comprises four regions; the river floodplains and teak forest, the Savute marshes, the Linyanti swamp, and the dry hinterland. Chobe is especially well known for its immense elephant population, counting more than 70,000, and it is not uncommon to encounter herds in excess of a hundred members at a time. The Chobe River forms the northern border of the park, and makes for excellent game-viewing by boat. There are a number of game lodges, hotels and camps in the Chobe area and at Kasane, the main town in northern Botswana, which has an airport and good road network. Close to the Zimbabwean border, Victoria Falls lies barely an hour's drive away.
To the west of the Okavango Delta area, about 33 miles (53km) from the town of Shakawe, is a mysterious site shrouded in myth, legend and spiritual significance for the local San people, who have inhabited the area for 35,000 years or more. The Tsodilo Hills are believed by the San to be the site of first Creation. The area is festooned with thousands of rock paintings representing a variety of scenes, some of which date back to 1,300 AD. Several trails lead to more than 350 rock painting sites. The area is remote, with no shops or accommodation facilities, but it is possible to camp and draw from borehole water.
Although smaller than most, at just under 600 hectares, the Gaborone Game Reserve is the third busiest game reserve in Botswana, providing a very popular venue for city residents in which to unwind. Serving as a popular escape for city dwellers with picnic sites, a bird and game hide, and a network of game viewing roads, Gaborone Game Reserve has a vast array of facilities despite its smallish stature. The park is home to rhino, ostriches, zebra, a variety of antelope and like most game reserves in Botswana, is very popular with bird watchers. Conveniently located just outside Gaborone, the reserve can be an easy day trip for those who land in the capital.
The Makgadikgadi Pans are located in the north-east of the country and are among the largest salt flats on earth, covering 6,200 square miles (16,000km²) of the Kalahari basin. During the annual rains, the pans become a source of fresh water and grass for migratory wildlife, especially the massive wildebeest and zebra herds that move through the area. Self-drive visitors are advised to use only four wheel drive vehicles as the terrain can be testing. A good map and a GPS system are also essential, as getting lost in the desert can be disastrous. Also, as a general rule, it is advised that visitors drive in the tracks of other vehicles and keep to the edge of the pan.
Botswana weather is generally quite enjoyable. The hottest time of year in Botswana is also the wettest. The rainy season occurs in summer between October and April. Dry and cool weather, with cold and often frosty nights, occurs between May and September, when the average daytime temperature is a pleasant 77ºF (25ºC). The months between April and October are ideal for tourists in terms of weather and game viewing. This is the time when the wildlife is most prolific and easily spotted around the natural watering holes and dams.
The unit of currency is the Botswana Pula (BWP), which is divided into 100 Thebe. Major credit cards are widely accepted, and foreign currency is accepted at most large hotels and lodges. There are banks and bureaux de change in all the main towns, as well as ATM machines.
English is the official language but Setswana is the most widely spoken language.
230 volts, 50Hz. Round three-pin plugs are used.
US nationals: US nationals require a passport valid for at least six months from date of arrival, but do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
UK nationals: UK nationals require a passport valid for at least six months from date of arrival, but do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
CA nationals: Canadian nationals require a passport valid for at least six months from date of arrival, but do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
AU nationals: Australian nationals require a passport valid for at least six months from date of arrival, but do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
ZA nationals: South African nationals require a passport valid for at least six months from date of arrival, but do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid for at least six months from date of arrival, but do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealanders require a passport valid for at least six months from date of arrival, but do not require a visa for a stay of up to 90 days.
All visitors require return or onward tickets and sufficient funds to cover their stay in Botswana. Visas are generally not required for stays of under 90 days. It is highly recommended to have six months' validity remaining on your passport, as border agents occasionally apply different guidelines to those stated.
Malaria is a particular risk in Botswana between November and June in the northern parts of the country. Visitors who are camping or walking in the bush should be cautious of tick bites. There are no compulsory vaccinations, but a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers over the age of one coming from infected countries.
Botswana has a good public health system, but facilities are limited outside urban areas. Health insurance for visitors is vital. Tap water in towns is generally safe to drink, and all foodstuffs are safe to consume.
Tipping is expected in tourist hotels and restaurants. Many automatically add a service charge, but where not, a 10 to 15 percent tip is appreciated. Taxi drivers, porters and golf caddies should also be tipped a relative amount. Tour guides, trackers and game rangers rely largely on tips for their income and should be paid accordingly.
The majority of visits to Botswana are trouble-free, but visitors should be aware of the increasing incidence of crime, particularly armed robbery and rape, in the main towns. Wildlife and livestock make driving hazardous, so driving at night should be avoided.
Homosexuality is illegal. Taking photos or videos near government or military buildings is prohibited, and permission should always be sought before taking photos of local people.
Business is fairly relaxed in Botswana and dress is generally smart casual. Handshakes begin and end meetings, which are usually held in private. Women are often viewed with a certain amount of sexism, but will be politely treated. Office hours are usually 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday, or 7.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday between October and April.
The international access code for Botswana is +267. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). Gaborone's area code is 31, 35, 36 or 39; there is no NDD prefix for calling within Botswana. Mobile phones operate on a GSM 900 network and are limited to urban areas; most North American cell phones will not work. Wifi is available at large hotels and shopping malls, however the speeds are unlikely to match those that travellers from North America and Europe are accustomed to.
Travellers to Botswana over the age of 18 can enter the country with 400 cigarettes; 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 2 litres of wine and 1 litre of alcoholic beverages; 50ml of perfume and 250ml of eau de toilette without incurring customs duty. Gifts and personal goods to the value of P500 can also be imported without incurring customs duty.
Department of Tourism, Gaborone: +267 395 3024 or www.botswana-tourism.gov.bw
Botswana Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 244 4990 (also responsible for Canada).
Botswana High Commission, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 20 7499 0031.
Botswana High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 2 6290 7500.
Botswana High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 430 9640.
United States Embassy, Gaborone: +267 395 3982.
British High Commission, Gaborone: +267 395 2841.
Consulate of Canada, Gaborone: +267 390 4411.
Australian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa (also responsible for Botswana): +27 12 423 6000.
South African High Commission, Gaborone: +267 390 4800/1/2.
Irish Honorary Consul, Gaborone: +267 390 5807.
New Zealand High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa (also responsible for Botswana): +27 12 435 9000
Established in 1971, the Khutse Game Reserve encompasses 965 square miles (2,500 sq km) of semi-arid Kalahari bush savannah in the Bakwena tribal lands. Boreholes have been sunk into this undulating terrain to provide more water and encourage wildlife to stay in the area year-round. Visitors are now drawn to this undeveloped wilderness to see a wide range of herbivores including giraffe, gemsbok and wildebeest, as well as predators such as lion, leopard and cheetah, and birdlife ranging from wild ostriches to little browns. Visitors may only stay at marked campsites and there are no other tourist facilities available in the reserve.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, located in both Botswana and South Africa, extends over 15,000 square miles (38,000 sq km) of the southern Kalahari Desert. About three quarters of the park lies in the extreme south-west of Botswana, locally known as the Gemsbok National Park. Visitors to the park can witness the fragile balance between migratory animals and their predators in this harsh, semi-arid environment - a real African safari experience. There are campsites available for visitors but other tourist facilities are very limited.
At 20,380 square miles (52,800 sq. km), the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is larger than some European countries, such as Denmark or Switzerland, and is bigger than Lesotho and Swaziland put together! Indeed, the reserve is the second largest on earth and its sand dunes, saltpans, riverbeds, mopane forests and vast open plains are home to an array of fascinating wildlife species, as well as settlements of local Basarwa or San tribes - an exciting combination of both environmental and cultural experiences for visitors.
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