Botswana is one of Africa's success stories. Tourism was identified decades ago as the best way to create a sustainable industry that employs many people while still preserving the environment. The country's commitment to conservation has resulted in an excellent reputation for environmental tourism that focuses on high-quality and authentic wildlife experiences. Tourism service providers adhere to strict Tourism and Environmental grading for both Tourism Quality and Eco Grading standards, a process managed and in co-operation with Botswana Tourism Organisation.
Bordered by South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, Botswana's landscape is a study of contrasts – an expanse of savannahs, deserts, wetlands and salt pans stretching from the red desert dunes of the Kalahari, home of the Bushmen, to the lush green waterways of the Okavango Delta. The varied landscapes change with the seasons, meaning that, in Botswana, every safari is unique.
Botswana is home to a vastly wildlife population, including elephants, various antelope, giraffes, cheetahs, ostrich, leopards, wild dogs, lions and more.
Botswana is a land-locked country with an area of 600370 km² and an estimated population of 2.397 million with a growth rate of 1.477% per annum. Gaborone, situated in southeast Botswana, is the capital city of Botswana and has good road and air links to South Africa and other main centres in the country. Other main towns include Francistown, Lobatse, Selebi Phikwe, Ghanzi, Mahalapye, Jwaneng, and Kasane, with Serowe, Palapye, Kanye, Maun, Molepolole, Ramotswa as major villages.
In Botswana, driving is on the left-hand side of the road, and the general speed limit is 100km/h or 120 km/h on open roads and 60km/h in urban areas. It is advisable to look out for the speed limit signs on the roads as over-speeding penalties are high. Driving at night is not recommended due to wildlife and domestic livestock on the roads.
English is the official language of Botswana, while Setswana is the national language, and both are widely spoken. Other languages spoken in Botswana include Afrikaans in the south and southwest areas bordering South Africa, Kalanga in the northeast, Shekgalagari in the southwestern areas, Siyeyi in the Okavango Delta, as well as many other languages and dialects.
The currency in Botswana is pula and thebe. Pula in Setswana means' rain', named so because of its importance. One pula is made up of 100 thebe. Coins available are 5t, 10t, 25t, 50t, P1, P2 and P5 and notes are P10, P20, P50, P100 and P200.
Botswana's economy relies on the export of diamonds and other commodities (copper, nickel, salt, soda ash and potash). In addition, beef and livestock processing support communities in rural areas and tourism is increasingly important.
Botswana's flag is light blue with a horizontal white-edged black stripe in the centre – the blue represents water, and the white-black-white bands depict the racial harmony of the zebra, the national animal.
Botswana is 2 hours ahead of GMT. Electricity is 220v. Botswana uses the metric system.
Botswana's climate is semi-arid. Though it is hot and dry for much of the year, a rainy season runs through the summer months. Botswana is a large country extending through 9 degrees of latitude, suggesting considerable climate variation. In addition, it is landlocked and on an elevated plateau of approximately 1000 metres. All these factors tend to cause low annual rainfall. 'Pula' is not only the name of Botswana's currency but also the Setswana word for rain. So much of what takes place in Botswana relies on this essential, frequently scarce commodity.
Summer (wet season) - October to March
Summer days are hot, especially in the weeks preceding the cooling rains, and shade temperatures rise to 38°C and higher, reaching a blistering 44°C on rare occasions. Cloud coverage and the arrival of the first rains towards the end of November or early December cool things down considerably. During the rainy period, which lasts until the end of February or early March, the days are hot and generally sunny in the morning, with afternoon thunderstorms, usually in short, torrential downpours during the late afternoon. Daytime temperatures can rise to 38°C, and night-time temperatures drop to around 20-25°C. Northern areas receive up to 700mm of rain per annum, while the Kalahari Desert area averages as low as 225mm per annum. Rainfall tends to be erratic, unpredictable and highly regional. A heavy downpour may occur in one area, while 10 or 15 kilometres away, there is no rain. Showers are often followed by strong sunshine, so a good deal of rainfall does not penetrate the ground as it is lost to evaporation and transpiration. In summer, morning humidity ranges from 60-80% and drops to 30-40% in the afternoon.
Winter (dry season) - April to September
Winter days are invariably sunny and cool to warm; however, evening and night temperatures can drop below freezing in some areas, especially in the southwest. Daytime temperatures generally reach 20°C while evening temperatures can be as low as 5°C. Virtually no rainfall occurs during the winter months. In winter, humidity can vary between 40-70% in the morning and fall to 20- 30% in the afternoon. For tourists, the best months to visit are from April through to October in terms of both weather and game viewing. During this period, the wildlife gathers around the natural waterholes and the borehole-fed dams and is most visible.
Botswana is a year-round wildlife destination. However, certain seasons are more suitable for special interests than others. At Think Africa Travel, we aim to provide itineraries for all our clientele according to their preferred travel needs and wants, so each safari is tailor-made to suit you or your client's needs and expectations.
The following information is to be treated as a guideline, as weather patterns and wildlife rhythms are never predictable and can never be guaranteed at a specific time or area.
This is the peak breeding time for many of the colourful migrant bird species, so bird viewing is excellent. Beautiful wildflowers, brilliant green foliage and constant sounds from insects and birds make the bush vibrant and alive. January is in the middle of the rainy season with spectacular afternoon thunderstorms, high humidity, warm days (average 30°C plus) and nights (20°C plus). Game viewing is reasonable, with active predators still chasing their prey's fast-developing young. January is an ideal month for photography due to the vivid colours, spectacular skies and unparalleled air clarity. The contrast of the predators' natural winter camouflage with the summer colours makes for dramatic photos.
This is peak flowering time for water lilies, and the reed frogs are colourful and very vocal, making the Okavango Delta beautiful and noisy. The rains continue in mid- to late-afternoon thunderstorms with dramatic skies and sounds. It is hot, with daytime temperatures averaging above 30°C and warm nights at 20°C plus, and there may be both wet and very dry spells within the month. The giant bullfrog emerges from months and sometimes years of hibernation to indulge in nocturnal feeding frenzies. The resident game does not have far to go for water, and the young are almost as tall as the adults. Birding is still excellent.
The fruit of the marula tree attracts elephants that wander from tree to tree in search of their favourite meal. At this time of year, elephants are often encountered on walks in the Okavango as they feed from one marula tree to another. This is the start of the rutting season, and impala males snort and cavort to attract females. Temperatures are still warm both day and night, but the air is drier and the rains less frequent. The bush is lush and green, and there are lots of flowers.
There are the first signs that the season is changing – night temperatures drop below 20°C on average, but day temperatures continue to rise to 40°C on some days. Generally, the temperatures are very pleasant. The cooler mornings with high relative humidity lead to wonderful early morning mist, which is spectacular over water. The impala rut is in full swing, and the impala noises continue right through the night with dramatic clashes between rival males. Baboon and impala are often seen together as the baboon act as sentries protecting the busy impala. The trees have completed flowering, and fruit is ripening, with massive sausages hanging from the sausage trees. Reptiles are actively breeding and feeding in anticipation of the dry season.
Floodwaters from the Angolan highlands should reach the top of the Okavango Delta panhandle and begin their slow and deliberate progress through the Delta. The rains are over, and the nights are cooler, with temperatures averaging 15°C. However, the days are still warm, with temperatures up to 35°C. Buffalo begin to group into large herds and visit the river areas more often as the seasonal pans begin to dry. Breeding herds of elephant increase in density daily as they visit the permanent waters. The vivid green bush starts fading to duller dry season colours, and the predators begin to enjoy themselves as their colours blend in with their surroundings once again. Finally, the migratory birds depart to winter-feeding and breeding grounds overseas.
In June, the African wild dogs begin to search for dens, which makes them easier to find for the next 3 or 4 months as they operate from their dens. Temperatures have dropped to their coldest by the end of June, with night temperatures reaching as low as 5°C (very cold on night drives and in the early morning due to the wind chill factor). Daytime temperatures rise to a comfortable 25°C, and dusty dry conditions begin to dominate. Some green bushes and trees persist, but leaf drop commences, and pans dry up. Animals concentrate at permanent water sources, as do their predators. The inner Delta starts to flood.
July sees the height of the floods in the Okavango Delta. The Okavango receives water from two sources at two different times of the year. The first is the annual seasonal flood, whereby rainwater in the Angolan highlands falls in December and slowly makes its way down to the Delta a few months later. The second rush of water comes with the local seasonal rains that fall over the Delta in the summer months. The paradox is obvious – the flood arrives when dust and dryness pervade, and the rains have long gone. The leaves are falling off the trees, and the grasses are getting shorter daily, making visibility excellent. The nights are still cold, but the days are marginally warmer, and the weather is typical of Botswana – sunny and clear with brilliant cobalt blue skies. More and more animals congregate near the water and flood plains as water seeps into areas where there was none the day before, and the mokoro (dug-out canoe) and boat trips become more exciting as new channels and waterways can be accessed. Soft early morning and evening light combined with dust provides the opportunity for dramatic photo settings.
The floods have passed through the Delta and now reach Maun, creating excitement for the locals in town as water-related speculation is at a peak – how high? When will it stop? How far will the water go? The weather is warming, with daytime temperatures averaging closer to 30°C and night-time averages rising to around 10°C. August is peak visitor season in Botswana. The herons, storks and other birds start congregating at the Gadikwe heronry. The elephant herds are getting larger, and as they jostle for space near the water, tension rises between the breeding herds. The bush is bare, and the dust pervades, but there is plenty of wildlife action.
The climate has changed, and winter is over. Night temperatures rise rapidly within the month; by month end, the average reaches 15°C, and day temperatures soar well into the 30°C. There is brilliant sunshine, the skies are clear, and it is dry. The elephants concentrate in still greater numbers, as do the buffalo, which keeps the predators busy; it is a time of plenty for the lions. The carmine bee-eaters return for the summer and the first migrants begin arriving, and storks start nesting. Water levels in the Delta have slowly started to drop. Certain trees begin to produce their first green shoots – fed by the floodwaters and temperatures and not by any rain, as the first rains are still about six weeks away.
October is very hot. Day temperatures regularly rise above 40°C, and nights are warm with averages in the 20°C. October is also a great game-viewing month – well worth the sweat! This is the time of year when herbivores are weakest because of a lack of food, whereas lions are at their strongest. There is no place to hide; everything is bare as the grasses have been eaten or trampled. Predator chases erupt into clouds of dust on the open plains. An amazing phenomenon occurs from late September through early November – the "catfish run". The falling water levels send millions of catfish on noisy upstream breeding migrations, during which they prey on smaller fish and flatten the papyrus with their numbers. The Gadikwe heronry is full of activity with hundreds of birds breeding and nesting – bird viewing is excellent. At night Savute comes alive with nocturnal sounds – elephants screeching impatiently at the water holes and earth trembling roars of lions can be heard.
The expectation – in fact, desperation – for rain dominates all discussions. The residents and the animals all seek an end to the dryness and dust. Temperatures remain high both day and night, and game viewing is excellent. The first rains normally fall around mid-November, and once they've arrived, the animals disperse to eat the new vegetation and drink from the seasonal pans. The birthing season begins with the tsessebe, followed by impala and lechwe. The predators seek out the vulnerable young and kill several times a day to get their fill. It is a time of action, great visibility and colour with big clusters of clouds, new sprouting grass and trees bursting into life – a wonderful time for the photographer.
This time of year is when the protein-rich grass feeds the mother antelope while the lambs and calves grow at astounding speed. The impalas complete their lambing, while the wildebeest start and complete their lambing in a few weeks. The rains become more regular, with thunderstorms every few days. The pans remain full, and the colours shine in brilliant green. While the grazers enjoy the tender green shoots, the predators are ever watching and stalking. Their winter camouflage lets them down, and they have to work harder; however, the dense bush allows more hiding places for them to observe their prey. All the migrant birds have arrived, and the birding is excellent. Temperatures have cooled on average, but hot days still occur, nights are still warm, and humidity can rise after rain. Great colours, dramatic skies and lightning at night all add to the magic of December.
Botswana is a landlocked country situated within the centre of southern Africa, bordered by Zambia and Zimbabwe to the northeast, Namibia to the north and west, and South Africa to the south and southeast. At Kazungula, four countries – Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia – meet at the Chobe/Zambezi River confluence.
Botswana lies between longitudes 20 and 30 degrees east of Greenwich and between latitudes 18 and 27 degrees south of the Equator. The distance between Botswana's north and south borders is about 1110 km and 960 km across at its widest part. The area of Botswana is approximately 581,730 km², about the size of France or Texas, and it is situated roughly 500 km from the nearest coastline.
Botswana has an average altitude of 1000 metres above sea level and consists largely of a sand-filled basin with gently undulating plains. The highest point in Botswana is 1491 metres at Otse Mountain near Lobatse. The lowest point is at the junction of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers at 513 metres.
The Okavango River is the principal river in Botswana; it flows southeast and enters northwestern Botswana from Namibia. Much of northwest Botswana is a vast swamp in and around the Okavango Delta, into which the river drains. During the rainy season, the river's flow continues east on the Boteti River to Lake Xau and the Makgadikgadi Pan. The southern part of the country has no permanent streams. The Limpopo, Ngotwane, and Marico rivers separate Botswana from South Africa in the east, and the Molopo River marks the southern boundary. The Chobe River forms the northern border with Namibia.
The Kalahari Desert covers the central and southwestern portions of the country. The Kalahari consists of large sand belts and areas covered with grass and acacia-thorn scrub much of the year. To the north and the east, the Kalahari merges gradually into bushveld (grassland). The eastern part of the country, where most people live, is characterised by pleasant hills and rolling plains covered richly with grasses, shrubs and trees.