With almost one third of its land set aside for conservation, a low-density tourism policy that leaves it blissfully crowd-free and the largest free-roaming elephant population on the planet, Botswana is touted as the ultimate safari destination by those in the know.

The Okavango Delta’s unique scenery and abundant big five game understandably draws most of the attention, but Botswana is much more than a one-hit wonder. Its parks and reserves span an impressive range of landscapes, from the surreal stark beauty of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans to the primaeval wilderness of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Best safari in Botswana: Our expert's picks

Botswana's best safaris according to award-winning travel writer & photographer, James Gifford.

Best for luxury and diversity of wildlife – Okavango Delta

Best for swimming elephants – Chobe National Park

Best for wilderness and isolation – Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Best for otherworldly landscapes – Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

Best for little-known zebra migrations – Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

The country’s wildlife is rich and varied. In addition to the countless elephants, giraffe, buffalo and hippo that fill the water-rich northern parks, there is the chance to spot less common desert species in the more arid Kalahari regions. It is also home to the continent’s longest zebra migration, a healthy population of lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog, and over 600 species of birds.

Activities are similarly diverse – adventurous safari-goers can ditch the traditional game-viewer in favour of any mode of transport imaginable: safari by horse-back, boat, mokoro canoe or quad-bike, or simply venture out on foot.

The only drawback is that the luxury of exclusivity comes at a price – the top camps in the private concessions can rival the most expensive in Africa. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the costs, so even travellers with slimmer wallets can experience one of Africa’s last great wildernesses without breaking the bank.

Here's our essential guide to the best safaris in Botswana.

Aerial view okavango delta botswana

Aerial view of the vast Okavango Delta, one of the best safari destinations in Africa

Botswana's best safari reserves & camps

Best safari destinatios and where to stay

Wildlife-hungry first-timers could easily spend a week or more in the Okavango Delta, where the diversity of habitats between the dozens of camps ensures no two concessions are alike.

Adding on a few extra nights among the riverine habitats of either Chobe National Park or one of the Selinda, Kwando or Linyanti concessions will add an extra dimension.

Seasoned safari travellers will relish the scale and wilderness of the Central Kalahari, while adventurous souls looking for something different will be enthralled by the Makgadikgadi.

Okavango Delta Botswana

Exploring the Okavango Delta by traditional mokoro canoe

Okavango Delta

Best for: luxurious camps and diversity of wildlife

World-renowned as a mecca for wildlife, this year-round watery paradise is sustained by rainfall in the Angolan highlands which arrives in the form of an annual flood just as natural rain-filled pans are beginning to dry out. The 16,000 square-kilometre wilderness is divided into a number of fenceless private concessions which surround the publicly accessible Moremi Game Reserve and its neighbour, Khwai Community Concession. The game can move freely throughout (and even outside) the Okavango Delta.

The most intimate and exclusive camps (which usually accommodate a maximum of 20 people) are in the private concessions, where the only traffic you are likely to encounter apart from your fellow guests will be of the four-legged variety. Here, unlike in the national parks and game reserves, you can also drive off-road and at night, making it easy to get as close as you want to the wildlife.

In both Moremi Game Reserve and Khwai Community Concession, self-drives and mobile safari operators share the game drive networks with a handful of permanent camps, so you’ll encounter a few more vehicles, particularly in the peak season in Khwai. Walking safaris, off-road and night driving are prohibited in Moremi as it is a national park.

Okavango wildlife

Almost all camps offer game drives, on which you can expect to see large herds of trampling elephant and buffalo mingling with legions of zebra, wildebeest and antelope. There are plenty of predators too – it is one of the best places in Africa to spot endangered wild dogs. The pools and channels are home to gargantuan crocodiles and chortling hippos, and keen birders can tick off some of the 460-plus avian species.

At many camps you can also go on guided walks and seasonal boat or mokoro trips. The latter, where you are propelled through shallow water in a traditional dug-out canoe, is a quintessential not-to-be-missed Okavango Delta highlight. Also highly recommended is a scenic helicopter flight, undoubtedly the best way to appreciate the unique landscape as well as giving you an alternative game-viewing perspective.

Best safari lodges & camps

With almost 100 lodges and camps (the two terms are used interchangeably) in the Delta, you are spoilt for choice – almost all are of a high standard. Here are a few of note.

Delta Camp: specialising in walking and mokoro safaris (non-motorised activities only), this eco-conscious camp offers a back-to-nature experience without sacrificing creature comforts.

Shinde: a fantastic all-round mid-range option with some of the Delta’s most beautiful scenery combined with a well-earned reputation for wildlife.

Mombo: for predators galore, it is difficult to beat this legendary camp, which has deservedly earned its moniker as ‘the place of plenty’, although it does come with a hefty price-tag.

Featured trips
Chobe national park

Chobe National Park

Chobe National Park

Best for: swimming elephants

Nestled in Botswana’s north-eastern corner, Chobe National Park incorporates two distinct regions: Chobe Riverfront (close to the Zimbabwe and Zambia borders), famous for its large elephant herds; and Savute (in the west), where a juxtaposition of contrasting habitats and handful of pumped waterholes sustain a melting pot of species.

The combination of larger hotel-style accommodation in Kasane and its proximity to Victoria Falls means the Chobe riverfront is Botswana’s busiest wildlife destination. Although crowds are not on the scale of some of the East African parks, the riverfront roads can get congested at times and game-viewing tends to be more productive by boat.

Savute has comparatively fewer vehicles, although it is also frequented by self-drive travellers and mobile safari operators.


Game-viewing on the permanent Chobe river is best during the dry season, when elephants and buffalo regularly swim across the broad waterway to feed on the lush islands – the sight of a herd of submerged elephants using their trunks as snorkels is unforgettable. The plentiful birdlife (including several near-endemic species) is also best appreciated from the river; predator sightings (particularly lion) are more common on land.

Game drives are the order of the day in Savute where wildlife-viewing is good year-round. In the dry season belligerent elephant bulls crowd the waterholes while migrating zebra herds arrive during the rains. Boasting healthy populations of lion, leopard, hyena and wild dog, it is also renowned for its predator interaction.

Best safari lodges & camps

Chobe Game Lodge: the only lodge inside the park gives you a chance to get ahead of the crowds in the early mornings.

Pangolin Lodge: a specialist photographic boat with swivel seats and gimbal mounts makes this an ideal choice for keen photographers.

Kubu Lodge: a charming affordable option in nearby Kazungula.

Savute Safari Lodge: a great value camp overlooking its own waterhole with experienced guides and a friendly atmosphere.

Kalahari desert Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Botswana Africa

Kalahari desert

Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) and Hainaveld

Best for wilderness and isolation

Africa’s second largest reserve, measuring 52,000 square kilometres, feels as wild and unfathomably remote as it was 50 years ago. With just two lodges inside the park and a smattering of scattered campsites used by mobile safari operators and self-drives, you can sometimes feel like you have the whole park to yourself.


The game-viewing is best just after the rains when herds of oryx and springbok congregate in lush fossilised river valleys, preyed on by huge black-maned lions, cheetah and leopard. Other resident desert specialists include bat-eared foxes and brown hyenas while raptors flock to the park during the rainy season. The mammal density and diversity is not quite a match for the northern parks making it less well-suited to first-time safari travellers but for the feel of a true African wilderness, CKGR is tough to beat.

Hugging the park’s northern boundary, the Hainaveld consists of a handful of compact, segregated, privately-owned reserves, which offer an alternative Kalahari wildlife experience. The denser habitat means the landscape is less scenic than inside the park, but pumped waterholes concentrate the game in the dry season. Several of the lodges employ local Kalahari bushmen with legendary tracking skills, who will also teach you about their way of life on a guided walk.

Best safari lodges & camps

Tau Pan Camp: benefitting from an unusually elevated view over a picturesque pan inside the park, Tau Pan has a good reputation for both service and game sightings.

Mobile safari: the long driving distances and immense size of CKGR make it an ideal location for a mobile safari, during which your camp moves with you allowing you to split your time between two different areas of the park.

Deception Valley Lodge: the oldest lodge in the Hainaveld, with fantastic guides and a genuine cultural appreciation of the Kalahari bushmen.

Dinaka: a ground-level photographic hide and impressive game density have made this camp a Hainaveld favourite.

Linyanti, Kwando and Selinda Reserves

Best for: Top-end secluded camps

Scattered along the northern waterways of the perennial Linyanti and Kwando rivers, and the seasonal Selinda spillway, the camps in these three neighbouring private concessions operate in a similar manner to those inside the Okavango Delta. Game-viewing is as good as in the Okavango, with predator-tracking a particular specialty of the Kwando camps. Most camps offer both land and water activities.

Best safari lodges & camps

Zarafa: oozing old-world safari luxury, this premium camp has just a handful of tents, ensuring impeccable service and individual attention.

Lagoon: perched on the banks of the picturesque Kwando river, this unpretentious camp is renowned for its large buffalo herds and wild dog sightings.

Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Best for: zebra migration & otherworldly landscapes

Once the heart of an ancient superlake, the vast network of the Makgadikgadi salt pans is now a mesmerising void expanse the size of Switzerland. It is best experienced in the dry season when you can ride quad bikes across the crusty surface or dig for ancient stone tools left behind by some of Africa’s earliest settlers.

To the west of the salt pans, the neighbouring Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is home to thousands of zebra which migrate from the Boteti River in the west of the park to the grasslands in the east after the first rains. Lion and cheetah follow the herds, while meerkats, aardvark and brown hyena are resident on the eastern side all year round.

There are no water activities here (unless the Boteti River is unusually high) but several camps have resident bushmen who will fascinate you with their unique culture and way of life.

Best safari lodges and camps

San Camp: an intimate and stylish camp with pristine white tents complementing the surreal vista looking out over the dazzling salt pans.

Planet Baobab: a budget-friendly option with self-drive access, offering all the activities of its more expensive sister camps on the edge of the pans.

Meno a Kwena: one of the few camps on the western side of the park, boasting a jaw-dropping cliff-top view of zebra herds clambering down to drink in the dry season.

Nxai Pan National Park botswana

Nxai Pan National Park

Nxai Pan National Park

Best for: Baobabs

This compact, often overlooked park is worth visiting just to see the remarkable cluster of seven ancient baobabs (named after explorer and painter, Thomas Baines), presiding over a pristine salt pan. There is wildlife too: thousands of zebra migrate here from the Chobe and Linyanti rivers after the rains forming part of Africa’s longest zebra migration. In the drier months, lion and cheetah hunt springbok close to the park’s single pumped waterhole.

Best safari lodges & camps

Nxai Pan Camp: the only permanent camp inside the park is ideally located with all the comforts and trappings you might need.

Northern Tuli Game Reserve (NTGR)

Best for: landscape and predators

Located in the far southeastern corner of the country and formerly divided into a number of segregated farms, NTGR is now the largest privately-owned conservation area in southern Africa. The spectacular landscape, featuring rolling hills, basalt cliffs, ancient riverbeds and towering granite kopjes, is unlike anywhere else in Botswana.


Game-viewing is excellent with regular sightings of elephant, giraffe, lion, leopard and cheetah as well as less common species like eland and klipspringer antelope, and over 350 bird species. Ground-level photographic hides, ancient archaeological ruins and a choice of horse-riding, walking or even cycling safaris complete a chocolate box-assortment of activities.

Its far-flung location makes it easier and cheaper to connect with safari destinations in South Africa than in the rest of Botswana.

Best lodges and camps

Mashatu Tent Camp: a simple but comfortable, authentic tented camp that will leave you feeling immersed in nature.

Okavango Panhandle

Best for Bird-watching and fishing

Although not a big game destination, the broad meandering Okavango river in the northwest of the country is a birder’s paradise, with over 350 recorded species including several iconic Okavango specialties. It is also popular among anglers, particularly around September, when the receding floodwaters concentrate huge shoals of baitfish, attracting a melee of catfish, tiger fish, bream and birds. Activities are mostly by boat or on foot.

Best safari lodges & camps

Xaro Lodge: outstanding food and service are the mainstays of this pretty lodge perched on an idyllic island.

Houseboats: a serene, private and convenient option, on which activities are undertaken in a smaller craft.

Tsodilo Hills

Best for views and culture

Towering above the contourless landscape, the climbable summits of these four hills range from a short stroll to a day-long hike, rewarding you with expansive views in all directions. The hills, which contain over 4,000 rock paintings dating back to 800 A.D., also have a rich archaeological and cultural heritage, and local bushman communities still attach immense spiritual significance to them today.

There is no accommodation nearby, so they are best visited as part of a day trip from one of the lodges in the Okavango Panhandle.

About the author

The Best Safaris In Botswana: An Essential Guide

James Gifford

James is an award-winning photographer and journalist based in Botswana. His work on Botswana's wildlife, landscapes and culture has been published in numerous publications including The Times, The Guardian, BBC Wildlife, Lonely Planet, CNN Traveller, amongst many others.

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