Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

Of all the places I’ve been on safari in Africa, I think Botswana tops the list. There is so much to enjoy and, unlike in bigger safari destinations, in Botswana you’ll see a lot more wildlife than other travellers.

Botswana is where I went on my first self-drive safari, and, to this day, it remains my pick as the best place to drive yourself out into the wild in Africa. All but the inner reaches of the Okavango Delta are accessible in your own 4WD, and the experience of driving out into, and sleeping overnight in, lion country, or the amazing world of elephants, or miles from the nearest human being, remains my favourite way of going on safari.

At the heart of Botswana’s appeal are its signature wildlife destinations whose names – the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, Central Kalahari Game Reserve – read like a roll-call of storied wildlife kingdoms. And it’s not just the wildlife. From the deep greens and blues of the Delta in flood to the yellows and reds of the Kalahari, or the blinding whites of the salt pans, there is something elemental about Botswana’s call to the wild. In the following pages I’ll explain some of my Botswana safari highlights, and how you can see them for yourself.

Botswana's hidden gems

Unlike Africa’s safari giants like Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa, Botswana remains blissfully under the radar. Yet, it too faces the travel industry's irritating habit of focusing on the popular easy sellers at the expense of everywhere else. There's much more to Botswana than the Okavango Delta. In this guide I'll show you some of my favourite lesser-known Botswana safari spots.

Aerial view okavango delta botswana

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

The best safaris in Botswana

Popular highlights & hidden gems

Botswana safaris: Need to know

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Inside tip: Self-drive safaris

Anthony Ham
By Anthony Ham

Much is made of Botswana aiming for high-end, low-density safari tourism and it’s not uncommon for a luxury camp in the Delta to cost well over US$1,000 per person per night in high season. But it’s actually the mid-range, rather than budget, traveller that finds it difficult to build a reasonably priced safari in Botswana.

Much as the Botswana government prefers not to publicise the fact, it has a fantastic network of campsites around the country. Some are privately run, others are run by the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP). Standard camping fees are USD $50/25 per adult/child. You can book directly through the park authorities or the private operators of the campsites, but you're better off booking through an agent. Renting a 4WD camper can seem expensive, but a two-week self-drive safari could end up costing the same for two people as one day on a fly-in, fly-out safari.

The best times for safari in Botswana

My favourite time to visit Botswana is during the dry season, June to September. During this time, most 4WD tracks are open, water levels in the Delta are ideal for mokoro trips and wildlife watching.

This period also corresponds with the high tourism season (which usually starts in June or July), so it’s also the busiest (and most expensive) time of year. During these months, it can also get extremely cold overnight and early morning throughout much of the Kalahari.

May or October can be a good compromise, although there’s a risk that the rains could linger or arrive early.

Access to the Delta may be limited, but the best months for birding are from November to March or April, when hundreds of migratory species arrive from Europe and North Africa.

Getting there & around

Although Gaborone is the capital of Botswana, the overwhelming majority of safari visitors to Botswana fly into Maun, in the country’s north-west. Maun is right alongside the Okavango Delta and not far from the Kalahari, and it has lots of safari companies, hotels, camps and restaurants and places to stock up on supplies making it the ideal gateway town.

Those heading to Chobe National Park may fly into Kasane, in the north-east. Kasane receives fewer international flights than Maun, but its proximity to Victoria Falls (84 km away by road, across the border in Zimbabwe) makes it well worth considering.

How a Botswana safari works

There are two main ways to go on safari in Botswana. One is to fly into Maun or Kasane (perhaps stay overnight, perhaps not) and then fly into one of the airstrips of the Okavango Delta or Chobe National Park. There you’ll be picked up by your accommodation, and then fly in and out of however many tented camps you’ll be staying in.

You can book all of this yourself, but most international visitors tend to book it via a tour operator.

The other option is a self-drive trip. You can fly into Maun or Kasane (or even Johannesburg) and pick up a 4WD, which will usually have a rooftop tent or other camping equipment. You’ll then drive yourself from one campsite to the next. Road and driving conditions in Botswana are significantly better than elsewhere in Southern Africa, but you’ll need to take obvious precautions such as driving during the day time and ensuring you’ve got sufficient supplies for long journeys.

About the author

Safari in Botswana

Anthony Ham

Anthony is a renowned travel journalist and guidebook author and is one of the world's leading authorities on Africa safari, wildlife and conservation. He has been travelling to Africa for more than two decades to research Africa safari guidebooks for Lonely Planet. He is widely published in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, The Monthly, Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), National Geographic Traveler, BBC Wildlife, Lonely Planet Traveller, Africa Geographic, The Independent, Travel Africa, among many others.

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