Botswana is often overlooked by travellers looking for African safaris. Most tourists head to Kenya and Tanzania - not realising that this gem of a country is a safari goldmine. Botswana, just above South Africa, has a population of only 2 million and has limited visitor numbers. Its huge national parks full of wildlife and small camps can therefore be explored almost exclusively, a far cry from the bus hordes and crowded camps in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania or the Masai Mara in Kenya . Famous for its huge elephant population, Botswana’s safari parks offer a very diverse range of game, predators and birdlife and many ecosystems to explore. Read on for our recommendations for places to go on safari in this spectacular country, and our other related articles which discuss, among other things, some of the most recommended lodges in Botswana .
Probably the most famous of Botswana’s safari destinations is the Okavango Delta. This huge and flat region in the northwest of the country is spread over 15,000 square kilometers. Annual floodwaters from the highlands turn the Delta into an always-changing wetland scattered with islands, reed beds and dense woodland. This creates a thriving ecosystem home to a huge variety of wildlife.
Hippos seen in the Okavango delta in Botswana Photo by Patrik
Look out for antelopes, wildebeest, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, zebras, warthogs and monkeys. Huge herds of buffalo and elephants are another big draw. The plentiful game attracts predators such as lions, leopards, hyenas, the endangered Cape wild dog, cheetahs and crocodiles. The Delta is also home to over 400 bird species, including the African fish eagle, hammerkop, sacred ibis and South African ostrich.
Okavango is fun place to explore, boat travel is common and many tourists ride in traditional Mokoro canoes, poled through the waterways as they appreciate the amazing scenery and spot wildlife. Swamps and islands are typically explored via 4x4. The Okavango Delta is definitely a must-see on any of the many tours in Botswana , particularly in the months of June and August when the floods reach their highest. This brings even more animals to the area making it one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the whole of Africa!
The protected Moremi Game Reserve sits in the east side of the Okavango Delta, with around 40% of the Delta being included within its boundaries. Beyond the Delta it includes savannah and forest. Although fairly small by Botswana park standards, at around 5000 square km, it is a dense wildlife haven. This is thanks to its scenic mixture of habitats, from wetlands and lagoons to mopane woodland, acacia forest and open savannah. Two large islands; Mopane Tongue in the east, and Chief’s Island in the west, provide focal points in the area.
The wildlife you can see in Moremi is similar to the rest of the Delta - i.e. a huge variety, but there are an especially high number of the Cape wild dogs in this region. The different habitats also allow an even more diverse selection of birdlife - with over 500 species to find in Moremi.
In the north of Botswana is its first national park, and the most diverse of the whole country - Chobe. It’s best known for its huge elephant population, with over 50,000 of the graceful giants inhabiting the park, one of the highest concentrations of elephants in the world.
Elephants are commonly spotted on a Botswana safari. Even ones well hidden. Photo by Aftab
Chobe is made up of four separate regions, each offering their own ecosystem and wildlife to see. In the north is the Serondela, also known as Chobe Riverfront. Sitting on the banks of the Chobe river, this is mainly floodplains, the river itself attracts huge numbers of game animals and is the best place to see giraffes and large herds of elephants and buffalo. In flood season the Serondela explodes with birdlife with various water fowl, spoonbills, ibis and more entering the region. Chobe Riverfront is especially popular in package tours thanks to its close proximity to Victoria Falls on the border with Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Covering Chobe’s western side, the Savuti Marsh area includes wetland, grassland and savannah. This makes for varied scenery and also provides habitats for a wide variety of animals including big game and predators like lions, cheetah and hyena. Rainy season brings the full range of birdlife to the Savuti. North of Savuti is the Linyati Marsh, also offering good game viewing opportunities, especially in dry season when wildlife leaves other areas of Chobe to seek water. Linyati is made up of floodplains, lagoons and woodland. Lastly between Savuti and Linyati are the wild hinterlands of Nogatsaa and Tchinga, a largely unvisited area for the adventurous, and a great place to sight herds of eland.
In the middle of Botswana sits the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. This vast national park is the second largest game reserve in the world, at a whopping 52,800 square km in size! Situated in the Kalahari desert, you might imagine it to be a desolate sandy place, but in actuality this is a flat region lush in grasslands and salt pans, with forests and bushes growing from the sandy soil. Four fossilized rivers meander through Kalahari including the renowned Deception valley, a great location for game viewing.
Kalahari is very sparsely populated but has a rich abundance of wildlife, making it ideal for a trip in which you will encounter few people but plenty of nature in this unspoiled wilderness. There are no elephants or buffalo here but huge herds of grazers congregate on the plains after the annual rainfall, and the desert is home to all the other typical safari game animals and predators. Other animals of interest here include foxes, aardvarks, squirrels, hares, baboons, porcupines and ostriches.
Kalahari may have a smaller spread of animals outside of post-rainy season (away from Deception valley), but visitors come here to enjoy its isolated plains, scenic beauty, wonderful starry night skies as well as its diverse selection of wildlife.
When discussing Kalahari, a special mention must be given to Tsodilo, one of Botswana's most culturally important places. Nicknamed “The Louvre of the desert”, this World Heritage site in the Tsodilo hills above the western Kalahari desert features over 4500 ancient rock paintings by the local San people, some dated over 24,000 years old! Tsodilo consists of a number of hills, rock shelters and caves containing huge archaeological significance. The rock paintings and other remnants here trace a timeline spanning over 100,000 years, a truly remarkable sight and amazing insight into the lives of the San through the ages.
This narrow strip of land, also known as the “Land of Giants” in the far east of Botswana is sandwiched between South Africa and Zimbabwe. It’s most notable for its impressive geography - dramatic rocky landscapes full of huge boab trees around the Shashe, Limpopo and Motloutse rivers. The area abounds with steep sandstone cliffs and strange basalt rock formations, making it a very different scenic experience than the rest of the country.
Wildlife is abundant as well, with most of the standard safari animals to be found here, drawn to the rivers. The area is largely unfenced allowing herds to roam freely. Grazing herds like wildebeest, impala and waterbuck are plentiful, attracting predators like lions (some of which have black manes), leopards and cheetah. Tuli Block is also known for large numbers of elephants, and in the waters crocodiles and hippos lurk. For bird enthusiasts the region is home to over 350 species, many of which you won’t find in the other reserves, including kingfishers, stone thrushes, shrikes and cormorants. Tuli offers a unique setting in which to view wildlife with its unforgettable rocky landscape.
As you can see, Botswana has a lot to offer. With such a good variety of ecosystems and being so rich in wildlife, the country offers a range of options for safari-goers of any experience level. The other great thing about Botswana is its low visitor numbers meaning that you will have a much more intimate wildlife experience than in other African countries and find a better price for many similar safaris . There are a number of other great national parks in the country we haven’t covered in this guide, these are just the big-hitters. We hope this has been useful for those of you thinking about doing a safari, and keep your eye out for more articles about Botswana on the site!