Botswana may not be a country that’s high on your list of places to visit – but perhaps it should be. There’s an astounding number of things to see and do in this fascinating country, especially if you like a little bit of adventure when you travel. Here are just 5 of the most memorable experiences you can explore in Botswana.
1. Wildlife Safaris
What’s so special about Botswana, you ask? This was one of our favourite places to visit for several reasons. Not the least of which, is the fact that Botswana has the highest concentration of African elephants (around 120,000). So in terms of wildlife viewing, you’ll have the best chance of seeing large groups of elephants here, especially in Chobe National Park.
Chobe is Botswana’s first national park, and also the second largest, covering 4,500 square miles. The biodiversity here is fantastic – the terrains include floodplains, mopane woodland, baobab and acacia woodlands, and grasslands. This range of settings make great habitats for other animals too, including giraffes:
You’ll also see a lot of buffaloes, one of Africa’s “Big Five”. These bad boys can reach 700 kilos on average, and can weigh as much as 1000 kilos.
The little bird sitting on his nose is an oxpecker. Buffaloes are prone to ticks, and the oxpeckers eat ticks, which creates a symbiotic relationship.
You will also see several species of antelope, such as this kudu…
You’re also quite likely to spot zebras, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, wildebeests, etc. Chobe is also home to over 450 species of birds, so it’s a great place for bird watching.
But Chobe National Park isn’t your only option for safaris. Most camps, game reserves and national parks offer guided safari tours, many with night safari options as well.
2. Game Walks
But you know what’s even better than seeing wildlife from the relative safety of a safari truck? Seeing wildlife at ground level by doing a game walk.
Game walks are usually not too strenuous, since there is a lot of starting and stopping. But it can be a little heart-pounding, especially if you are lucky enough to view some local wildlife in its natural habitat.
We managed to spot giraffes and a few bull elephants on our walk. Our guide was well versed in giving us instructions for safety, especially when he spotted the bull elephants. It was mating season, and the males can be extremely aggressive during this time. So we gave them a ton of space, but it still felt a bit stressful to be in viewing distance of such massive creatures.
A good game walk guide will also educate you on native plant species, understanding animal behaviour and movements, and how to identify wildlife by their footprints and droppings.
What sort of animal do you think left this behind? (My foot is in the photo for scale, since I didn’t have a banana handy).
On our walk, we stumbled upon a buffalo skull. Even in this state, the size of those horns are formidable. For large bulls, the distance between the ends of the horns can reach upwards of one metre. African buffaloes are often referred to as “the Black Death” or “the Widowmaker” – they kill around 200 people a year. Sometimes, they will toss their hapless victim back and forth amongst themselves with their horns, goring them to death.
These tall structures are termite mounds! They can take 4-5 years to build, and can reach a height of 17 feet or more. Millions of termites work together to move the earth into these terrible towers of termite terror:
A side note about game walks – in the interest of safety, often your guide will be armed in case of an unanticipated animal attack. This shouldn’t make you nervous, as it’s just a precaution. But you just never know what might await you out on the savanna!
If you love nature, wildlife, and getting away from the city crowds, camping in Botswana is a must. Even if the thought of sleeping on the ground gives you the willies, or if you prefer luxury “glamping” over roughing it, this is something you have to try at least once!
We tend to travel “on the cheap” as it were, so we don’t mind tenting it every once in a while. Camping in Africa is a lot different than camping in Canada though. Many campgrounds have swimming pools and dining facilities, even spas! Several campgrounds also have bars to hang out in at night.
The other difference you’ll experience by camping in Africa, of course, is the wildlife. More than once I awoke to the sounds of wild elephants trumpeting in the distance. It’s actually a little unnerving, especially when the only protection you have are thin canvas walls!
You also have to be mindful when you do your laundry outside. Our tour guide told us to always shake out our clothes and inspect them thoroughly before putting our laundry away. One day, we discovered exactly why. One of the ladies, who had draped her wet clothes on a tree trunk to dry, discovered a small scorpion had crawled onto her underwear!
Another night while camping, I awoke to the sensation of something scurrying across my shoulder. I screamed like a little girl and turtled myself right down to the bottom of the sleeping bag. Mark grabbed a flashlight to see what had crawled into the tent with us. Staring back at us were the little black, beady eyes of a black-tailed tree rat. It was actually quite adorable, but we quickly ushered it back out of the tent.
It was only in the morning we discovered that the little critter had chewed a hole through my day pack, where I kept my toothpaste. Of course, it could have been worse – it could have been a giant millipede or something equally squicky. But if the thought of creepy crawlies and fuzzy varmints freaks you out, maybe rough camping isn’t the way to go.
Luckily, often when you get to a campsite, you have the option of paying a little more to upgrade to an actual room, or even a tree house, depending on the amenities. So if you get tired of sleeping on a rubber mat or air mattress, you can upgrade and have a real bed.
4. Explore Botswana by Mokoro
Another way to see this beautiful country is to view it from the water, via a mokoro, or traditional flat-bottomed canoe.
A mokoro is typically made by digging out a large tree trunk, although fiberglass is becoming more common. Mokoro drivers use long poles to push the canoes through the shallow waters. They learn their skills at a very early age – sometimes as young as seven years old! So you can trust that you are in good hands with a skilled professional.
This is a very relaxing way to spend an afternoon and get in some wildlife viewing from a new perspective. It’s also nice because the mokoros glide quietly through the water, so they’re less prone to spooking any wildlife along the way.
What’s so adventurous about this, you might ask? Well, there’s always the possibility of having a run-in with a hippo. And they are very territorial in the water. We did spot a few hippos in the water, but they were at a safe enough distance that our presence didn’t disturb them. And, I imagine they get used to people being on the water – as long as you don’t get too close!
5. View the Okavango Delta from the Sky
One of the most unique ways to track and view wildlife in Botswana is from a small plane. In our case, our flight was in a Cessna. Our scenic flight was through Mack Air, but there are several charter companies that offer safari tours from the sky. You can find a list here.
Viewing wildlife from above isn’t ideal for close-up photography, but it does give you a new appreciation for the local geography.
And it’s pretty cool to watch herds of elephants and giraffes just going on about their business across the plains.
You can read a more detailed account of our scenic flight here.