Elephant Magic in Beautiful Botswana
If you love elephants you are going to love Botswana! And even if elephants are not at the top of your safari wish-list, you cannot fail but be impressed by the many wonderful wilderness reserves in Botswana. This country is at the forefront of wildlife and nature conservation in Africa and has designated no less than 25% of the country’s landmass for the purpose of protecting and nurturing her second-most valuable natural asset, her eco-tourism industry. (Botswana is a diamond-rich country and most of her revenue comes from her diamond mines.) The wild-life reserves of Botswana have some of the most diverse eco-systems in Africa, which means that they are simply bristling with wildlife of all sizes and shapes. Let us introduce you to some of Botswana’s most superb natural wonders and her equally interesting people.
The People of Botswana
The people of Botswana are made up of over 20 different ethnic groups, and while English is the official language, more than 26 other languages are spoken by the various tribes. One of the most amazing, is known as !Xoo, which is the language of the the Khoisan people, (also known as the San or the Bushmen) who have lived in the region for over 20,000 years. It is probably the most complex language in the world, consisting of 5 basic click sounds, 17 accompanying clicks as well as vowels which require 4 different tones of voice! It is fascinating to listen to and great fun to try!
The Okavango Delta
|From the air the sight of Okavango Delta is astounding and the beautiful bright colours of the vegetation and water woven into the barren desert landscape are like a dazzling mosaic.|
It is the awe-inspiring natural wonder of the Okavango Delta that sets Botswana apart when it comes to wild-life destinations in Southern Africa. Although the Delta is not a national park, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. The Delta is formed by waters that flow south for more than 1000km from the mountains of Angola, and then fan out when they reach Botswana, forming lakes, lagoons, inlets and streams – an absolute paradise for man and beast alike.
From the air the sight is astounding and the beautiful bright colours of the vegetation and water woven into the barren desert landscape are like a dazzling mosaic. Most safaris in the Delta fly you in to one of the lodges, so this will be your first marvellous introduction to the Okavango. Thousands of animals migrate to the Delta each year during the dry season, when seasonal water holes dry up in other regions. Elephants, in particular, can be seen in huge numbers from May to August, when they follow age-old migration paths to the bounty of the Delta.
All the Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant) can be seen in the Delta, including the rare and endangered Rhino, and there is also one of Africa’s largest populations of Wild Dog. The Lions of the Delta are quite unusual in that they have been known to swim or hide in the shallows, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting prey. It goes without saying that such a lush landscape attracts a magnificent variety of birds.
|A Mokoro safari is the highlight of any visit to the Delta.|
A Mokoro safari is the highlight of any visit to the Delta – you will take to the waters in a traditional canoe made from a hollowed-out tree trunk (with your guide) and have the incredible experience of seeing the animals of the Okavango Delta from the water. Land-based game drives are also available in the dry season and there are boat safaris for those who do not fancy the idea of getting too close to Hippos and Crocodiles in a Mokoro.
Moremi Game Reserve
|For Wild Dog, the Xakanaxa Lagoon is where large numbers of this threatened animal are regularly seen.|
About 30% of the Delta forms part of the Moremi Game Reserve which is quite sensational. This Reserve brings together the best aspects of the Delta, allowing for both water and land-based game viewing. Together with the adjacent Chobe National Park, Moremi is home to over 130,000 elephants, as well as an excellent cross-section of other game. There are 3 distinctly different habitats in this park, changing from the wet oasis of the Delta areas to arid areas further south. This diversity of eco-systems increases your chances of seeing a wide range of animals both large and small and the best way to do this is to visit all three areas of the Reserve on a mobile safari.
The habitat on Chiefs Island, which is a Private Concession, is perfect for grazers and attracts large numbers of these animals, followed closely by many predators. In the north-east of the reserve in the Khwai River area you should find particularly good Buffalo, Elephant, Lion and Leopard viewing. For Wild Dog, the area to head for is the Xakanaxa Lagoon where large numbers of this threatened animal are regularly seen and where there are also huge breeding colonies of birds. Moremi also offers the possibility of specialized safaris such as a photographic safari led by a professional photographer, or personalized birding safaris.
Chobe National Park
|Chobe National Park has one of the highest densities of general game in Africa.|
This park is known for its huge elephant numbers, but Chobe also has one of the highest densities of general game in Africa, and many predators too! There are thousands of Zebra, who regularly migrate through the region, as well as Wildebeest, Giraffe, Warthog, Kudu and Impala. The predators include large numbers of Lion, Hyena and Wild Dog. There are estimated to be over 70,000 elephants in this park which means that you are guaranteed excellent viewing opportunities and it is one of the best places in the world to experience close encounters with large numbers of elephant.
|A boat safari allows you to have views which you will not able to have from the shore.|
One of the best ways to enjoy Chobe is to go on a 2-3 hour boat safari on the Chobe River – this way you can see all the splendour of the park without moving from your comfortable deck-chair. It is one of the most amazing experiences to see large herds of elephant drinking, bathing and wallowing in the water just metres from your boat. You should also see plenty of hippo in the shallows, and often you will catch a glimpse of a lurking crocodile on the banks, or just below the surface of the water, waiting for an opportunity to grab some supper. The birdlife is prolific so have that camera at the ready!
There are a number of private concessions dotted along the boundary of the Chobe National Park where you can enjoy guided game walks and night game drives, both of which are not allowed inside the Park.
The Nxai Pan National Park and the Makgadigadi Pans Game Reserve
|The Makgadigadi salt pans are almost completely arid during the dry months.|
As you move south the landscape changes dramatically and becomes almost desert-like, with very little vegetation and only a few scattered seasonal water holes. The Nxai Pan and the Makgadigadi salt pans are almost completely arid during the dry months, but once the summer rains arrive a transformation takes place. The dry salt flats become covered in fresh green grass and the animals arrive, seemingly from nowhere, in their thousands. This is called the Green Season at the Nxai Pan National Park (November/December) and is definitely the best time to visit this seasonal oasis to see large numbers of animals. Over 25,000 Zebras migrate here around this time to calve and there are thousands of baby animals to be seen. This is also the best time of year for exceptional Cheetah sightings, although Cheetah do particularly well in this type of open habitat and can be found almost year-round. Lion sightings are good all year round mainly due to the lack of vegetation, which makes for easy spotting.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
|Black-maned Kalahari Lions are really easy to see and photograph around the floodlit water holes.|
Where Botswana, Namibia and South Africa’s borders meet in the south-western corner of Botswana is the enormous Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park which is over 30,000km sq. in extent. This is a fantastic place to get away from the crowds and experience true solitude in one of the wildest spots in Southern Africa. Although the environment seems particularly hostile and lifeless, the opposite is true and there is a great diversity of animals to see. Because water is very scarce, all the animals have to approach the permanent water holes to quench their thirst, and the camps are all situated near the water. There are plenty of predators here including the exceptionally large black-maned Kalahari Lions, which are really easy to see and photograph around the floodlit water holes.
Accommodation in Botswana’s National Parks and Reserves
|A beautiful sunset while sitting on a boma is all you need for a relaxing night.|
Botswana purposely limits the number of people visiting her national parks and reserves to reduce the impact of mass tourism on the ecology. The camps and lodges in and around the Okavango Delta are especially lavish and expensive, the last word in safari luxury, and only accommodate small numbers of visitors at any one time. In this way, a small number of people contribute to the economy is a big way without impacting on the pristine eco-systems. In addition, you can only reach most parts of the Delta by plane, which means that a safari in the Okavango Delta is expensive, but worth every cent. Outside the Delta, the picture is a little different and there is a fairly wide range of accommodation options to suit most budgets, including self-catering camps and even public campsites for those on a strict budget who do not mind roughing it a little.
Botswana safaris – a must visit destination
The huge variations in the habitats of this large country mean that you really need to visit a few different national parks or game reserves to get a good overall picture of all the wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities there are to be found here. The Okavango Delta area is a must-see, but the dryer south has its own particular charm, and you should really try to incorporate both climatic extremes in you safari. Botswana has a good infrastructure with scheduled or chartered flights to all the main centres and a good road network. All the national parks and game reserves have airstrips that can accommodate charter flights and getting from camp to camp or park to park is easy and efficient.
Botswana’s position nestled between Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia make it really easily accessible from all these countries and makes a multi-country safari easy to plan. You can even reach Livingstone in Zambia for some adrenalin-pumping adventure sports as a day trip from Chobe National Park. In a nutshell, Botswana is simply one of the best places in Africa to see a wide diversity of wildlife in a hugely interesting and inviting landscape.