19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider’s Guide
19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - When to Go to Botswana for the Best Wildlife Viewing
Deciding when to visit Botswana depends greatly on what you hope to see and experience while there. The diverse ecosystems and range of wildlife mean some times of year are better than others for certain activities. If an African safari is on your Botswana bucket list, timing your trip around the ideal game viewing opportunities is key.
The dry season, running May through October, is considered prime time for safaris and wildlife spotting in Botswana. During these months, the bush is less dense and animals congregate around water sources, making them easier to observe. The lack of foliage also makes it simpler to spot reclusive species that might otherwise hide in thicker vegetation. However, the dry season draws more tourists, meaning popular reserves and lodges book up far in advance.
Many safari experts tout the transition months of April-May and November as the optimal times. Rains taper off in April, leaving greener landscapes still lush from the wet season. Migratory birds linger before returning north in May. November sees temperatures rising before the start of the rains in December. You'll enjoy moderate crowds and lower prices on lodging before peak rates resume in the dry months.
For seeing specific animals, visit Botswana in winter (June-August) to witness wildebeest migration. June is ideal for spotting newborn antelope taking their first steps. July-October is birthing season for predators like lion, leopard, and wild dog. And August is the best time for viewing elephants, who congregate in large herds to eat the rich grasses nourished by early rains.
The rainy season from December to March brings plentiful precipitation, turning the dusty savannas vibrantly green. Rains replenish watering holes and rivers, dispersing wildlife more evenly. While game viewing can be more difficult, the verdant landscape is beautiful. Migratory birds escape the northern winter to summer in Botswana. Costs are lower and crowds thinner, though some lodges and camps may close. Keep in mind the rains can wash out roads and make travel challenging.
Wherever you travel in Botswana, begin each day at dawn and end around dusk to maximize wildlife viewing hours. Schedule a siesta during the day's hottest hours when animals are less active. Book your safari for at least a week, as you’ll need sufficient time to fully experience Botswana's incredible biodiversity. Avoid full moon nights, which make spotting nocturnal species more difficult.
What else is in this post?
- 19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - When to Go to Botswana for the Best Wildlife Viewing
- 19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - Top National Parks and Reserves to Explore in Botswana
- 19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - Must-See Safari Animals You Can Spot in Botswana
- 19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - Where to Stay: Recommended Lodges and Camps in Botswana
- 19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - Authentic Botswana Cuisine and Local Dishes to Try
- 19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - Top Things to Know About Safety and Health Precautions for Visiting Botswana
19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - Top National Parks and Reserves to Explore in Botswana
Botswana is home to some of Africa’s most pristine and wildlife-rich national parks and reserves. With around 40 percent of the country's land designated as protected areas, you’re spoiled for choice when planning a safari adventure. Deciding where to go depends on your interests, budget, and time. Top reserves range from the remote and rugged to more accessible destinations teeming with animals.
The Okavango Delta in the north is Botswana’s wildlife viewing gem. It encompasses lush wetlands that spread across 15,000 square kilometers when floodwaters from the Okavango River arrive each winter. The UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts staggering biodiversity with species like lion, leopard, cheetah, African wild dog, hundreds of bird species, and more. Popular game drives explore the channels and islands by mokoro canoe or motorboat. Manyava and Xigera are remote, luxury camps immersed in the serene beauty. Budget-friendly lodges like Gcadikwe in the Magotho area provide rustic island access.
Chobe National Park in the northeast reaches is another top choice, famed for having one of Africa’s highest elephant populations. Chobe River cruises let you drift beside massive herds gathering at the water's edge. Spot lions lounging along the banks or playful pods of hippos. Spend nights under the stars at the remote, wildlife-rich Ihaha Camp, or in waterfront luxury at Chobe Savanna Lodge. For river access on a budget, stay in Kasane just outside the park.
The vast Central Kalahari Game Reserve offers the chance to see Africa’s incredible wildlife far from the crowds. With 52,000 square kilometers of protected grasslands and salt pans, the sparse landscape hosts a wide array of species uniquely adapted to the desert climate. Night drives reveal nocturnal species like bat-eared fox, black-maned Kalahari lions, and brown hyena. Camps range from affordable tents like Planet Baobab to the ultra-remote luxury of Jack's Camp on the edge of Makgadikgadi Pans.
Moremi Game Reserve, nested within Okavango Delta, is renowned for its big cat sightings. Early morning drives often reveal lion, leopard, and cheetah to those who rise before the sun. Hippos inhabit the lush waterways, while elephants graze the forest fringes. Khwai River Lodge sits riverside in a community-run concession, with tent accommodation and guided walks. For backcountry camping, secure sites in Third Bridge or Gudigwa areas immerse you in wilderness.
19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - Must-See Safari Animals You Can Spot in Botswana
Of all the wondrous wildlife found across the African continent, Botswana boasts some of the most spectacular and sought-after species. It's the incredible diversity and density of wildlife that makes a Botswana safari an unforgettable experience. You'll discover unique ecosystems sheltering a range of iconic animals found nowhere else on Earth.
Topping every safari-goer's wish list is the "Big Five" - the most challenging trophies for hunters, now a must-see for every wildlife enthusiast. In Botswana, you have an excellent chance of spotting all five: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and Cape buffalo.
Lions lounge regally along riverbanks and prowl the sprawling grasslands. Morning and evening are ideal times to observe prides on the hunt. Their reduced numbers make sightings especially thrilling. Leopards, more elusive and solitary, rest in the limbs of trees digesting recent kills. With luck and patience, you may spot one during a night drive.
You can't miss Botswana's elephants - around 200,000 migrate across the parks and reserves! Herds gather at watering holes and mud wallows, playfully spraying each other. Calves scamper and explore while elders stand guard. Chobe National Park offers some of the highest densities, and sightings feel magnified from a river cruise.
Cape buffalo, with their imposing horns and bulk, frequent floodplains in large herds called "daggas." Give these notoriously aggressive bovines plenty of space. Bolokan Lagoon in Chobe National Park is a reliable site, and the grassy plains of Makgadigadi Pans attracts thirsty herds during dry season.
In addition to the Big Five, Botswana rewards safari-goers with diverse antelope species like springbok, impala, kudu, eland, and sable. You'll spot giraffe in Chobe casually plucking leaves from tall trees. Endangered African wild dogs course over the land in cooperative packs. Hyenas cackle as they patrol for prey at night. And hippos submerge themselves in rivers and watering holes during the day, then graze nearby fields after dark.
Birdlife in Botswana dazzles as much as the mammals. Expansive wetlands draw migratory species and wading birds like vibrant pink flamingos or the massive saddle-billed stork. Raptors soar on thermal winds hunting for prey. Try spotting the lilac-breasted roller, Botswana's national bird, and diminutive bee-eaters that make seasonal nests in the riverbanks.
19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - Where to Stay: Recommended Lodges and Camps in Botswana
Selecting the right lodge or camp is key to making the most of your Botswana safari adventure. With luxury tents, rustic huts, and remote bush camps across its vast reserves, you'll want to choose based on your budget, interests, and desired level of comfort. I've experienced a range from ultra-affordable campsites to $2,000 per night luxury in the Okavango Delta - here are some of the best to consider.
In the Okavango Delta, for a back-to-basics experience, check out Oddballs' Enclave. Their campsites in the heart of Chief's Island offer simple dome tents on raised platforms for around $50 per night. Wake to the sounds of hippos and birds, then head off on guided walks to track wildlife. Gcodikwe Lagoon Camp is another budget-friendly option starting under $100 for an island hut with shared facilities. Their mokoro trips and village visits provide immersion in local culture.
For mid-range accommodations, the classic pads at Khwai River Lodge can't be beat. Their canvas tents along the river edge have en-suite bathrooms and start around $250 per night including meals and activities. Head out on drives and river cruises spotting hippos, elephants, and more. Or check into the tranquil, solar-powered Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp in a private concession bordering Moremi Game Reserve. Tented suites there run $400-500 per night with incredible game viewing and birding opportunities.
In the high-end category, two of my favorite luxury camps are Natural Selection's Sable Alley and Sanctuary Chief's Camp. At Sable Alley, the $700+ per night rate gets you lavish suites and superb guides that deliver leopard sightings and bush walks, while Sanctuary Chief's is an iconic camp with huge suites, gourmet dining and top notch wildlife viewing in an excellent location for around $1,300 per night. Belmond's Eagle Island Lodge is another spectacular splurge, with hilltop suites, lounging pools, and elegant interiors starting above $1,400 per night fully inclusive.
For mobile safaris through multiple parks, check companies like Ker & Downey, Great Plains Conservation, or Natural Selection. Their small group camping trips aboard custom vehicles allow you to cover a lot of ground with top guides. Rates average $700-1,000 per night. In Chobe National Park, The Old House is a historic campsite near Kasane with riverfront sites around $60 per night - a great budget base to explore the region. At the luxury end, Chobe Savanna Lodge and Camp Linyanti have lavish rooms from $800-1,200 per night overlooking prime game viewing areas.
19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - Authentic Botswana Cuisine and Local Dishes to Try
Beyond the incredible wildlife and landscapes, one of the best parts of visiting Botswana is experiencing the local cuisine. The food provides a tasty window into Setswana culture and daily life. Meals incorporate traditional staples and cooking methods, with inspiration pulled from across the borderlands. Trying authentic Setswana dishes and new exotic flavors is a highlight for many travelers.
Beef forms the cornerstone of most local meals in this cattle-rearing country. Botswanans consume more beef per capita than nearly any other nation. Tasty beef stew, known as seswaa, simmers for hours until meltingly tender. Cooks season the stew with onions, tomatoes and paprika for a savory flavor. Seswaa makes for the ultimate comfort food after a full day on safari. Locals traditionally eat it with thick maize porridge called pap, using hand-rolled balls of the porridge to scoop up the rich stew.
Another local favorite is serobe, a type of jerky made from strips of meat dried into chewy, smoky perfection. Serobe offers a nutritious, lightweight protein source for rural herders needing portability. Pick up a bagful at a market to snack on during drives through the bush. In restaurants, try serobe served alongside samp, stamped corn kernels, or morogo, a type of wild spinach.
For a uniquely Botswanan experience, join a family for a lively braai cookout. Braai simply means barbecue in Setswana - and locals take grilling meat over open coals to an art form. Generous hosts will prepare an array of perfectly seared steaks, sausages, kebabs and ribs alongside maize, potatoes, salad and more. Accept any invitation to a braai with enthusiasm!
Beyond beef, Botswanan cuisine incorporates lamb, goat and game meat like kudu or ostrich when available. Give tripe stew, fried mopane caterpillars, morama bean stew or mankwala (phane worms) a try if you're feeling adventurous! Sweet treats like magwinya (deep fried dough) or mamphotho (a milk tart) make tasty desserts.
For a lighter meal, sample chakalaka, a spicy vegetable relish. It combines onions, tomatoes, carrots, beans and peppers simmered to perfection. Chakalaka is served as a side, or enjoy it scooped up with fresh-baked bread. Another healthy option is lekgotsa, a tasty wild spinach foraged fresh.
In villages along the Okavango, try staples like sorghum and millet porridges or unleavened breads instead of maize. Tihople, a porridge made from the tiny grains of the African honeybird plant, is cooked to an edible glue-like consistency. Brews like magou and bojalwa ja setswana provide lightly fermented, nutrient-rich beverages.
19 Essential Tips for Visiting Botswana: The Insider's Guide - Top Things to Know About Safety and Health Precautions for Visiting Botswana
While Botswana is a relatively safe and stable country, especially compared to some of its neighbors, it's always wise to take basic precautions when traveling in Africa. Understanding the risks and being prepared allows you to visit Botswana with greater peace of mind.
Malaria is present in Botswana, so travelers should take anti-malarial medication as prescribed and wear insect repellent. Avoid being outdoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are most active. Sleep under a mosquito net at night. If you show symptoms like fever, chills, headache or vomiting, seek medical care promptly for testing and treatment. Malaria can rapidly become deadly without fast intervention.
Do not drink tap water in Botswana. Only consume treated bottled water or water that has been boiled. Dehydration is also a serious health risk in the hot, dry climate. Always carry sufficient drinking water - at least three liters per person daily is recommended during safaris and travel through rural areas.
Botswana's roads are poorly maintained dirt tracks in many places. Avoid driving at night when possible due to unseen potholes and animals suddenly in the road. Always drive cautiously and defensively. Wear seatbelts at all times and do not speed. If self-driving, carry spare tires, tools, water and other emergency supplies.
While wildlife attacks are uncommon, always keep a safe distance from any wild animals. Do not exit your vehicle except at designated sites. Follow guides' instructions closely during walks or activities outside lodges. Never feed or approach wildlife - a seemingly calm elephant or lion can charge in an instant. Discuss appropriate precautions with your guide.
Exercise increased caution in urban areas like Gaborone or Francistown. Avoid carrying valuables openly or wearing flashy jewelry that could attract thieves. Keep wallets and phones out of sight. Do not walk alone at night. Seek local advice on safe neighborhoods and routes. Violent crime is relatively scarce but opportunistic petty theft does occur.
Hiring a guide is advised for most activities in Botswana's reserves and wilderness areas. Do not hike or camp outside of designated sites on your own. The harsh landscapes are disorienting, and wildlife encounters can become deadly without an experienced guide.
Pack any needed medications, prescriptions, and basic first aid supplies. Emergency care is limited outside major towns. Ensure you have medical insurance that will evacuate you to South Africa or Europe if severely ill - the nearest facility may be hours away.
While Botswana is more developed than many African nations, infrastructure remains basic in rural areas. Expect intermittent electricity, internet, and cell service. Confirm needed facilities are available before booking accommodation. Travel delays are common - build flexibility into your itinerary.